School holidays price-capping would mean ‘more German towels on loungers’Posted: February 26, 2014
By Pippa Jacks,
“It is inconceivable that the British government would impose price controls on British travel businesses,” said Damian Hinds, Conservative MP for East Hampshire.
“Nobody in this country decides the hotel rates in Spain. Capacity in foreign resorts would not be made available to British tourists anymore, which means more German towels on the sun-loungers. We can’t change when the sun shines,” he continued.
The parliamentary debate was led by Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming on Monday after more than 168,900 members of the public signed a petition calling for a cap on how much “extra” travel companies charge in school holidays.
Damian Hinds said travel firms would go out of business if they charged as little in summer as they do in winter, and cited summer prices at Ibiza Rocks Hotel and a Thomson Couples hotel in Jamaica (neither of which accept children, but still charge more in the height of summer) to demonstrate that families are not being unfairly penalised.
Jenny Willott, minister for consumer affairs within the department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), stated that “the government is not convinced high prices is an abuse of pricing by holiday companies, rather they reflect the market forces in a very competitive sector”.
Ministers widely supported the staggering of school holidays to lengthen the peak season. Willott agreed that staggering could bring prices down, noted some academies and free schools already set their own holidays, but insisted that regional coordination should be down to local authorities, not the government.
Hinds was doubtful of the impact of extending the summer peak season by a couple of weeks. “There would be an effect but it would not be nearly as big as many people would think. There will still be a shoulder season,” he said.
Westminster Hall heard from opposition MPs that new regulations which came in last September, which sees parents fined for unauthorised absences, were “slipped in when nobody was looking” and should be withdrawn.
“We’re not arguing for an indiscriminate use of taking children out of school, but in cases of people who can least afford to go on holiday,” said Natascha Engle, MP for North East Derbyshire.
“Not a week a year, but a week occasionally, to make sure that a family can enjoy a holiday together. When more and more families are breaking up, the ability to enjoy a family holiday together is more important than ever.”
MPs described individual cases of police officers and nurses unable to secure annual leave during the school holidays, and a terminally ill child forbidden from a term-time holiday, as evidence of the need for head teachers to be given more flexibility to use their discretion. Unreasonable pressure from Ofsted to reduce absences was seen as a possible cause of head teachers now being tighter on holidays during term time.
The suggestion that Air Passenger Duty could be waived during school holidays – a solution supported by travel deals website Travelzoo – was dismissed by Hemming as not being of financial benefit to the holidaymakers themselves, and not helping with the cost of UK holidays.
Hemming and others called for the Education Select Committee to look into the matter of ensuring regional coordination across the country, while George Mudie, Labour MP for Leeds East, called for BIS to get the travel industry and local authorities “around the table” to start the discussion.
Sourced by TTG Digital