HC Deb 24 October 1972 vol 843 cc1125-35

Lords Amendment: No. 191, in page 98, line 29, leave out "otherwise" and insert: other means in the United Kingdom".

Mr. Speed

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

I understand that with this Amendment we are to discuss Lords Amendments Nos. 192 and 193.

Mr. Speed

I should like to return to Lords Amendment No. 191 later, because I may have something to say when I have heard the views of hon. Members.

I wish to say briefly what Lords Amendments Nos. 192 and 193 are concerned with. They follow from a new Clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. John Hannam) in Committee to give additional powers to local authorities for the attraction of visitors and tourists. The Amendments tidy it up and extend the provisions introduced in Committee. They represent a package removal of financial limits in the existing legislation. All local authorities—I stress "all"—are to have publicity powers. There are to be no general restrictions on advertising within the United Kingdom, and there is a specific power which could be used to enable local authorities to contribute to approved bodies such as the statutory English and Wales Tourists Boards and to the non-statutory regional tourist boards, which without this provision would have had to rely on the free 2p, which we have just been debating, for local authority contributions.

An important power for London is that the GLC's powers to attract visitors to London are to be given also to the boroughs and the City of London. These provisions are in addition to those in Clause 141 which gives powers to attract visitors and provide facilities for recreation, conferences, trade fairs and exhibitions.

I do not wish to enter into the realms of controversy, but it is important, considering the advantages and challenge of the Common Market which this country will be entering next year, to realise that local authorities may wish to do even more by way of encouraging tourism. This is true of the new local authorities, the London boroughs and the City of London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter did the Bill, the House, and the local authorities a service when he moved the new Clause. Lords Amendments Nos. 192 and 193 strengthen and extend it. Therefore, having formally moved Amendment No. 191, I will listen with interest to the debate.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I ask the House to disagree with Lords Amendment No. 191.

When in Committee the Government accepted the new Clause giving local authorities to provide and advertise tourism facilities, there was general and universal satisfaction that in the modern context of national and international tourism a satisfactory framework of regional, local and national tourism and resort promotion was being created.

The removal by the Government of restrictions on spending under the 1931 and 1936 Acts meant that many British holiday and conference resorts could not only expand their facilities—for example, build car parks and conference centres—but, more important, could publicise them both in Britain and abroad. However, the Amendment passed in the other place seeks to deny the right of local authorities to advertise abroad. It seeks to channel all the advertising and publicising through the British Tourist Authority. I do not think anyone would seek to belittle the value of the BTA. Certainly the success of our tourism is due to its promotional efforts in the past. However, it would be totally wrong to shackle our holiday and conference centres to official statutory bodies like that.

Amendment No. 193 dealt with subscriptions and contributions to such statutory organisations. I emphatically state that our local authorities wish and intend to maintain their full level of contributions to the BTA. However, when a specific overseas promotional scheme, such as a twin-towns or twin-cities link, or Brighton selling the advantages of its proposed £3 million conference centre to Europe, is proposed, this should be allowed on top of the normal BTA advertising and publicity.

There are many individual promotion schemes which our resorts, both large and small, will wish to develop, as well as their usual involvement in the main BTA Guides and Travel Workshops. Any fears that support for the BTA will wane are groundless. I know that the British Resorts Association, the AMC and our main body of resorts are firmly against the Amendment. Therefore, I ask the House to disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. John Hannam) who has been very diligent for many months in this activity. Many months ago, he and I and others received a deputation, led by the Town Clerk of Brighton, to deal with the substance of this Amendment amongst other points, because they were concerned about not being able to take advantage of the opportunity to which they were looking forward of promoting their own centres individually rather than through a statutory body.

One of the disquieting points about the Bill is the way in which in the last few weeks and months Amendments seem to have crept in in another place. This has left many of us with a great deal of scrutinising to do, and I admit that sometimes I find this not so easy as it might be. I therefore urge my hon. Friends to reject this Amendment.

