Backbench Business - Aviation SectorBackbench Business

– in the House of Commons at 1:18 pm on 10 September 2020.

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[Relevant Documents: Second report of the Transport Committee, “The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector”, HC 268, and the Government response, HC 745; and e-petition 303081, “Support the British aviation industry during the covid-19 outbreak”.]

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Before we come to the Backbench Business Committee debate on the aviation sector, as must be obvious to the House, 59 Back Benchers wish to speak and it will not be possible to get everyone in. Eventually, there will be a time limit of three minutes, but we will start on the Back Benches—not of course the hon. Gentleman, the mover of the motion—with a limit of five minutes. Very soon, that will reduce to three minutes. I give the warning now, so that people may edit their copious notes.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 1:23, 10 September 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the aviation sector.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to open this debate, which I do on behalf of Abena Oppong-Asare. I thank the Backbench Business Committee, the Petitions Committee and my own Select Committee on Transport for making this debate happen.

To frame the debate, I will talk about the current aviation picture, the Government’s welcome interventions, what more the Government can and should do, the jobs at risk in the aviation sector, and passenger and consumer rights. I am happy to take interventions, as stated, but I ask right hon. and hon. Members to remember that they will be within my time limit, so perhaps they could make them snappy.

Let us talk about the current picture. The aviation network in the UK is the third largest in the world and the largest in Europe. It is a sector that we should all be proud of. As a nation—an island nation—we have travelled the world, explored the world, sent our entrepreneurs around the world and brought people to us. I say to the Government that the aviation sector is vital, not just from a business perspective but from a strategic angle. It is worth £28 billion to the UK economy. It employs 230,000 people directly, and for each one of those, 4.7 more jobs are created in the supply chain or the passenger experience.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I thank the Chair of the Transport Committee for helping, along with my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare, to get this debate. Does he agree that the national picture that he describes of job losses and the impact on the supply chain also has an impact on local areas where airports are a major part of the local economy? Does he agree that it would be worth the Government considering not just sector-specific support but specific short-term area-based support for the aviation communities that have been very badly hit at this time?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

My fellow member of the Transport Committee is absolutely right. We should bear in mind what has happened to passenger numbers. Numbers in April this year compared with April last year were down by 97%. To put that in focus, that means 5,800 flights whereas we previously had 201,000. It has been an absolute collapse. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight not just the impact on aviation but on communities that work in it or indeed support it from a retail perspective.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this debate forward and for giving me the chance to ask a question as well. The sector is worth some £1.9 billion to the economy of Northern Ireland. It is also very important strategically for the jobs it creates, and equally relevant to the other regions. Does he agree that there must be a meaningful sector-specific programme for aerospace from 1 November this year that recognises not only the centrality of technology and development in terms of the upcoming comprehensive spending review, but the decades-long challenge we have in improving productivity and skills retention and development. All the areas—Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and parts of England—must work together and focus on the Minister to get the help that we need, for all those reasons.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman, as ever, for his contribution. He is absolutely right. Perhaps this is where I should put in my asks with the new Minister, who I absolutely welcome to the Dispatch Box. Yesterday was his first day in front of the Transport Committee and today is his first day at the Dispatch Box. It has been a busy week for him already, with more to come.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

Before I take any further interventions I will make a little more progress.

The airports have already lost £2 billion just in the first few months, and they expect to lose another £4 billion as well. I would like to put on record my thanks to this Government for the £330 billion injection into businesses to keep them going. That has meant that 9 million people have been able to stay in employment through the furlough scheme. But of course I am going to stand here and ask for more, as is always the annoying case for Ministers with Back Benchers.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I will take some more interventions in a moment.

I would like the Government to look at the aviation sector specifically. I say this because the Government—and I do understand this—have brought in quarantine to keep us healthy and safe in travelling to these countries. That is the right thing to do—a nuance-based approach to ensure that where it is safe to travel we can do so on air bridges and not quarantine for 14 days. None the less, that intervention does have an impact on aviation, and that justifies more Government support. In addition, testing is happening in other parts of the world. The Government have not yet brought testing forward. I very much hope that during the quarantine period we can allow people to take a test and then come off quarantine. That may well be later in the process, but I would like to see that measure.

