HC Deb 21 February 1984 vol 54 cc777-84 9.27 pm
Mr. Craigen

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 14, leave out 'with or without conditions'.

This amendment should give the Minister the opportunity to explain more thoroughly how he sees the consultative process operating in practice when the Scottish tourist board comes up with its ideas for overseas promotion. I understand that, in all probability, the Scottish tourist board would from time to time present a programme or package of proposals to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Will the Minister tell us the reason for putting, "with or without conditions" in the Bill? The Minister will appreciate that the conduct of operations will often involve commercial considerations and that there will be a fairly limited time scale. It would be useful to know how long it will take the Secretary of State to reach decisions. Moreover, what kind of exhortations, limitations or conditions does the Secretary of State have in mind when he includes that point in the Bill?

My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) spoke earlier about the £200,000 and how different parts of Scotland might benefit from overseas promotional work. He no doubt had in mind the rate support grant and its distribution. Does the Secretary of State have in mind how different parts of Scotland will benefit from added overseas promotion?

The Bill's intention is to innovate and create new opportunities. I wonder whether the terminology in the Bill will be conducive to achieving the Government's intention.

9.30 pm
Mr. John MacKay

It is appropriate that I start by saying that I am pleased to see you in the Chair, Mr. Dean, as your interest in Scottish tourism was no doubt greatly encouraged by your fortnight's stay in the island of Coll in my constituency this year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I apologise, but every other hon. Member has got in a plug for his constituency. I thought that I had better do the same, and what better advertisement than a satisfied customer sitting in the Chair for this Committee?

I shall explain to the Committee the normal way in which tourist promotion programmes come about. I expect that the Scottish tourist board will look ahead at about this time for next year's promotion, and draw up a programme of consultations presumably not only with the Highlands and Islands Development Board, with which it is in close consultation on the important home market. It will then draw up a plan and a budget for the plan, which it will submit to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. At that stage my right hon. Friend will ask the British Tourist Authority for its view. From our experience of the BTA's views being sought for programmes under the 1982 Act from tourist bodies such as local authorities, we can say that a speedy response will be given by the BTA. We have no doubt that a similar speedy response would be given to my right hon. Friend in the circumstances that we are envisaging.

We are then at the stage at which I can answer the question why the words "with or without conditions" have been included. The reason is that, when my right hon. Friend has the BTA's comments and has seen some of the other promotional activities that other local authorities have put to him, or even some industrial promotional activity taking place abroad, he may decide that it would be a good thing if the STB's proposals were fitted into some other proposal coming to his desk. Rather than send the proposal back to the STB and ask it to put in another one, it is sensible to say that it can have the promotion with one condition; perhaps it could look at the possibility of changing the date to marry up with a programme being carried out by the BTA or somebody else, or, instead of a particular method of propaganda, it would consider an alternative method that would fit into the appropriate dates. Such a conditional agreement could save time and bureaucracy.

The words are there so that my right hon. Friend will have the power to give conditional approval, if he wishes to put the promotion on to a programme that we are still examining and thus save the time of the STB and the Department, with proposals going backwards and forwards to be re-submitted as a whole package. I hope that, with that explanation, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Craigen

Given what the Minister has said, it would be my intention to withdraw the amendment, but could he add one further comment? I take his point about an annual programme being the method of procedure, but I hope that he will not exclude an opportunity that may suddenly arise, in which the STB feels that it has something that it would like to support, and that there will be some flexibility within the procedures to take account of that. It would be a tragedy if Scotland were to lose out on something simply because of the slow mechanism of the system.

Mr. John MacKay

I accept that point. I know that occasionally something comes up and the STB thinks that it would like to plug in to something else abroad; it wants to submit a plan to my right hon. Friend and to proceed quickly. I assure the hon. Member that the procedure that we see working when we consult the BTA about the proposals from local authorities suggests that in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman envisages, we should get a speedy response from the BTA and give a speedy response to the STB, for the proper reasons that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

Mr. Craigen

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Dewar

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 15, leave out from 'State' to end of line 16.

We have had what could euphemistically and optimistically be described as a wide-ranging Second Reading debate, in the course of which the substance of this amendment has surfaced more than once. However, as so often happens in considering a specific amendment, it is difficult to concentrate on the issue that is causing anxiety. We are therefore justified in tabling this amendment.

