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Column 144difference to broadcasting standards. It might make them a bit better or a bit worse, but I think that it is unwise for anyone to reach any conclusions about that and, by and large, I think that it is a more sensible business arrangement.
I wish to ask the Minister a question, and I hope that he will think carefully about it. Under the resolution, much cash will be given to the Consolidated Fund and to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. Is there any way in which it might be used to deal with the greatest threat to standards in Britain--the programmes that will be launched to this country from other countries by satellites featuring soft and hard pornography and the most dreadful violence? I appreciate that that is a difficult problem. The Government have imposed minor rules, whereby, if a pornographic programme advertises Coca Cola, we can have a bash at Coca Cola in Britain, but the Minister must be aware that that is a limited control.
It is a waste of time talking for eight or 10 hours about minor changes in the standards of British broadcasting when we face a horrific and savage assault on them purely as a result of satellite activities. It is not as though they will transmit from far distant places. We know that in some European countries plans will shortly be announced to transmit soft and hard pornography. Is there anything that we can do to arrest that trend? Can we do anything through the United Nations? We know that resolutions of the Council of Europe are entirely ineffective, because some are being widely disregarded. If the Minister cares about broadcasting standards, as every father of young children does, will he do anything to restrict or control the activities of friendly countries--some on the continent of Europe and some a bit further away--which will be sending pornographic programmes into the homes of Britain? If we care about broadcasting standards, we should regard that as a crusade and not spend hours discussing what may be marginal changes in standards arising from the provisions of the Bill.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : I should like to detain the House briefly to place on record two technical matters arising from the ways and means motion. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will not reply to them tonight but will take the opportunity to discuss them with colleagues at the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry and perhaps mention them in Committee later. The first relates to the development of cable television. Some people have said that the installation of cable in this country has been slow. If that is so, and I believe that it is, those who served on the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 bear some responsibility, because it was they--I was one of them--who prevented foreign investment in cable in Britain. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister has sought to make provision in the Bill to rectify that, and I hope and believe that investment will be encouraged and that the development of cable will be swift.
In the motion and in the Bill there is the possibility of a levy on cable. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to consider with his colleagues whether that might be a disincentive to investment and whether it is wise.
My second point relates to the Consolidated Fund provision. Money will go not only into the Consolidated Fund but from it, and through the Department of Trade
Column 145and Industry, into the Eureka project and the development of high-definition television. It has become apparent during that programme that HD television has been and is being overtaken by the development of digital television transmission. It is technically possible to transmit enhanced definition television that is receivable by sets currently owned by the British public. I should like my hon. and learned Friend to discuss with his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry the possibility of withdrawing from that element of the Eureka programme and pursuing as swiftly as possible the introduction of enhanced definition television and the development of a British digital television industry.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor) : In deference to those who have spoken, I shall respond briefly, but in deference also to those who did not expect that the debate would last for so long after Second Reading, I shall keep my remarks brief. There will be a long Committee stage for those who wish to deal with these matters in greater detail, as perforce I shall have to do. I recognise that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is a great expert on statutory instruments. Indeed, he chairs the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I enjoyed his remarks about the powers of secondary legislation under the Bill. A constant dilemma of legislation is that, wherever possible, one wants to avoid secondary legislation that involves loss of parliamentary control. Equally, if some elements of the regulatory regime were included in the Bill, there would be the danger of setting in concrete on the face of the legislation matters of regulation that might with advantage require changing as circumstances change.
