HC Deb 01 May 1991 vol 190 cc300-1
3. Mr. Norman Hogg

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what further steps he is taking to eliminate unscrupulous timeshare sales practices.

Mr. Leigh

I have asked the Commission of the European Communities to prepare a directive to regulate the selling of timeshare properties. In addition, we propose to amend the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 to tighten controls on statements about services and to bring timeshare award schemes within the Act's powers.

Mr. Hogg

Is not it a disgrace that it has taken so long to make such little progress with what amounts to a massive abuse by this so-called industry? Is the Minister aware that many thousands of people are receiving so-called prizes such as motor cars? This very day, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has won a "prize" of a motor car. He would tell the House about it himself, but he is a shy and retiring fellow. Will the Minister assure us that his proposals will come into force quickly and that timeshare cowboys will be booted out of British business life?

Mr. Leigh

To some extent, I share the hon. Gentleman's impatience. The problem is that about 80 per cent. of timeshare properties are located abroad, so it is pointless for us to act unilaterally. We must persuade the Commission to introduce a cooling-off period and demand that companies provide a written prospectus and protect deposit moneys. I demanded just that when I went to see Commissioner van Miert a couple of weeks ago. I agree that receiving junk mail through the post is one of the curses of modern life, but one can apply to the mailing preference service, which covers 80 per cent. of such mail, to have one's name removed. Indeed, one can apply to have junk mail from Walworth house stopped if one wishes. It promises a place in the socialist sun, with reduced taxes and increased services. The British people should demand not only a written prospectus but protection of deposit moneys.

Mr. Colvin

If my hon. Friend is saying that self-regulation is the best way of proceeding, does he think that the new Timeshare Council is likely to be any better than the Timeshare Development Association that it replaces? Given what he said about 80 per cent. of properties being purchased abroad, does not he think that European legislation would be the answer rather than national legislation?

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend is right. We welcome the formation of the Timeshare Council, which I helped to launch last week. Self-regulation has an important part to play, but we have a right to demand that the timeshare industry puts its house in order. There is nothing wrong with the product, but we receive many complaints—indeed, more complaints than on any other subject—about the selling techniques of timeshare operators. The Government are right to act.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

The Minister has had a damning report on this industry from the Office of Fair Trading since July last year. Why has he done almost nothing? Why is he still permitting misleading mailshots to this country, from which businesses in this country profit? Why does not he act now to ensure that people who receive the mailshots do not have to go to misleading and high-pressure sales in timeshare offices? Why does not he close offices that do not meet the standards that the public demand?

Mr. Leigh

The Director-General of Fair Trading has power to act under the Control of Misleading Advertisement Regulations. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, award schemes are not covered by the Trade Descriptions Act. I have said that we intend to amend that Act. Unfortunately, Under-Secretaries cannot introduce legislation within a couple of months. We shall have to await our place in the legislative slot in the next Session or the Session after. The hon. Gentleman failed to say that 80 per cent. of timeshare properties are located abroad, so there is a limit to what we can achieve nationally. We must act with the help of a European directive, and the Commissioner has promised to take up my suggestion that he should introduce one.

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