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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Mar 1995

Vol. 451 No. 2

Package Holidays and Travel Trade Bill, 1995: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The main purpose of this Bill is to transpose EU Council Directive No. 90/314/EEC on package travel, package holidays and package tours into Irish law. The Bill will also amend certain provisions of the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982.

The directive is one of a number of measures adopted by the EU aimed at protecting the consumer in the travel and tourism sectors. In addition to the directive on package travel, other legislation adopted covers airline computerisation systems and the overbooking of airline seats, and the provision of unbiased information to air travel sales desks.

The legislation has been introduced in view of the fact that national laws and international regulatory developments are the major influences on travel and tourism services and because significant differences in consumer protection can exist from one member state to another.

The EU directive on package travel was designed to harmonise aspects of national provisions relating to travel in the Union and thereby improve protection for the consumer. Package holidays form a fundamental part of tourism, but the laws governing these packages vary considerably between member states. These disparities in national practices give rise to obstacles to the freedom to provide services in the field of packages and package travel.

The directive aims to stimulate greater growth in the package travel industry by removing these disparities, thus enabling consumers in the European Union to benefit from comparable conditions when buying a package in any member state.

The directive makes a significant contribution to the protection of consumers and completion of the internal market by laying down common rules and a common framework for holiday packages in all member states.

The Bill sets out the ground rules for regulating the travel contract, the security to be provided by the package provider in the event of insolvency and amends certain provisions of the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982. The main provisions of the Bill relate to: the accuracy, clarity and content of brochures and other promotional material about packages; the information to be provided by the organiser and-or the retailer to the consumer about the package, both before the conclusion of the contract and the start of the package; the liberty of the consumer to transfer bookings to a willing third person; the rules concerning the alteration or cancellation of a package, for example, the price of the package cannot be changed except where the contract specifically provides for this; the essential features of the contract and the responsibilities of organisers and retailers for the performance of the contract; the security to be provided by the package provider in the event of insolvency, to enable the stranded holiday maker to be returned to the point of departure, or, in the event of the holiday not having commenced, to be refunded moneys paid over; and the elimination of certain anomalies in the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982 which have come to notice in the light of experience. As is standard practice, the Bill provides that breaches of specific provisions will be offences, either summary or indictable, depending on the gravity of the offence.

On the provisions relating to the regulation of the travel contract, a consumer buying a package holiday is in the vulnerable position of paying in full in advance for a product almost entirely on the basis of descriptions of the product contained in a holiday brochure. Intending purchasers of pre-arranged packages will now be able to place greater reliance on the descriptions in the brochure.

Package organisers will not be able to make exaggerated claims about holidays as they will have to be able to stand over any advance descriptions given in brochures. In addition, the brochure must also contain general information about passport and visa requirements which apply to the purchase of the package and health formalities required for the journey and stay.

The information to be provided by the organiser before the start of the package must include the name, address and telephone number of the representative or agent of the organiser at the holiday location, or, if there is no such representative or agency, a telephone number which will enable the consumer to contact the organiser or retailer. This provision is reasonable. If a consumer gets into difficulties it is only right and proper that he or she should be able to contact some representative of the organiser to provide assistance.

There has been much discussion as to what precisely will constitute a package holiday under the new Bill. It defines a package as a combination of at least two of the following components; transport; accommodation; other tourist services accounting for a significant proportion of the package. The many people providing bed and breakfast accommodation in guesthouses throughout the country are not covered unless the accommodation is being offered by the guesthouse owner as part of a larger pre-arranged package which includes some other significant element. The combination required to constitute a "package" must be pre-arranged by the organiser when sold or offered for sale at an inclusive price and must cover a period of more than 24 hours or include overnight accommodation.

Ad hoc arrangements made by travel agents specifically for individual customer's requirements do not come within the scope of the proposed legislation. For example, if somebody, say a business person, walks into a travel agency and asks the agent for a flight to London and to book a particular hotel, this does not constitute a package. If, however, the travel agent advertises a weekend in London, which includes flight and accommodation, this would be pre-arranged and would constitute a package.

The Directive is not as exact as it might have been in clarifying what precisely constitutes a package. However, the number of possible booking scenarios is legion. It would be completely impossible for any legislation, no matter how detailed, to cover all the possible combinations. I understand the Director of Consumer Affairs, who will police the legislation when enacted, has suggested that his office will draw up guidelines in conjunction with the travel industry on what constitutes a package. This would be helpful in the interests of greater clarity and I would welcome such an initiative.

One of the main features is that the Bill will make the organiser of a package holiday primarily responsible for the proper performance of the obligations arising out of the contract. I am aware that there is much concern in the travel trade industry regarding the extent to which organisers could be held liable to the consumer following the implementation of this legislation. In this regard, I would like to clarify that the retailer's liability to their customers will not be dramatically increased following the Bill's enactment. Under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980, the seller, or retailer in the case of the travel trade, is already responsible in almost all cases for the performance of their side of the contract. The effect of the Bill will be to place responsibility on the organiser similar to that which is already on the retailer under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act.

As the legislation is a consumer protection measure, the Director of Consumer Affairs will have the primary role in enforcing it. The Bill will operate in addition to the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980 and the director is, given his other responsibilities in the field of consumer legislation, the appropriate competent authority to police this area.

There has also been some speculation that the new legislation will make the organiser liable for any or all the damage suffered by the consumer. This is not the case. Section 20 makes it clear that the organiser will not be responsible if the failure to perform the contract or its improper performance is not due to the fault of the organiser or the retailer or another supplier of services. If, for example, the consumer suffers damage entirely due to his or her own negligence, then the organiser would clearly not be liable. In the event of a claim about failure to perform the contract, or improper performance, the specific conditions of the contract pertaining to the package would have to be taken into account in each case in determining the organiser's liability, if any.

It is important to note that this Bill encompasses, in addition to travel agents and tour operators, everybody who organises or sells packages, such as carriers and hotels. The exception to this are organisers who organise and sell packages on an occasional basis who are excluded from the provisions of the Bill.

Following the enactment of the legislation, I will introduce regulations specifying precisely the classes of persons who are deemed to be acting occasionally as package organisers. Examples of such classes would be community, social, sporting or voluntary organisations which organise domestic packages as part of the general objectives of that organisation; schools or educational institutions which organise packages; religious or denominational groups which organise packages involving a pilgrimage; and packages organised by charities or benevolent institutions in pursuit of the objectives of that body

This exemption will apply to home packages only. The organisation and sale of packages abroad will continue to come within the provisions of the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982, whether occasional or regular.

I emphasise again that this is consumer protection legislation. One of its main purposes is to ensure that the consumer can, without difficulty, seek redress from the supplier. I am satisfied organiser in the event of improper performance of the contract. Should this improper performance be the fault of a supplier of services, the retailer and— or organiser will be able to seek legal redress from that supplier. I am satisfied that the availability of legal redress to the consumer in respect of improper performance of a contract and the penalties for non-provision of information about a package or the provision of misleading information will eliminate any cowboys seeking to operate in the travel trade. I am aware that concern has been expressed regarding the safety of Irish holidaymakers overseas. There have been causes of tragic accidents abroad in recent years resulting in injuries and the death of Irish holidaymakers. While these have, fortunately, been small in number relative to the numbers holidaying abroad, I fully understand the concerns raised.

This Bill provides, in line with the EU directive, that where a package in a member state includes accommodation, the contract with the consumer must state the compliance of the accommodation with the laws of that member state. This puts an onus on the package organiser to ensure that all accommodation which they provide for Irish holidaymakers is of an acceptably safe standard.

The Bill also places primary responsibility for the proper fulfilment of the conditions in the contract on the organiser. Should the improper performance be the fault of the supplier of services, the retailer and — or organiser can seek legal redress from that supplier. The provisions which I have outlined above will make it easier for consumers who have a problem with accommodation abroad to seek redress in an Irish court.

I note also that, in reply to a recent question in the European Parliament, the Commission indicated that it had undertaken to study the legislation in member states dealing with services linked to the installation and maintenance of appliances burning gaseous fuels. These appliances have been highlighted as a cause of concern in a number of tragic incidents over the past few years.