I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the adequacy or otherwise of parliamentary scrutiny. I have served on Standing Committees with the hon. Gentleman, who knows that I am always prepared to take seriously any suggestions about adding in parliamentary scrutiny to proposals for delegated legislation and I shall consider the Bill in Committee in that light, and with great room for those points. Like the hon. Member for Newham, South, (Mr. Spearing) and others, the hon. Member for Bradford, South mentioned the financial arrangements. With respect to the hon. Member for Newham, South, there was nothing novel in the proposition that the Government take a significant sum--it will be about £150 million this year--by way of a levy or tax from the ITV companies. Labour Governments did that--there is nothing new about it. Indeed, it would be novel if Governments were not prepared to do that, because the grant of a franchise is the grant of a monopoly or near-monopoly of selling television advertising, which is an extremely valuable boon. The late Lord Thomson of Fleet was rash enough to describe it as a licence to print money--something about which proprietors of other ITV franchises have always been rather embarrassed--but as so often with a pithy phrase, it conveys an essential truth. Governments have always thought it right that, for the benefit of the taxpayer, they should have a share of that money.
The difficulty is in determining how the share should be assessed. Governments have had different stabs at it--for example, using profit and net advertising revenue, or NAR
Column 146as it is inelegantly known, or some combination of the two. All that we are proposing is that it should be a dual figure, comprising the lump sum in the tender that is made to those who cross the quality threshold and a sum of money representing a proportion of advertising revenue that will be fixed by the ITC. As has been said, clause 156 does that.
On the point about major sporting events, I do not think that I can do better than simply to repeat the point that I made to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). At the moment, Sky or any other satellite channel could bid for one of the major sporting events and the only right that the present law gives to the BBC and ITV is the right to match that bid. Thus far, no such bid has been made.
I confidently expect and believe that major sporting events will continue to be seen on the main channels. That will come about, first, because it is profoundly unlikely that satellite television could mount the sort of bid necessary to secure such coverage. Secondly, as a number of sporting bodies have made clear, they are interested in the projection of their sport into as many households as possible. They are not interested in restricting access to their sport, and their sponsors are certainly not interested in anything other than the programme being shown in a large number of homes.
I am not sure how much more we can debate the matter at this point, because it comes down to a simple issue. Because we are afraid of the effects on public opinion of the scare campaign that we shall not see the FA cup, are we to perpetuate the system whereby, in effect, the state intervenes to prevent the proprietors of large sporting events from selling their product as they see fit, or are we to rely on the common sense, on the reality, that it is unlikely that large sums of money will be made available by others? That could have happened under the present arrangements. Proprietors of major sporting events have the same interest as the rest of us. They want their sport to be seen widely.
Mr. Spearing : I am sorry that the Minister is worried about the time that the House is taking on these fundamentally important matters. Some of us are elected here as a Parliament, not a charade. I take it from what the Minister said about sport that nothing that I suggested is impossible. I am grateful to him for his explanation about taxation. In Committee, does he envisage putting a limitation on returns such as the Consolidated Fund which are consistent with the returns that he alleges have been made under certain Governments since the foundation of the IBA?
Mr. Mellor : I will do the hon. Gentleman the honour of considering that point, but I shall not give a detailed response now. I assure him that I do not consider that I am taking part in a charade. I confidently expect to spend many hours on the detailed consideration of the Bill. I am not sure that we should conduct a Committee stage at 12.10 am on the night of Second Reading. That is a fair point and, having sat here for eight hours, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am aware that I am not participating in a charade.
It has saddened me enormously to find myself, for the first time since he became an hon. Member, on the other side of a debate from my hon. Friend the Member for
Column 147Buckingham (Mr. Walden). Clearly, he feels deeply about the matter and that is why he spoke in the terms that he did.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was fully entitled to say that Lord Reith likened the introduction of commercial television to the introduction of bubonic plague. That is an uncomfortable fact but nonetheless true. All the major changes in broadcasting since the war have come about because people were prepared to ride on in the face of tarted-up worst-case scenarios, which were claimed by critics to be the natural and inevitable consequence of what was proposed. Although that point is not a complete answer to any proposal, it is well worth making. We are faced with similar allegations today.
I should have thought that it was to the Government's credit that BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 will remain the same. My hon. Friend was perhaps caught in a downward spiral of logic when looking for a reason to damn the Government's proposals on the BBC. He said that the BBC would be dragged down by what was happening to Channel 3. I do not accept that anything detrimental will happen to Channel 3. The BBC has a secure income from the public, which has no choice about paying and has to pay ever-increasing sums. The BBC, properly, also has a large income from its commercial activities. The idea that it will be dragged down is well wide of the mark. It has a public service remit. It is not much of a compliment to the BBC to suggest that it would be dragged down.
