§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Fortescue.]
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I speak as a confirmed advocate of cheaper mass air travel, but at the same time as an advocate for changing some of the ridiculous rules and regulations which still prevent that from happening.
I should like to concentrate on two sectors of the cheap travel industry. I wish to concentrate especially on what one technically calls inclusive tour operations and charter operations. It is in these two sectors that the biggest evasion of regulations is taking place.
In these two sectors lies the biggest scope for reform and an extension of cheap travel. I am not ashamed if my general proposals sound like a campaign for cheaper mass air travel. We now have a situation where the airlines are stopping people flying because of the regulations which they make interpreting the International Air Transport Association and because of the interpretation that national Governments give to the I.A.T.A. dictats. It is the air lines and the Governments who prevent more people of moderate income from flying. I speak on behalf of these people this afternoon. Let me concentrate first of all on what we call inclusive tour operations. I should like to read a pararaph from Travel News dated 12th November, 1970, as follows:The 1960s witnessed a phenomenal growth in inclusive-tour and charter activity. B.E.A. winces that the package holiday operators had cut its London-Palma market share for 1677 scheduled services from 56 per cent. in 1960 to a mere 11 per cent. in 1969. And T.W.A. laments that on the New York-Amsterdam and New York-Frankfurt routes the charters are now carrying about 68 per cent. of American passengers.I am not sure whether one is allowed to quote in this House from one's own published works but that was an article that I wrote for "Travel News" on 12th November. It underlines the phenomenal growth which has taken place in cheaper air travel in the past 10 years.
If we have evasions of regulations, it is mainly because these rules and regulations ought to be changed anyway. An inclusive tour operation is what we call provision I which prevents even cheaper air travel. Originally this was based on a formula or percentage of the scheduled round trip fare below which inclusive tour operators could not go.
May I quote from an article in the Financial Times of 24th October written by Arthur Sandles, a well known expert in this field. He refers to the Mediterranean inclusive tour operations:In 1967–68 the base was lowered to £32 8s. for Majorca. In 1968–69 it came down to £28 17s. This week we have seen the B.O.T. ignore the advice of its own Commissioner who recommended a rate of £23 2s. for a four-night holiday in Majorca and settle instead on £18.It would appear that the flexibility that many of us have long advocated has at last been introduced into the interpretation of provision 1. If we are going to see more flexibility, I should like to see also the absolute abolition of provision 1, and let us have the same genuine competition and genuine cheap price holidays from this country. We are dealing with a market which is growing rapidly so far as pure charters are concerned.
The violation of the charter regulations consists chiefly of violations and infringements of I.A.T.A. resolution No. 045. We are dealing with a high growth industry. Typically 10 per cent. more of our citizens go abroad for holidays every year. Last year 15 per cent. more went abroad. We now have the very big business tour operators like Clarksons, Cosmos, Thomsons, Lunn-Poly and so on. Clarksons are aiming to shift over 1 million passengers in 1972. If they are not making much on the individual holidays, the turnover of these big companies ensures that the profits are there.
1678 I have said that what is wanted is far more flexibility and scope for cheap air travel, and many people will say that if we keep provision 1, which is the minimum fare restriction, this will jeopardise air safety. I am very much in favour of changing the rules and regulations which affect the Air Registration Board in this country. I should like to see mandatory defect reporting. I should like the Air Registration Board or the new Civil Aviation Authority to acquire some of the powers that the American Federal Aviation Administration already has to inquire into the powers and the financial management and the management structure of airline operation. I should like to go even further. I should like to see the new licensing body called the Civil Aviation Authority, which I think the Minister knows is about to emerge, have the power to go into the financial structure and organisation of the travel operators. I believe that if we can make these amendments and run our own Civil Aviation Authority and equip it with the powers which the American F.A.A. already has, we need not see a deterioration in air safety standards. After all, these are really paramount.
One trouble is that there is now a big conflict in the Association of British Travel Agents between the tour operators and the travel agents. At one end there are the big-business tour operators relying on their turnover, and at the other end the retail end, there are the travel agents who feel that they are being squeezed of commission all the time. In these circumstances, we are not likely to see the emergence of the sort of code of practice which I should like there to be. By all means, let us have cheaper air travel, but we must at the same time do something to make sure that we get rid of the sharks and the profiteers.
