HC Deb 13 January 1992 vol 201 cc764-83

10.9 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)

I beg to move, That the draft Tourism (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved. I have said before to hon. Members, and I say again, that Northern Ireland has had remarkable success in bucking the current economic trend. It has, for example, contained annual growth in unemployment to a level substantially lower than elsewhere in the country—4 per cent. in Ulster compared with almost 60 per cent. in Great Britain. This is not, of course, in any way to minimise the seriousness of job losses that have been announced in Northern Ireland. However, the relative buoyancy of its economy is, I suggest, very well reflected in the various imaginative investments that continue to be made across the length and breadth of the Province.

The past six weeks have been very difficult for Northern Ireland, and especially for Belfast. Attacks by the IRA on the city and citizens of Belfast caused extensive damage. One such attack destroyed the high street tourist information centre. The fact that the staff at the centre picked up the pieces and were open for business the following day is a prime example of the resilience and resolution of the people of Belfast and amply proves that such attacks achieve nothing except the destruction of jobs and the deferment of economic improvement. The Government intend to match that resolve and fortitude by making good the damage. I am certain that the House will join me in congratulating the people of Belfast and in expressing our deep appreciation of the successes that the security forces have been achieving.

Tourism in Northern Ireland, as I shall illustrate, has unique potential for growth—and with the added impetus of this proposed legislation, it will make a major contribution to economic development in our region.

Visitor figures for 1990, for the second year, were at an all-time record level of 1.153 million. No fewer than one in five visitors came to Northern Ireland exclusively for a holiday, compared with one in nine 10 years ago. Of all holiday visitors in 1990, 102,000—or almost half—came from the south, a more than 50 per cent. increase over the previous year; and a quarter of holiday visitors, 55,000, came from Great Britain—an increase of more than 60 per cent. on the previous year. Those truly remarkable results owe much to the enterprising professionalism of the reconstituted Northern Ireland tourist board and show very clearly that Northern Ireland is being accepted again as a uniquely attractive holiday destination.

That is just the start. The scenic, recreational and cultural attractions of Northern Ireland compare with the world's best and are at least on a par with those of our neighbours in the south. The full potential of tourism in Northern Ireland has yet to be achieved, as can be seen from the fact that, whereas tourism in the Republic presently accounts for 6.8 per cent of gross national product, and provides some 82,000 jobs, the comparable figures for Northern Ireland are 1.3 per cent. of GDP and about 10,000 jobs.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of both Great Britain and the Republic to the growth of tourism in Northern Ireland. However, also of tremendous importance to Northern Ireland are tourists from North America, Europe and Japan. They too are coming in increasing numbers; there is much further potential in those markets.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Does the level of employment have anything to do with the fact that the Republic spends on average £8 per head on every visitor, whereas Northern Ireland spends only £2?

Mr. Needham

I am not sure that levels of unemployment bear any relationship to the spending in the south of Ireland on tourism, compared with spending in the north. However, as the hon. Gentleman will find when I conclude my remarks, I agree and accept that much more could, should and will be done to increase spending in promoting Northern Ireland as a tourist destination.

We can be encouraged by the current growth of tourism to Northern Ireland, but if growing numbers of tourists are to visit our magnificent attractions, we must improve the quality and standard of the facilities to look after them. That does not mean that we should not be proud of what we have already done. An outstanding example was the major programme of events held during Belfast 91. That included the world rose festival, but taking pride of place in the programme was the immensely successful visit of the tall ships to Belfast lough. Apart from its success in enticing a multitude of overseas visitors, that attracted half a million people from all sections of the community, who thronged the streets in one of the biggest shared celebrations in the city's history.

I am certain that Londonderry, with its Impact 92, will have an equally exciting year of enjoyment, and that tourism in Derry will be one of the main beneficiaries.

The challenge is also about tackling the impediments to the growth of tourism. Perhaps the most demanding of the challenges is to improve the quality of the services that we offer our visitors, as well as promoting the best of Ulster. The solution must lie in significantly stepping up the promotional efforts of the Government, Northern Ireland tourist board, the Industrial Development Board, and other interests. Close collaboration between all concerned will be essential if we are to achieve that success.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

I am sure that the Minister would add good transport links to the list of requirements—and, if possible, new access routes into Northern Ireland. With that in mind, I deeply sympathise with his predicament in losing some of his budget as a consequence of the horrors of terrorism and the need to pay for the structural damage that it does. However, can he still give an assurance—obviously, this is of interest to my constituents—that the prospects for Ballycastle as a point of entry and egress are still very much alive?

Mr. Needham

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We have discussed that issue, and I agree with him that it is of great importance to improve on the links between Scotland and Northern Ireland—not least, at Ballycastle.

The need to improve quality in everything we do was starkly illustrated in the recent Horwath consultancy report. It concluded that in general our hotels and guest houses did not satisfy the needs and expectations of the tourist market and offered poor value for money. It recommended a concerted drive to improve quality if we were to have any hope of matching the demands of the market, and it emphasised the importance of better training. I am determined, as is the NITB, that, together with the industry, we will meet the desired standards and make the improvements required.

The order gives us the vehicle for achieving the strategy for tourism that the Government have developed over the past two years in association with the industry. It puts the board in the central role in tourism development and increases its powers, so that it may carry out the challenging task of increasing the competitiveness of the industry.