The effect of the amendment is to remove what I shall call the second leg of the conditions which hedge and inhibit the Scottish tourist board's freedom to use the new power given to it in clause 1. We challenge not the requirement to consult the Secretary of State for Scotland, but the condition that the Secretary of State shall, before giving or withholding his consent, consult the British Tourist Authority. We are entitled to ask why that second restriction is necessary.

After all, Mr. Campbell—Mr. Dean. I am sorry. If I may say so, that is an interesting example of the conditioning of the human mind. The many hours under my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Campbell) on the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill have implanted the very improper thought in my mind that every Chairman is called Campbell. I realise, of course, that that is not so.

The Minister made a general case—I understand it, but I do not entirely accept it—that it is necessary to ensure that there is no sudden outbreak of unrivalled competition between the Scottish tourist board and the English tourist board in promoting their various interests firth the United Kingdom. Even if we accept that there is a danger — it is always a little quaint to hear Conservative Ministers talking about unbridled competition as a menace to be avoided — I should have thought that the need to consult the Secretary of State would itself have ensured that that unfortunate fear, if justified, did not arise.

We have good grounds for that supposition. Only in 1982, some of us—I was one, although I do not believe that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay) was — under the present Government, were wrestling with the local government, planning and land legislation in its various stages. We had a long debate about the right of district councils which, under the Stodart report, were being made the primary authorities responsible for tourism. There was a long debate about what steps should be taken to ensure that there was not the fragmentation which I should have thought was an even greater danger when dealing with 53 Scottish district councils.

At that stage, the Government were perfectly happy with the provision that before a district council made a sally abroad for promotion purposes, it had the permission of the Secretary of State. No one suggested that, in addition, there was a need to consult the British Tourist Authority or anyone else. It was accepted that the promotion could go ahead if the Secretary of State was consulted and gave his permission. In the case of district councils, that does not rule out the Secretary of State consulting the British Tourist Authority, although presumably he would not do that on every occasion. No doubt if he thought that the promotion might lead to confusion or overlap, or if he thought that it was a wasteful use of resources, the Secretary of State, under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act, could go to the British Tourist Authority and say, "What do you think about this?" No doubt its view would be persuasive in deciding whether his consent was given or withheld.

The Committee considering that legislation, and the House on Report and at subsequent stages, and presumably Governments, since they made no attempt to dissuade the House, felt that the Secretary of State's permission simpliciter — if I may put it that way, at least in statutory terms — was sufficient safeguard against the possibility of anarchy, which has been foreseen in the arguments that we have heard tonight.

As the Minister is well aware, the other example that has been fairly quoted is even more strongly on the side of the amendment—the precedent of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I recognise that the Minister has said that it will be spending only about £150,000 on overseas promotion in either the coming year or the following year, but presumably that budget could vary. I gather that it spends about £7 million a year on tourism but presumably it could increase its spending on overseas promotion at its discretion. Proportionately, it is a much higher budget than the Bill allows the Scottish tourist board. It has not, apparently, created any anxiety in the Government's mind. There has been no suggestion that it has led to the kind of difficulties that are anticipated. Had such difficulties occurred, we could have assumed that the Government would have taken advantage of one of the many legislative opportunities in the past few years to come forward with proposals to inhibit the freedom of manoeuvre for the Highlands and Islands Development Board in this area.

The danger seems to have been exaggerated. I am being charitable in assuming that some safeguard is necessary, but I cannot for the life of me see why the safeguard that is written into the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Act 1982 is not sufficient to meet the present circumstances as well. The amendment seeks to remove what we see as an unnecessary additional provision, leaving the safeguard on all fours with that which is considered satisfactory in terms of local authority operations in a similar area and of a similar kind. The amendment is the essence of reasonableness and has a great deal of force behind it. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to consider it seriously and with some favour.

Will the Minister say a word or two about the relationship between the British Tourist Authority and the Secretary of State in the consultative process? The Secretary of State is not the lead Department—to use the jargon of Government. Presumably the Department of Trade and Industry puts fear into the heart of the British Tourist Authority. It is unfortunate that the Scottish Office should oppose consultation with the British Tourist Authority. If the British Tourist Authority were to say that it did not want a promotion to go ahead because it was inopportune for strategic reasons, however obscure and unworthy in the eyes of the Scottish tourist board, I presume that the Scottish Office could say that it had consulted the British Tourist Authority but would pay no attention to its view and would go ahead. The Scottish Office does that in many consultative procedures. I want it put on the record that consultation with the British Tourist Authority will have all the validity and productive results that consultation by the Scottish Office with other organisations so often has in other spheres.