I believe in giving credit where it is due, and it must be said that the Association of British Travel Agents and the Tour Operators' Study Group have already done a great deal to tidy up the business. The A.B.T.A. common fund and the T.O.S.G. proposals for bonding have already improved matters But we still have far too many cases of booking conditions being so restrictive or exclusive that, if ever someone makes even a simple complaint, he is brushed aside or fobbed off to the company's insurance agent.
1679 I have had dealings with far too many complaints raised by constituents or others who have had their holiday cancelled only to find, when complaint is made, that the reply comes, "If you had read the small print and read the exclusions, you would have realised that you could have no redress anyway". It is a pathetic sight to see people trying to have forty winks at Luton Airport at four o'clock in the morning when their charter has been cancelled, or people huddled together in a tent at Stanstead, or others trying to get a cup of coffee from a coffee machine which has broken down at Gatwick at five o'clock in the morning. Yet all these troubles are often the sort of thing from which the tour operator is excused liability by the small print and the very concise booking conditions.
There is far too much of that sort of thing happening. There is far too much small print. As the Consumer Council has said, there is far too much fobbing off and passing on of liability for arrangements which still too often go wrong.
I give the example of a constituency case concerning Horizon Holidays in which I was involved a couple of years ago, a very sad case. I shall not, of course, mention names or give personal details, but a death was involved, and I thought that at least some kind of compensation was due from Horizon. It took me six months even to get a decent answer from Horizon—the file had been lost, it had been passed to another person, and so on—and even now I am still not satisfied with the treatment which my constituent received. If that is the experience of a Member of Parliament, what happens to the ordinary person?
Another case arising in my constituency concerned a school which wanted to arrange for a party to go to the Oberammergau Passion Play. Twenty-one persons were involved. They had done everything properly, as they were told. They had booked a long time in advance, yet were informed about six months before the date when they due to depart that everything had been changed, and they could be offered a somewhat longer holiday not quite in the way they wanted, and at a rather higher price. In the end, after my intervention and various other factors which assisted, we managed to secure a better deal for them with another 1680 tour company. But the point here is that one of the State-owned subsidiaries was involved, Lunn-Poly.
If that sort of thing can happen with one of the subsidiary companies of Thomas Cook—as a Member of Parliament, I am thought, perhaps, to have more direct concern with a publicly-owned subsidiary—what kind of redress can the ordinary person receive?
I suppose that by far the most publicised recent case was that of the vicar from Knutsford in Cheshire who wanted to go with his flock to the Oberammergau Passion Play. The way he was treated by the Westminster Touring Association ought to be a lesson to anyone seriously thinking of booking for the Oberammergau Passion Play with this kind of organisation. I have been in touch with the Westminster Touring Association, and, since I announced my intention to raise these matters on the Adjournment, I have had many letters. For example, this is what is said by a solicitor who has had a long legal battle with the Westminster Touring Association:I have looked out my file of papers regarding the Westminster Touring Association, which weighs nearly six lbs..The kind of ingratiating letters I have received from the Westminster Touring Association assuring me that it even deals with Members of Parliament and that is bound to make it respectable—which of course I accept—makes me see redder than ever. It still happens and, in a frightening way, irrespective of the fact that many cancelled holidays can be financially compensated, because people cannot change their holiday times, cannot take a holiday when they like and have to book up often months ahead, they deserve a better deal.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that in other parts of the country there are large numbers of people, including some in my constituency, who have received no form of compensation over bookings dealing with the Oberammergau Passion Play. They have not even received a letter from the tour promoters concerned.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am grateful for that intervention. The kind of complaints I have received about bookings for the Oberammergau Passion Play makes me 1681 think that there might be a case for a Departmental inquiry into the way bookings are made. This festival takes place once every ten years and we know that bookings are made three years ahead. The number of stories I hear make me wonder. To give credit where it is due, A.B.T.A. has now established a common fund and the tour operators study group has introduced a bonding scheme. There is still far too big a profiteering, pirating, get rich quick fringe and these are the people about who I want to hear the Minister's opinions. These are the people about whom we have to do something.
