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Islands Or District Council's Functions In Relation To Tourism

Volume 24: debated on Monday 17 May 1982

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I beg to move amendment No. 22, in page 8, line 14, at end insert

'(ia) for the words "A local authority" there shall be substituted the words "An islands or district council";'

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 23, in page 8, leave out lines 18 to 26.

No. 24, in page 8, line 24, leave out from 'State' to end of line 26.

And Government amendments Nos. 25 to 28.

The principle underlying clause 9(1) as originally drafted was that local authorities should have responsibility for tourism and that that responsibility should be concentrated at district and island level. Through a misunderstanding at the Committee stage, an amendment to delete paragraph (a)(i)and thus to maintain concurrence was accepted. However, I am sure that those who were present in Committee that day will agree that that was not the intention of the Committee or of the debate.

Tourism is an industry that affects local economies and employment opportunities. Clause 9 is drafted on the principle that the legislation must work with, not against, the tourist industry and that we must take into account the commercial and economic factors in that industry. We believe, as the Stodart committee believed, that the concentration of local authority responsibility for tourism at district or island level would firmly establish the fact that tourist services should be planned at that level.

The concurrency of responsibility that has existed to date has led to much wasteful duplication of effort between region and district. With the removal of concurrent responsibilities for tourism, the existing overlap of function and duplication of effort that are wasteful of resources will cease and we believe that a more effective local service to clients will result. This will provide an opportunity for public authorities and the tourist trade to pool their resources and initiatives in this area and reflect the market opportunities that are available to them. I commend this amendment to the House.

12.45 am

As to Government amendments Nos. 25 to 28, hon. Members will recall that we discussed the matter of defining a "person" in some detail. I have decided to accept the argument that we should make this part of the legislation parallel with section 90 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and refer not just to "person" but to "person or body". I am sure that the amendments will commend themselves to those hon. Members who pressed them in Committee.

I do not wish at this late stage to quarrel with the Under-Secretary, especially as he has been waiting for some time to participate in the debate. However, it is somewhat less than truthful to say that the mood of the Committee when we discussed this matter was one of complete acceptance of the Government's position. Since the reverses that the Government suffered in Committee, there has been a reappraisal of the position and perhaps in later amendments we shall see evidence of wiser counsel being brought to bear than their somewhat bureaucratic initial approach.

The idea embodied in amendment No. 22 is that a body should be set up to work with the tourist industry's interests. We have been anxious throughout the consideration of this clause to point out that it means that some of the responsibility for tourism as a result of the end of concurrency will be vested in non-elected bodies. Although it is all very well for the Minister to say that the involvement of the tourist industry will provide a better service, our initial consideration was that it would take away from publicly elected representatives the responsibility for some aspects of the promotion of tourism.

It is fair to say that, since the Committee stage, there has been fairly strong lobbying by groups such as the Scottish Tourist Board. It is equally fair to say that, although many Labour Members had strong misgivings about the bureaucratic structures that were suggested, our fears have been allayed by the representations of the tourist board. We view the matter with much more equanimity than we did to start with.

Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 would have the effect of allowing whatever bodies are responsible for the promotion of tourism to have more independence of the Secretary of State and would allow promotions to take place abroad without the express permission of the Secretary of State. We feel that it is an interference in the legitimate activities of the tourist organisations to be prevented in that way or to be answerable to the Secretary of State.

We recognise that, since the debacle of the Committee stage, there has been some reconsideration. In some areas, as we shall discover in a later amendment, the Secretary of State has withdrawn from the centre of the stage. Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 would give further impetus to the removal of the Secretary of State from the centre of activities. It should be up to local authorities or the tourist bodies to have the opportunity to enter into promotions without the permission of the Secretary of State.

I appreciate that the amendments that the Minister has made to bring the legislation into line with section 9) of the 1973 Act are all drafting amendments, so I shall not deal with them.

I am anxious for the Minister to explain why he thinks that tourist bodies should not be able to participate in promotions abroad without the express permission of the Secretary of State. Why is he not prepared to allow them to undertake promotion work abroad without going through the Scottish Office?

Before the new bodies and the coordinating body are set up it would be wrong for district councils to go abroad on their own account and without co-ordination to promote Scotland overseas. That is incompatible with our policy to promote Scotland as a whole. When we set up the area tourist organisations throughout Scotland, and the co-ordinating council, the Secretary of State will give powers to that body to decide on overseas promotion. Amendment No. 24 seeks to do the contrary. The Government's argument is roughly the same as the Opposition's. Before the bodies are set up the Secretary of State must retain powers to sanction overseas promotion. I hope that the House will reject the Opposition's amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made

No. 25, in page 8, line 31 after 'doing', insert

'(or body in their doing)'

No. 26, in page 8, line 35 after 'person', insert

'(or body)'

No. 27, in page 8, line 40 after 'doing', insert

'(or body in their doing)'

No. 28, in page 8, line 42 leave out 'they' and insert

'that council'.—[Mr. john Mackay]

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in page 9, line 3, leave out from beginning to end of line 25 and insert—

'Schemes involving collaboration in the promotion of tourism.
90A. After consultation with the Scottish Tourist Board, islands and district councils may prepare (or arrange for the preparation of) schemes, in which they may participate, providing for—
  • (a)the forming of organisations of such persons as carry on, or have powers or duties as regards, or appear to the councils (or the person preparing the scheme) to have an interest in, activities which relate to tourism; and
  • (b)the composition and functions of such organisations.".'.
  • We debated this issue at length in Committee. In response to reservations in Committee and from other bodies such as CoSLA, the Government agreed to review the matter. We return with a provision which is based on the amendment suggested by CoSLA. It is designed to make it clear that district and island councils are enabled, but not compelled, to draw up in consultation with the Scottish Tourist Board, proposals for the joint organisation and management of tourism.

