HL Deb 22 January 1990 vol 514 cc873-4

2.56 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the arrangements in place to protect the British holidaymaker abroad in the event of default by tour operators or travel agents.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, in addition to statutory rights, the majority of holidaymakers who travel abroad will benefit from the new codes of practice announced by the Association of British Travel Agents to take effect during 1990. I understand that the Bus and Coach Council and Passenger Shipping Association have also implemented improvements to their vouluntary codes. EC Ministers have now reached a common position on the package travel directive.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply. But can he tell me the line Her Majesty's Government took regarding the EC directive, particularly as regards liability for compensation of the whole of the package and as regards compensation protection for the contract once it is signed with the travel agent to the point of delivery?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is an extremely complicated matter. I have the information in front of me but perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to write to her.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, do I understand that those who book a holiday through a tour operator who is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents is automatically covered for default? If that is true, why is it not made a condition that all tour operators must be a member of ABTA?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is intended to bring the EC directive into force in the near future. That will have the effect of imposing control upon the operation of all kinds of package holidays. We do not believe that it is right that all tour operators should belong to ABTA which does not necessarily cover the requirements of all branches of the travel trade. However, there will certainly be new provisions resulting from the directive.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, bearing in mind that the maxim caveat emptor—let the buyer beware —still prevails in the holiday market place, are the Government satisfied that the travel business is doing all in its power adequately to train staff in order to guide the travelling public on matters about which they should be wary? Can the Minister say something more in response to the point made by my noble friend Lady Fisher? When the Government find themselves in debate with their European colleagues and have to come down on the side of either the travel industry or the consumer, which side do the Government favour?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we are on the side of both sets of people to whom the noble Lord referred. We do not believe that the two are necessarily not coincident. A flourishing travel business will be to the benefit of the consumer. There is no purpose in putting the travel business out of business —if I can describe it in that way. Equally, we must be sure that the consumer receives a fair deal. I believe that that will be the benefit of the European Community directive on which member states have reached a common position. The directive has now to be formally adopted by the Council of Ministers and approved by the European Parliament. In due course it will come before the United Kingdom Parliament.

Staff training is for the travel industry, but the Association of British Travel Agents and the other bodies to which I referred in my Answer will have the matter as an important part of their codes of practice.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I was rather disappointed with the noble Lord's reply to my Question. I should have thought that if he has the information before him he could stand up and give it so that the whole House will be aware of it and not just myself.

Can the noble Lord say whether Her Majesty's Government have made compromises to the detriment of the consumer? The noble Lord talks about ABTA. A noble Lord answering a similar Question on a previous occasion agreed with me from the Government Front Bench that there are cowboys in the travel industry. Would not the noble Lord therefore agree that in this instance the consumer should be paramount?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if there are cowboys in the travel trade, they will be covered by the implementation of the new directive, to which I have referred, when it comes into force. As to the earlier point made by the noble Baroness, I have a page and a half of information on the subject. It might unduly weary your Lordships if I read that out. Pehaps the noble Baroness will table a Question for Written Answer and all your Lordships can then benefit from the reply.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I am quite willing to talk to the noble Lord outside the Chamber at the end of Question Time.