Those interventions from Government, which the aviation sector would say intervene on its ability to keep going, justify a sector-specific deal. I would like an extension of the furlough scheme for aviation. I would like a complete cut of air passenger duty for a period, which EasyJet says would allow 60% of national flights to continue. I would like a business rate cessation to be brought forward as the Scottish Government have done. I would like to see those measures from the Government in return for our continued approach on quarantine and testing.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. As well as asking for a greater financial package, does he believe that the Government need to work much more closely with our airports, particularly Gatwick and Heathrow? They are proposing testing and screening that will help our aviation sector to get to where it needs to be considering where we are with covid and the economy.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. As she and I know, Gatwick is the jewel in our crown in the south-east. Many of our constituents rely on it for good, well-paid jobs, but it is looking at staff reductions of 25%, which worries me greatly.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I will, of course, take an intervention from my hon. Friend—the hon. Lady who is a previous Chair of the Transport Committee.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I hope that we are also hon. Friends. The hon. Gentleman is speaking about the intervention and support required from the Government. A few moments ago we heard about the report from Climate Assembly UK that was launched today, which includes bold recommendations about the future of aviation and our route to net zero 2050. Does he agree that taxpayer support for the sector should be conditional on action to both protect workers and to cut emissions, as we transition to a more sustainable future for the aviation sector?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I thank my predecessor for all the amazing work she did on the Transport Committee, as well as today with the climate change report. She is absolutely right. When the Government bring out their sector renewal programme for aviation—I hope we will hear more from the Minister on that—I hope we will see incentives for greening aviation. That must be the future.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I will make a little more progress as I have only a few minutes left, and I might then take one or two more interventions. I wish, certainly from the Government Benches, to touch on the opportunity for more competition in the market. If airlines are not going to expand, and if they are to cut their workforce drastically, I would like the way that we allocate slots at our airports to be changed dramatically. If companies such as British Airways do not have the staff to continue to utilise the slots—hon. Members should bear in mind that from a legacy perspective BA has 51% of Heathrow slots—I would like those slots to be auctioned to new entrants to the market, so that we can make more money and see a bit more responsibility. Those are good free-market principles, and once we leave the European Union, we can start to make such changes. I know we are somewhat bound by IATA rules, but so is the US and it still makes its own rules. I urge the Government to look at the competition argument for slot reallocation.

Jobs and redundancies are a huge worry, and 30,000 jobs in the aviation sector have already been directly put at risk. Virgin and Ryanair have each suffered 3,500 job losses, and easyJet has lost 4,500. The Transport Committee report made clear that redundancies were inevitable with such a drop in passenger numbers, but I am afraid I must make a special mention of British Airways, our national flag carrier. Of its 42,000 staff, 12,000 jobs have been put at risk. Across the board, those members of staff were given the option of taking voluntary redundancy, and if they did not sign a settlement agreement they would lose their staff travel allowance, or they had effectively to reapply for their old jobs on terms that had not been set out. That was a big Russian roulette gamble for them and a big risk. If they did not agree to voluntary redundancy they could be looking at reductions in terms and conditions at more than 50%. For them not to even know those conditions when being given such a choice is, in my view, absolutely shoddy treatment, especially at a time when British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group, is looking to spend €1 billion on a new airliner, and 66% of its profits was put in by British Airways staff.

The reason there is so much suspicion about the behaviour of British Airways is because this restructuring has been tried before. This was dusted off, and there is a perception and a feeling, and I think the evidence, that the pandemic has provided the perfect backdrop for BA to start paying its staff on low-cost terms. If that is the case, why do I have pay premium for that to occur?

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that premium brands are built on people, and it is incumbent on companies that aspire to be a premium brand to treat their people in a way consistent with that?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

My right hon. Friend is right. Across the House we expect the best from our premium brands if they are to be our flag carriers. If a company is saying to its staff, “You might be required to allow us to put you out of work for eight-weeks during the year without pay”—that is two months—“and at other times we might effectively put you on furlough without pay”, how on earth is a member of staff supposed to react?

What I would say before I take one more intervention—[Interruption.] I will not take another intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker. I see an opportunity for British Airways here. It is fair to say that the new chief executive, Luis Gallego, is a thoughtful and reasonable man who is two days into his job. I do not believe he will have the same scorched earth approach to industrial relations as his predecessor. There is still time, because these terms have not yet come out, for British Airways to do the right thing. Perhaps it will do what Ryanair has done and said, “There is a 20% pay cut across the board, for everybody. That pay will be returned when better times come.” We know that our aviation sector has better times to come. I say to IAG’s chief executive: it is not too late, you still have time to do the right thing and protect your workforce and your brand. On that note, Madam Deputy Speaker, I give way completely and allow the debate to continue.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy and for understanding that a great many people wish to speak this afternoon. We will therefore begin with a time limit of five minutes, and I call Abena Oppong-Asare.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead 1:35, 10 September 2020

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am pleased to have been able to secure my first Backbench Business debate on the future of the aviation sector, alongside Huw Merriman. I am shocked that the Government did not deem it necessary to bring forward this debate at such a crucial time on this issue, but I am glad to see a high turnout of MPs, from across the House, wanting to contribute to this debate. I thank the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Jim McMahon, for his work in supporting the aviation industry, and my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones for the work she has done to support workers in Pontypridd who are facing the risk of redundancy.