I am sure that the Minister accepts that there is considerable and fair anxiety in our minds about the possible fusion of the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board at some future date. Several Conservative Members have expressed anxiety about this. I hope that the opposition of Conservatives will be maintained even if they discover that the Government intend to let the merger take place. There is an obvious awkwardness in terms of impartiality and the range of responsibility that would remain with the British Tourist Authority. With that on the agenda it is important that we look sympathetically at the amendment. We are entitled to express our alarm in view of the way in which the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, when making his recent statement in the House about the review of tourism, did everything in his power to minimise the importance of the concession in the Bill to the Scottish tourist board.

In that context, the amendment would do something to reassure us about the intentions of the Government and help us feel that the Bill was not merely a piece of cosmetic window-dressing which would bring no practical fruits in the promotion of tourism. The provision is unnecessary from the precedents that I cited and there is no reason why the consultation process, if it is to take place, should not be done at the discretion of the Scottish Office, and it should not become a statutory duty in the prim and formal way that is being suggested.

9.45 pm
Mr. Maxton

I support the amendment because either this is a dangerous part of the Bill or it represents unnecessary verbiage.

If, as the Under-Secretary said, there is no veto, what will happen when the Scottish tourist board says, "We want to establish an office or do a promotion in New York or Washington."? It will go to the Secretary of State, who may say, "I see no great objection to that and I shall put no conditions on it, but I must now consult the BTA." One of the right hon. Gentleman's officials telephones an official at the BTA and says, "The Scottish tourist board wants to establish a scheme in Washington," or whatever the proposal may be. If the BTA replies, "That is not on," and the Scottish Office official says, "I have consulted the BTA," and puts down the telephone, and the Scottish tourist board carries on with its scheme or proposal, the provision represents unnecessary verbiage. If that is what it means, it should not be in the Bill.

On the other hand, if it means—as some of my hon. Friends feel it does—that the BTA will have a veto over any proposal by the Scottish tourist board, we are not prepared to see the BTA have that sort of power. If it does not mean that, it is unnecessary and the Minister should accept the amendment and delete the provision. If he does not agree to delete it, we shall regard it as a veto and be disturbed by it being in the Bill.

We seem, again, to be giving the BTA extra power. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, the Bill becomes meaningless window-dressing because the BTA remains the authority, although it is essentially not now the British Tourist Authority but the English tourist board, in that the chairman of both is one and the same person.

We also know that the Minister responsible is not the Secretary of State for Scotland but the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He will have the veto, and that causes concern to those of us who wish to see not independence for Scotland but greater autonomy for the Scottish institutions to run their own affairs.

Mr. Wilson

I, too, shall be brief, because the arguments for the amendment have been well adduced by the hon. Members for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton).

The Government gave the game away in the debate on the last amendment when the Under-Secretary said that the BTA would be the lead organisation. It follows, therefore, if the BTA is the lead organisation, that the responsible Minister for that quango—the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry — will be the lead Minister. If a dispute broke out between the Scottish tourist board and the British Tourist Authority, how would it be resolved?

I suggest that it would be naive to expect that the BTA would make its reservations known to the Secretary of State for Scotland in terms of the consultation power. It would go to its lead Minister. The matter would then go to a Cabinet sub-committee, where it would be thrashed out. The Scottish Office, compared with the might, power and majesty of the Department of Trade and Industry, is a pigmy which would be overruled if there were any real dispute. It is well known that this little promise, which was slipped in to the Scottish Conservative manifesto, came as some surprise to the Department of Trade and Industry, which hitherto had not been very keen on a change in the classical structure.

If—this has been proven in debate and admitted by the Government because it has been published — the chairman of the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board is to be one and the same person, and the functions of those bodies in some cases are to be merged or resolved for better co-ordination, the substantial influence of the ETB will be added to the power of the BTA. If that is the case, we must be careful about the two lines that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden is seeking to excise. There is no reason for a Conservative Government, who allegedly believe in competition and are introducing competition into various monopolies, to be so scared of competition among the various tourist bodies which know best, or should know best, how to look after tourism in their areas. If the Government do not accept the amendment, they are making a declaration of no confidence and lack of trust in the Scottish tourist board and its chairman.

