Package Travel

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:41 am on 18th December 1989.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Cambridge South West 12:41 am, 18th December 1989

I do not agree with much of what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) said, but in this short debate, I want to refer to a specific matter and a different one from those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

First, I declare an interest in the Guild of Business Travel Agents, a body which I have had the honour to advise for many years. The guild consists of about 50 of the largest companies that specialise in business travel. The companies have a turnover of £2·8 billion and they are responsible for four out of five business flights to and from the United Kingdom.

The guild is not to be confused with ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, although many of the guild's members have shared membership and on many issues the guild and the association go along the same path. If my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will be able to speak better than I can on behalf of the association.

Following the Single European Act, the Guild of Business Travel Agents took the initiative in an endeavour to form a European guild dealing with business travel exclusively, but the business travel agents in the United Kingdom are not happy with the directives as drafted. We are a trading nation. We depend on exports and it is essential that we manage to move our business men about the world speedily, efficiently and economically.

I noted that the Minister said that he considered the proposals as a whole unnecessarily burdensome and added that they failed to strike a fair balance between consumer and supplier interests. I think that he was probably right. Therefore, I congratulate the Minister and Europe on achieving some amendments. I say to my hon. Friend that we do not help the ordinary traveller by crucifying the agent who has to move him. There is a balance to be struck, and the Government are right to draw attention to the overburdening nature of the proposals that are before us.

Even more inappropriate is the directive on business travel itself. I was pleased when the Minister said, in emphasising the changes that would have to be considered, that the implications of including some business travel in the directive required further consideration. So they do. I do not believe that the Commission understands business travel and how the proposals will affect business travel. The basic intention of the scheme is to place liability on the tour organiser, the person who assembles two or more components of the package.

As drafted, business travel appears to be caught up in the articles. The Commission has not dealt with a number of issues—for example, it has not considered the composition of business travel and the definition of "package". Article 2 defines "package" and the commentary on the articles refers to all sorts of matters that are not relevant to business travel. It refers to travel to and from the holiday place, excursions to places of interest or pleasure, sporting holidays, school buildings and sporting equipment. All those relate to holiday traffic and are not relevant to business travel.

The Commission paid no attention to the move towards management fees. Business travel agents are increasingly operating not on a commission basis but by fees charged to their large corporate clients. The Commission also did not deal with the fact that in business travel, the customer often specifies his choice of what he wants to do.

Nor did the Commission consider the question of incentive travel. For example, Ford or any other vast organisation may wish to have an incentive travel scheme to send its dealers or salesmen to a certain place. It will instruct a well-known business travel agent to arrange that. The business travel agent will have no direct dealings with those who are travelling; its contractual basis is with the large corporate client. In any event, most businesses that engage in business travel are already covered by insurance.

If the proposals come into force, they would inhibit proper business travel and lead to the detriment of our economy. They would increase costs, and the insurance would inevitably be passed on to the consumer. The protection of the business traveller conies not from European directives or bureaucrats in Brussels, but from the vigorous and healthy competition that already prevails in the business travel sector.

It would be quite absurd for the liability arrangement for poor Mr. and Mrs. Snooks going on their hard-earned holiday to be applied to, for example, ICI ordering flights, hotels and cars for its salesmen throughout the world. Article 5 is inappropriate and unacceptable to the business travel world. I hope that ad hoc business travel will not be included and that the Minister can give me a few words of encouragement about that. If not, when he goes to the Internal Market Council at the end of the week, I hope that he will press this case with his customary forthrightness.