The key point that my hon. Friend must understand is that Channel 3 is not such a monument to our civilisation that it cannot be improved. Whether or not he or others think that it is a monument, it is clear that increasing numbers of British people do not. Its audience share has fallen in absolute terms on every indicator. The key message is that there is a great deal of room to improve Channel 3. That will come about first because the quality threshold is a genuinely serious severe hurdle for people to surmount. Secondly, for the first time, the ITC will have powers to regulate the system rather than just having an ultimate power which, because it is ultimate, is never used to remove a franchise.
The ITC will now have the power to hold people to account and to look at a group's plans to see whether it is
Column 148capable of sustaining the big promises that are made. I believe that that represents a far more sophisticated power, and it will give us a better Channel 3.
I am surprised that my hon. Friend does not see the glaring defects, as I do, in the present arrangements. When Southern Television was replaced by TVS, three or four groups sat in different hotel rooms. They were told from the cloistered meeting rooms of the IBA that X had got it, not A, B or C. We knew not why. Once we have a more open process, with a quality threshold and the possibility of people making a commercial bid, we shall have the openness and accountability that is presently missing. I know that my hon. Friend disagrees, but it is not worthy of some of the extraordinary adjectives that he employed. I am sorry about that because it pains me as I deeply approve of my hon. Friend's stand on many issues. I hope that I have not outstayed my welcome. I hope that the House will accept the way and means motion and will wish the Bill on its way to the undoubted scrutiny that it will rightly receive in Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Broadcasting Bill ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorise the inclusion of-- (1) provisions under or by virtue of which holders of licences granted under the Act by the Independent Television Commission established under the Act are or may be required
(a) to pay or forfeit sums to that body in connection with such licences ;
(b) to pay sums to that body as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission ; and
(c) to make payments to the Channel Four Television Corporation established under the Act ;
and provision for sums falling within sub-paragraph (a) or (b) to be paid into the Consolidated Fund ;
(2) provisions under or by virtue of which holders of licences granted under the Act by the Radio Authority established under the Act are or may be required--
(a) to pay or forfeit sums to that body in connection with such licences ; and
(b) to pay sums to that body as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission ;
and provision for such sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund ;
(3) provisions under which the Welsh Authority (within the meaning of the Act) are required to pay sums as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and provision for such sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund ;
(4) provisions requiring the payment of any other sums into the Consolidated Fund.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 5382/88 and 7996/89 relating to package travel ; and endorses the Government view that any proposal must strike a balance between consumer protection and the need to avoid undue burdens on the travel industry, which would adversely affect the price and range of holidays available to consumers.
Next to the home and the car, the family holiday must rank as one of the most important items of expenditure in the average British household budget. As might be expected with an island nation, a large proportion of holidays are taken abroad, and during 1988 some 13 million overseas package holidays were taken. This makes the United Kingdom one of the largest exporters of holidaymakers in the Community, and it is difficult to over- emphasise the importance of this sector.
The sheer popularity of the package holiday is a tribute to the success of the package travel industry and to the excellent value for money which the large majority of holidays sold represent. It is possible for consumers in this country to find packages to just about every conceivable destination and, increasingly, covering just about every conceivable activity, As has been highlighted by the European consumer body, Bureau Europe en des Unions de Consommateurs, the United Kingdom package tour operator is able to market a much less costly package holiday than his Community counterparts-- comparable packages can work out up to 30 per cent. cheaper. We have been concerned, therefore, to give very careful consideration to the proposals emanating from Brussels for a directive in this area. The consumer is particularly vulnerable when he books an overseas holiday, pays in advance for the service and then has a substantial part of it performed overseas. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between some clarification and strengthening of the consumer's rights and increasing prices to the point at which ordinary people can no longer afford them.
