HL Deb 13 February 1984 vol 448 cc67-70

7.9 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. Our debates have served a useful purpose in highlighting the policy intentions behind the Government's proposals in this Bill. I believe that the Bill will leave this House, not simply with its provisions unamended but with the policy underlying them more clearly understood and, I would hope, widely endorsed.

This Government recognise—and welcome—the fact that Scotland has a distinctive and saleable identity overseas. We believe that sales of the Scottish "product" can be most effectively increased by allowing the Scottish Tourist Board to supplement the overseas efforts of the British Tourist Authority. To minimise the risk of overlap between the two categories, we propose that the Scottish Tourist Board's powers to carry out independent promotions overseas should be subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. We also believe it self-evidently sensible that the British Tourist Authority, as the body with lead responsibility for the overseas promotion of Britain as a whole, should be consulted as of right on the Scottish Tourist Board's proposals.

The Government have also put money behind these proposals. Despite continued tight constraints on public spending, we have allocated an additional £200,000 each year to the Scottish Tourist Board to enable it, by its own assessment, to mount a cost-effective annual promotion programme for Scotland. We are therefore fully committed to the development of Scotland's tourist trade overseas.

The provisions in the Bill are intended to strike a fair and workable balance between the advantages of separate Scottish promotions abroad and the need for a co-ordinated approach to the overseas promotion of Great Britain as a whole. I believe that the Bill as it stands achieves this objective and I commend it to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, the Bill was rather an anti-climax in Scotland. The Government came to the decision that a breakthrough had been made, following a very considerable amount of agitation in Scotland that Scotland should be able to project itself abroad in respect of tourism. Probably the climax was the report of the Stodart Committee, which declared, without any fluffing at all, that the Scottish Tourist Board should be able to project itself overseas and should be the sole organisation to do so. This great victory for the Boy George turned, I am afraid, rather sour when we looked at the Bill. The fact is that it represents grudging acceptance by the Government of what Scotland had claimed as its right. It is no use the Minister of State telling us that the Bill underlines the policy. Of course it underlines the policy. With the changes which we advised the Minister of State to make, it could have been less grudging and less mean and rightly could have been seen as a breakthrough for Scotland, although at the same time the British Tourist Authority regarded it as the thin end of the wedge.

To the extent that the Bill is something new and goes some way towards what we want, we shall not oppose it; but we must point out how grudging it is. There is insistence upon the word "only". This harks back to the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I would remind your Lordships that the 1965 Act which gave the original powers did not include the word "only". When the word "only" was included, a very different matter was being dealt with. The Highlands and Islands Development Board was given the power to promote companies and to take shares in companies. This was very controversial, and people—people who were on the opposite side of the House at that time—had to be reassured about it. Nobody in Scotland is opposed to giving to the Scottish Tourist Board the right independently to project Scotland overseas. Therefore I ask myself why subsection (3) of Clause I was included in the Bill. It says that this new power of the Scottish Tourist Board will make no difference to the powers of the British Tourist Authority. We are not amending that subsection of the Act, so we do not need subsection (3). There is no doubt about it. The use of the word "only" in subsection (2) and the inclusion of subsection (3) add nothing to the reality of the Bill and underline the reluctance and grudging timidity of the Government.

I had hoped that even at Third Reading we could have persuaded the Government to change their mind, but we have not put down amendments. It will be up to another place to put down amendments. To say that the consent of the Secretary of State is required after he has consulted the British Tourist Authority is quite unnecessary. The Minister of State said that it was self-evident that there would be consultation. If it is self-evident there is no need to put the word "only" into the Bill.

The person who will have to make this work is the Secretary of State. Evidently we cannot trust the Secretary of State to consult—to do something that is self-evident. We must put it into the Bill. That is why I accuse the Government of timidity and of grudging reluctance to accept the right of Scotland to do this on its own. Scotland is not another region of England. It is a country in its own right, with its own culture, attractions and identity, and it is pretty good at blowing its own trumpet. What is the British Tourist Authority afraid of? Is it afraid of Scotland? That may well be, but why should the Government give in to it? They should have been much more generous, even if they limited the power in the way they drafted the Bill. That is what we object to.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, from these Benches, I should like to support the Third Reading of the Bill. While, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has said, it does not fulfil all the wishes of all the ardent Scots, it has gone some way towards doing so. When it was announced, I remember that one Sunday newspaper declared that Scotland had declared UDI on tourism. The Bill hardly goes that far, but it is a step in the right direction.

May I take this opportunity to make two points? First, when I spoke on the Second Reading of the Bill I quoted from a well-established and reputable newspaper, the Observer, two references to the activities of the British Tourist Authority in relation to Scotland. In current British Tourist Authority literature Barra was described, the Observer said, as an uninhabited Hebridean island. They also said that on British Tourist Authority maps the roads which lead north ended at Oban. There appeared, therefore, to be no provision made for motor transport north of Oban. Subsequently I received a letter from the chairman of the British Tourist Authority to the effect that both of these comments were unfounded. I checked the references in the Observer and there they stand. However, I have apologised to the chairman of the British Tourist Authority and said that I was simply quoting the Observer when this matter was under review. I am now making my official apologies to the chairman of the British Tourist Authority and to the BTA.

There is merit in close collaboration with the British Tourist Authority. Although we, as Scots, recognise the clear and independent identity of Scotland, this is not always recognised overseas. The references to England as "Britain" is evidence of that fact. I believe that there has got to be a great deal of co-operation with the British Tourist Authority in the promotion of the United Kingdom. As we said at Second Reading, not many people find their way to Scotland after having flown into London Airport, the major airport. There has to be a good deal of co-operation over the selling of Scotland by the British Tourist Authority as well as by the independent efforts of the Scottish Tourist Board. I checked with the Scottish Tourist Board as to their reaction to this degree of limited freedom. They appear to be happy with the steps taken so far. I believe we should be wise to watch how it works. I hope it fulfils all the expectations which the Minister has expressed in this House tonight.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, by leave of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Taylor of Gryfe, for what they have said and for the welcome they have given to the measure we are taking in this Bill. I know it would be well nigh impossible for me ever to produce anything which will meet with the full approval of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, so long as he occupies the position he currently occupies. He takes his duty—that of the critic of the Government—most seriously, as he should. Where there is even mild criticism, the noble Lord will always make sure it is voiced.

No Government should be afraid to take criticism. This Government are certainly not afraid to do so, because we believe that in this Bill we have made a significant step forward. We believe that the Scottish Tourist Board, in conjunction with the British Tourist Authority, will now proceed to extend overseas its ability to attract tourism to Scotland, and that it will work closely with the British Tourist Authority. That organisation has done excellent work in the past on behalf of Scotland. The Scottish Tourist Board will supplement that work, and I believe that will be to the very great benefit of Scotland.

Bill read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.