I suggest that, if the Government trust the Scottish tourist board to perform its functions and control its budget, its choice of chairman and so forth, they ought to cut out those harmful and damaging words in the Bill and leave the promotion of tourism in Scotland to the Scottish tourist board, with the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I naturally expect the Secretary of State for Scotland, being aware of pressures on the flank from the BTA, to take them on board. For once, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart has a good point when he says that either those words mean something or they do not. I suspect that they mean something. There will be ample proof if the Government do not accept the amendment. The House would be naive if it took a different view.

I hope that the Opposition will press the amendment, because it is not only reasonable but one of principle.

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) was wholly wrong on so many points of fact that it is hard to give credibility to his conclusions. It is surprising that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who is a straightforward nationalist, unlike the hon. Member for Cathcart, should have allowed himself to be dragged along on such a series of false premises. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will confirm my understanding of the Bill—that, in practice, the Scottish tourist board, in a major overseas effort, would consult the BTA to see, apart from anything else, how much money the BTA would provide. If the Scottish tourist board and the BTA do not agree, I understand that the arbiter will be the Secretary of State for Scotland. I should have thought that hon. Members would not find much wrong with that.

Mr. Dalyell

We have got on to thin ice. The House of Commons is an extraordinary place. We go on for hours when nothing much happens, then suddenly hon. Members begin to lift stones. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) lifted a stone and out came all sorts of creepy crawly things, little awkward points—

Mr. Wilson

Is this the Linlithgow question?

Mr. Dalyell

I am afraid it is.

It is a matter of deja vu: some of us have been here before. We were in this position in 1977, 1978 and 1979. I do not pretend that the future of the Scottish tourist board has anything like the momentous importance of the constitutional arrangements of the UK, but there are somewhat similar problems. How odd it is that the House of Commons goes on talking and talking before beginning suddenly to bring up these issues.

I shall make a wager with my hon. Friends. I assert that the Government will resist the amendment because it is crucial to the Bill and not because it is unnecessary. I shall reveal why it is crucial. Without these few innocuous words in the Bill, the British Tourist Authority and the Department of Trade and Industry would never have accepted it in the first place.

I listened carefully to the inelegant reply of the Under-Secretary of State, who has evaporated, and that is when I became suspicious. The hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag. He could not answer the crucial question and I thought that it would be indelicate of me, in view of political history, to make the speech of the previous hon. Member for York, Mr. Lyon. That speech having been made, someone at some time will have to answer it. The question that I asked directly of the Under-Secretary, who should have returned, was whether the British Tourist Authority had agreed to that which is set out in the Bill. I suspect that it may have done, but I believe that it did so only on the condition that the few words that the amendment would omit were included in the Bill.

My purpose is to make a plea for some candour and a bit of honesty. If we wish to pass through the back door, we must first press the Minister on precisely what is meant. I do not want to keep the House of Commons any longer than is necessary, so I merely say that if there was an agreement with the BTA, it would have been more candid if the Minister has said so bluntly to my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden.

Mr. John MacKay

We have had a most interesting debate. I was wondering what would come out from the stones lifted by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Now I know. I do not subscribe to the same Machiavellian theory of politics as the hon. Gentleman. The reason for the inclusion of the two lines in the Bill which the amendment seeks to remove is a simple one that I explained in my opening speech. Some Labour Members disagree with the proposition, but we believe that it is best in the tourist interests of the entire United Kingdom, and of Scotland especially, that the BTA should act as the main tourist promoter of Britain, including Scotland, overseas. We believe it wise that it takes the leading role.

I know that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), for example, would happily break that arrangement apart and would have nothing to do with the BTA or, presumably, the English tourist board. I do not know what his long-held anti-English view would do to our English-based tourist trade, which is vital to the Scottish tourist industry and which would be destroyed if English tourists came across too many people who expressed the views that we hear from the Scottish National party.

The British Tourist Authority has a budget of about £27 million, from both public funds and the private funds which it draws into its promotions. It would be foolhardy to set up an organisation parallel to the BTA, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East suggested. That shows the extent of the role of the British Tourist Authority abroad. Of that £27 million, the identifiable Scottish share is about £3.5 million. It seems perfectly sensible that if the Scottish tourist board is to make the best use of that sum, it should consult, and my right hon. Friend should consult—

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report progress.

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