I believe that a maximum membership of nine will ensure more effective decision-making. The nine-member board already in place is, as I mentioned earlier, achieving excellent results. The board will operate at arm's length from the Department, and will assume direct operational responsibility for all tourism development programmes, including the major programmes sponsored by the European Community and the International Fund for Ireland.

It is vital that the board works closely with the key interests in tourism, so that a coherent and sensible approach is presented and understood by all. Consultative arrangements to achieve that aim are specified in the order.

A new, more flexible scheme of selective financial assistance is to be introduced to strengthen the board's ability to persuade the industry to bring forward worthwhile projects. A preliminary scheme already in operation has attracted a promising range of projected new developments.

That is a most important provision. All tourists and holidaymakers, when they sit down to plan a holiday, want to know with absolute certainty that what they are being offered has been thoroughly checked out, comes up to scratch, and represents value for money. That must be a main priority for the tourist board.

The regulatory arrangements proposed in the order require all tourist accommodation to comply with a set of minimum standards for various categories of establishment. Let me put that simply: it prohibits the provision or offer of tourist accommodation that has not been certified as meeting those minimum standards.

Although no major changes are made to the tourism powers of district councils, provision is made for closer co-operation and partnership between the board and the councils in the provision and marketing of tourism products. Let me stress that such co-operation is absolutely essential to the strategy for tourism: I congratulate both the NITB and the councils on how well they have started the process of working together. I believe that the success that has followed the meeting of February 1991 augurs very well for future co-operation between them.

As a token of the Government's commitment, and to demonstrate the importance that we attach to increasing the number of visitors to this most beautiful part of our country, we have this year increased the tourist budget from £6.7 million to £10.9 million. The order, and that financial commitment, must give the industry the best start in 1992 for which it could ever have hoped. It now has a statutory framework, and enjoys financial support at a level unequalled at any time in the past.

I commend the order to the House.

10.21 pm
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

I join the Minister in congratulating the people of Belfast on the resolution and fortitude that they showed during the Christmas period of cowardly terrorism in the Province.

This is a nice, non-controversial little order with which to start 1992—although I cannot guarantee that the current mood of conviviality will continue as we approach the inevitable general election. I do not intend to take up much of the time of the House: indeed, I do not expect to speak for more than seven or eight minutes—little longer than I took last time I spoke. I know that hon. Members representing the Province will want to describe the beauties and tourist amenities in their constituencies. Let me, however, make a small plea to those who visit the Province on holiday: if they go via Wigan pier, they will be given an excellent and cordial welcome.

As the Minister has explained, the order sets out the duties and responsibilities of the NITB. The contents and aims of the order are wholly acceptable to the Opposition: we are strongly in favour of what the Minister is doing. Tourism is an important industry, not just in Northern Ireland but in the island of Ireland as a whole. Despite the cowardly activities of terrorists who aim to disrupt normal life in Northern Ireland, the industry continues to grow, as the Minister has pointed out. More and more people are not being intimidated, and not being dissuaded from visiting a beautiful country.

I wish to pay a special tribute to the enthusiastic and assiduous way in which the Minister has promoted the tourist attractions of Northern Ireland. I am sure that he, in turn, will wish to pay tribute to Commissioner Bruce Milian and the European Community for the considerable help that they have given in funding many of the tourist projects that have proved so successful not only in Northern Ireland, but in the island as a whole.

As we enter 1992—the year of the internal market, the year when barriers will come down—tourism is set to play an important part in the efforts to develop and improve the regional economies of the Republic of Ireland and of Northern Ireland. A successful tourist policy will result in the creation of jobs and the diversification of economic activity and will bring many benefits, in terms of vastly improved amenities, to the local population.

To help the economies of the island of Ireland to catch up with those of the more prosperous parts of the European Community, we must find ways of increasing economic activity. Tourism is undoubtedly one of the most promising growth sectors, and it is in that sector that the most important issues we face can be addressed and standards raised in absolute terms.

I have referred to the role that the European Community has played in the advancement of tourism in Ireland as a whole and in Northern Ireland in particular. I should like to spend a little time providing some detail. The tourism programme, which has been funded from the European development fund together with the European social fund, is designed to make full use of the natural advantages of Ireland as a whole and of Northern Ireland in particular—the features that make Ireland particularly attractive to foreign visitors. The late 1980s and the early 1990s have seen growth in the tourism industry. The European programme seeks to build on that growth. That means enhancing existing potential as well as creating new specialised attractions in the regions.

I understand that, with European Community support, the tourist boards of the Republic and of Northern Ireland are concentrating on niche marketing. They are emphasising the aspects where the island has something special to offer—sporting activities, such as angling, boating on rivers and at sea, golf, riding, cycling and walking, and the cultural and historical heritage. A centralised genealogical service will be set up for the benefit of emigrants' descendants who wish to trace their ancestors. Historic houses and interpretive centres will be conserved and developed.

Both the European programmes pay particular attention to protection of the environment—one of the most precious assets of the island of Ireland. Both make provision for assistance in marketing—a matter that is particularly important in Northern Ireland. Those programmes build on previous European assistance programmes for tourism—in particular, programmes relating to border areas. Experience has shown the importance of training measures funded out of the European social fund to ensure a supply of well-qualified staff to meet the increasing tourist demand.

These Europe-funded programmes will play an important part in boosting tourism in the island of Ireland, thereby contributing to greater economic prosperity. Not only will that benefit the populations of the north and the south, but countless visitors will be better able to appreciate the natural beauty and the heritage of northern Ireland and southern Ireland.