The Government have held that the consumer is entitled to expect that the tour operator will provide him with precisely the holiday that he booked and not an approximation to it. He should get the hotel that he chose from the brochure and not one up the road. He is entitled to expect that he will pay the price quoted in the brochure and not be surcharged unless it is made crystal clear to him at the outset that surcharges may be made and in what circumstances. He is also entitled to expect the services comprising the package to be performed to a reasonable standard. In extreme and, I hope, very rare circumstances, the deficiencies in services may lead to death or personal injury. Damages are potentialy very high and the extent of the tour operator's liability is important.
The consumer will not be best served if, in providing him with increased protection, the tour operator is forced to increase prices beyond the consumer's reach or to forgo inclusion of certain holiday destinations or holiday activities. Nor are consumers well served if newcomers are discouraged from entering the market. The Government
Column 150have been equally concerned, therefore, that any increased liability imposed on the tour operator should be equitable and insurable.
That brings me to the array of proposals which have come out of Brussels and on which we have tried to keep the House informed. I should like to bring the House up to date on what has been happening.
Recent discussions have centred on a proposal under development by the current French presidency, which it hopes will form the basis of a compromise for adoption by the Commission. The presidency is to be congratulated on its strenuous efforts to pull this more balanced proposal together, even at this late stage of negotiation. I warmly praise the work of officials at the Department of Trade and Industry who have borne the brunt of the negotiations. They have done a magnificent job to represent the views of the Government, the consumer and the industry in some difficult and complex negotiations. During those negotiations, the Government have been mindful of concerns which fall broadly under three headings.
With regard to the scope of the proposal--article 2--we believe, first and foremost, that the directive ought to be confined to tour operators and their direct competitors. That statement requires some elaboration. To apply widely the stringent provisions envisaged would mean the severe limitation, if not the complete demise, of activities such as day trips to an event or activity and the rental of holiday cottages with ancillary services such as fishing rights. In that respect, the effects on small enterprises could be catastrophic. It would also mean that the likes of schools, clubs and churches would have to think carefully about continuing with traditional outings and holidays. One also has to question the wisdom of embracing ad hoc business travel arrangements in a directive intended to apply primarily to package holidays. We shall continue to negotiate with those principles in mind.
The presidency proposal is therefore a step in the right direction--
Mr. Conal Gregory (York) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on this important point. Will he tell the House why he would resist the safeguard for those who go away on a trip for 24 hours, whether they be members of Church parties, political parties, or others? They need that fundamental protection and it seems inexplicable not to give it to them. Why is the Minister seeking to remove it?
Mr. Forth : My hon. Friend touches on a difficult point, on which neither the Council of Ministers nor I have totally made up our minds. Either one forces the full protection of this directive on anyone who, in any circumstances, arranges a trip of any kind, and there is something to be said for doing that, or one recognises that a wide range of innocent, one-off, non-profit-making activities could be brought to an end if we forced on them the full rigours of the directive. It is a finely balanced argument on which we wish to await the exact proposals of the Council of Ministers before making up our minds. However, I am mindful of the difficult choice which must be faced.
The presidency proposal is a step in the right direction in that it seeks to omit from the definition trips lasting less than 24 hours. We believe that this will take day trips such as a coach trip to the zoo out of the scope of the directive. We also welcome the stipulation that, for an additional
Column 151service to count towards the definition of a "package", it should not be ancillary to transport or accommodation and should be significant in relation to the contract as a whole.
With regard to the liability of the package organiser--article 5--the liability provisions lie at the heart of the proposals for a directive on package travel. The Government believe that an acceptable proposal would need to strike a fair balance between the interests of the parties, be insurable at acceptable cost and not reduce the range of holidays available. We accept that the organiser should be strictly liable for the provision of the services agreed, but where consequential damages, death or personal injury are concerned, the extent of liability should be limited in some way. I submit that the vast majority of consumer concerns about their package holidays have to do with just that principle, and I have a steady flow of correspondence on which to base that conclusion. The presidency proposal is also a great step forward on that central issue. It proposes liability for proper performance of the contract, including non-performance due to faults of suppliers such as hoteliers and carriers. We hope, however, that the final proposal will include defences for contributory negligence, acts of third parties and unforeseeable events which could not be forestalled. In our view, inclusion of contractual limitations set by international conventions is fundamental.
