HC Deb 28 January 1974 vol 868 cc7-9
5. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he is satisfied with the operation of the Trade Descriptions Act in relation to holiday travel brochures.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow)

I believe the Act gives consumers substantial protection against false or misleading statements in holiday travel brochures; but my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs is considering whether the time has come to review this and other aspects of its operation.

Mr. McCrindle

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Has his attention been drawn to recent cases against the Thomson holiday company, from which it seems possible for many claims to be made, based on the same misprint or error in a brochure? Does he not feel that, while protection of the consumer is very desirable, the Act should perhaps be reconsidered to see whether an inadvertent error in printing by a tour company should continue to penalise it in the present way?

Mr. Onslow

It is not for me to comment on recent cases which the courts may not have fully disposed of. I am certain that my right hon. and learned Friend will take my hon. Friend's point into account in considering whether a review is desirable.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Will the Minister press upon his right hon. and learned Friend the urgent need for a review of the way in which tour companies advertise their tours? I have personal experience of a scandalously misleading description by Cosmos Tours. It is time the matter was cleared up, because the general public are being defrauded as a result of misleading descriptions.

Mr. Onslow

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be very careful before making that sort of allegation on the Floor of the House. It is not a matter to smile about. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence, he knows what redress is open to him. There is no doubt that holiday brochures are generally much more accurate as a result of the operation of the Act, and the standards of operators are much higher.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the contracts between the tour operators and their clients are satisfactory and that they fall within the Act?

Mr. Onslow

I think that if there is evidence of breach redress is open to anyone who suffers as a result.

Mr. Alan Williams

Does the Minister recall that the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs told me last week that there had been discussions in the past about the protection of the public in the event of tour operators going bankrupt? Will he tell the House, in view of this morning's warnings from the CBI about the imminent danger of an increased number of bankruptcies—a point of view which was dismissed as alarmist when I put it forward last week—whether he is satisfied that the public will be fully protected in the event of bankruptcies arising in the holiday travel sector? If not, in the extreme circumstances of 1974 what urgent extra action do the Government envisage?

Mr. Onslow

I do not believe that that question follows from the Question on the Order Paper or that the circumstances are as extreme as the hon. Gentleman seeks to suggest. However, I am certain that in the present difficulties the tour operators will do everything they can to maintain their holiday programmes.

Mr. Williams

The question I am asking is whether the public are adequately protected. It is not enough for the Minister to say complacently that the tour operators will do what they can. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the measures they envisage taking will give adequate protection? If not, what will the Government do?

Mr. Onslow

If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence to support what he says, apart from alarmist scaremongering of that kind, it will receive serious attention.

Mr. Wellbeloved

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall attempt to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

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