Going through recent history there was the fiasco of Fiesta Tours, Mercury Tours for which A.B.T.A. from its common fund paid out £10,000. There was Wrights Tours following the collapse of British Eagle, for which A.B.T.A. paid out £35,000. The most recent case was the collapse of Humber Tours where fortunately A.B.T.A. was able to arrange with Wallace Arnold and Vista to take over the holidays that had already been booked. While it is true that A.B.T.A. organises about 95 per cent. of the travel agents, there are still far too many fringe operators not covered by a code of practice, not covered by this kind of insurance or by bonding and something has to be done about this purely from a consumer protection point of view.
We know of "Operation Stabilise" which A.B.T.A. has introduced and we know that if an agent is not a member of A.B.T.A. he can find it difficult to get commission from the tour operators. Despite that there are still some non-A.B.T.A. agents making money. While I am grateful that the tour operators and A.B.T.A. have done something about this, a lot more has to be done. Perhaps A.B.T.A. could be a little less complacent and stop resting on its laurels.
I see in Travel News that there is an insurance company called Credit Guarantee offering a new insurance policy whereby a failed travel organiser can get 10 per cent. of his turnover if his arrangements fall to the ground. Even this is not the kind of comprehensive progress we want to see. There are still complaints about completely misleading brochures, complaints that no one will 1682 accept liability. There is a great deal of room for improvement.
If there is much criticism about cancelled inclusive tours and cancelled package holidays then there should be more criticism of the kind of charter air brokerage operations which we have in this country. These are people not represented by any association, who are not subject to any code of practice. Again giving credit where it is due, the big ones may be members of the Air Brokers' Association which has its own discipline through the Baltic Exchange but we have still far too many of the Haymarket and Panton Street gang operating and these are the people about whom we have to do something.
If I were given an hour after this debate I could get any hon. Member who wanted on to a charter flight to New York for £50–£60. A few telephone calls, a few disguised voices—that is how it is done. I can take hon. Members to people who almost instantly will give them a back-dated membership card and a voucher for the return flight. I can take them to people who will almost instantly offer a ready-made constitution for forming an affinity group. Those are the kind of people operating on the more lunatic fringe of the pure charter operations.
It is Resolution 045 of I.A.T.A. that lays down the terms and conditions of operation for what are called affinity groups. If one flies charter one is supposed to have been a member of the group for more than six months, the group is supposed to have been formed for purposes other than travel, and it is not supposed to advertise or recruit members on the ground that it is a charter-worthy organisation. But everyone in the business knows that it is very easy to break every one of those rules and regulations.
We now have a situation in which anyone has only to form, say, a Scottish-American Political Association—I mean no disrespect to any section of the House—or to join his local ratepayers' or residents' association, and he can fly. When we consider the kind of operations in Panton Street and the Haymarket, we see how easy it is.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. 1683 I presume that he is some time coming to the question of Ministerial responsibility.
§ Mr. Huckfield
My point is that the Minister and his Department have some responsibility for the enforcement of Resolution 045, and it is that Resolution that the people in Panton Street and the Haymarket are breaking.
I want to know what the Minister's Department will do, or has done, about the firm called "Tour Europe"; what it will do about the "Seven Seas Fellowship"; about "Expo-International". Most of those firms have figured in some of the charter-busting operations his Department has been carrying out at Gatwick and Stansted. He will know the highly theatrical names given to some of the flying groups, and I am sure that he also knows who is behind most of those organisations.
Both the Civil Aeronautics Board in the United States and the Department of Trade and Industry in this country are supposed to have been investigating the situation, and yet nothing gets done. I want to know exactly what the Minister's Department will do about the enforcement of the Resolution. My feeling is that it is nonsense anyway and should be changed. Even officials further down the scale of the Department say that they do not think that it makes much sense.
If the hon. Gentleman cannot tell the House what his Department will do about enforcing the rules and regulations, perhaps he can tell us what he proposes to do about changing them. We have the kind of situation in which one can go into one of the Panton Street or Regent Street offices of one of these outfits and immediately qualify for membership of the American Astronautical Society, the Boston Academic Association or the Massachusetts Cultural Exchange Programme. It is easy to obtain a backdated membership card for any of those. The Minister's Department has the responsibility for supervising that kind of thing.
