HC Deb 16 October 1991 vol 196 cc306-8
12. Mr. Haynes

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what further action he expects to take to eliminate malpractice in the timeshare business.

Mr. Leigh

I have asked the Commission of the European Communities to prepare a directive to regulate the selling of timeshare properties. The Commission has indicated that it hopes to bring forward a proposal shortly. 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. Haynes

The Minister is bone idle. He sits in the ivory tower down at the Department of Trade and Industry while people in our constituencies suffer because of timeshare crooks. What is the Minister going to do about it? While he is at it, he should look to see how many timeshare crooks have contributed to Conservative party funds.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman's manner is so reassuring that he would not get me into a timeshare award scheme in a million years. It is not true to say that the Government have been slow to act. Only yesterday I spoke to Commissioner Van Miert in Brussels about this issue. As soon as I could I approached him to get the Commission to act, and progress is being made. We hope that before Christmas the Commission will issue a draft directive. Moreover, we spent the last year in a review of the Trade Descriptions Act and we hope to bring in legislation, when time permits, to bring award schemes within the remit of the Act. We could not be doing more.

Sir Robert McCrindle

While I endorse the call to eliminate malpractices to which the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) has just referred, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be appropriate to draw to the attention of the House and the country the fact that there is nothing wrong with the principles of timeshare and that what we seek to eliminate are the malpractices and excesses through which timeshare is sold? Will he further agree that over the past 20 or 30 years many thousands of our constituents have enjoyed considerable happiness as a result of purchasing a timeshare?

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend is quite right. All the evidence shows that the problem is not with timeshare: it is with its marketing. That is why we believe it essential that we insist that those considering taking up timeshare offers be given a written prospectus, that they have a cooling off period and that deposit moneys be protected.

There is no point in acting unilaterally in this case, as most timeshare properties are situated abroad. This is a good example of European action being needed. We are pressing the European Commission to act; it has promised to consider our request as favourably as it can.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

The Minister knows that many people—including many Conservative Members—are being duped by bogus timeshare advertisements. He also knows that he made the same statement that he has just made to the House in a press release dated 18 February in which he also promised action. Nothing has been done since then. The Advertising Standards Authority, the Office of Fair Trading and the Consumers Association have begged the Minister to take action for the past 16 months, so why is he prepared to sit back and leave the matter to Europe, knowing full well that no protection will come into force before 1 January 1993 at the earliest?

Mr. Leigh

As 80 per cent. of timeshare properties are situated abroad, it makes sense for Europe to act in this matter. The hon. Gentleman has failed to tell the House that we have just finished an exhaustive review of the Trade Descriptions Act. He is so intent on making petty party-political points that he ignores the fact that we have had to consult hundreds of trade associations. The Trade Descriptions Act affects every buying and selling operation in this country. We have finished the review and we shall bring in legislation. What more could we do?

Mr. Butler

Will my hon. Friend's actions cover misleading advertising sent from abroad? Will they also cover the cooling-off periods, which are so short that they are over by the time people return from their overseas holidays?

Mr. Leigh

The whole point of asking for a Commission directive is that it would cover a cooling-off period. Insisting on amending the Trade Descriptions Act is necessary to bring award schemes into the ambit of that Act and to ensure that they are properly enacted. I am afraid that we cannot act on letters sent from abroad, but I urge people to consider such letters carefully. We have issued 750,000 leaflets entitled "Your place in the sun" advising people not to go to these award schemes and to beware of timeshare operators.

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