This brings me to the second main area covered. The Bill lays down the arrangements for the security of moneys paid over by consumers and the repatriation of consumers, if necessary, in the event of insolvency of the retailer or body providing the package.

There are two main options. A package provider who is a member of a body, such as a trade association, approved by the Minister to administer bonds may provide security by means of a bond taken out with an institution, such as a bank, authorised to issue such bonds.

Alternatively, security may be provided by means of an insurance policy taken out by the package provider or retailer in favour of the consumer. As I mentioned, transport carriers, hotels and anybody organising holiday packages will come within the definition of package organiser and will have to have security against insolvency in respect of their package travel activities.

The effect of this provision is to give to people holidaying in Ireland who are customers of Irish-based package organisers comparable protection to that which people going on holidays overseas enjoy under the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982. It is only proper that Irish people spending their holidays at home should have this protection in the event of insolvency of the package provider or retailer. People taking holidays in Ireland who are customers of package organisers in other EU countries will, of course, be covered by the legislation implementing the directive in those countries.

Some worries have been expressed that the implementation of this Bill will affect the prices of holidays being sold. I would like to stress that any increase in the price of package holidays will be minimal as a result of these measures. While some extra insurance by organisers may be necessary to cover the actions of foreign suppliers of services, there should not be any need for large increases in liability insurance because there will be little change in the levels of liability already carried under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act.

There may be a small increase in holiday prices in the first year but, as the travel trade industry is a highly competitive business, I anticipate that the usual market forces will bring prices down again very quickly. Indeed, the added benefits and security which the consumer will enjoy will more than compensate for any small increase in prices in the short term.

The new legislation will enhance even further the already high quality of the Irish travel trade industry. It will provide a framework which will give a better quality of service and improved protection for the consumer while at the same time keeping to a minimum the potential costs for the package organiser.

As I mentioned in my introductory comments, there is a third element to the Bill. I am taking this opportunity to amend certain provisions of the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982 which has been the principal Act governing the sale of overseas travel. Before turning to these amendments I would like to outline the reasons for enactment of and the philosophy underlying this Act.

Deputies may be aware that prior to the introduction of the 1982 Act, the Irish travel industry operated on an unregulated basis. In December 1980, Bray Travel Limited, then one of the largest tour operators, went out of business resulting in the loss of holiday money and the deposits of over 1,500 people and the stranding of a number of holidaymakers abroad. There were also a number of other collapses in 1981.

While voluntary bonding arrangements had been introduced by the Irish Travel Agents Association and a number of individual operators in response to these developments, it was evident that a need existed for a statutory framework to protect holidaymakers.

The basic elements incorporated in the 1982 Act were: a bonding arrangement for tour operators and travel agents for the protection of their customers; a back-up travellers protection fund to be raised by contributions from tour operators and to be used where individual bonds proved inadequate; and a system of licensing to control entry to the trade.

The Act sought to prevent failures in the trade as well as to provide remedies where failures occurred. Consumer protection was the major motive, but the licensing and bonding elements had, as a major objective also, the imposition of certain rigours and disciplines designed to put the trade on a proper footing and in this way to seek to prevent failures. These disciplines related to the financial affairs, business and organisational resources and general fitness of applicants to hold travel agents and tour operators licences.

Following the passing into law of the 1982 Act, regulations were enacted which set out in detail for the travel trade how the new procedures would operate in practice. Contributions to the travellers protection fund were suspended in April 1987 as it was felt that there was sufficient money in the fund to deal with possible contingencies.

There are, at present, 320 licensed travel agents and 55 licensed tour operators bonded under the 1982 Act.

Overall, I am satisfied that the system of existing licensing and bonding has worked well over the years. Where there have been collapses of tour operators and travel agents, customers affected have been repatriated where necessary and moneys passed to the operator or agent have been refunded. These refunds enable the customer, if they so wish, to make alternative holiday arrangements. Apart from some minor amendments, I do not propose to change the 1982 Act. The Bill now before the House will operate in addition to this Act and will provide added protection to the consumer.

I propose to amend a number of the definitions in the Act of 1982 to make them consistent with the current Bill.

The Bill will also make it clear that the provisions of the 1982 Act now apply to all travel commencing in the State to destinations outside the State or Northern Ireland. Problems were experienced with the operation of the 1982 Act in identifying what was encompassed by overseas travel. In particular, the 1982 Act referred only to travel to a place outside Ireland and did not specify that the travel had to commence in Ireland.

The 1982 Act excluded carriers from its licensing and bonding requirements, that is, persons whose principal business is the provision of transport. The Bill before the House provides that carriers selling package holidays outside the State or Northern Ireland will in future require a licence from my Department. Carriers have been informed of their impending obligations under this Act.

In summary, the principal benefits to the consumer of the Bill before the House are: consumers will have easier access to redress; more comprehensive and concrete information will be available; consumers will be guaranteed a minimum degree of protection; the quality of service will be improved; and there will now be provision for security against insolvency for domestic as well as outbound packages.

I understand that the home holiday business generated approximately £400 million last year. It is important to the national economy and makes a significant contribution to year round tourism. In recent years the trend has been one of steady increases in short holidays outside the peak months. It also generates substantial employment. Domestic tourism accounted for an estimated 20,000 jobs in the Irish economy in 1994. I hope the protection accorded to domestic holidaymakers by this legislation will encourage more people to stay in Ireland for their holidays, generating additional business and assisting job creation.

Outbound tourism is also a major business. It is estimated that in the region of 350,000 people will take holidays abroad in 1995. For most customers, a package holiday is a once a year experience, for which they have gone to considerable personal expense. They are entitled to a safe and enjoyable holiday which runs as smoothly as possible.

Before concluding, I would like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation of the large amount of preparatory work done on this Bill by the former Minister for Transport, Energy and Communication, Deputy Brian Cowen. He was responsible for seeking and obtaining Government approval for the drafting of the text of the Bill and many of the initial consultations with the travel industry were held when he was Minister. It is only proper that his contribution be acknowledged.

I am happy to recommend this Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive speech and his detailed introduction of the Bill. It is very useful in our discussion of the Bill to have such a detailed introduction and a tracing of the history of the Bill. Also, on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Cowen, I thank the Minister of State for his kind comments in that regard.

The Bill gives effect to a European Union directive on package holidays, package travel and package tours. Indeed, I may have been involved directly in that negotiation at Brussels level during my time as Minister for Tourism. The purpose of the directive is to harmonise aspects of national provisions relating to package travel in the EU. I accept the Bill is designed to improve protection for the consumer. It sets out the information that has to be included in any brochure, lays out the liabilities of tour operators and travel agents and adds to the body of legislation already in existence in this regard.

A package is defined in section 2 as a combination of at least two of the following components, pre-arranged by the organiser when sold or offered for sale at an inclusive price and when the service covers a period of more than 24 hours or includes overnight accommodation; transport, accommodation, other tourist services not ancillary to transport or accommodation accounting for a significant proportion of the package. The Bill sets out the information to be provided to an intending consumer. It lays down the ground rules for regulating the travel contract and deals with the security to be provided by the package provider in the event of insolvency. Some regulation has existed in these areas and the Minister proposes to add to them.

Fianna Fáil will not oppose the Bill on Second Stage because of the reasons I outlined. On Committee Stage, however, the party will propose a number of amendments designed to strengthen and perhaps clarify aspects of the Bill. The number of amendments will depend largely on how Second Stage develops and the Minister's response to points made by Deputies on this side of the House.

Fianna Fáil believes the Minister should allow three months after enactment of the Bill before it comes into force. This short period will allow the travel trade to achieve compliance with the provisions. It should be remembered that most travel agents at this stage of the year are committed to the 1995 season, and to give them a period of three months from the date of enactment of the Bill would not be unreasonable given the resources, particularly, of small travel agents. The Minister said there are 320 bonded travel agents operating in the State. My assessment is that two-thirds of those have a staff of no more than two or three people. We are talking by and large about small town travel agents and I ask the Minister to consider the three month period before bringing the Bill into effect.