As for the financial guarantees--article 7--if the liability provisions lie at the heart of the proposals on package travel, to continue the visceral analogy, those on financial guarantee must be the guts of it. The Government believe that the essence of a workable provision must relate to a free and informed choice, not only for consumers, who must be able to see by what means the organiser intends to cover his liabilities if things go wrong, but for organisers, who must be free to make the most appropriate and cost-effective arrangements. To introduce compulsory licensing of all organisers within the scope of the directive would mean excessively bureaucratic and expensive intervention by the state.
Compulsory insurance for every claim which might arise is also unreasonable and ignores the plight of very small enterprises or new companies in the sector without a track record to enable them to get insurance at economical cost. This would do no favours to consumers because, inevitably, it would drive up prices unnecessarily and reduce competition. Most packages in the United Kingdom are sold through organisers who are fully bonded against insolvency and there might be a case to require others to make arrangements which would provide protection for consumers in those circumstances. We would welcome a proposal which would underpin that approach but allow organisers flexibility to make appropriate arrangements.
At the outset, the Government placed reservations on the proposals for a directive on package travel, not only on the general content of the Commission's proposal but also on the chosen treaty base, article 100A. That is the base which was established by the Single European Act and is designed to facilitate the rapid achievement of the single market. We have been sceptical about whether there is a strong case for choosing that treaty base for this proposal, which struck us as very much a measure for the protection
Column 152of consumers. On the other hand, however, package travel is a highly specialised area for a number of reasons, and in the light of the final compromise proposal and whatever justification is put forward in the recitals for a Community measure in this area, we may reach a different view.
The reasoning in favour of a balanced set of proposals which take due account of the needs and wishes of both parties must be self-evident to everyone. I invite the House to agree with the motion.
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) : This directive is, in a number of areas, a pale shadow of the original draft and it offers only limited protection for holidaymakers. I do not recognise the rosy picture that the Minister has just painted, and nor do hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers who annually run the gauntlet of surcharges, airport delays, overbookings, dangerous facilities, switched destinations and unsuitable accommodation.
I welcome the efforts of the travel industry to ensure that more than 10 million people enjoy package holidays every year, but I also share the concern of the 1 million holidaymakers whose holidays have given cause for complaint.
The Minister has never made a secret of his desire to ensure that the directive gives less protection to the tourist than to the tourist trade. It comes as no surprise that the Government cannot welcome unreservedly even the modest package of measures to protect the travelling public that this directive offers.
Sadly, when the Commission suggested measures to protect holidaymakers, the Government lobbied to weaken the proposals, not to strengthen them. This directive allows people's holidays to be cancelled up to 24 hours before departure. It now offers no protection to the person crossing the Channel for a day trip--the first draft did. It sanctions bigger surcharges on the consumer than did the original, and provides no right to written reasons for surcharges. It burdens the consumer who has suffered with the need to prove negligence in some areas. It removes the requirement for brochures to detail contract conditions and for local tourist authorities to assist in resolving disputes.
There are some safeguards, which the Minister quaintly describes as burdens on the trade, but we want to know from the Consumer Minister about the burdens on the consumer--the burden of buying a holiday paid for in advance, with no guarantee of specific accommodation or even price. I am told that, when things go wrong on a package holiday, it is difficult to find anyone to take responsibility.
In six key areas, this directive is defective and far weaker than its original draft. The 1 million holidaymakers whose holidays were spoilt last year are entitled to know why a directive that offered them so much better provision has been watered down.
