HC Deb 05 February 1963 vol 671 cc246-8

3.42 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. The travel trade industry is one of our major industries, and a revenue in the region of £200 million to £240 million per annum from overseas visitors makes tourism an extremely important sector of our economy. It is 100 years ago this summer since Sir Thomas Cook organised his first Continental tour and I am certain that he would be staggered to realise the extent of the travel trade today and, would, in fact, raise his hands in horror at what happens. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order, order. Let there be less noise, in the interest of the hon. Member who is addressing the House.

Mr. Milne

As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, it is 100 years ago this summer since Sir Thomas Cook organised his first Continental tour and he would be staggered to realise the extent of the travel trade today. He would raise his hands in horror at what happens to many holidaymakers when they arrive on the Continent. Despite the admirable code of conduct laid down by the Association of British Travel Agents and the firms associated with the Travel Trade Association, holidaymakers, both in this country and from overseas, are undoubtedly at the mercy of unscrupulous agents whose get-rich-quick methods are not only a menace to the travelling public but are a threat to the best interests of the reliable firms in the trade.

I am sure that the House needs little convincing of the need for some form of legislation to deal with this problem. Last year, the chairman of the Association of British Travel Agents said at the association's annual convention that the offending firms in this industry could be counted on the fingers of one hand. From my own files, and, no doubt, the files of other hon. Members, let alone the numerous reports from all quarters and newspaper articles on the subject, this is simply not the case. It is true to say that A.B.T.A., under present conditions, is unable to deal convincingly with the wrongdoers in its midst.

The President of the Board of Trade last year, greatly daring, stated at a luncheon given by one of the travel trade associations that licensing was not for us. I am sure that if the Board of Trade were to look at some of the recent happenings which have been and will be brought to his notice there would be a change of attitude.

The Association of National Tourist Office Representatives in Great Britain, at a meeting on 9th January of this year, passed a resolution unanimously adopted by its members which contained these words: Having examined the situation created by a leading tour operator and travel agency who, we understand, are placing the company in voluntary liquidation, and the far-reaching consequences thereof on a great many bona fide creditors, travel agents both in Great Britain and abroad, transport companies, foreign hoteliers, whose rightful claims are in jeopardy. The association urged that a council of ethics for the travel trade should be set up. The association further urged that A.B.T.A. should re-examine schemes whereby tour operators and travel agents in Britain would offer unshakeable guarantees to the travelling public and to such parties with whom they contract". I believe that that is a view with which hon. Members will not disagree. The whole future of the travel industry is in the melting pot. There is no need to stress in the House the importance of holidays to the British and to other peoples as well. Some of our happiest days have been spent on holidays. I am sure that it is the desire of the House to protect the enjoyment of others. Some of the examples which are used by unscrupulous traders underline the necessity for the type of legislation I advocate. Glossy brochures and advertisements offering package all-in holidays at a little less than £45 when closely examined, and indeed experienced, by holidaymakers turn out to cost them £60 or over. This can have an extremely damaging effect on our own tourist trade as well.

I recently received a letter from an American tourist whose home is in California and who was booked in at a London hotel by a British travel firm. He described the hotel which this group of tourists were booked in at as a hotel which looked like a cross between a relic from the Middle Ages and a Los Angeles skid row slum hotel. Some of the Americans had had experience of London hotels and they said it was so depressing to try to explain to the others who did not realise that London had much better hotels to offer with clean, modern rooms at a comparable rate.

As tourists from overseas bring into this country about £200 million to £240 million per annum, we are dealing not only with the enjoyment of British holidaymakers but with an important part of our economy as well. It is the tradition of the House to protect the public against this type of treatment. I hope that the need for legislation is apparent from my short remarks 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. Milne, Mr. Loughlin, Mr. R. Edwards, Mr. Owen, Mr. Edelman, Mr. Grey, Mr. Short, Mr. Darling, and Dr. Dickson Mabon.