I also ask the Minister to consider amending the definition of "package", to which he referred at length, so that there is no doubt that business travel is excluded from the provisions. That is not stated unequivocally in the Bill. The Minister suggested that by regulation the definitions might be tightened up, but it would be more sensible if the Bill made it clear that ordinary day-to-day business travel is excluded. I appreciate the Minister's advice that may be it is not easy to do that in drafting form, but perhaps he will consider this matter with a view to inserting a clause to make clearer the areas that are excluded from the package. I do not wish to refer to specific sections at this stage but I will do so on Committee Stage.

The directive on which this Bill is based was not intended to apply in circumstances where two entities of equal bargaining power — for example, a firm and a travel agent — come together to conclude what is essentially a purely commercial contract. There is no need for the State to interfere in such a contract between two companies with equal bargaining strength. They are well able to look after themselves in that regard and for that reason the business to business type of travel should not be included in the Bill.

The legislation should not apply to brochures already in circulation. A substantial number of brochures have been printed and are at present in circulation, and it is not clear whether they will be included. I do not believe the Minister wishes to include them but clarity in this regard is important. There should be no retrospection and it is not clear from the Bill that retrospection is not intended. The meaning could be taken that the Bill will apply to brochures printed perhaps three, four or six months ago. That would be retrospective legislation and, as a principle, such legislation has never been accepted by the House. I do not believe that is envisaged by the Minister, but it is not clear from the legislation whether that is so.

If that is the intention tour operators would have to reprint existing summer brochures and those in the process of being printed for the winter of 1995. I know it is not the Minister's intention to disrupt the travel trade at this sensitive time of the year but to put in place additional consumer protection, which I support. I ask him to consider aspects of the Bill from the point of view of it suddenly coming into force and applying to existing brochures. The consequences of that to the trade would be incalculable. Travel agents would have to throw away thousands of brochures, thereby increasing the cost of package holidays to the consumer.

Travel agents should not be liable to compensate consumers for damage caused by misleading brochures. No doubt the Minister has received representations from travel agents on this point. He should ensure he has top class legal advice on the issue. I do not know whether his office consulted the Attorney General's office on this point, perhaps he will refer to that matter when concluding Second Stage. Is the Minister asking small travel agents who employ two or three people in towns such as Maynooth to be in a position financially to compensate a consumer in circumstances where a 200 page brochure from a multinational tour operator states on page 96 that the apartment shall be 20 feet by 18 feet but instead it is 15 feet by 16 feet?

It is not acceptable that the consumer should claim against a small travel agent in rural areas on foot of a misleading brochure. I ask the Minister to consider between now and Committee Stage whether it is intended that a high street rural travel agent should be totally responsible for every sentence in a holiday brochure produced by a multinational firm. Arguably the Minister could close down a large number of the 320 travel agents. As I stated, of that number, about two-thirds employ only two or three people. How can they be responsible for every line of every brochure, without the resources to check the details? I accept that where a travel agent has the ability to recognise misleading information in a brochure, he should be liable if he does not deal with it. Will the Minister examine again the right to compensation? There is already a right to compensation from the organiser and I would like the Minister to consider again whether there is a need for the additional protection of compensation from the retailer and small travel agent.

The legislation makes it an offence for a travel agent to supply a brochure knowing or having reasonable cause to believe it is not accurate. It is also an offence if a travel agent does not provide the consumer or intending consumer with proper information. It seems, therefore, that there is no real need to make the small travel agent liable for damage caused by misleading information. The consumer already has the right to sue the tour operator in such instances and he may not get additional comfort from being able to sue the two or three persons travel agency. If travel agents are to be liable, it will seriously impinge on the small operators who will be liable for brochures over which they have no control. This is the key and an area where we need legal advice.

Travel agents have no control over what is in the brochure although they promote the holidays in them. How does a person with a small travel agency check out the accuracy of a brochure? For example, if an agent in Maynooth gives out a brochure about an apartment in Athens, I do not see how he can check out and be held responsible, to the extent of having to compensate the individual, for some inadequacy in the apartment in Athens. Will he have to get on a plane and check it out? A two person travel agency could not do that. Is he or she to accept the assurances of the brochure producer? If the producer of the brochure gives assurances on which the travel agent could normally depend, perhaps that would be a better route for the Minister to take. We must consider whether we can blindly make small travel agents responsible for brochures over which they have no control and which they have no way of checking. It will be impossible for them to check every item in every brochure. Small travel agents are now being made responsible for something that passes through their hands. Perhaps large travel agencies are a different matter but I doubt if smaller ones can handle this.

We have to make sure the legislation is realistic and workable. In theory, one should be able to sue the small travel agent if line 64 of the brochure is inaccurate; in practice, it would be very difficult, if not totally unrealistic. A tour operator or travel agent should not have to provide the form of the contract in writing before the contract is made in cases where an intending consumer makes a proposal 14 days before the date of departure. In my view, the period of seven days referred to in the Bill does not allow the organiser sufficient time to comply with section 15 (1) (a). Will the Minister extend that period from seven days to 14 days because there is considerable work involved in drawing up the contract and we must remember that the small travel agent will find it extremely difficult to do that in seven days? This applies in particular when travel contracts are concluded over the telephone and the consumer does not have a copy of the brochure or the terms of the contract in writing. I think extending the period from seven to 14 days would not adversely affect consumer rights but would be more realistic.

The Bill imposes requirements on minimum liability insurance cover. I note what the Minister said in his speech but I believe this Bill will push up insurance costs and introduce a culture of litigation into holiday travel, the like of which we have never seen before. I make this point in the hope that the Minister will see his way to amending this provision on Committee Stage to mitigate the worse effects. I believe this Bill will push up the cost of package holidays. To give an example, an Irish holidaymaker may buy a package holiday to the Bahamas from an Irish tour operator, he may get food poisoning on holidays and he can then sue the hotel in the Bahamas. Has the Minister ever tried suing a hotel in the Bahamas? That would effectively be impossible to carry through. This provision means that the costs of outbound and inbound tour operators will increase significantly.

In Germany, there is similar legislation and consumers have resorted to litigation against tour operators in cases where they have been rained out or fallen off a camel in Tunisia and suffered injury as a result. Incredibly, a case was brought because a holiday-maker suffered psychological stress due to the atmosphere prevailing in a holiday city. It gives me no joy to say that this Bill is a recipe for litigation. Wait until the lawyers get their hands on it. Under its provisions one can sue for defamation while on holiday and take a case against the local travel agent. There is no limit under the Bill when one has suffered defamation. I do not think it is the Minister's intention to put the culture of litigation in place but this is what happened in Germany and a number of other countries.

The legislation has been fully implemented in Britain, France and the Netherlands and I have checked out what has happened. In his speech the Minister said that some extra insurance by organisers may be necessary but the British and Dutch experience has shown that insurance costs have gone up by 40 per cent in three years. Small operators found it impossible to get insurance and the viability of some operators was threatened because their margins were totally eroded. The Minister should ask the local travel agent in Maynooth the effects of liability increasing by 40 per cent in three years. A travel agent cannot afford to pay huge insurance costs on 5 per cent margins. How will it protect the consumer if there are no travel agents operating at the lower end of the scale, allowing the larger travel agents to mop up the business? That is not what the Minister intends.

I do not believe it will be the effect of the Bill.

I know it is not what the Minister intends but the British and Dutch experience has shown that it increased by 40 per cent in three years. I spoke to one large travel agent who said they expected that size of an increase. I am not saying anyone would cry about it but it would spell the end of cheap holidays. In his speech, the Minister of State said the added benefits and security which the consumer will enjoy will more than compensate for any small increase in prices.

Consumers carry most of the insurance already.

When a Minister admits there will be a small increase in price the record will show he is only touching the tip of the iceberg. It means he expects an increase in prices. There is no such thing as a small price increase.

The travel trade agrees that it will be a small increase.