The content and the manner of the Amendment deserve some examination. Moving it in another place, Lord Sandford said that it would … enable local authorities generally more effectively to promote tourism and to assist the various tourist boards. That is not an opinion with which I would in any way agree. If he had substituted the word "finance" for the word "assist", that would have been more accurate, and that is not what we should be trying to do from these benches.

I reject the theory that Big Brother knows best when it comes to promoting conference and tourist facilities.

Later in his remarks, Lord Sandford said: … it is felt that when it comes to advertising abroad it would, on the whole, be more efficient if that were to be done through an approved agency. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords; 18th September 1972, c. 830.] Again, that is not something with which I could possibly agree.

Finally, he referred to the powers of the GLC to attract visitors to London, although, he said, that "seems hardly necessary". The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft has got into enough trouble this summer for some of his remarks about how London was overflowing with visitors. None of us with a serious interest in the promotion of tourism in this country can allow these remarks to be made without comment.

Some of our resorts—I think particularly of Harrogate and Torquay—have consistently and effectively promoted their tourist and conference facilities overseas, producing literature in many languages. Many of these progressive local authorities would feel severely handicapped if the Amendment were accepted.

If Barton-on-Sea wishes to advertise itself in Outer Mongolia, and its local authority feels that this is a good idea, why should we wish in any way to prevent it. I have been perturbed in the last few weeks at the way in which it has been possible to acquire the services of a friendly neighbourhood Lord to put on the Statute Book Amendments to principles previously accepted in this House.

As the City of Bristol intends next year to celebrate its 600th anniversary as a city and county, and would be prevented under the Amendment from advertising itself in North America, I would urge my hon. Friends and the Government to have second thoughts about the Amendment.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

My hon. Friends have made this argument clear. I would only point out that Folkestone is the nearest resort to the Continent. It would be absurd if it could not advertise in Boulogne, 20 miles away, but could advertise in the North of Scotland, 400 miles away. This shows the absurdity of the situation. I hope that the Government will accept our feelings on this.

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

I must express some sympathy with the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite. My concern with the tourist industry is principally to try to deal with the very serious problem of seasonal unemployment in many of our coastal and resort areas. Anything which will introduce some flexibility into the holiday pattern is to be encouraged. I can see no reason why local authorities should not be able to do this to try to extend their season at either end.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Bristol, North East (Mr. Adley) said about Bristol's 600th anniversary Thanks to him and his hon. Friends, this will be rather more of a wake, since the Bill will degrade Bristol virtually to a jazzed-up parish council. I hope that a number of people will come from overseas however to take part in this event.

As he is one of the chief assassins, I am surprised that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East should now presume to speak on behalf of the city which he represents. It is a serious problem to try to keep people in the areas and to make not only the industry thriving in the sense of hoteliers and developers doing well but also the people who man and staff the industry, so that they can feel some security, so that we are not entirely dependent on people who are perhaps looking around for a job but can rely on people who can work for a worthwhile career.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

Blackpool has been advertising overseas for tourist purposes since before the war and it would be stunned if it were told that it had to stop doing so. I recognise that the British Tourist Authority has a general duty to promote the interests of the nation's tourism overseas. It is doing so very well, and I support it. However, I do not think that its general rôle need exclude local authorities from pursuing tourist targets overseas. That is what is happening more and more in the present situation.

Blackpool is studying the possibility of twinning with a town in Germany. If that is achieved it will certainly want to promote visits to Blackpool from that town and the surrounding area. It is also accustomed to promote overseas its conference facilities. It has recently entertained a large conference of Rotary International.

If the Lords Amendment were accepted, that sort of activity, whether it involved advertising overseas or visits by officials of the town overseas for tourist promotion purposes, would have to be stopped. The British Tourist Authority could not undertake that sort of special target activity as well as the local authority, even if it had enough money to do so, which seems to be unlikely.

We also disagree with their Lordships because we want the Bill to give more responsibility to local authorities. This is the sort of area in which they should enjoy such responsibility.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)

I support my hon. Friends in their opposition to Amendment No. 191. I am puzzled to know why it is necessary to limit the authority of local authorities to advertise and encourage tourism only inside the United Kingdom. Was it by design or inadvertence?

