HC Deb 30 May 1962 vol 660 cc1363-5

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the registration of travel agencies; and for purposes connected therewith. I hope that the House will treat this request to introduce a Bill with generosity and understanding. The extent of the problem is well known to many hon. Members on both sides of the House and considerable correspondence from my constituency and other parts of the country has indicated its nature and extent.

Holidays and holiday-making have become one of our major industries and about £ 600 million per annum is spent on them. Considerable revenue from overseas visitors, estimated at roughly £ 200 million to £ 240 million a year, is making tourism one of our most important industries. It is said that it is increasingly difficult to stay at home and keep up with the Joneses.

This has led, particularly in the West End of London, to an elaborate display of sunshine posters, chromium fronted and similar buildings to house businesses which do not have a solid foundation. While the very reputable Association of British Travel Agents, which has raised its membership from about 120 in 1950 to about 1,000 by the end of 1961, claims that its membership covers about 90 per cent. of the travel agents in Britain, it is significant that almost half of the travel advertisements in the Press are placed by people who are almost unknown in the travel agency business and who are outwith the scope of that organisation. We often hear of these unorganised bodies being unable to meet their commitments to their customers and being unable to meet emergencies in the course of holiday-making. In some cases the agencies blatantly disregard the amounts paid and the needs and wishes of their customers.

It is often argued when one is presenting a case of this description that it is only the most gullible who are caught by the spurious traders in any set-up, in any trade or profession. I want to give the House two examples from a considerable number to indicate the seriousness of the problem about which I am suggesting that we should legislate.

The first concerns a prominent person connected with one of the larger consumer research organisations, a person completely fitted to evaluate the quality of goods and services provided for the public. In December of last year, this person decided to contact a travel agency with a view to a holiday in Spain. A number of difficulties were placed in his way immediately, but after a deposit of £ 20 had been paid, together with the 30s. additionally required for cables to Spain, full payment for the holiday was requested in cash— not by cheque— to the amount of £ 71 8s.

It was then discovered that the charge for the hotel in Spain was made at the rate of 42s. per day. When this person checked and protested, it was discovered that the hotel, which, although advertised as of top quality was by no means in that category, was charging the agency at the rate of 27s. per day. This information has been checked both at the hotel and the Spanish Tourist Office.

The second case which I want briefly to outline concerns a constituent of an hon. Member opposite who booked with an agency for a trip to Greece and Italy, the agency being not far from the precincts of the House and on the surface seemingly extremely reputable. It advertises inThe Times,theGuardian,theSunday Express,theDaily Mailand other newspapers. The agency first offered accommodation in the course of an all-embracing tour at a rate of £ 2 per day. But because the Olympic Games were taking place in Rome at the time and because of the supposed difficulties of being able to obtain accommodation, the rate was increased to £ 5 1s. The Italian Embassy afterwards confirmed, when inquiries were made, that the charge for the hotel had been at the rate of £ 2 3s. per day.

In those cases I have not illustrated many of the other difficulties encountered by the customers of these agencies, but they are typical not only of the experience of these people, but of that of many others from one end of the country to the other. The cost of the tour, which was advertised at about £ 72 per head, turned out to reach a figure nearer £ 130. Despite the promises in the brochures and advertisements, if the persons taking that tour had kept strictly to its limits, all they would have seen abroad would have been the ports of call and the railway stations through which they passed.

I think that those two cases perfectly well illustrate the need for steps to be taken to protect the public in this matter. The Association of British Travel Agents and its code of conduct, the integrity, competence and high standard of service given by the profession will be the background to the standard needed in this flourishing industry. It has been the custom and tradition of the House to protect the public against unscrupulous traders and it has always been prepared to legislate when the need is demonstrated. I feel that even in the short time at my disposal the need for this type of legislation has been demonstrated, and I trust that the House will agree to the Motion and allow the Bill to go forward to its Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Milne, Mr. Charles Loughlin, Mr. Robert Edwards, Mr. William Owen, Mr. M. Edelman, Mr. Charles Grey, Mr. E. W. Short, Mr. George Darling, and Dr. J. Dickson Mabon.