In Britain and Holland there was a 40 per cent increase in insurance costs. Ask the travel agents whether they expect a dramatic increase in insurance as a result of this Bill and they will say "yes". It gives me no pleasure to say that. An insurance company is asked to cover the provision of accurate information in brochures, to cover against defamation, repatriation and misleading information.

They are already covered.

I appreciate that but this legislation is an addition to existing legislation. I take the Minister's point about the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act but if he felt there was sufficient protection for the consumer he would not need to include the retailer in this Bill. He could say he was complying with the EU directive but clearly he does not feel that is so which is why he has brought in additional legislation.

The Minister cannot have it both ways. If he argues that the consumer is being given extra protection in this legislation then insurance costs will rise and if that is not his argument then he is not providing extra protection for consumers and insurance costs will not increase.

The legislation will give rise to a dramatic increase in travel related legal cases. Will the Minister consider some form of arbitration procedure for claims? If it rains all the time or someone in Spain falls into the pool having consumed too much alcohol or someone is given a brochure which does not contain the correct health information and contracts a disease, will the only remedy be to take such cases to the High Court or will there be some form of instant arbitration to deal with such cases? Some of these issues are emotional and could be dealt with quickly and coolly by an arbitrator. Let us not forget what happened in the High Court in other jurisdictions.

If small operators are forced out of business there will be less competition. Will the Minister ensure that small tour operators have access to insurance at realistic prices? Perhaps he will see whether it is possible to package this insurance in such a way as to cover the entire trade. The Bill should be amended so that the packages which commence within the State to destinations within the State are covered by the bonding and insurance arrangements already entered into by travel agents so as to comply with the 1982 Act which the Minister spoke about.

The Minister must clarify how Part III of the Bill will impact on the small bed and breakfast operators who provide activity holidays. Will they come under that definition of "package" and need written contracts and liability insurance as required by the Bill? Is the Minister seriously asking bed and breakfast operators to provide written contracts for package holidays?

My party is concerned that the words "excluding a person who acts as an agent other than for reward" may open a loophole which the Minister does not intend. While it is no doubt intended for parish priests and others who organise pilgrimages it could also be used by unscrupulous operators as a way of getting around bonding. There is a need to clarify how the Bill will impact on nonprofit making youth exchange organisations which could come under the definition of someone who "otherwise than occasionally organises packages and sells or offers them for sale to a customer, either directly or through a retailer". As these organisations book return tickets for participants, provide accommodation with host families or in hostels and set up programmes of activities for classes they seem to fall within the Bill's definition of "package" although I note that the Minister will bring in regulations to make that clearer. I support that. As presently listed, school trips would appear to come under the definition. These organisations could also be hit by the requirement to keep a funding reserve. Will the Minister insert an exception clause for established bona fide youth and educational non-profit-making organisations without opening a loophole which would interfere with the travel agency business?

The Bill requires intending passengers to be given information on a range of issues, including health formalities for the journey and their holiday stay. This requirement is onerous and could result in many legal actions being taken, for example, if a person contracted AIDS during a stay abroad. The Bill requires travel agents to have expertise and confidence in health areas. Perhaps the Minister will look at that area. Travel agents should be able to discharge their duty by providing health information supplied or approved by the Department of Health in this or another jurisdiction.

The Bill should be amended to protect the consumer in the area of advertising. Advertisements for travel and other services should include the licence number of the agent or operator. There should be a common commencement date for the legislation in all EU countries. So far it has been implemented in full in Britain, the Netherlands and France. If it is in force in the Republic but not implemented in another country, will the Irish operator and agent be the only one liable if a consumer has a difficulty in that other country?

Broadly, I support the legislation and thank the Minister for introducing it. I ask him to consider my concerns regarding the wording of the legislation and see whether he can bring in appropriate amendments.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I rise with a certain feeling of jealousy having listened to Deputy Brennan taking us on a wonderful tour from riding camels in Tunisia to basking in the beautiful Bahamas. I am sure he is speaking from experience and that is why I am so jealous.

I will give the Deputy the names of the travel agents.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Tiocfaidh ár lá is docha. This is an important Bill. Going on holiday is an important event for many people and looking forward to the holiday is often the most enjoyable part as one has the vision that everything will be beautiful. It is not easy for an organiser and-or holidaymaker to get everything absolutely accurate. Since we advertise ourselves as “Ireland of the welcomes” we must ensure that visitors have a good impression of our country and get value for money. We are inclined to think of obtaining value for money only when we travel abroad but we must live up to the standards expected of us by foreign visitors.

As with all legislation, the right balance is vital. We live in a consumer society and are inclined to expect the consumer to be protected at all times. We must also strike the right balance in the case of travel agents and others who promote holidays. Deputy Séamus Brennan referred to small travel businesses selling holidays to people based on brochures provided by larger firms. While one may see a beautiful hotel in its own grounds in a brouchure, it is very difficult to ascertain what it will be like in reality. When one sees a description in a brouchure of a hotel located five to ten minutes from a town centre. I often wonder whether they have in mind Cáitriona McKiernan in the case of the five minutes and of me in the case of the ten; what exactly does five to ten minutes to the town centre mean? One would prefer brochures to give the exact distance, although the town centre may be somewhat subjective, dependent on whether one wants to go to a public-house, hotel, cinema or perhaps an arts centre.

It is very difficult to strike the right balance because such descriptions can be misleading. For example, what may be described as a beautiful beach adjoining a hotel might be one constructed of gravel that would cut one's toes. A person might be comfortable on a sunbed to lie in the sun, but gravel would be anything but beautiful if that person had to walk on it. Some brochures give a fantastic perception of amenities available, but people are often sorely disappointed on arrival to find them very different. A person's perception of hotels and beaches may be dependent on his or her previous experiences.

The additional responsibilities placed on travel agents or others selling holidays by this Bill will occasion more expense on them, something we must face up to. The Minister in his speech said:

I am aware that there is a lot of concern in the travel trade industry regarding the extent to which organisers could be held liable to the consumer following the implementation of this legislation. In this regard, I would like to clarify that the retailers' liability to their customers will not be dramatically increased following the Bill's enactment.

As a society, we appear to be prone to initiating public liability claims; people cannot trip on a pavement anywhere without lodging a major claim for compensation. The danger is that once people realise there is a legislative provision to allow them claim such damages, they will avail or overuse it. I accept, as the Minister said, that insurance cover will represent a small cost only — travel agents merely having to augment their insurance policies— when I inquired today, I was informed that a successful travel agent might have to incur a cost of at least £3,000 extra for additional cover to avoid getting into financial difficulty.

The real difficulty will arise if and when such travel agents have claims lodged against them. Some people may say it will be like insurance cover on a car, in the event of an accident, the premium will be loaded but, if and when the person has another, the cost of the premium would become almost prohibitive. The difficulty will arise in the case of travel agents if awards are made against them. Automatically, their premia will rise and they will have to endeavour to recoup their expenditure from their customers. Of course, genuine travel agents already provide good insurance cover so that whenever there is any difficulty or confusion about any holiday package, they are able to rectify it.

Like all other facets of life, the cowboy travel agents will cause the greatest problems. It would be no harm to ensure they are brought into line which, of course, will cost others. Always there are the black sheep who cause such problems. However, the genuine holidaymakers if they fall will get up and go about their business without lodging a claim while the black sheep will endeavour to claim that they broke their neck, back, ankle or whatever in some foreign seaside resort. While I hope that practice will not be engaged in, if it is it will add to holiday costs. That is the fear of most travel agents. While they accept they must provide such insurance cover for holidaymakers and can do so by taking out additional cover themselves, their real worry is that some people might think these provisions provide a bonanza for unnecessary claims.

Some of the provisions of this Bill are logical — such as, the accuracy of descriptions in brochures — to correctly represent the amenities or facilities at the holiday destination. The provision advocating that a representative of the organiser should be available to holidaymakers on arrival is also common sense and to be welcomed. Arriving in a strange place, having to make one's way to an unknown hotel, particularly if taxis are not available, can be quite an experience.