I represent a constituency on the edge of the Channel, and I must take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain): Dover is the resort nearest the French coast, not Folkestone.

Apart from the normal influx of tourists coming to enjoy the beauties of East Kent, there is a considerable flow of day tourists coming from Boulogne, Ostend and Calais. I hope that the shops at Dover and Deal do well out of that flow. Why should not the new Kent County Council or the new authority of Greater Dover advertise on the continent. At the present time, local authorities in my constituency advertise abroad for new industry for East Kent? I can see no logic in channelling such expenditure on promoting tourism only through the British Tourist Authority. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be moved by these considerations to reconsider the Amendment.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

As usual, the North-East must fight its own battles. Although the region is delighted to receive the visit of a Lord—his Lordship is coming up to have a look at us in the next few days—the Lord concerned does not know a thing about the battle which we have to fight in the North of England.

We have a lot of things to offer all over the world and my local authorities do not wish to be hampered. We have to fight our own battles, we have to stand on our own feet, and we do not want their Lordships interfering with what we think is right. For a long time we have had a special organisation called the North-East Development Council. That Council has gone all over the world trying—sometimes with success and sometimes not—to get people to establish industries in the North. Part of our programme has always been to let people overseas know what we have to offer. That was done not by Government but by an organisation of our own creation and it would be ridiculous if another place were allowed to crab what we want to do.

We have always had many exchange visits with Norway, and Norwegian ships land their cargoes at North Shields in my constituency. We have had a lot of twinning between our towns and Norwegian towns. We also have close links with Denmark. We would be horrified in the North of England to have our enterprise cramped.

I know that the people of the North of England are regarded by those in the South as barbarians. That may be because we go back so far in history and have so much to offer. We do not intend to have our ideas and our contribution interfered with by another place. I am glad that so many hon. Members are prepared to stand for the rights of our own local authorities to do as they think right. What would be the use of appealing to Lord Sandford, nice though he is in a personal sense, when he does not know anything about our enterprise or what we have to offer? I hope that the Lords Amendment will be rejected.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

The point of principle involved is: should these authorities be able to spend ratepayers' money on attracting visitors to within their precincts, or should they not? Once the point of principle is conceded, it is a matter of management decision whether that money should be spent entirely within the United Kingdom, partially abroad, totally abroad, or just how it should be distributed. That is not a point of principle but a matter of management. It is therefore entirely in line with the Government's view that once the principle is decided that local authorities should have certain powers, the management decision on the exercise of those powers should be left as far as possible to the local authorities.

I see no compelling reason why local authorities should be given the right to spend money on attracting visitors, but that the power should be confined to those spending sterling rather than foreign currency—well, it has only to be stated in those terms to show how ridiculous the Lords Amendment is.

I am quite confident that the Government will join with back benchers in rejecting the Amendment, which we could do, if privilege is involved, by waiving privilege. That, however, is another matter which, though it might be procedurally interesting, might divert us from the main point of principle. I therefore look forward to Lords Amendment No. 191 being thrown back where it belongs, there to stay forever.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

It has always seemed to me that the British Tourist Authority is responsible for dealing with all the problems of tourism overseas, while the English Tourist Authority, as it now is, is responsible for dealing with those problems at home. If local authorities are to be deprived of their right to consider what is best in their individual interest it will be against the general principle for which we have always fought and strove.

The Isle of Thanet has always spent a lot of money in encouraging people from Belgium, Holland and the Low Countries to visit us, and I want us to be able to continue to do so. It is in the right interests that we should do so. I do not believe that their Lordships, when considering this Amendment, ever recognised that this has been the practice for a very long time, and I hope that we shall disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