In addition, tourism has an important part to play in the creation of jobs in both the north and the south. For example, the Ballyconnell canal project—the initial stage of which was opend by the Taoiseach and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—will result in the opening up of a navigable waterway from the Shannon to Lough Erne. I very much hope that, when it is completed in a couple of years' time, my family and I will take a trip on the canal.

The European Community has produced a booklet which, as the Minister knows, sets out several projects in which the Community has been involved and the amount of money that it has put into tourism in Northern Ireland. I cite the project with which I am most familiar—the Foyle railway in Derry. My good friend Alfie O'Connor, is the secretary. The money spent on that project has not merely added tourist potential to Derry but created jobs. It has done something that other expenditure has not done in the past. The booklet published by the European Community outlines the vast amounts of money that it has put into tourism in Northern Ireland, and the way in which the local economy is being rejuvenated.

The order will regulate the activities of the tourist industry in Northern Ireland to ensure that good standards are set and maintained and inspections are regularly carried out. That is what is required and why we welcome the Minister's proposals.

Has there been a fall-off in visitors to the Province from north America since the Gulf war? Many visitors go to the mainland of the United Kingdom before travelling to Ireland or Northern Ireland.

A passage in the order relates to the tourism functions of district councils. My party and I are not opposed to the extension of powers which are included in the order. It gives district councils the power to do a number of things to enhance the potential of tourism. District councils in Northern Ireland do not have to put up with the poll tax or capping, as district councils do in the rest of the United Kingdom. Are there any revenue implications for district councils in carrying out the functions set out in part V? Will there be any capital costs to local councils? If so, who will pay for them? Will district councils have to include those costs in the annual budget and in the rates levied on the community or will the Northern Ireland Office accept the costs of the additional facilities that district councils will now be able to provide?

In the time that I have known Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, since my appointment to the Opposition Front Bench, I have come to love the place. It has wonderful scenery and wonderful people. I only wish that a peaceful climate would emerge in that country so that more people could go to see it. In the meantime, the order facilitates the tourist industry to Northern Ireland and we therefore give it a fair wind.

10.30 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I join the Minister and the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) in paying tribute to the courage and resilience of the Ulster people who, despite massive destruction and death, carry on with business as normal. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Minister who, despite threats from the IRA, has visited many places where he would be an immediate target for a terrorist attack. Members of the security forces and business men throughout Northern Ireland do not have security in their homes or even in their places of work, but that has not deterred them from doing their jobs. That great resolve has enabled Northern Ireland to survive more than 20 years of appalling atrocity.

Despite terrorism, tourists are still attracted to the Province. Many come from the United States of America and Canada, some from Germany and some from Japan. I had the pleasure of showing a former member of the Japanese Government around parts of my constituency in North Down.

Northern Ireland and the people of Ulster have been given a bad press by the media, especially by television. That is bound to have an adverse effect on attracting tourists to the Province, especially from Great Britain. Many terrorist incidents are not reported on national television, even though a similar incident in Britain would receive prime coverage. Television tends to depict the majority of the Ulster people in the worst possible light. Its presentation of Ulster people as bigoted and unfriendly is a cruel defamation, but on the basis that if a lie is repeated often enough people will begin to believe it, that lie could easily take root in Britain.

I denounce that image of Northern Ireland as a lie. It is high time that television companies in Britain, and some of those abroad, started being fair to the people of Ulster, who are the finest people in the world. Of course I am biased, because I live in Ulster and I know and appreciate the fine qualities of its people, who are warm-hearted, kind, hospitable, humorous and caring. A Northern Ireland Minister may begin his duties full of fear and trepidation, but once he arrives in the Province he realises that he is in a land that is good and kindly. Northern Ireland Ministers never wish to give up their job and return to the mainland.

President Buchanan, the 15th president of the United States of America, was one of more than a dozen United States presidents with Ulster origins. He said that his Ulster blood was a priceless heritage, and in uttering those words so long ago he could easily have been speaking for the people of Northern Ireland today. When people come to Northern Ireland, they discover the truth about it—the magic of Ulster, about which we heard from the Minister and the hon. Member for Wigan. That is why I support any measure to encourage more visitors to the Province. I doubt whether the tourist board has displayed the vigour necessary to project the appeal of Northern Ireland, but the most costly advertising and promotion can be undermined and vitiated by television bias against Northern Ireland.

Let me nail the lie, so endlessly repeated, that the Scots first came to Northern Ireland when the plantation of the north-east of Ireland took place 300 years ago. Historically, the Ulster people were the first people to occupy any part of the island of Ireland. The people of what is now Scotland crossed the 22 miles to Antrim and Down, which are plainly visible from Scotland. The patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, was a Briton who was taken under duress to Ulster, spent most of his life in Northern Ireland, and died there.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

Like the Minister.

Mr. Kilfedder

Yes, the Minister was taken under duress, but he does not want to leave us now.

The IRA and its sympathisers keep shouting, "Brits out of Ireland." If St. Patrick returned to Ireland today, I assume that the IRA would tell him, as a Brit, to get out of Ireland—and if it could, it would like to murder him. St. Patrick got rid of the snakes from Ireland. If he came back today, he would feel it a duty to get rid of those who parade as IRA patriots—the gunmen and the evil men who haunt our Province and kill people, destroy buildings and take away jobs.