Another common sense provision is that which requires information to be furnished to holidaymakers before departure as to their exact destination, how near they will be located to civilisation and so on. Obviously, a change in the price of a package holiday cannot be made without prior arrangement and no holidaymaker should be left to discover that his or her package deal costs have risen before departure.

I agree with Deputy Séamus Brennan that travel agents or organisers must be given reasonable time to prepare for the implementation of the provisions of this Bill. People book holidays well ahead of departure time and holidays are sold now all year round — the relevant brochures are issued in autumn for the following year. Even without these provisions, the information furnished in such brochures should be accurate. At the same time, we must remember that these new provisions may lead to problems in the production of brochures whose publication has followed a certain pattern over many years. It might be reasonable to allow a certain period lapse before implementation of these provisions, thus ensuring that holidaymakers do not buy a pig in a poke or find themselves located somewhere very different from their perceived destination. Any provision that ensures the consumer is given better information on holidays is to be welcomed.

Travel agents are worried about the definition of "package" holiday, the Minister contending that, because the relevant EU directive allows so many possibilities, it is not easy to reach a definite interpretation. Since the vast majority of people choose package holidays perhaps they are prepared to take what comes their way.

The issue of occasional operators is unusual. The Minister said it is important to note that the Bill encompasses, in addition to travel agents and tour operators, everybody who organises or sells packages, such as carriers and hotels. The exception to this are organisers who sell packages on an occasional basis who are excluded from the provisions of the Bill. The Minister went on to say that he will be introducing regulations specifying precisely the classes of persons who are deemed to be acting occasionally as package organisers. Occasional operators can be more "occasional" than "seldom" and it might be worthwhile to bring them into line because I would be very concerned about "occasional" organisers who see a quick killing to be made from organising a package holiday, outing or trip. As such occasional organisers may organise trips on a once-off basis, they may try to make the most money possible by providing minimum facilities.

Reputable travel agents who have to face the public annually must be accountable. I would not be concerned that they would benefit at the expense of innocent holidaymakers. I hope the Minister will introduce legislation to deal with this group to ensure that they are brought into line because they could do a good deal more damage than genuine, respectable tour operators.

The issue of liability may give rise to problems if claims are made. I understand legislation is in place which will allow for tour operators to be taken to task if people encounter major problems while abroad on holidays. That has been the normal practice. This Bill appears to be logical and necessary because as a member of the European Union we must ratify the European directive. It is important that holidaymakers are protected and that genuine tour operators cannot be taken to the cleaners. Both sides must be protected. It is difficult, but necessary, to strike the right balance. I hope this Bill will ensure people will have happier holidays.

I welcome this Bill as a number of its provisions are beneficial. People are entitled to them and some suggest the Bill is long overdue. It could be described as a consumers' Bill. It will provide protection, not previously provided, for a substantial number of people. I particularly welcome the provision that the Director of Consumer Affairs will determine whether this measure is successful. We vividly recall that last year during the World Cup in America many people, particularly from Cork city and county, were stranded in a hotel and were generously helped by an American descendant of Irish parents. If it had not been for his efforts, I do not know what the consequences would have been. If this Bill had been in place at that time, those people would not have encountered such problems because the travel agents would not have allowed them to develop.

This Bill brings to mind another issue. Perhaps if our better hotels reduced their prices substantially, more people would stay at home and fewer problems would arise. Increasingly people are becoming less interested in holidays in the sun and prefer to stay at home or travel to England and north European countries. Perhaps the Minister would consider this matter. Our young people like to travel on package holidays to places like Spain and Portugal and some travel agents cut corners because, as Deputy Browne said, the competition in the travel business is stiff and results in a substantial number of travel agents going out of business annually. It also means that people who paid a substantial amount for holidays and booked them three to six months in advance lose out and it is time to put a stop to this. The Minister should discuss this Bill with travel agents and not enact it as a matter of urgency, but as a result of such discussions. This would ensure that everybody will be better off, the Bill will be more effective, the travel agents will have time to get their act together and the Director of Consumer Affairs will have an opportunity to ensure that it will be effectively policed.

I welcome many of the provisions of the Bill. There was a reference to occasional organisers and that the provisions of the Bill do not apply to such organisers arranging trips in Ireland. However, occasional organisers should not deal in this business. I do not believe problems would arise if administrators in schools, educational institutions and so on contacted travel agents directly regarding the organisation of trips. As the Minister said, the exemption applies only to home packages and that is as it should be.

There was a reference to cowboy operators and if the provisions of the Bill are efficiently and effectively policed by the Director of Consumer Affairs, it would result in many cowboy operators being put out of business.

I welcome this overdue Bill which will protect a substantial number of previously unprotected people. It is a thought provoking Bill and covers an area in which legislation is long overdue. I hope the Minister will enter discussions with travel agents and that as a result of its enactment many people in the travel industry will realise that they can no longer get away with not giving their customers the type of protection and direction they require. An Irish group of people on a holiday package who arrive at their holiday destination deserve a little more than being put on a plane in Dublin or Cork and then left to fend for themselves. Travel agents must ensure that they provide the type of service at home and abroad for which their customers pay.

I wish to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Dermot Ahern.

I am sure that is agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this Bill. Its main provision enables a dissatisfied tourist to sue the people concerned abroad. I support the point made by Deputy Crowley regarding what happened last year during the World Cup. Irish supporters encountered a number of problems as a result of fly-by-night operators and some were left stranded. This legislation is welcome and will offset the problems people encountered last year. The Bill gives effect to a European Union directive the purpose of which is to harmonise aspects of national provisions relating to package travel in the EU.

I welcome the Minister's statement that the directive makes a significant contribution to the protection of consumers and completion of the internal market by laying down rules and a common framework for holiday packages in all-member states. I also welcome the provision on misleading information contained in brochures. A problem for travel agents and people taking brochures at face value is that frequently on arrival at their destination people find that the information was false.

The main provisions relate to the accuracy, clarity and content of brochures and other promotional material about packages, the information provided by the organiser, travel agent or retailer to the consumer about the package before the conclusion of the contract and the start of the package, and the liberty of the consumer to transfer bookings to a willing third person. The consumer must be covered for all events.

Travel agents should not be liable to compensate consumers for damage caused by misleading brochures and that issue is covered in the directive which was not intended to apply where, in the days of equal bargaining power, a firm and travel agent came together to conclude a purely commercial contract.

In view of the importance of tourism to Ireland this legislation is necessary. While our tourism efforts are successful a number of people travel outside the country and act as ambassadors, so it is important that this legislation is put on the Statute Book. I welcome the provision which makes it an offence for a travel agent to supply a brochure which they know or have reasonable cause to believe is not accurate. It should also be an offence if a travel agent does not provide an intending consumer with proper information.

Other points on transport and costings are covered in the legislation. Last year a number of people who travelled to see the World Cup had to pay extra money on arrival due to a flaw in the contract but they had no comeback. This legislation will assist the tour operator as well as the consumer. It is a step in the right direction and I welcome it.

Much of the legislation that comes into this House is under the pretext of EU directives. We are good Europeans and much of our legislation is Europe driven. I accept we are subject to the rigours of the European Court, but should we just accept EU directives? Perhaps we should look at this in a broader context. While I accept that this Bill is the result of an EU directive, experience has shown that in countries where the directive has been implemented the cost of package holidays has increased dramatically, particularly the insurance element. Holidays in the UK are cheaper because the volume of business makes them more competitive. Will the Minister indicate how this legislation will impinge on the cost of holidays in the North and South? On occasion it has been cheaper for people to fly from Belfast than from Dublin. Will this Bill impinge on the cost effectiveness of travel packages here?

The legal profession is often accused of trying to encourage litigation. Will this Bill lead to a greater involvement by the legal profession in travel-type cases? In the 20 years since I qualified I have always hated to see people wanting to sue as a result of a failed holiday or injuries suffered during the course of a holiday. I accept people are entitled to recoup costs but it has been very difficult for them to recoup such costs. This Bill is trying to follow the travel agent.

