Thomas Cook

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 25th September 2019.

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport 2:03 pm, 25th September 2019

Let me see what we can deal with here. It is true, as the hon. Gentleman outlined, that the world has changed. In 2007, Thomas Cook bought MyTravel just as the internet was starting to take off. In 2016, when the high street was clearly struggling because the internet had taken off, it bought the high street shops of Co-op Travel, further expanding its problems and its massive debt to £1.7 billion. I agree with him that this was, in the end, a very poorly run business that was going in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

The hon. Gentleman made a very sensible point in his query about the return of the bonuses that we have all been reading about. I have described how my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has written to the Insolvency Service. Under the Insolvency Act 1986, the official receiver has the power to require the return of bonuses in certain circumstances. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that that needs to be fully looked into, including the role of the auditors.

That is where we agree. Where we disagree is that it is not the case that this situation is somehow unique to Thomas Cook. As I mentioned, airlines elsewhere in the sector are in good health. Many of them have been very helpful in bringing Thomas Cook passengers home over the past couple of days and have offered extraordinary help, even lending aircraft and, in the case of one well-known airline, cutting prices for Thomas Cook customers, rather than charging more. However, in response to what the hon. Gentleman said about this insolvency, it is only right to point out that Germania, a German airline, went bust; Primera Air, a Danish airline, went bust; Air Berlin, a German airline, went bust; as did Cobalt Air of Cyprus and FlyVLM of Belgium. This is not a UK issue; this is an issue where some airlines manage to do the right things and succeed, and others do not.

The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned what has happened with Condor. Here, we will find partial agreement and partial disagreement. Condor was operating under a somewhat different business model. In Germany, people do not book holidays in quite the same way as they do in the UK, partly because UK citizens tend to use the internet in a different way and are much more becoming their own travel agents. With Condor, the business remained profitable. [Interruption.] Rachael Maskell asks what difference that makes. The difference is that it was a profitable business, unlike the business here.

It is also the case—this is where I think there will be a degree of agreement—that German insolvency rules allow for administrations to take place, and then for aircraft to carry on being used and for other buyers to come in during the administration process. That is not something that our current rules on airline liquidation and insolvency allow for.

The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that the previous Secretary of State said he wanted to do something about that and commissioned a review. So that we are all clear on the timeline, that review reported on 9 May 2019. It suggested that we should have rules that are not dissimilar to the German rules to allow our airlines to trade in administration. That would make repatriation massively easier, because we could use those airlines. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. Perhaps he did not hear me mention it during my statement, but we need a new Session of Parliament to introduce that primary legislation in order to bring that in. We are very happy to have a new Session of Parliament. If we get agreement, perhaps that is something we can progress.

I believe that, given the number of people and the number of lives that have been affected by this situation, we should be working together cross-party to get this job done. I welcome the hon. Gentleman gesturing that he will provide support to sort out this problem, because that would clearly be in everybody’s interest.

The hon. Gentleman referred to whether foreign Governments were prepared to ride to the rescue. I confirm that I received no approach from the Turkish Government and that the only contact via the Spanish Government was not a viable plan and came so late in the day that the company was already starting its administration proceedings. There was no viable plan out there at the time.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the ATOL system should be reformed. As he rightly pointed out, although the funds are limited because of Monarch, ATOL itself is reinsured to cover most of that cost. Finally, on a point of accuracy, he mentioned that £40 million has been spent on Monarch. In fact, we think that the final cost was £50 million.