HL Deb 29 June 1987 vol 488 cc29-31

2.57 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the terms of the code of practice of the Association of British Travel Agents are being observed in respect of the consolidation of flight and hotel bookings by tour operators this summer.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, the Association of British Travel Agents has already instituted changes to its tour operators' code of conduct, and in conjunction with its review of the ABTA codes the Office of Fair Trading will be closely monitoring the level of complaints about consolidation of holiday arrangements. It will take up the matter with the association if there is cause for concern.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he share my concern and regret that a large number of consumers who booked their holidays as long ago as last October to go to a certain resort, stay in a certain hotel and leave from a certain airport are now finding, sometimes with less than 24 hours' notice, that those arrangements have been cancelled and that they have now been offered holidays at a different resort, in a different hotel, flying from a different airport? That is the nature of consolidation. When the Minister pursues this matter, as I am sure he will, will he bear in mind that simply to offer a different hotel or money back is not good enough? Does he not agree that someone who is left in that position ought also to be offered compensation?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I think I should remind the noble Lord that it is the Director General of the Office of Fair Trading who will conduct the monitoring exercise. I hope that he will publish the result of this exercise shortly. The code of practice of the Association of British Travel Agents is monitored regularly about every two years. I hope that we shall find upon publication of its report recommendations about what we should do to remedy any defects, if indeed there are any defects.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I should like first to welcome the noble Lord in his new office of Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry and his first appearance in that capacity at the Government Dispatch Box. Perhaps I may ask him what is the status of the ABTA code of practice and what powers the director general has to enforce it. Is it a sort of Highway Code? Is it a voluntary code? What exactly is its status?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am very grateful for the welcome afforded me by the noble Lord. I hope that it will last for many months to come, but I have my doubts. This is of course a voluntary code. The Association of British Travel Agents covers some 90 per cent. of the United Kingdom travel industry and it has powers to fine companies or expel companies for breach of the code. Tour operators themselves are also covered by the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. I believe that so far the voluntary code has served both travellers and practitioners well. I hope that it will continue to do so.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that the position is largely due to a determination by the large operators to reserve to themselves as much of the trade as possible this year and that they took steps to book millions of extra holidays in order to do that? Will the Minister seek some means of drawing to the attention of the trade, perhaps through the Office of Fair Trading, that at the end of the day, by operating in that way, they are more likely to put small companies out of business and alienate millions of consumers because travellers have had to go through such procedures this year?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says about the state of the trade, but I do not think that I should comment on it. It is a matter very much for the Office of Fair Trading and I have little doubt that the Director-General will take all these matters into account.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister accept the status of the code being voluntary, that it really lies within the remit of the Director General of Fair Trading to monitor the operation generally of the code, and that unless and until he reports adversely the matter does not lie within the province of government?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am very grateful for the advice given to your Lordships' House by my noble friend.