The Government have never made a secret of their concerns, not for the travelling public but for the travel trade. On 22 April, the Minister's predecessor spelled out his key fears in a letter. He said :
"Another important implication of the directive from the tour operators' point of view is that it may circumscribe their present abilities to restrict their liabilities when a third party (eg, a foreign hotelier) fails to provide the service contracted."
Column 153By 22 August we had a new Minister, whose comments on this directive to protect holidaymakers were even more hostile. He wrote that his Department
"considers that the proposal is unnecessarily burdensome and fails to strike a fair balance between consumer and supplier interest."
I note that the Minister nods in assent. That was followed by three months of the most disgraceful lobbying by the Minister to weaken the directive. By 8 December the Minister had failed the consumer. He was able to write that the proposal
"has moved towards a more acceptable balance between consumer and supplier interests."
He has used similar words tonight.
The changes in the proposals were severely criticised by consumer groups. The European Union of Consumers deplored what it called "sabotage on behalf of government experts".
It spoke of
"compromises which are less and less favourable to consumers." With more and more people going abroad, the need for consumer protection has never been greater.
My attention has been drawn to the plight of Mr. Clement, who booked a five -person apartment in Corfu. The total trip cost over £1, 300 but the apartment was already occupied when he arrived. When he eventually got in there was room for only four beds, the kitchen was filthy, the shower was broken and when the toilet was flushed waste came up through a grille in the bathroom floor. The company representative was unhelpful and when he asked for compensation Cosmos offered nothing. He wrote again and was offered £50. He eventually had to resort to a court summons to receive a higher amount. He needed on-the-spot help from independent local tourist authorities to ensure that his holiday was satisfactory in the first place.
Under the directive, tour companies can still limit their liability to supply the holiday as booked and paid for. It appears that one can spend £400 on a holiday and the blame for failure can be shifted to some foreign supplier, often with impunity. The seller of a £400 television cannot legally tell the purchaser to seek redress in Japan or West Germany. In that respect, perhaps the travel trade is getting off lightly.
A holiday is bought on trust and paid for in advance, yet is subject to changes that may appear arbitrary and without a guarantee that the item supplied is the item that was purchased. The Minister should investigate whether practices such as surcharges and combining holidays when there are not enough bookings should be permitted unless they are advertised as such. He should spell out what redress is available to tourists at the holiday location.
In May, the Consumers Association carried out a study on travel agents. It asked a number of them for the cheapest flight to Europe and four out of five got it wrong. The Which? verdict was "appalling". The association asked for a holiday on an island suitable for an elderly grandmother and only two out of 36 got it right. The Consumers Association concluded that most agents were poorly informed.
The Minister recently gave his verdict on the travel industry. In a long- distance video presentation to a world conference in Mexico on the travel trade, he said :
"The industry has set itself a standard which is going to be very difficult to maintain."
Column 154To hear the Minister one would think that this country has the highest standards, the best public protection and the lowest levels of consumer dissatisfaction. That is simply not the case. A survey of package travellers by the European Commission shows that while 27 holidaymakers in every 100 interviewed in Italy experienced problems with their package holiday, the figure for Britain was 37 in every 100. Those surveyed in France and Germany had lower dissatisfaction ratings, of 31 and 32 respectively. The Commission revealed a serious crisis of confidence in the British travel industry.
That fewer than 5 per cent. of people pursue their complaint raises a major question about the current complaints procedure. The Commission stated :
"The reason is that the consumer, having paid the price in full before departing on his holiday feels that by making a formal complaint he may well find himself involved in an endless argument which if it has to be terminated in a courtroom may cost him more money than he can afford."
Article 6 in its original form would have helped to tackle that problem.
I pay tribute to the work of the Association of British Travel Agents to try to monitor and improve standards. The revised ABTA code of conduct will give welcome protection to its consumers after November 1990, especially against negligence resulting in injury or death, and it makes provision for higher compensation in the event of a holiday being cancelled or altered. There is still scope for the trade to substitute holidays on a massive scale. Holidaymakers can still get a holiday in a hotel different from the one that they booked, and cannot cancel the holiday if the hotel is in the same category in price. Holidaymakers may still be forced to accept changes, such as the absence of advertised child care, because these are not seen as material alterations.