Tourism will help to generate more jobs and to improve employment prospects in Northern Ireland. Far too many people in the Province are unemployed, and my constituency is no exception. Anything that will help to provide more jobs is to be encouraged. Perhaps the Government could help by providing more finance to clear up litter, which is all too easily seen on our streets and beaches. Perhaps they could force local authorities to deal with the fouling of streets by dogs, which seem to be about in such vast numbers. Certainly, any street I walk in Bangor seems to have been visited by a fair number of dogs in the previous 24 hours.

Tourism is not only about providing amenities for tourists to Northern Ireland. As article 2 makes clear, a tourist includes a person travelling for pleasure within Northern Ireland. For me recreational amenities created for tourists are also for local people. Local people already enjoy the benefits of a visit to the Ulster folk and transport museum in my constituency, and to the Dundonald ice bowl in the other part of my constituency within the council area of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). Those attractions should be there for local people to enjoy.

More people should come to Northern Ireland. People do not realise the cultural heritage of Ulster and the Ulster people. In my constituency, the town of Bangor is the site of an ancient abbey which many centuries ago sent out people to bring light to Europe, which was then in darkness. Bangor is one of the few places on these islands marked on the mappa mundi. We have suffered invasions— I cannot remember the precise date, but I think it was about the year 600, when the Vikings destroyed the abbey and slaughtered the scholars there. Nevertheless, Bangor continued and still exists today.

That is the answer that we give to the present-day marauders who are out to destroy Northern Ireland economically and in every other way: the Ulster people will survive and endure.

10.42 pm
Mr Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

I shall have to disturb the peace and harmony of the debate because I must make my usual formal protest about Orders in Council for Northern Ireland business. There are 34 articles and three schedules in the order. We have one and a half hours to debate them. As everyone knows, we cannot change one comma or full stop. The Minister will not be surprised that I protest about that. Indeed, he would be disappointed if I did not.

My second protest is that we are now creating yet another quango. The Minister will have the power to appoint the members of the tourist board. He will appoint the chairman, then the deputy or vice chairman, and so on. Tonight we are in double jeopardy: first, we are putting this through by Order in Council and, secondly, we are to create a quango responsible to no one but the head of the Department.

A great chance has been lost tonight, as I believe that a number of councillors should be on the tourist board by right. However, I would not expect all the board members to be councillors because one needs a sprinkling of professionals. Nevertheless, councillors should have been given the opportunity to show what they can do. Hon. Members who represent different parts of Northern Ireland will seek to talk them up tonight; councillors would act likewise, regardless of their political party. If we had councillors on the tourist board, at least some of its members would be responsible to the people who elected them and representative of those people. It is important to stress that.

Why is the tourist board report for 1990 not yet available? The report for 1989—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. If hon. Members want to make comments, we should all hear them so that they can be recorded in Hansard.

Mr. Forsythe

Inquiries were made to the appropriate part of the Department and we were told that the 1990 report would not be available for a couple of days. That was most unfortunate as it meant that I was unable to look at the report, which has now been handed to a colleague. I am glad that we finally have that report, but it should have been in October. Surely we should be able to expect the report within six months of the end of the year.

Mr. Needham

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not rising earlier to make the matter clear. I apologise for the fact that the 1990 report was not available earlier. The hon. Gentleman is right that it should have been. The report is on a new format and, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, there have been changes in personnel. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that, from now on, we will do everything in our power to ensure that the report is available within three rather than six months of the end of the year.

Mr. Forsythe

I welcome that, and I thank the Minister for his consideration in this matter.

There are few, if any, United Kingdom maps and leaflets on Northern Ireland. In other words, there is a division between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There are leaflets and maps showing the whole of the island of Ireland, but that is not enough. According to the tourist board's annual report for 1990, 53 per cent. of those who visited Northern Ireland came from Great Britain, and they spent £83.25 million. Why do we not produce maps and leaflets for those visitors? Why do we not have a tourist office in Scotland, given that 11 per cent. of tourists came from there in 1990 and spent £15.5 million in Northern Ireland?

It is a shame that the Minister is not wearing his other hat, because there is a problem in an area of my constituency concerning two different roads—the Killead bypass and the A26. The Killead bypass was promised for the beginning of 1992 and the A26 was promised for the beginning of 1993. The work on those roads is to remedy two bottlenecks outside the international airport which we are told is to be privatised. Even if the airport is left as it is, there is a bottleneck in the road leading to the south of the Province and beyond, and a bottleneck in the road leading to the north of the Province from the airport. There appears to have been extremely poor planning, with a bottleneck on either side of an international airport, and perhaps more thought should have been given to the fact that sufficient money was not available.

There has been much publicity about the poor condition of the rivers. Although fisherman have made allegations about how those conditions were caused, and suggestions about what should be done about them, no action has been taken by the Department of the Environment or the Department of Agriculture.

There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with certain aspects of fishing areas and water conditions in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister consider setting up a new authority to replace the present set-up, in which the Department of Agriculture looks after the development of rivers, and the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland acts as a protection and conservation body? Would it not be possible to have a body which would look after both aspects?

At present, river inspectors are controlled by the Department of the Environment and river bailiffs are controlled by the Fisheries Conservancy Board. The conditions of those two "workmen" are entirely different—a river inspector is treated differently from a bailiff. Ultimately, that is because of finance. The amount of money available to the Fisheries Conservancy Board may not extend to creating employment conditions for bailiffs as good as those for river inspectors. Would it not be better to have an organisation to look at the overall problem? In those circumstances, will the Minister consider allowing councillors—elected representatives—to be on that body, or perhaps to form it completely?