Our spokesperson gave an example of a person who sustained an injury in the Bahamas. The onus to recoup costs will be on the travel agent who arranged the trip. It is probable that people who made the arrangement directly through a travel agent in the North or the UK will not be able to sue whereas a person who has arranged a transaction through a travel agent in the Republic will. This may entice a person to use travel agents here but at the end of the day people will seek the cheapest holiday they can get and it is possible that such a difficulty will not be surmountable for the person involved.

I am surprised there has not been a bigger lobby on this legislation. From a cursory look, it is obvious it will have a serious impact on travel agents here, particularly the smaller travel agents. Apart from the fact that they can be sued, travel agents will have an enormous amount of paperwork to ensure they reserve their rights and if a person wishes to avail of a package holiday he will almost have to obtain legal advice. The travel agent will probably insist that he obtains independent legal advice when signing the contract so that he knows exactly what he is doing. This is unfortunate. The hallmark of cheap travel abroad has been that a person could lift up a phone and within minutes arrange a package with the minimum of fuss. The public should be aware that this will herald the end of the cheap, quickly arranged, package holiday. I am surprised that there has not been a stronger lobby by the travel trade against the legislation or to have some of its provisions toned down. I am not encouraging people to do this but for some reason the travel trade has been silent.

There have been detailed discussions with it.

The legal profession could encourage this legislation and the actions which will arise under it.

There have been detailed discussions with the travel trade which is fully aware of its obligations.

Yes, but it is not clamouring for the legislation to be introduced.

It is certainly not opposing it. However, it would like to see some amendments.

Why is it not opposing legislation which will make travel out of the country dearer? Fianna Fáil will not oppose the Bill which has been in gestation for a considerable time but we should let the public know that it will herald the end of cheap holidays. This will give rise to great difficulties for many people who heretofore looked forward to taking a cheap holiday. Some people may say that the legislation will entice more people to holiday at home but it also deals with bed and breakfast accommodation which is part of a more significant package. The impact of the legislation in this respect has not been fully teased out.

Every year at the beginning of spring travel agents issue a plethora of holiday brochures. The Bill will place a severe onus on travel agents to know every sentence, comma and dot in their brochures as they will be liable for any misinformation or problems which arise as a result. While the legislation will make it easier for people to recover their money in the event of something going wrong, we should strive to achieve a balance between protection of the consumer on the one hand and the availability of relatively cheap holidays on the other. My party will put down Committee Stage amendments on the way to achieve this.

As a solicitor, I have always believed that disputes arising from holiday contracts should be dealt with through arbitration rather than in the courts. Does the Minister intend to introduce a system of arbitration so that cases do not end up in the courts? As a Legislature, we have been trying to reduce the capacity of people to run to court with cases without first going through a proper procedure of mediation or arbitration.

The Minister is excluding locally organised tours abroad. The Armagh Diocese extends across the Border and I wonder how tours in that area will be affected. I am glad that locally organised parish tours to Lourdes, etc. are being excluded. The Minister said there were detailed discussions with the travel trade which I understand is trying to have such tours included in the Bill. This would lead to a reduction in this type of tour which is taken by people who may not necessarily go on a package holiday.

I wish to refer to the provision on defamation, which the travel industry is particularly anxious to have deleted from the Bill. It is very difficult to understand how a travel agent could be held responsible for defamation of people while abroad. I find it strange that a travel agent in Dundalk or Ardee should be held responsible for accidents, etc., abroad or liable for statements made in the Bahamas. I question the rationale behind this provision— perhaps it is in the EU directive. Its implementation will be extremely difficult to police in practice. I ask the Minister to listen very carefully to the representations made by travel agents in this regard.

In recent years this House has responded very well in ensuring that people are properly protected while abroad, particularly in the case of insolvencies. The previous Government introduced legislation which ensured that all travel companies were bonded. However, I question whether this legislation goes too far and I ask the Minister to strike a balance between the protection of the consumer on the one hand and the availability of relatively cheap holidays on the other. While Governments have always sought to encourage as many people as possible to holiday at home, the reality is that people want to go abroad for sun holidays. I will go further than the spokesperson for my party by saying that this legislation will give rise to severe difficulties for travel companies in the future and will lead to the demise of small travel agents. This will be a retrograde step and I ask the Minister to introduce on Committee Stage an amendment which will achieve the proper balance.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael Ring.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome this legislation which seeks to close off loopholes in the travel industry and will give expression to an EU directive.

If possible, we should all spend our holidays at home. Given our relative poverty in the European Union with 300,000 unemployed and our economy in such a bad state, as public representatives, we should practise what we preach and spend our holidays and money at home. We should explore Ireland before travelling abroad. If we were in a good economic position and had full employment it would be acceptable for people to go abroad on holidays. However, perhaps people are depressed and in need of some sunshine following our very bad winter. It is understandable also that some people may holiday abroad for health reasons but, in the main, we should spend our holidays at home in order to help the tourism industry and reduce the numbers unemployed.

In the travel industry matters cannot be left to market forces. People frequently preach about market forces dictating this, that and the other and claim that they guarantee competition. That is a fallacy, especially in regard to tourism and travel. Market forces have created the need for this Bill. They have duped and misled people and distorted the nature of travel and tourism. This Bill is an attempt to protect not only Irish people but consumers across Europe and that is welcome. We all know that cheap holidays can frequently work out very expensive and painful in the long term. They often turn out to be nightmares rather than good holidays.

We must protect people from misleading and inaccurate advertising which distorts the facilities available at the destinations advertised. People such as ourselves who live in countries with a high rainfall are vulnerable and can be misled by dreams. It could be said that many travel agencies sell dreams to which we are all susceptible at times. We all dream about becoming successful and wealthy as well as having good holidays. The travel industry capitalises on selling romantic images that can never be realised. Holiday brochures portray images which lead people to believe they can become like JR or Sue Ellen Ewing, with plenty of money, power and riches and, in the case of JR, a different but beautiful and wealthy woman every night. Those brochures peddle dreams. They portray images of sun kissed beaches with beautiful men and women soaking up the sun — I must be careful not to use sexist language for fear I might get into trouble. Even elderly politicians such as myself would notice such attractive advertisements and wish to be part of the set. People dream about getting away from the doom and gloom and the hard work, misery and problems of everyday life, and the young and not so young are open to exploitation in that regard.

The legislation is timely and worthwhile. It enhances the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982, extends it to the home industry and deals with protection, which is very important not only for those travelling abroad but also for people who holiday at home. The bed and breakfast sector is not included in the Bill, but we are putting in place a legal contract which is a very welcome step.

Irish travel companies are not blameless in all this, they are not all paragons of virtue. Some have been involved in misleading advertising and bad practices. A number of important considerations need to be spelled out and examined carefully. For various reasons a large number of travel companies have gone into liquidation and out of business. In the past attempts were made by the industry to regulate its own business. Companies which accept that there are sharp operators, shysters and people involved in scams and cutting corners should be commended for supporting legislation to regulate their own businesses. As travel, by its nature, is mobile and not confined to one country or area this matter must be dealt with on a European or worldwide basis and cover all aspects of the industry. Concerted action by the 15 states is required to achieve uniform protection of consumers.

The Bill is worthwhile and attempts to close off many loopholes, scams and sharp practices which have bedevilled and disgraced the industry for too long. The legislation will apply across Europe. While journalists and television programmes often attempt to expose abuses in the travel industry and show up rogue operators and shysters, they can only provide a substitute for legislation. The only way the matter can be tackled properly is to enact legislation which applies across Europe. While Deputy Ahern tried to throw some cold water on the Bill by pointing out some flaws and shortcomings, much hard work has gone into its preparation and it is a step forward in protecting Irish consumerism in this vulnerable industry.

I thank Deputy Kemmy for sharing his time with me. I welcome the Bill with a guarded warning. As a newcomer to the Dáil, I believe we are over-regulated and business people have enough regulations. I went abroad on holidays only once, to Portugal for one week. For the past ten years I rotated my holidays between Cork, Killarney and Tralee and I never again want to go abroad on holidays. While I accept we do not have good weather, we have everything else. Please God we will have a good summer.

