HC Deb 12 December 1979 vol 975 cc1325-7 4.17 pm
Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the manner in which consumers should pay for the cost of services provided by tour operators and for connected purposes. Providing package holidays is a multimillion pound business in Britain. Organised travel in Britain, which has received enormous popularity in the last 20 years, is now a well-established leisure activity. This Bill provides an opportunity to bring before the House aspects of the package holiday trade which are still unsatisfactory and to which critical attention should be drawn.

Every year millions of ordinary working-class families invest their hard-earned money in package holidays, and the vast majority of them have to save very hard. For a family with two children, for example, a package holiday abroad for 10 or 14 days can now cost well over £1,000, and for them that is a lot of money.

When those families take a package holiday with a tour operator they will discover that they have entered a special type of service contract. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are parties to a contract where the terms are loaded in favour of the package tour operator.

In the first place, they will have invested their money on the strength of nothing more than a glamorous picture and a couple of attractively but carefully worded paragraphs in a brochure. They will, in fact, have parted with their money in exchange for the minimum information about the holiday.

Secondly, unlike most other purchases that are made, package holidays are paid for wholly in advance. People pay hundreds of pounds across the table before receiving anything at all, or before any service is delivered. I do not want to get the package holiday trade out of proper focus. Most people have satisfactory holidays with tour operators. It is also a fact that the enterprise of tour operators has brought leisure to many ordinary people when it was out of reach only a generation ago. In addition, the provisions of the Unfair Contract Terms Act and the work of the Association of British Travel Agents have eliminated many of the abuses which once existed when the package tour trade was in its infancy.

However, it is still a fact that there are some injustices and inequities. When a person arrives at the hotel abroad and finds that it is a mockery of what was promised and he sees the holiday for which he has saved for years turning into a bitter resentful disappointment because the hotel and related arrangements were not properly checked or reported, there is a legitimate cause for grievance.

It has been pointed out that tour operators have well-established procedures for redress and for ultimate arbitration. That may be so, but it is too late when a holiday has been ruined. The consumer can find that his rights in the courts suffer from deficiencies in the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. Under these provisions the offence of misdescription by a tour operator is committed only when the prosecution can prove that the misdescription was knowingly or recklessly made. In my view this is anomalous and unreasonable.

Clearly, we need something to redress the balance more in the direction of the consumer. Therefore, this Bill says that the law should provide that as a general rule the consumer of a package holiday must pay only 75 per cent. of the holiday costs in advance, and that the remaining 25 per cent. should be paid into a secure bank account to be released to the tour operator only when the family concerned has had a satisfactory holiday. The virtue of this is obvious and has been pointed out by the European consumer law group. This will mean that the balance will have been redressed and the consumer will have a little financial leverage vis-à-vis the package tour operator.

Most important of all, there will be more incentive for and pressure on the tour operator to take every precaution that everything is checked regularly. If all these procedures are followed some of the horror holiday stories that many hon. Members hear about in their constituency correspondence from time to time will be eliminated at source. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ken Weetch, Miss Joan Lestor, Mr. R. C. Mitchell, Mr. Stanley Newens, Mr. Ted Lead bitter and Mr. Gwilym Roberts.