Article 11(4) of the order says: where any instalment of principal or interest or both principal and interest due on foot of any loan made under this Article is more than 31 days in arrear, additional interest at such rate as may be specified in or determined in accordance with the scheme under this Article shall, notwithstanding any statutory provision or rule of law to the contrary, be chargeable on that instalment as from the date on which it fell due and shall be recoverable therewith.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

On the point about the provisions for charging penal rates of interest, does my hon. Friend agree that it is especially disturbing that that will arise under the provisions of a scheme which will override any other statutory provision or rule of law to the contrary? The scheme is a remarkable form of delegated legislation which will override statutory law and the rule of common law, and will be made without any form of parliamentary control. Is that not as outrageous as the practical effects of the provision?

Mr. Forsythe

I agree. The problem arises from the way in which the order goes through and from the fact that we are dealing with another quango.

Article 13 uses the words: to be inspected by an officer of the Board". What qualifications will the officer have when he inspects a property? Is he to be a member of the board, or will he be a professional?

Article 20 deals with fees. Surely it would have been a good idea to give some idea of the fees to be charged, instead of simply saying: In making regulations under this Article the Department shall ensure, so far as is practicable, that the fees payable in respect of the inspections mentioned in paragraph (1) shall be such as to produce an amount sufficient to meet the expenses of the board. That could have been put better to give us an idea what the fees would be.

I refer now to article 30(1). At present, councillors can consult the board. According to the order, councillors will now be required to consult with the board. That is a change which I hope that the Minister can explain to us. Article 30(2) says: A district council may acquire land otherwise than by agreement for the purposes of this Article. Why is the acquiring of land different from the requirement in article 30(1)

Article 31 uses the words: A district council may, with the consent of the Department of Finance and Personnel, transfer to the National Trust". Why is there a difference in that article? Why does it refer to the Department of Finance and Personnel?

Article 32 says: A district council shall consult with the Board before exercising any powers conferred by the Article unless those powers are to be exercised in combination with the Board. The order is saying that all 26 councils in Northern Ireland must consult with the board before they do anything, apart from the two items that I mentioned. I ask the Minister to refer to that point in winding up.

Schedule 1 deals with the appointing of the membership of the board. Will the Minister tell us who the "Head of the Department" is? Is it the Minister himself, or is it the permanent secretary?

How will the procedure for appointing members to the board work? Will their names be taken out of a hat, bearing in mind the fact that the schedule says that the members will be appointed from among persons who appear to him"— the Minister or the head of the Department— to have experience in any field of activity which he considers is relevant"? What criteria will the head of the Department use? Will he refer to the fair employment legislation as well as to other Northern Ireland legislation before making those appointments? When the Minister, or whoever does the job, forms the board, will he ensure that all the sides in Northern Ireland are represented and that the people concerned come from all the different communities?

I ask again why there are no council representatives on the board by right. A councillor could be appointed, but he would be appointed at the will and pleasure of the head of the Department. The point is that the councillors of the 26 councils in Northern Ireland have no right to be on the board.

Paragraph 3(3) of schedule 1 says: The Head of the Department may at any time by notice in writing to a member of the Board remove him from office. What does a member have to have done to be removed from office? Would it not reflect upon the Minister's—or the head of the Department's—ability to appoint if he suddenly had to remove someone from the board? What will be the criteria for removing someone from the board, and in what circumstances would that be done?

Schedule 1(4) says: Where a member becomes or ceases to be the chairman or a deputy chairman…the Head of the Department may vary the terms of appointment. Does that mean that someone can remain a member of the board even though he is no longer its chairman?

I can understand the provision which states: The Board may pay to each member of the Board such remuneration and such allowances as the Department may determine. That is what we would expect, but will the Minister please explain the following: Where a member of the Board is in the employ of any other person, the Board may make to that other person, in consideration of the services of that member to the Board, such payments as the Department may determine. Does that mean not only that someone who is on the board representing a firm will receive his remuneration, whatever it happens to be, but that his firm will receive remuneration in respect of his absence? If so, that is a great departure from all normal practices in these matters.

What sort of quorum will be required? The schedule states: The validity of any proceedings of the Board shall not be affected by any vacancy among the members". Let us suppose that seven of the nine are no longer members of the board. Can the board function with two members? What quorum will be required to enable the board to continue its business?

I wish to allow other hon. Members the opportunity to speak, but these important matters merit discussion. The Minister appoints the tourist board, and the board can then appoint advisory committees whose members need not necessarily be members of the board. Without reference to the Minister or to anyone else, the board can appoint advisory committees, which are then their own masters and can decide how their business is run. They are unelected, unappointed and unfettered in the work that they do. Finally, how will board allowances compare with advisory committee allowances?

11.4 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

I join hon. Members who have paid tribute to the people who work in the tourist industry in Northern Ireland and face considerable adversity in the task that they have to accomplish. It is difficult to mention tourism in Northern Ireland without facing the fact that considerable disadvantages have to be overcome, or at least taken into account. They stem, of course, from the security situation in Northern Ireland or, perhaps more accurately, the perception of that situation by those who are outside the Province.

If I was presented with a tourist brochure from Beirut or Yugoslavia or some other war-torn part of the world, it would take a fairly good salesman to convince me that I should take my family to such a place for my next summer holiday. The media have placed Northern Ireland in that bracket, and it is against that backcloth that the tourist board and those involved in the tourist industry in Northern Ireland have to carry out their work.