What it comes down to is this: if the Minister's Department is to police the enforcement of Resolution 045, I suppose that official must ask every individual member, "Why did you join this group? Did you join it to fly or just because you happen to be a cage bird fancier or 1684 a dahlia-grower? "The cases in which his Department has tried to intervene include a lovely one from Birmingham, where the dahlia growers were ratted on by a rose grower. If his Department comes clean, he will have to admit that it will be very difficult in a court of law to prove that back-dating a few membership cards to fly cheaply is a criminal offence. If that is the Department's point of view, it should be pressing that some of the rules and regulations be changed.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful case in which I am exceedingly interested. Constituents of mine have been affected by some of the practices about which he is talking—
§ It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Fortescue.]
§ Captain Orr
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has considered the effects if I.A.T.A. control were totally removed and there were a free market in charter flights? Would that solve the problem?
§ Mr. Huckfield
I should like to concentrate on that point, but I fear that I might be ruled out of order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's proposal would result in the airlines adopting a completely different product mix. It would mean less scheduled and more group traffic, and I am in favour of that.
The difficulty is that the airlines have a responsibility to the Department of Trade and Industry. But even they know that if they do not fly the groups somebody else will. I give credit to the American supplementals and even to dear old Caledonian which has now put a special investigator on the West Coast of the States to examine which groups are coming forward and how bona fide they are. But the airlines cannot go to every meeting of every group which charters. Therefore, perhaps the Department should admit that the onus which rests on the airlines is not fair because they cannot do much more about it.
I find it rather interesting—I hope that the hon. Gentleman's Department will 1685 accept this—that it is our second force—Caledonian and B.U.A.—which is one of the biggest offenders. The last charter cancelled by the Department at Gatwick was, in fact, a B.U.A. charter.
When the hon. Gentleman winds up, will he mention something about the 70,000 violations which the Civil Aeronautics Board in the States has totalled up in January this year? One of the biggest offenders was Caledonian. I hope that the Minister will tell us something about the bona fides of the second force, because, when it starts to operate, as we have been told by its managing director, it will concentrate 60 per cent. of its capacity on charter operations. We should have more respectability if we are to have a British second force flag carrier.
I suppose that the Department could try to educate the public as to what the rules and regulations are about. I feel that we must make Britain charter-conscious. However, I do not want Britain made charter conscious in the way that Canada has been made charter conscious, very much to the detriment of Air Canada due to the activities of Modern Air and World Air. Let us make Britain more charter-conscious if it means more people flying cheaply, but they must be made aware of some of the rules and regulations. I include B.O.A.C. carrying the Trowbridge and District Cage Bird Fanciers Society.
To come to my peroration, I ask the Minister's feelings on some of my opinions about how this might be tidied up. It has long been a suggestion of the Tour Operators Study Group and some of the tour operators that they should be allowed to make a profit from these charter operations. One of the I.A.T.A. rules puts a maximum limit of 750 dollars on administration charges for charter groups of over 80. If a travel agent is to do this for profit, there is not much profit in that figure. It may be that there is a case for letting the Tour Operators Study Group or the Association of British Travel Agents members make a profit from charters. If we believe that they are reliable and respectable, then I suppose that we could tidy up the whole thing in that way. However, in view of some of the examples which I have quoted, I doubt whether that is the best way to do it, because the kind of complaint that we make now 1686 about the tour operators could be made about them when organising charters.
I should like to see a code of conduct laid down by A.B.T.A. and by the Tour Operators Study Group and more effective means of enforcing it. I know that we still have the clash inside the Association of British Travel Agents and that for a long time we shall have the clash between the tour operators and the agents, but I hope that from the new structure which the A.B.T.A. is putting forward a code of conduct will emerge which will cover the whole industry, including the pure charter brokerage side of it. It is on the pure charter brokerage side of it that the biggest offences are taking place.
In this campaign that I am running both for cheaper air travel and for tidying up travel organisers, I have my local travel agents with me. They are all in favour of the travel trade and the image of the travel organiser being tidied up. Whatever happens—and I have examined one or two solutions—I say that the air traveller must have a better deal.