Welcome though the codes of conduct are, powerful trade regulations and sanctions are no substitute for Government-led consumer protection. Only last year, the Director General of Fair Trading had to step in an warn ABTA that holidaymakers were being surcharged for fuel price increases when world fuel prices were falling. In spite of the Minister's much-loved codes, supposedly prohibiting this unjustified type of surcharge, it went ahead. In his latest report, the director general, Sir Gordon Borrie, says :
"Examples of costing subsequently submitted by ABTA failed to convince the Office that unjustified surcharging had not taken place."
Before this revised directive, surcharges of under 10 per cent. of the cost of the holiday were to be absorbed by the tour operator, and the reasons for surcharging were then to be set out in writing. Now, there are virtually no limitations on surcharging.
We have no specific legislation that exclusively protects the holidaymaker. Despite the enormous scale of our holiday industry, the United Kingdom lags behind several other European states in establishing specific legislation on the holiday trade. Other countries have specific laws that define the rights of the consumer and the obligations of tour operators. France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain all have such laws. In this country, the operators do not require a licence from the Government. The only licensing of any part of the trade is carried out not by the Government but by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Some countries have laws to protect the travelling public. In some-- Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain--those laws are backed with licensing of all travel companies. The laws exist not because the consumers there
Column 155have more need of them than we do. France and Italy, which featured so much more favourably in the Commission's study than the United Kingdom, also have laws and licensing. They have laws because their Governments aspire to give holidaymakers greater protection than ours will give.
Although ABTA covers 90 per cent. of the holiday trade, that still leaves more than 1 million holidaymakers with minimal protection. In his video from Acapulco, the Minister made it clear that he has no plans to force travel companies to abide by ABTA's new code of practice, but the need for protection has never been greater. That number of 1 million holidaymakers with complaints is growing, not shrinking. Standards are not improving, they are declining. The Consumers Association published its survey on holidays in January. A fifth of holidaymakers reported that the tour operators made a change in their holiday arrangements, and half those changes were made during the actual holiday or within a fortnight from departure. Two thirds had their flight time changed, and for nearly one third, the resort itself or the accommodation was changed. The survey found that most holidaymakers were perfectly happy with their tour operator, but it also reported a significant drop in people's rating of tour operators since the last survey in 1986, with 9 per cent. expressing clear dissatisfaction with the operator, as against 7 per cent. two years previously. Sadly, when the Commission suggested measures to protect holidaymakers, such as an arbitration service by local tourist officers, the Minister, to use the words of the Secretary of State, felt for his wallet.
This is a minimum directive. When the legislation is implemented here, the Minister should seek four safeguards for the consumer. He must consider banning surcharges. He should ensure that the holidaymaker does not have to establish negligence so as to obtain redress. He must examine the need for joint liability between the operator in the United Kingdom and the agent abroad, with the appropriate on-site advice and help. He should enshrine in legislation the standards that ABTA applies to its members where these are higher than standards in the directive, including strict liability for property damaged.
The Minister began by stating that British holidaymakers get the cheapest holidays. We know, however, that cheapest is not best and that value for money is not synonymous with cheapness. Thousands of holidaymakers believe that they are not getting value for the money that they have paid. That is because they did not receive the holiday for which they asked, not because their expectations are too high. We do not endorse the Government's hostility to EC directives that are designed to strengthen consumer rights. Travel organisers should provide the holiday that is booked. The price at the time of booking should be the price that is finally paid. On-the-spot, independent arbitration should be considered. If an hotel is not the one advertised, there must be immediate help if the holiday is to be saved, not the right to register a complaint on return after the holiday has been ruined. To put it simply, people want the holiday that they have booked at the price that they have paid. Sadly, neither the directive nor the Government are backing the holiday consumer.
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