    I hope that that goes most of the way, if not all of the way, to meet objections expressed by the Opposition and some of my hon. Friends to the original provision. The amendment will encourage voluntary partnership between local authorities, the tourist trade and the STB, and will provide the best foundation for the trade in Scotland. It will take away the element of compulsion which the Committee and outside interests did not like.

    I am glad that the Minister made those remarks. On Second Reading hon. Members criticised the emphasis being removed from the regions and being put on to the districts. There was no clarity about the way in which the new organisations would be set up. The Minister's words pave the way to setting up the new area tourist organisations which, in some parts of Scotland, are already in being, sometimes under different names.

    I understand that there will be complete flexibility between regions, districts and voluntary organisations and that organisations such as the Dumfries and Galloway tourist association, an independent body supported by the regions, the districts and the STB, will continue much as at present.

    I am still concerned about the emphasis given to the districts for internal, local arrangements. I believe that they could manage to deal with tourist promotion. But when we turn to the mounting of exhibitions further afield in London or elsewhere, in collaboration with other major exhibitions promoting tourism, perhaps a regional input is far more satisfactory. The name Dumfries and Galloway is well known throughout the United Kingdom, yet the individual district names are probably not so well known. What the Minister has said will be acceptable because it apparently gives total flexibility. It is up to the regions, the districts and the independent voluntary organisations to do what they like. We hope that they get together to promote tourism effectively in Scotland.

    I congratulate the Government on having the good sense to change section 90A. The wording of section 90A in the original Bill was in some ways dictatorial. It could be that the Secretary of State had the intention to exercise these powers only if he felt that some of the local authorities were not carrying out the voluntary establishment of the area tourist offices. But the wording of the amendment removes the power from the Secretary of State in line with the Government's policy. It also ensures that the area tourist organisation system throughout Scotland and the islands and district councils can prepare the organisation and participate in area tourist organisation.

    I notice also that the amendment indicates a recognition of the Scottish Tourist Board and its co-ordinating and advisory role. I am pleased that there is nothing in the amendment which would compel local authorities to follow any course of action which may be suggested by the Scottish Tourist Board. Therefore, I am delighted that the Government have seen fit in the recent public expenditure White Paper substantially to increase the funds available to the Scottish Tourist Board to allow it to assist financially in the setting of these area tourist offices.

    The sum of £600,000 extra for this purpose has been added to the board's allocation for the next three years. I am confident that that will encourage local authorities and other outside organisations to set up the tourist organisation structure which would be required. It means that we get it on a voluntary basis rather than through the somewhat dictatorial powers that were being requested in Committee. I am delighted that the Government have seen fit to alter the clause. I fully support the change.

    We are glad that the Government have decided to think again. We are happy that the Secretary of State's power has been removed and that the reserve power no longer exists.

    How confident is the Minister, given the new flexibility, that the Scottish Tourist Board will get the response that it wants from the local authorities? Is there any evidence of any local authority reluctance to participate or is the scheme going ahead at full pelt? Can we assume that there will be a system of area tourist organisations ready to take off next April if the Bill is enacted. The system of area tourist organisations will come into effect on 1 April 1983. What is the present position?

    What is the Minister's understanding of how the concordat which operates between the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the Scottish Tourist Board with respect to the setting up of area organisations in the Highlands and Islands, will work? Has the Highlands and Islands Development Board been consulted about the clause? If not, perhaps the Government would care to examine this matter before the Bill goes to another place as there might be some need to bear that in mind before reaching a conclusion.

    1 am

    In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), exhibitions in the United Kingdom will be up to any amalgam of area tourist organisations and councils that wish to mount them. I am sure that they will do so on the basis that my hon. Friend suggested.

    I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) is satisfied with the clause as it will be amended. He took an active part in Committee in criticising the original drafting. I noted his remarks about the money that we are giving to the Scottish Tourist Board to set up the new area tourist organisations.

    The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirling-shire (Mr. O'Neill) asked whether I was confident that the Scottish Tourist Board would receive an adequate response. In the area of the Highlands and Islands Development Board the local authorities have been extremely co-operative with the trade and the board over the years. We have no reason to believe that that co-operation will not be forthcoming elsewhere in Scotland, especially given the example that the other parts of Scotland have before them of the successful way in which tourism has operated in the Highlands as a joint venture between the board, the local authority and the trade. I am hesitant to give the promise that all the ATOs will be set up by next April. The areas with high tourist demands will get the scheme off the ground the soonest. We shall want, as will the board, to proceed quickly. The money that we shall provide will be spread over three years. I do not expect all the ATOs to be set up by next April.

    Is the hon. Gentleman confident that he will get the co-operation of Edinburgh district council? At present it seems somewhat reluctant to participate. Has any change of heart been recorded by that authority?

    I should not like to pre-judge that issue. Tourism is extremely important to Edinburgh and I am sure that the district council will recognise the advantages in area tourist organisations co-operating between themselves and with the trade. We hope and expect the council to act responsibly.

    As I have said, the example that we are using for the rest of Scotland is from the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I am sure that the board has been consulted. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will know that one of those who has been involved in tourism in the Highlands has moved to the STB and is the person on whom we think we can rely to get the scheme off the ground. I am sure that the co-operation between the two boards will continue.

    Amendment agreed to.