When I approach the subject of tourism, the first aspect I have to question is the strategy and direction of the Northern Ireland tourist board. In 1989, the Government published a brochure entitled "A view of the future: Tourism in Northern Ireland". It outlined a strategy which would have called people like me defeatists because we recognised that, because of the terrorist campaign, there was overwhelming difficulty in selling Northern Ireland as a tourist venue.

The brochure suggested that the vigorous campaign to bring the holiday visitor to Northern Ireland would continue. I do not think that the statistics outlined by the Minister in the debate or others that have been made available subsequent to the publication of the brochure showed that that strategy had succeeded. It is the wrong strategy, because this is not the time to concentrate on that end of the tourist market.

I do not say that we should give it up. There must still be a vigorous effort to attract tourists to Northern Ireland, but the overall effort of the Northern Ireland tourist board should be directed at bringing back the business man and his family, because, by and large, people who come to Northern Ireland and see it for themselves see that it is not as it is painted by the media and they are prepared to return to the Province. It would be much more productive to go to those who come regularly to the Province and encourage them to bring their families for holidays. The tourist board should concentrate on the obvious specialist holidays, such as genealogical tours, with to a view to increasing the number of holidaymakers, particularly from North America.

The other important tourist is the home visitor, if that is not a contradiction in terms. There is an obvious understanding by people who live in Northern Ireland of the security situation, and they know where it is quite safe to go. The people of Northern Ireland should be given great encouragement to spend a holiday at home at least once every other year and to take their holidays in Northern Ireland. Grants should be given to the operators of tourist facilities throughout the Province to encourage local people.

I join colleagues across the Floor of the House in their protest about the means by which we have to deal with orders such as this, which are on important subjects that require a great deal more time in debate than we have been afforded tonight. Furthermore, many reasoned amendments to this order could have been tabled, and I am sure that we should have managed to convince the Minister that he should accept them. I am sure that he does not believe that his orders are so perfect that they are like the laws of the Medes and Persians and should not and cannot be changed.

I shall deal first with the definition of a tourist amenity. I rather suspect that there is an overriding opinion within the Northern Ireland tourist board that a tourist amenity is only something that the Almighty made. The people of Northern Ireland have a lot more than most people in other parts of the world to thank the Almighty for, in terms of the beauty and scenery of their country, but a tourist amenity goes much further than that.

Recreation provision is an important tourist amenity. If one wants to bring families to Northern Ireland, one has to be aware that young people will not be content simply to go to the glens of Antrim, the Antrim coast, the causeway, or the Mournes, although all that is attractive and they could do some fishing around the constituency of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe).

There are recreational facilities all around the Province that should be sold better by the Northern Ireland tourist board, although it seldom notices them. It should recognise the important part that some of our recreational facilities play in bringing tourists to Northern Ireland, by which I mean bringing them exclusively to such facilities.

The Minister will know that I am closely connected with the recreational facility of Dundonald international ice bowl and its leisure park. Every week, people come from the rest of the world to take part in competitive games—ice hockey teams, ice skaters and bowling teams. When the full-scale park eventually reaches fruition, even more people will be attracted to even wider facilities. Leisure facilities play an important role, but one that is not properly recognised by the Northern Ireland tourist board.

Several hon. Members have already spoken about the local government aspect. The Minister is making available a wealth of money to the Northern Ireland tourist board and to tourism in Northern Ireland. However, does he recognise that local government makes a singular contribution to tourism, and that it should have as much right as any other organisation to receive money from public funds aimed at tourist ventures? Like the hon. Member for Antrim, South, I notice that district councils are expected to consult the tourist board before embarking on the building of a tourist amenity. Therefore, will the Minister follow me as I go through the order looking for definitions?

The early part of the order defines "tourist amenity" as an amenity, facility or service provided primarily for tourists". It defines a "tourist" as a visitor to Northern Ireland, a person spending his holiday in Northern Ireland or a person travelling for pleasure within Northern Ireland". Under those definitions, Dundonald international ice bowl would be a tourist amenity. Indeed, it would be a tourist amenity on the basis that it received 50 per cent. of its funding from the tourist grant of the EEC.

I hope that the Minister will make it clear—I do not want there to be doubt down the line—that we are talking only about consultation. I hope that permission is not required from the Northern Ireland tourist board. After consultation has taken place, will a local authority face a limitation on the sum that it can spend on what it deems to be a leisure or tourist provision? Will a fiscal constraint be placed on a local council at that stage?

The hon. Member for Antrim, South, who I think was involved in local government, will recognise that there has not been a very full relationship between the local authorities and the tourist board. I would not want to put it as high as a strained relationship. As the tourist board saw such a small role for district councils, the councils ended up having their own tourist-based organisation. Given that relationship, the Minister has an excellent opportunity to try to bring together the various interests that are fighting the battle to bring tourists to Northern Ireland. That can be done by having a definite role for local authorities within the board and by providing places for the authorities as of right on the board of the tourist board.

It seems that there are certain circumstances in which the tourist board can make a grant or a loan, for example, to encourage tourist provision for Northern Ireland The order suggests that the tourist board could become involved in matters relating to the tourist industry. It seems to suggest that the board could become almost commercial. I wonder what restraints the Minister might have in mind to place upon the board in the exercise of its functions by associating itself with various tourist interests in Northern Ireland.