We have to brake cartels. That aim will not be served by the Department of Trade and Industry's maintenance of Provision One. My feeling is that if we are to have cheap air travel we must see the abolition of Resolution 045 and the abolition of Provision One, and if that means that the two State Corporations can maintain their fair piece of the cake, I am very much in favour of that, too. I should like to see them even extend their share of the cake.
If we are to advocate that genuine travel clubs should be able just to fly, we should have none of this gettinground-Resolution-045 nonsense. Why should people attend 12 boring meetings of the Anglo-American Families Association because they want to fly cheaply? Why should they have to go to 12 boring meetings of CANUSPA because they want to fly cheaply? Why should they not, individually ticketed, or on forming a travel club, be able to fly cheaply that way? It is this kind of regulation that has to be changed to permit people to fly in bulk, as we carry freight in bulk, although passengers would have to be carried far more comfortably. I do not see any harm in this, and I hope that the Minister will give us his views on the proposals that his Department has to change Resolution 045.
1687 I favour the complete abolition of Provision One, but this is where the precise responsibility of the Minister's Department would come in for some kind of licensing or registration of travel agents. I accept that I cannot propose new legislation in an Adjournment debate, but—and I do not think that I am unreasonable in doing this—I ask the Minister for his comments on possible registration and bonding schemes for all travel organisers. My own feeling is that if we had some kind of licensing or registration scheme, backed by a bonding scheme, for all kinds of travel organisers, tour operators, travel agents and charter brokers, that would do it.
My preference is very much in favour of cheaper air travel. If we are to have controls, let us get rid of nonsensical 045 and have travel organisers licensed, with bonding. That kind of scheme, concentrated on the professional and financial ability of the operator, would make far more sense, and would provide far cheaper air travel in this country.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is up to the Minister to decide whether there is time for the hon. Member to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Grant
I do not wish to be discourteous to my hon. Friend, whose interest in the subject I know, but I have rather a lot to say.
May I first congratulate the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) on giving us the opportunity to discuss this relatively little known area of travel. It is a subject on which he is a considerable authority, and it was very good of him to draw the attention of my Department, if it had not noticed it, to an interesting article that he wrote, 1688 and which he was almost too modest to refer to, in Travel News last week.
Perhaps I could deal with one or two of the points that were raised by the way. Reference has been made to the difficulties arising from the visit to Oberammergau. These difficulties have been drawn to the attention of my Department. This issue was raised by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money), and also by the hon. Member for Nuneaton. My Department has no power to regulate travel agents. In that sense, I cannot tell hon. Members very much, but if they care to write to me I will be glad to communicate with them. I cannot say more at this stage.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton raised the question of the exclusion clauses. As one who has been a lawyer and has had to try to interpret small print on behalf of clients and to try to draw up the small print, I have some sympathy with what he says. But, as the Attorney-General said in answer to a Parliamentary Question a short time ago, the Law Commission is considering whether there should be control of such exemptions or exclusion clauses. Therefore, it would be wise to see what appears in the Law Commission's report.
With regard to Caledonian, the proceedings by the United States Civil Aeronautics Board are not a matter for my Department, but, to the best of our knowledge, Caledonian has not been found guilty of anything improper.
The enormous expansion of charter air travel is of double interest to the Department of Trade and Industry. First, the Department is responsible for policy towards the civil air transport industry and for the enforcement of the restrictions which bite on charter services. Secondly, it is concerned with matters of consumer protection and consumer welfare generally. Wearing this hat, I cannot but express concern at the sort of incidents which have been mentioned in the debate and which one sees reported in which members of the public seem to have been "taken for a ride" in every sense of the term when they tried to arrange charter air travel. Incidents of this sort throw an undeserved slur on reputable travel agents and tour organisers.
1689 Let me deal first with the question of control of charter air services generally and the role of the Department of Trade and Industry in enforcing that control. First, I emphasise that there is nothing immoral or improper in people wanting to enjoy the price advantages which come from charter travel. I know that the hon. Member for Nuneaton subscribes to that view. These price advantages are substantial. The reason for that is nothing to do with the relative efficiency of operators of charter and scheduled services—many airlines offer both. It is simply that the two operations are offering a different product tailored to the requirements of two different markets.
