Covid-19: Aviation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:42 pm on 3rd June 2020.

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Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury) 12:42 pm, 3rd June 2020

I congratulate the Chair of the Transport Committee on securing this urgent question. The aviation industry is looking to the Chancellor for leadership, but he is not here today, and it has been locked in a holding pattern once again. While the Treasury dithers and delays, the crisis continues to unfold, with 12,000 job losses at BA—a quarter of its workforce; 4,500 redundancies at easyJet; 3,000 staff at threat of redundancy at Virgin Atlantic; GE Aviation making a quarter of its global workforce redundant, with jobs at risk in south Wales; and Airbus describing this as the biggest crisis in its history. So where is the urgency, the clarity and the specific support package that the Chancellor referred to back in March?

This is a sector that contributes £22 billion a year to our economy, with 230,000 jobs across the industry and the manufacturing supply chain dependent on it. It needs to change to meet the challenge of climate change. So why did one industry leader tell the Transport Committee just a fortnight ago that the Government were “asleep at the wheel”? Can the Minister go back and wake the Treasury up?

We have been calling for an aviation sector deal. Can we have one? If so, by when? British Airways has taken taxpayers’ cash to furlough its staff. Why is anyone surprised by that? We warned the Government that this would happen. Will the Government now ensure that any bail-outs come with conditions to protect jobs, workers’ rights and taxpayers’ money? Will the Government ensure that any company in receipt of support from British taxpayers also has its tax base here in the UK? Will the Government hold them to tougher environmental targets to achieve our net zero ambition, rather than simply allowing them to go bust through Government inaction and incompetence?

Finally, we have the Home Secretary ambling along this afternoon with a face-saving quarantine plan that has huge consequences for our economy and without any publication of any evidence to support it on public health grounds. None of this is good enough. This is an issue for our whole economy. With respect to the Minister, her Department is neither use nor ornament. We need the Treasury to act. The Chancellor should be here. They should have turned up this afternoon, and I hope she will take that message back in the strongest possible terms.