I give the Minister every encouragement in his task of attracting tourists to Northern Ireland. Some of us have had an unhappy view of the tourist board, especially when it thought it pertinent that the red hand of Ulster should be removed from its emblem to be replaced by a distorted shamrock. That showed, perhaps, the way that the tourist board was thinking. I considered that a retrograde step. The board should not involve itself in politics in the way it has. I encourage the Minister to take up the task of raising tourism to a higher level. I suggest that he concentrates on the areas of tourism in which, in the present security circumstances, it is more realistic to seek to increase business.

11.19 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

By now. the Minister will be aware that, in general terms, the order is welcomed on both sides of the House, but that we are grossly dissatisfied that we have not been given an opportunity to improve it and to remedy its deficiencies by amendments. The order has many flaws and many matters that require explanation, but it would be impossible to touch on them in any detail tonight. Nevertheless, we welcome the fact that, after four decades, since 1948, we now have a consolidated order—I had better not call it a Bill—bringing these matters together. We hope that it will streamline the administration of tourism in Northern Ireland and that the duality of decision making—the duality of activity between the Northern Ireland tourist board and the Department of Economic Development tourism division—will now be removed.

I hope that that will happen, but I question a rather sinister little sentence in article 5, which states that the Department of Finance and Personnel will issue to the board (a) directions of a general or specific nature as to the exercise by the Board of its functions". I hope that there will be minimal interference and that the advantages of streamlining finance, personnel and decision making will be brought about by the order.

Like other hon. Members, I deplore the fact that the large pool of expertise and professionalism in local government has not been harnessed and utilised through the order. Indeed, article 4(3) says that the board should "establish machinery for consulting", and it is a great pity that the Minister did not outline the shape of the consultation, how it will be implemented and who will be involved. Perhaps he will do so when he replies, or later through correspondence. The article refers to outside bodies, but it does not refer to local government. There is an enormous pool of experience and know-how in local government that has not been tapped. That is a serious omission.

I hope that the financing figure that the Minister quoted tonight—an increase of £6.7 million to more than £10 million—will mean a real increase, and is not simply the sum arrived at by adding the money spent by the tourist board and that spent by the tourism division of the Department of Economic Development. It must be a real increase in money going into the market place, as it were, for tourist promotions.

The greater the flexibility in the allocation of that funding through grant aid to the various facets that would encourage amenity and accommodation production, the better—and that should be the aim of the board. There is a preoccupation—if the House will forgive the pun—with accommodation in the order, in that more than half the articles deal with registration, expansion and all that pertains to grading of accommodation

The board is to undertake a new and sweeping activity. It is noticeable that the legislation which applies to the remainder of Great Britain has not been implemented. I hope that Northern Ireland is not to be the guinea pig, and I hope that this will be a fruitful exercise. We all agree that tourists are entitled to know the quality and standard of service for which they are paying. A sensitive approach is required, however, because there are various levels in any tourist market. I hope that there will not be a theoretical and useless application of standards, because the accommodation will have to address very diverse markets, from the family in the guest house to five-star hotels. I hope that the fees charged will be reasonable and acceptable, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Antrim, (Mr. Forsythe).

Omitted from the list of overnight stopping places in the order are caravan sites, youth hostels and activity centres, which all provide accommodation. I hope that the order will be extended to cover them. Indeed, it could go one step further. In many parts of Northern Ireland, there are festivals in which the local community participates and private homes are used to provide one-off overnight accommodation. I trust that they will not be expected to register.

One aspect deliberately omitted from the order is the inspection and registration of catering facilities. As one who has obviously enjoyed tourist facilities in recent times, I take the view—as do many others—that good accommodation and good food are the two bastions of an enjoyable holiday. It appears that accommodation is to be registered, but that no importance is to be attached to the quality of food. It is important, at least in some voluntary way, to offer some assessment to tourists of the quality of food that they may expect at a particular establishment, and thus appeal to them through their stomachs. Having said that, I was interested to note that the new draft order for local government also specifically excludes the inspection of catering establishments by health inspectors.

I echo the sentiments already expressed about board membership. It is a great tragedy that it does not include any tourism professionals. While not wishing to cast any aspersions on those appointed to the board, I note that four of them are from marketing-oriented firms. A great opportunity has been missed to benefit from the wealth of experience that local government can offer. The Minister rather pre-empted tonight's debate, to the extent that nine of the board's members were appointed on 25 July 1991, irrespective of tonight's debate.

I draw the Minister's attention to the necessity for rural regeneration. Farm diversification is important to Northern Ireland's rural regeneration, and will serve as the linchpin of tourist development. I refer, for instance, to the use of the farmhouse as a guest house. The board must take a sensible approach to that dimension.

I thank the Minister and the tourist board for undertaking a study of the whole South Down area, including the districts of Down, Newry, and Armagh. Such a trans-district council study is required, because specific district councils are too small. That study will highlight one of the most scenic parts of Ireland—the mountains of Mourne, allied to St. Patrick's country. With reference to the comments made by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), we have enough Roman/ Welsh/English evangelists, and were quite happy with the one that we had in 432. Perhaps one of South Down's great tourist attractions is the ancestral home of the Earl of Kilmorey. However, I will leave that subject for another night.

I have a number of brief questions to ask the Minister. Will the board inform local government of the consequences of the details of registration? Will the fee really relate to the market? Will there be clarification in respect of farmhouses and private houses? Will accommodation grants be made directly available to develop that sector, and will there be full co-operation with Bord Failte promotions, publicity, and scheme sharing? Finally, will the tourist board share with local government responsibility for fully developing employment in Northern Ireland's tourist industry?

