HC Deb 13 February 1973 vol 850 cc1150-2

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to authorise the establishment of a Ministry of Tourism with powers to lay down a code of conduct for the tourist industry and to consider and act on complaints made by holidaymakers regarding tourist facilities both in this country and in respect of travel overseas; and for matters connected therewith. In the period since the end of the Second World War Britain has risen from being a minor tourist attraction to become a major world tourist centre, attracting well over 7 million people annually. This tourist explosion of unprecedented magnitude has also taken place in the travel habits of the British people. Around 9 million spend their holidays abroad and close on 6 million of these travel to Western Europe, particularly Spain and France. Nearly 60 per cent. of British holiday makers go abroad on package holidays. Travel and tourism is the greatest single unit in the world. It is easily the greatest growth industry in Britain.

That is why in this Bill we call for a Ministry of Tourism under a Minister responsible for regulating and developing the trade for the benefit of all those taking holidays in this country and people from Britain wishing to travel overseas on holiday.

A large amount of Government money has gone into the travel trade. What is needed now is a sound organisational framework to create a co-ordinating mechanism for the key elements in tourism, particularly the regional and local tourist and travel organisations. There must also be a revision of the powers of certain existing Government organisations involved in tourism and travel. The expansion of the tourist and travel trade during the last decade will undoubtedly pale into insignificance when compared with the colossal growth lying ahead in the next five to 10 years.

It is necessary for us in Britain to spell out that we mean business in the highly competitive world of international tourism. Since 1962 we have raised the question of travel trade registration. To the credit of the trade, and the Association of British Travel Agents and other bodies, it has over the years taken steps to put its house in order. In view of the anxiety felt by many about the effects of inflation on package holidays, let me stress that holiday prices have at no time been too low or too cheap as is claimed by many in the trade. That prices should increase because they were regarded as uneconomic in the past is nonsense.

Let me quote from the Travel Trade Gazette of 21st September 1971. It reported that the travel industry this week sharply refuted a warning by the Air Transport Licensing Board that package holiday prices were too low. Some holiday firms described the warning as nonsense. The Tour Operators Study Group said that the statement was 'patently ridiculous'. The package holiday business is overwhelmingly run by 21 of the largest tour operators who are themselves mostly subsidiaries of airlines, hotel chains and shipping lines. They are generally opposed to legislation but as one leading North-East travel agent, a member of ABTA, said on this subject, only villains need fear registration of the travel trade. Although successive Governments have stated their opposition to the registration of the travel trade they have, nevertheless, intervened in a number of areas to assist in this direction. The Development of Tourism Bill was a big step forward. The Edwards Committee on British Air Transport in the 1970s, the Civil Aviation Authority's new licensing scheme for air travel organisers and a number of other measures have all helped to make it necessary to co-ordinate the travel and tourist industry and to bring it within the framework of a single ministry. Progress towards that end has made this Bill justified.

The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 has done much to help eliminate the false promises of the glossy travel brochures in which many travel firms were peddling dreams rather than reality. Within the framework of the Bill and against the background of the years during which we have tried to introduce legislation, much may have been done. More remains to be accomplished in protecting holidaymakers.

At last year's conference of the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration, most of whose members deal with much of our consumer protection legislation, its chairman called for: better protection for British tourists abroad against statements in holiday or travel brochures which prove false. He said that inspectors had received more than 5,000 complaints in the past three years concerning such holiday experiences. He also suggested in that speech that the Trade Descriptions Act needed strengthening.

With the Institute talking about these 5,000 complaints, the Ministers responsible for tourism and consumer protection, who are with us on the Front Bench today, should pay much closer heed to this subject because these are only the complaints that have got through a very fine mesh.

It has been the tradition of this House to legislate on behalf of the consumer. 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. Hugh D. Brown, Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones, Mr. Maurice Edelman, Mr. Robert Edwards, Mr. George Darling, Mr. E. Fernyhough, Mr. Leslie Huckfield, Mr. Laurie Pavitt and Mr. David Watkins.