As MSP Richard Lyle, long-time supporter of Scottish showpeople, prepares to step down from the Scottish Parliament, what does the future hold for his Member’s Bill on the licensing of funfairs – and for him?
Richard Lyle MSP has spent years promoting the cause of Scottish showpeople. The Member’s Bill he introduced in December 2017 – the Travelling Funfairs (Licensing) (Scotland) Bill – is currently making its way through Parliament.
As Convenor of the Cross-Party Group for the Scottish Showmen’s Guild, Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill), has been at the forefront of highlighting showpeople’s issues in Parliament and making sure their voices are heard.
But after nearly 45 years in politics, including the last ten as an MSP, Mr Lyle has made the decision to retire at May’s elections.
For showmen, this means they will be losing one of their most resolute supporters in Parliament and one who has been instrumental in their political gains. He leaves big shoes to fill.
It also means that his Bill will need a new sponsor to take it forward.
As his long career in politics – he is the SNP’s longest-serving politician – enters its last few weeks, World’s Fair spoke to Mr Lyle about his hopes for the future of the Bill, his pride in showmen’s political successes and his continuing commitment to the industry.
Travelling Funfairs (Licensing) (Scotland) Bill
Public entertainment licences have long been a thorn in the side of showmen operating in Scotland. The system for administering them is inherently unfair, with all 32 councils imposing different licence fees (from £50 to £780) and conditions.
Clearly, a level playing field is needed and three years ago Mr Lyle launched a Member’s Bill to address the problems. The purpose of the Bill is to replace the requirements under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 with a bespoke licensing system for fairs.
Under this new system, Mr Lyle explains, there would be a £50 fixed fee for applications for fairs as well as a fixed deadline. Councils would also have limited grounds for refusing applications as well as limited discretion to attach conditions.
On 3rd February 2021 Mr Lyle presented evidence on the Bill to the Local Government and Communities Committee as part of Stage 1 scrutiny.
“The evidence sessions have highlighted the wide variance in licence fees between councils”, Mr Lyle says, “and the unfairness this causes for showpeople. Even the Councils admit that the 1982 Act is well out-of-date and needs to be revised.”
The committee will now consider the evidence presented and publish their report. Mr Lyle hopes there may be a Stage 1 debate before Parliament is dissolved for the May elections. However, if the Bill falls because of time constraints, he plans to call on the SNP as a party to take action.
“Most Members are supportive of the Bill”, Mr Lyle says. “If it runs out of time, I’m asking the Government, who have been neutral and not against the Bill, to review and revise the 1982 Act.
“There has to be a national policy to meet the needs of showpeople who, at the end of the day, are trying to bring fun to Scotland.”
Mr Lyle is pleased with the progress of his Bill so far. Getting a Bill before any committee is a win, he says, and getting evidence sessions in front of a parliamentary committee is another win.
And showpeople don’t need to worry too much about finding a new sponsor for the Bill.
“We’ve started on the road and will continue on the road”, he says. “Even if I am retiring this session on 5th May, I have other colleagues who will take it forward in the new session.”
Other wins for showpeople have been the £1.5 million funding package to help them through the Covid crisis and the recent confirmation that showmen’s vehicles will be exempted from Low Emission Zones in Scotland.
These come on top of news last year that showmen / showwomen will be able to identify as such on Scotland’s census in 2022 (moved from 2021 because of Covid).
Mr Lyle is proud that the Cross-Party Group, since its inception some ten years ago, has been able to help put showpeople at the forefront in the Scottish Parliament.
“Showpeople have a lot of friends out there now”, he says. “Keep it going, keep highlighting your concerns. If you have a problem, take it to your MSP or talk to your councillor. Keep that friendship going, that will help showpeople.”
The MSP has clearly enjoyed his time working with the Showmen’s Guild and as Convenor of the Cross-Party Group. He pays tribute to the Section Chairmen he has worked with – Philip Paris, Alex James Colquhoun, George Codona and Billy Hammond.
He is grateful to all the showpeople (“such nice people”), for the support and help that they have given him. Working with showpeople has been “an absolute blast”.
“It’s a memory I will always treasure.”
But, after telling his wife in 1976 that he would only be a councillor for six months, now, 45 years later and approaching the age of 71, he feels the time has come to step back and spend more time with his family.
The work on behalf of showpeople will go on, he says. “I certainly intend to make sure that what I’ve started somebody else will finish.”
And whilst he may be retiring, Richard Lyle is not giving up his friendship with showmen. “I will continue to support showpeople wherever I can”, he says.
No doubt that support will be welcomed as showpeople watch and hope for Mr Lyle’s licensing Bill to be enshrined in law.