Scheduled services must operate regularly and be available to the public as and when they are required. They must often fly with a number of empty seats. The Edwards Committee on Civil Air Transport concluded that if the average load factor exceeded about 65 to 70 per cent. on a scheduled service the likelihood was that the capacity was inadequate in the sense that there would be far too many occasions when passengers had to be left behind. A charter operator can, by contrast, aim at 100 per cent. load factors besides being able to save the overheads inherent in the retailing of individual aircraft seats. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that groups can charter aircraft to cross the Atlantic at a price which works out at £50 to £60 per aircraft seat compared with the present scheduled excursion fare to New York of £125.
The incentive to organise and to participate in charter flights is self-evident. Why then need any restriction be imposed? The answer is that there is also a legitimate demand for the flexibility and regularity of scheduled air services—the every-hour, on-the-hour sort of facility on which people in a hurry must rely. It would not be an economic proposition to maintain such services if there were unlimited scope for the diversion of traffic to charter flights. The regulation of charter flights is not, therefore, merely a protective device of I.A.T.A. but has been incorporated into the aviation policies of all the countries which matter in this respect.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the reasons for the very low load factors, 1690 averaging 47.7 per cent. last year on all scheduled flights, is the simple fact that too many airlines throughout the world are offering too many scheduled flights with too many aircraft?
§ Mr. Grant
Indeed. That was precisely the point I remember reading in the hon. Member's article. My view, and, I think it is fair to say, the view of my Department, is that that is probably a fair point and comment to make. There are, I think, too many airlines, too many seats, and too many operations by too many countries. Therefore, I would probably go along with the hon. Member very much on that.
Nevertheless, this device has been incorporated in the policies of nearly all the countries which really matter. The rules vary in detail from country to country but they are derived ultimately from the sort of conditions hammered out by the airlines in I.A.T.A. Resolution 045, to which the hon. Member referred in somewhat scathing terms.
The rules which apply in this country are set out in a schedule to the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Regulations, 1964, and are, I think, reasonably well known. There are five principal conditions. The first is that passengers shall have an affinity in the sense that they are members of one and the same organisation. This is probably the most controversial condition and is one to which the hon. Member referred both today and in his article in witty fashion.
Secondly, the organisation has to pursue a principal objective other than travel. Thirdly, membership of the organisation shall not exceed 20,000. Fourthly, advertisements are restricted to the members of the organisation. Fifthly, passengers must have belonged to the organisation for at least six months prior to the flight.
Those conditions are included by reference in the licences under which most United Kingdom airlines operate charter flights. If a flight takes place and the rules have been broken, the airline in question risks proceedings for an offence under the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act in exactly the same way as it would in connection with any other breach of the licence conditions.
Within this legal framework, there has been a steady increase over the years in the numbers of people who have been 1691 able to enjoy the benefits of cheap travel, especially people on small incomes wishing to visit relatives and friends abroad who might otherwise be unable to do so. There are many perfectly reputable organisations in this business, as the hon. Member acknowledged, and by and large British airlines have done their best to ensure that the rules are complied with.
We accept at once, however, that the present legal framework is not entirely satisfactory. Some of the rules touch on subjective points—for example, the objective or purpose of an organisation—which are not readily susceptible to legal decision. Others can be circumvented easily by methods to which I do not propose to give publicity this afternoon. Most important of all, however, is the fact that the primary responsibility for observing the terms of an air service licence rests on the airline itself. This is right and proper where the conditions relate to matters which are entirely within the airline's control—for example, the type of aircraft used. Matters become much more difficult, however, when the conditions relate to matters which are largely within the control of a third party. Only the person who organises a chartering group can know how far the rules have been kept. There are certain provisions in the 1960 Act under which my Department might, in certain circumstances, proceed against people other than airlines, but they are not always apt.
Charter travel has evolved in a manner which could not possibly have been anticipated when the present legislation was prepared. The hon. Gentleman was careful not to deal with future legislation and I will steer clear of the subject except to say, as he invited my broad opinion, that in future legislation we would wish to consider very carefully whether improvements can be made to, for example, pin the responsibility for observing the rules more directly where it belongs. That is as far as I dare go within the rules of order on the subject of future legislation.