People who work hard look forward to going on holidays. On the one occasion I went abroad on holidays I was very nervous because there had been many aeroplane accidents around that time. When we arrived at our scheduled airport it was fog-bound and we had to land at another airport from where a lunatic driver drove us to the other airport. During the course of the journey I said to my wife that I hoped she had all our insurance policies paid up to date because we would never see Mayo again. I thought it was all over for us and I doubt if we would have had any business trying to find out who would pay compensation if anything had happened us. It is a mystery how that man got us safely to our destination. I said the rosary that night because I knew somebody had been looking after us.

It is important that people who work hard and want to go on sun holidays are properly protected. Following our dreary winter I am sure many people will be looking forward to going abroad on holidays this year. Having chosen their holiday from the beautiful pictures of swimming pools, golf courses and so on in a brochure, many people find on reaching their destination that the building is only half built and their holiday is ruined. When they return the travel agent tells them there is nothing they can do. I hope the Bill deals with that matter and that people who give false information are prosecuted. People who work hard deserve the holidays they pay for.

I would have had great difficulty supporting the Bill if it extended to the bed and breakfast sector. Many an Irish family educates its children and supplements its income by making one or two bedrooms available to tourists. They supply a very good breakfast and give a good service and tourists are happy to go into these homes. I am glad that these regulations will not affect them.

During the World Cup in Italy I was one of the people stranded and who had to stand at an airport from 10 o'clock at night until about 10 o'clock the next morning. We were not told if we would ever go home again or who was going to pick us up. We were put on a plane which must have been obtained from the Third World and the only refreshment on board was coke which was out of date. I was relieved when we landed at Dublin airport.

We have to call a halt to EU directives. Other countries in the EU find that they have over regulated and are trying unsuccessfully to deregulate. That applies to industry as well. The Minister should be careful not to go too far because people have to live. If we continue to regulate there will not be enough offices in the country to contain all the paperwork.

I welcome the Bill and I hope travel operators will not increase prices because of the safety aspect. Safety is important but there is no need for big price increases because that would defeat the purpose of the Bill. People do not mind paying if they get what they pay for. It is important that people involved in tourism know what they are getting and that they go and see for themselves what is on offer. The most important aspect of any holiday, which I learned to my cost, is transport. Proper transport must be provided, with properly qualified drivers, not lunatics who frighten the lives out of holiday makers.

I welcome and support the Bill but I ask the Minister to leave it as it is. We do not need regulations.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute on this legislation. The Bill should provide us with an opportunity to debate the tourism industry in Ireland and worldwide but I am sure the Chair will not be so tolerant as to allow us to go too far into extensive debate on the industry.

The Minister graphically underlined the importance of the industry when he said that domestic tourism accounted for an estimated 20,000 jobs in the economy in 1994. That is a significant contribution to the economic well-being of the country. It is a figure that many economic commentators feel we could dramatically increase if we developed the industry to the extent that we should. In the wake of the peace initiative in the North, the tourism infrastructure in my own area in the north east is probably more developed than it is in the North and that area is set fair to benefit considerably over the coming years.

The Minister also said it is estimated that in the region of 350,000 people will take holidays abroad in 1995. I realise that we should not adopt a selfish, insular approach towards the industry — there must be mobility both ways — but that represents a significant loss to the Irish economy. I am sure it is the wish of many in this House that some of those 350,000 people would reconsider their position and seriously examine the possibility of taking their holidays in one of the very many beautiful and satisfactory holiday locations in Ireland.

We are taking our place in an assertive way as a member of the EU and we are obliged to give effect to directives at union level. In giving effect to EU directives it is important that the implications of legislation for the economy and the industry be considered in detail. It is an oft quoted assertion that by the year 2000 tourism will be the largest industry worldwide. Not many people doubt that. The significant growth in the sector in every country has been quite phenomenal in recent years. We are in an era when people have more spare time for holidaying and recreational activity and the urge to travel is strong.

As far as the travel trade in this country is concerned, quite a significant proportion of those 350,000 people take their holidays outside the EU area and it is worth asking how effectively the writ of the legislation will run outside the confines of the Union. Many are the tales of woe of holiday makers who go abroad — I will not name the destinations — when unanticipated difficulties arise and people are stranded for even longer periods than was Deputy Ring in Italy some years ago. A vital link in the chain of arrangements for package holidays can unexpectedly breakdown. There is always the risk of a breakdown in the most organised arrangements. If such a breakdown takes place outside the EU, how relevant or effective will this legislation be?

In a fine analysis of the Bill our spokesman, Deputy Séamus Brennan, touched on the cost implications of this legislation. Insurance cover will be required and there will be bonding arrangements. Effectively that means more money as far as agencies are concerned. I do not think the margin is such that it will allow them to absorb those additional costs, which will have to be passed on to the consumer. As in the case of other legislation, we will have to wait to see what transpires. Of its nature, the travel trade must plan well in advance the preparation of promotional material and brochures. It is not normal to have retrospection in regard to legislation but it is worthwhile to raise it. If there were to be retrospection that would have serious implications for those who had their material prepared before the publication of this Bill.

Will there be a lead-in period for the legislation of, say, three to six months or will it be introduced immediately?

The less experienced holiday maker, the person who travels infrequently or is travelling for the first time, faces the possibility of food poisoning because of a change in diet. What will the position be under this legislation if a person suffers from food poisoning in Tunisia, Croatia or Bosnia? Will the travel agent who cannot predict who may suffer from this complaint have to accept responsibility and will it be necessary for him to have insurance to cover this eventuality? It is necessary to ask these questions as it is only when legislation is implemented that its shortcomings and deficiencies become obvious.

What implications will this legislation have for bed and breakfast establishments? In many parts of the country, including Deputy Boylan's constituency, my constituency of Louth and in Cork and Kerry, rural tourism forms part of rural development. The provision of accommodation goes hand in hand with related farm activities. The House recently dealt with the Occupiers' Liability Bill. It is advisable that owner-occupiers have adequate cover. Will it be necessary for the owners of bed and breakfast establishments to have separate insurance cover or will travel agents in other member states, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom, have an obligation to indemnify the owners of such establishments here? These questions will have to be addressed on Committee Stage.

The purpose of this legislation which has been in gestation for some time is to ratify the EU directive on the travel industry and meet its requirements. As it will have implications for bed and breakfast establishments, we need to consider it in detail. Will they be indemnified by tour operators and agents in other member states? This matter should be clarified.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution to this important Bill which will have implications for a sector in which there has been significant growth both here and worldwide. It, therefore, should be considered with care. It is important that it does not hinder those who are struggling to develop their enterprises. At European Union level there is an obsession with regulations. While there is a need for regulations in any developed society we should also use our common sense and not introduce legislation and regulations which will severely hinder those with a sense of enterprise. There should be an adequate margin to ensure that they remain in business. This legislation may have the undesirable effect of making them less competitive. In the open market in which we operate it is necessary for companies to remain competitive.

Those who travel abroad on holidays on a regular basis wish to buy a package holiday at the cheapest rate possible. It would be unwise to include provisions in this legislation which would have the effect of pushing up the cost. We will have to await the verdict on Committee Stage.

Essentially, we are talking about striking a balance between consumer protection and cost. On the issue of cost, there is no question of giving travel agents carte blanche. We are trying to guarantee greater consumer protection and at the same time to ensure that the package will not cost too much. Any attempt to place greater emphasis on consumer protection is to be applauded. It is for this reason I am glad the Opposition has not exerted any pressure and the Bill has been largely welcomed. How can one object to or quibble with a Bill which provides for the minimum degree of protection for the consumer? Neither can one quibble with a Bill which is designed to ensure an improvement in the quality of services provided for the consumer. We are ad idem on that point.

Deputy Ahern raised the question of the right of redress. There are differing views on the best way of ensuring easier access to redress for the consumer. Deputy Ahern mentioned the possibility of going to arbitration rather than a court hearing, a legitimate point but it does not take from the fact that the Opposition accepts that it is desirable to ensure easier access to redress. This matter can be teased out on Committee Stage to see how best we can give effect to this principle.