11.29 pm
Mr. Needham

We have had a fairly wide-ranging debate, involving no fewer thant 73 questions of detail. That goes some way towards proving a point on which we all agree—that the Order in Council system is not the best way to conduct these matters. That, however, is a matter for Opposition Members to decide in the talks to which they have referred: they can decide how they wish to reach an agreed change in the current procedure.

I shall try, in the limited time available, to answer the points that have been made. If I cannot do so now, I will write to hon. Members in full. If they then wish to discuss their points with me, I shall, as always, be only too delighted to see them for that purpose, rather than discussing any of the other political matters that may be mentioned in the papers.

I thank the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) for his kind comments. I join him in congratulating Commissioner Millan on the way in which he has supported Northern Ireland whenever we have visited him to talk about the application for grant from the EC. Some £30 million is now being made available by the EC up to 1993–94, plus an additional £7 million under "Interreg", which will go both north and south. Some £100 million will be spent on tourism over the next five years. That is an enormous sum being spent on what I consider to be an important way of promoting Northen Ireland's economy. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is going to take his holiday on the Ballyconnell canal. Perhaps while he is there he can explain to the few he meets who may wish to join his party why they will not be able to do so.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the fall-off in visitors from the United States. There is no such fall-off; indeed, this year there has been a modest increase in the number of visitors from North America. Northern Ireland is the only region in the British Isles to have achieved such a result, and I feel that we should congratulate everyone in Northern Ireland who managed to make such a success of it.

District councils have a crucial role to play in the development of tourism in Northern Ireland. They already have an enormously successful record. We need only see the history park of Gortin, or visit Kinnego bay, Castle Archdale or Enniskillen—and a whole range of facilities that many of us have visited with our families—to observe the professionalism and competence exercised by district councils. They may raise as much money as they wish for such tourist measures—here I should also mention the Triad scheme in Armagh—in the knowledge that grants will be available from the EC, the International Fund for Ireland or even the tourist board.

The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) talked about the bad media. I think that he was being modest in using such language. He was extremely eloquent about the history of Northern Ireland; perhaps only Finn McCool would have been upset, as he was not given a mention. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are changing the law on litter: we are tightening it up. I believe that one way in which we can improve litter collection is to examine the organisation that local government currently applies.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) suggested that the tourist board was a quango. Like its English, Scottish and Welsh counterparts, it is; the point is that we are setting up a board which, whatever the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) may say, is staffed by people eminently qualified to undertake the job of planning, structuring and seeing through a tourist strategy for Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for South Down said that four marketing people were involved. We need marketing people when it comes to selling Northern Ireland, but the chairman of the board has a long professional background of providing the highest grade of tourist amenities.

The hon. Members for Antrim, South is quite right that the head of Department is the permanent secretary. Under the relevant legislation, that has always been the case. However, the Minister does not just stand quietly by—in a "Yes, Minister" scenario—waiting for the permanent secretary to tell him what to do. The phraseology to which the hon. Gentleman referred is used in planning legislation also. The Department's responsibility is the Minister's responsibility.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if each of the 1,300 public houses in Northern Ireland were to provide two bedrooms, the amount of accommodation for tourists could be almost doubled? Might it not therefore be prudent to include in the Northern Ireland tourist board a representative of the retail licensed trade? That vital part of the tourist industry ought to be properly represented.

Mr. Needham

I take my hon. Friend's point. Mr. Lavery, who is on the Northern Ireland tourist board, runs the Guinness operation in Northern Ireland, so he has some interest in these matters.

The point that I want to make goes to the crux of points that were made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South and the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson)—whether councils should have a right to representation on the board. I do not accept that they should, although that does not necessarily mean that there should not be a councillor on the board. There is no reason why there should not be. provided that his concern is what is best for Northern Ireland as a whole. In my view, councillors must concern themselves more with the ever-increasing number of amenities being developed in their areas. As I have said already, some councils have done extremely well. but many could do better. I believe that over the years the number of amenities throughout Northern Ireland will increase. It is up to the councillors and their officials to ensure success in that field.

The Northern Ireland tourist board should be as independent of Government as possible. Its job is to bring together an overall tourist strategy for Northern Ireland—a strategy whereby provision is not duplicated unnecessarily, financial priorities are set, and money is put into schemes to which everybody can subscribe.

The hon. Member for South Down said that, unfortunately, not enough attention was paid to consultation machinery and how it would work. That is something that will have to evolve. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast. East that the process had not always been as good as it might have been, but that does not mean that it will not improve. I do not want to put ropes around those involved in the consultative process by telling them that they have to do things in one particular way or another. As I have said, the first meeting in February 1991 was very successful. I do not want to define matters too tightly.

What is a tourist amenity? I should prefer to leave that to be worked out by the board. Of course, a tourist amenity should he primarily for tourist development. I have no wish to shackle local authorities in the development of facilities, which may have a large tourist element or a not-so-large tourist element. I want to see those thousand flowers bloom.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, East that we should not have a strategy for the promotion of tourism in Northern Ireland. From the surveys that have been carried out, we know that a large number of people want to come to Northern Ireland and to see a positive image of the Province. Those who have visited the Province love it and want to come back. This order gives us the means to make that possible, to set the standards and to provide the certification and registration facilities. It pumps in the money, and it gives everyone a role in the achievement of the objective. This is a very important means of increasing employment in Northern Ireland, improving the image of the Province, and making sure that its beautiful countryside and excellent facilities are made available to a greater number of people.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Tourism (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 5 December, be approved.