I have, of course, listened with great interest to the suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman about the licensing of travel organisers. The travel trade has taken considerable steps in recent years to put its house in order through the Association of British Travel Agents and 1692 the Tour Operators' Study Group. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to what they have been doing and I gladly do likewise.
However, the agents who organise affinity charters are not, for the most part, members of A.B.T.A. and are not interested in selling conventional inclusive tours. Nor are they subject to the informal procedures which the Air Transport Licensing Board employs to vet the stability of tour operating companies. The good old legal maxim caveat emptor is a healthy precept in any trade and, to the extent that the public acquiesce in the bending of the present regulations on charter travel, they must share some of the responsibility for the difficulties which may ensue.
§ Mr. Money
Even some of the most reputable organisers appear to suffer on occasions from the difficulty of knowing exactly where the regulations will fall. For example, there is a case in recent memory of the Bar Council visiting New York for a meeting of the American Bar Association with some of Her Majesty's judges on board. They were told when they arrived at New York Airport that they were not eligible to land on the basis that the judges concerned were no longer members of the Bar Council.
§ Mr. Grant
That sounds an extremely fascinating case and, as a former solicitor, I will avoid tiptoeing into that delicate arena. I would have thought that within the meaning of the regulations there was an affinity between judges and members of the Bar, and my hon. Friend's intervention enables me to point out that the American regulations in this respect are very much fiercer than ours.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that under the new regulations proposed by the C.A.B, the members of the American Bar Council would not be able to fly at all?
§ Mr. Grant
A sad situation could arise. I had better not say more than that.
There is strong evidence, however, that innocent people are put at considerable risk by the present practices of the trade, and the Government will certainly consider any suggestions for raising standards, whether by self-regulation or by the introduction of some more formal licensing system.
1693 On the wider questions which the hon. Gentleman raised—for example, about the validity of the whole approach to the control of charter air services-1 regret that time does not permit me to reply at length. I would certainly not wish to go to the stake for the universal validity of each detailed rule—what the Edwards Committee referred to asthe mystical differences between an association of 19,500 versus 20,500 members.But that is not quite the point. Any control is bound to produce anomalies and borderline cases.
The real question at issue is whether the expansion of charter air travel must continue to be controlled, given the broad public interest in the viability of scheduled air services. Allowing this, then the present rules have the great merit of international acceptance. Our minds are not closed to the possibility of improvement. The Edwards Committee had some interesting suggestions on this point. This is an area in which changes cannot be rushed. Let us face it, any air service has two ends, and it is not much use the United Kingdom having one set of rules for charter air services if the country at the other end has something different. I must sound a note of caution about the possibility of a rapid change although I have noted and will study the interesting points made by the hon. Member for Nuneaton here and elsewhere.
We recognise the need to enforce these rules sensibly and sympathetically. There are 7,500 non-scheduled flights a year by foreign operators and a very large number, I do not know the exact amount, by British operators. To probe any sub- 1694 stantial number of these flights would necessitate an army of enforcement officers. Enforcement is made more difficult by the fact that no offence is committed until the flight has taken place. At the moment it is not an offence to offer to the public tickets on a flight which does not comply with the "affinity group" rules. Within these limitations and bearing in mind our resources my officers administer these rules sensibly and sympathetically. It is undoubtedly true that from time to time travellers who have acted in ignorance and good faith suffer.
All charter flights must comply with the rules of the countries of origin and destination. In their own interests travellers on such flights should ensure that they obtain from the promoter an assurance, preferable in writing—in large type—that the charter regulations of the two countries are being met.
This has been a useful debate on an immensely important subject. I emphasise the international nature of air travel and the impossibility of the United Kingdom acting unilaterally. The hon. Gentleman and the House may be assured that we shall so far as we are able in international circles, do everything we can to see that commonsense is applied and that the interests of cheaper and more efficient air travel which will not disappoint and deceive people in the way that the hon. Gentleman has described are preserved and enlarged throughout the world.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Four o'clock.