The Bill also deals with the availability of comprehensive and concrete information for the consumer. That forms the basis of protection and no one can quibble with this. The Bill also provides for security in the event of insolvency. Similar provisions have been in operation here for some time.

On the question of costs — the other side of the coin — we encountered horrendous problems in the early 1980's with the collapse of Bray Travel and other firms. It is an ill wind that does not blow someone some good. Long before the European Union introduced a directive we put our own house in order and provided for the bonding of travel companies. As a consequence the additional costs incurred in complying with the provisions of this Bill will not be great. This is not the position in other countries. I understand that the authorities in the United Kingdom had to start from scratch when ratifying this directive.

Having regard to consumer protection and cost, we are fortunate that much of the cost is already factored into the costs of travel agents and tour operators and the additional funding required to implement the provisions of this Bill will not be great. This Bill is a major plus in that regard.

We really do not have a free hand in this matter. We are implementing a directive of the European Union the broad principles of which have been negotiated at European level. This is a factor in more and more of our legislation. Although many of the suggested amendments are worthy of at least careful consideration, we all must bear in mind that any amendments which conflict with the letter or spirit of the directive cannot be accepted. Whether we are in Government or Opposition we are all tied in that regard. This Government was not in office when the directive was accepted at the time of the last Irish Presidency. To some degree, therefore, the then Irish Government, a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Coalition, was responsible for the directive we are now putting into domestic law. Nobody in this House could object to the idea of harmonisation among member states and providing greater protection for the citizens of the European Union. As tourism is more important to Ireland than to most of the other member states, we have a vested interest in ensuring a high standard of quality and protection and a great degree of harmonisation throughout the Community. Our reliance on tourism is only comparable to that in Spain and the Mediterranean countries such as Portugal. Greece and Italy. If we are to resolve our fundamental economic problems, particularly unemployment, the tourism sector provides the greatest potential. We have a great interest, therefore, in ensuring that EU directives which enhance the image of tourism are implemented at European level and are translated into domestic law.

Why did it take five years for this Bill to come before the House? That raises the question as to whether we are really serious about the implementation of EU directives. I am aware of the problems generally, in regard to legislation and I suppose a Bill of this type would not have priority but, despite difficulties in the draftsman's office or in the Attorney General's office in the production of Bills — not in relation to other matters with which I was dealing in a committee lately — five years is too long a delay. Perhaps we should consider whether it is proper for us, as a member of the European Union, to allow such a time lapse. Only when one looks objectively at such an issue can one make a point which calls for a response which concerns our membership of the European Union.

There has been much talk about the 350,000 Irish people expected to travel abroad this year. Coming from a tourism area, I am not too keen to encourage people to travel abroad; I would much prefer them to follow the example of my colleague, Deputy Ring, and spend their holidays in the south west in particular, in Cork.

They could go abroad to Kerry.

They could also spend their holidays in west Cork which is the centre of tourism in the south west. I would even invite Deputy Brennan and his colleagues on that side of the House to sample the delights of west Cork.

I am glad home holidays are covered by this Bill and it is clear that when a large number of people travel abroad, mainly for the sun, we have a responsibility to protect them as much as possible. They represent one-tenth of our population and are entitled to whatever protection we can ensure for them. We have all heard horror stories about the experiences of people who had to put up with appalling situations abroad. In the old days, travelling abroad was confined to what was then commonly known as the jet set but nowadays, because air travel is relatively cheap, particularly for package holidays, foreign travel is within reach of more people.

It is all very well to sympathise with those who experience delays at airports and so on, but the real horror stories concern people who were accommodated in unsafe apartments, or injured and some people who died while abroad. Such serious cases, fortunately, do not occur frequently but when they do they are horrific experiences for the families concerned. I hope that in a small way this Bill will help to eliminate the worst aspects of such cases from a safety point of view.

I referred to home holidays and I will now get back on my hobby-horse and invite everybody here to holiday in west Cork. It is proper that home holidays, where they are included in a package, are covered by the Bill. This will lead to a greater number of people taking home holidays. When we talk about tourism, we tend to forget the importance of home holidays. We think in terms of the Americans, the Germans and Europeans generally holidaying here. I hope the British will now holiday here in greater numbers also as well as our friends from across the Border. However, the £400 million generated by home holidays last year is a substantial sum. Furthermore, the 20,000 people employed as a consequence of home holidays is considerable. We must protect and increase those jobs and, in a small way, this Bill will contribute to that.

There has been reference to the possible amendment of the Bill. Putting forward sensible ideas for amendments contributes to good, constructive debate. That is the idea of having a nonpartisan Second Stage debate where nobody tries to make political capital and where people strive in the national interest, to ensure that we produce the best possible Bill. That is parliamentary practice at its best and I hope my colleagues in Government and the Minister Deputy Stagg, who has been taking notes, will give careful consideration to the suggestions made and allow them to be reasonably argued on Committee Stage.

There was a reference to a delay in implementing the Bill. It is not unreasonable to give the travel trade a fair chance to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure compliance with the Bill. They have been aware for some time that the legislation would be introduced, but in whatever ultimately transpries in terms of implementation it should be ensured that they are not taken by surprise.

If the Bill is applied to brochures that have been circulated in a bona fide way before its passage, it would be retrospective legislation. Provision must be made to ensure no penalty is imposed in the case of such brochures which contain information that might not comply fully with the Bill.

The exclusion of business travel and corporate consumers is a matter for consideration. It is important to bear in mind that any changes made must comply with the directive. We are tied to a certain degree in this regard. There is possibly some flexibility on the margin, but if there is a question of changes conflicting with the letter or the spirit of the directive, they cannot be made.

This Bill is worthwhile, it will not go down in history as the greatest improvement to the travel business, but it is a very worthwhile piece of the jigsaw. In principle the EU directive is a good one, as are the terms of this Bill, but some issues must be teased out. I have no doubt my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, will give careful consideration to the points made and deal with them in reply to Second Stage and by way of amendment on Committee Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. I congratulate the Minister and Minister of State on introducing it. As Deputy O'Keeffe said, it will not go down in history as the greatest improvement in this area but it is a genuine attempt to balance the requirement for protection of the consumer with the way travel agents and tour operators conduct their business. I am concerned about small operators, particularly in the west, who employ two, three or four people. It has been difficult in recent times to set up business as a tour operator and it is acceptable that certain requirements such as bonds, insurance and suitable accommodation are in place before a licence is granted.

Many operators in small towns and villages are very successful, particularly in organising specialist holidays. I am concerned that some of these operators may have to spend money on new insurance arrangements. We are all aware of the difficulties in getting insurance. As I stated last week on the occupiers' liability legislation, many insurance companies will not even quote for businesses they consider risky. That applies to the timber industry, the joinery industry and even public houses with dance hall facilities. Will the small operator experience difficulty in this regard? My information is that many tour operators have to get insurance in Britain and other countries. I am not very concerned about the bigger operators. As in all walks of life, they will be able to provide money for the glossy brochures and so on, and we hope they will comply with the terms and conditions.

Package holidays are very popular because many people do not want the trouble of organising the details themselves. Irish people work hard and deserve a break, but more and more complaints are made about package holidays. Last year I attended one of the World Cup matches in New York and I know people who travelled on the understanding that accommodation and tickets were included for the first three games, but they found that their accommodation was very poor and they did not get tickets for even one game. Great efforts were made at the time, particularly by officials in embassies, to get tickets for people, but that is a typical example of a case where we wring our hands and ask what can be done. In those circumstances people can do nothing about the problem until they come home and report back to the travel agent. Cases have been brought to court and people have had to endure long drawn out processes to get their rights.

Small operators are very successful because for the most part they concentrate on specialist holidays rather than simply on holidays to the sun. Many people go on what I call energetic holidays such as hill climbing, skiing and mountain trekking. Small operators are very involved in organising chartered flights to the various pilgrim destinations and have been very successful in this regard.

Debate adjourned.