Speaking as a Welsh Member, I pay tribute, first, to the work of the Welsh Tourist Board on our behalf, but I support my hon. Friends in their view that local authorities must be given the flexibility they require in a case like this. There may be, for example, the problems of the timing of a campaign. The resort of Prestatyn is about to set up a new conference centre which will aim to attract visitors at a time when tourists are not actively being sought by the statutory body on behalf of all Wales. At times like that, it is valuable for Prestatyn to have flexibility to have its own advertising campaign to further its cause.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Many unfair things have been said about another place by certain hon. Members. It is not the Lords who dreamed up this Amendment but the Government, and the Government have done it because they have a tidy mind. It is a good thing to have a tiny mind on most things, but on this matter the Government are perhaps misinformed and have therefore come to the wrong conclusion. They had a very large Bill to contend with but on this matter there is a substantial body of opinion on both sides of the House that they are wrong and that we should leave the matter as it was when it left the House of Commons.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) referred to Bristol being a jazzed-up parish council. I hope that that will be written on his tombstone in Bristol. Whatever the status that Bristol in his view will have after reorganisation, it will have a substantial budget, even a substantial tourist budget. There is nothing wrong in Bristol promoting itself abroad, either in Bordeaux, for example, with which it is twinned, or with Timbuctoo. Indeed, perhaps Tynemouth could be twinned with Timbuctoo if we disagree with the Amendment.

I also support Weymouth on this occasion because my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) is at the other end of the earth, far from the joys of Weymouth. There is nothing wrong with Weymouth promoting itself in the Channel Islands. I am not sure whether it will not be allowed to do so if the Lords have their way, although it might be prohibited from promoting its interests further away.

The British Tourist Authority does a magnificent job. Tomorrow I go to sit on a statutory committee of the Authority, promoting the welfare of historic houses and perhaps even their owners. It does a better job than any of us can do individually, but we are small fry compared with those great local authorities which I am happy to support, especially the City of Bristol. There is nothing wrong with some of these local authorities pursuing their special interests.

The British Tourist Authority as a whole cannot possibly look after the interests of Bristol, Blackpool, Weymouth, Tynemouth, Lymington, Thanet, Exeter, Torquay, Dover—we have them all here. So I am sure that the Government, even if they have some misgivings about this, will let us have our way and see how we get on.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

I am entirely opposed to this Amendment for two reasons. First, it is contrary to Tory policy in that it interferes with the rights of local authorities to look after their own interests. Secondly, it is a total nonsense because among other things it would prevent a town like Blackpool advertising, say, in Dublin. For these two not unpowerful reasons, I hope that the Government will reject the Lords Amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Speed

I thank hon. Members on both sides who have made this a short, sharp but very interesting debate. I want to put one or two things right.

First, Lords Amendment No. 191 would mean that all local authority advertising abroad would be channelled through a particular agency, in this case the British Tourist Authority. It does not mean a diminution in existing powers—I make that clear. Existing powers under the Local Authorities (Publicity) Act, 1931, at this present moment only apply to boroughs and districts. In addition, there are 11 authorities with their own Acts empowering them to advertise abroad. That is the existing situation.

I should like to make it clear that even if Amendment No. 191 were accepted, it would not take away any powers that local authorities now have. Nevertheless, it has been made clear that every hon. Member who has spoken feels that, as we are re-organising local government, and particularly with growing internationalism, it would be better if local authorities had power to undertake their own advertising abroad if they wish to do so.

I am glad that a number of hon. Members have paid tribute to the British Tourist Authority, a body of considerable expertise and marketing experience. I hope that whatever is decided about the Amendment, local authorities will continue to use it and do so extensively. If the House were to disagree with the Lords Amendment, it would still be right and proper for there to be many local authorities using that expertise and experience. But if the House takes the course that I have forecast, I would still think that my Department, or the Department of Trade and Industry, should later send a circular to the new authorities to point out the considerable advantages of using the British Tourist Authority.

Nevertheless, I am impressed by all that has been said. The philosophy of the Bill is to give more rather than less freedom to local authorities. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). As she knows, I frequently visit the North of England and I agree with everything she said about the marvellous attractions of that part of the country. The philosophy and principle argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) are important. The new and larger and more viable authorities are to be entrusted with many more powers and we are to take from them the overshadowing control exercised by the Government.

I am confident that many if not most of them will continue to use the excellent services of the British Tourist Authority and in due course we shall be advising them about those services. However, accepting that local authorities are to have more freedom, I recommend the House to disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Question put and negatived.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to. [Special Entry.]

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