The aviation sector supports 1.6 million jobs across the UK and contributes £22 billion to the economy. It should have come as no surprise to the Government, as passenger numbers dropped by 97%, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle mentioned, and as overall air traffic was reduced by 90% during the covid-19 lockdown, that the aviation industry would need industry-specific support. Once again, the Government’s lack of preparedness has resulted in a number of devastating consequences for my constituency and others across the UK. Along with my hon. Friends, I have been calling on the Government to provide bail-outs to support the aviation sector and, above all, the people they are supposed to represent, who are at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

My hon. Friend is making a crucial argument. She will know just how many jobs are under threat in south Wales, particularly at British Airways in the Vale of Glamorgan and at other aerospace companies. Does she agree that the Government need not only to take action on jobs now, but to offer support to help young people training at Cardiff and Vale College for future careers in aerospace and green aviation? The Government need to give them some hope, as well as saving jobs now.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead

My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I completely support, and I am going to cover that much further in my speech. He mentions British Airways, which has announced that it wants to cut 12,000 jobs. Some 6,000 of its overall workforce have already taken voluntary redundancy, with many claiming that they have been pressured by scare tactics such as a fire and rehire policy. Those redundancies were announced five months ago, in April, yet the Government have still failed to protect its workers. Since the announcement, many more have followed: easyJet is planning to cut 4,500 staff; Jet2 has made more than 100 pilots redundant; Virgin Atlantic has made more than 3,000 staff redundant, including 47% of its pilots; and Flybe, the largest operator in the UK of domestic flights, has gone into administration, leaving 2,000 people without jobs. I could continue, but I am sure that the Government are well aware that an estimated 110,000 airport or airport-related jobs are at risk. I have been contacted by operators in the aviation sector who have warned me that the sector can no longer weather the impacts of further inaction.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on that point about airport operators. In my patch, I have been in regular contact with the operator of Luton airport, which is responsible directly and indirectly for 11,000 jobs in Luton that are potentially at risk. But this is not only about jobs. It is also about the important revenue streams that come from the airport into Luton Council and wider voluntary and charitable organisations. Do you agree that part of this debate is about those vital revenue streams, as well as jobs?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. It is an intervention, not a speech, and Members must refer to one another as “the hon. Member”, not “you”.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead

My hon. Friend raises a really important point, which I completely support, and it echoes the conversations that I have had with operators in the aviation sector.

The obvious inaction has been noticed across the industry, and while some employers have a will to act in their employees’ best interests, that is not possible without a support package. One employer contacted me to clarify that, while the Government repeatedly refer to the package of support that aviation has had, the specific nature of industry concerns have not been recognised at all. My colleagues and I have made it clear to employers and businesses, and I will re-emphasise it to the Government today, that we want to work in collaboration with all those affected to ensure that a plan can be put in place to secure the future of the industry. This debate is not about political point scoring. It is about holding the Government to account where they have failed the best interests of people across the UK.

My colleagues on the shadow Front Bench have worked with unions and other stakeholders to produce a policy position that can help to protect jobs, the wider supply chain and the environment. I urge the Government to listen to the recommendations that have come from within the industry to implement a robust plan and to provide a bail-out package to the aviation sector.

I also urge the Government to consider taking action on recommendations from industry leaders. The first is the need for the introduction of airport testing to minimise the need for mandatory 14-day self-isolation. It is clear to all now that the risk posed by covid-19 will not be eliminated in the immediate future, but when cases do begin to fall again—and they will—we must have a system in place to encourage the economy to immediately reopen. Passengers have been discouraged from travelling because they know they will have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival back in the UK, even if they test negative for covid-19. The blanket quarantine rules are another reflection of the Government’s lack of preparedness as more infections were traced back to different travel destinations, to which the Government responded with a short-sighted and damaging policy.

This is why I am calling on the Government to work with businesses to produce a clear commitment to tackling climate change and investing to make the use of cleaner fuels and other low or zero-emission technologies viable options for businesses. If the Government truly want us to be the world leader, we must start acting like one. Direct emissions from aviation account for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The threat to our planet, our country and our constituencies from climate change is ever growing.

Covid-19 has caused businesses and individuals to operate differently, as we are forced to come up with creative solutions to problems that we did not expect to face. We should take this opportunity to factor in the wider issues that urgently need tackling. The aviation sector has been impacted by measures relating to covid-19 in a very specific but not limited way. The entire industry and my colleagues on the Opposition Benches are ready to work with the Government to develop a plan for the future, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Transport and the Prime Minister are ready to engage in the urgently needed discussion.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead 1:43, 10 September 2020

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Robert Courts, to his place. In one sense, I welcome this debate, because it gives an opportunity for us all across the House to point out how important the aviation sector is to our economy, to jobs and, indeed, to global Britain. In another sense, I am rather sorry that we are having to have this debate, because it suggests that the Government have not quite yet got the message about the importance of the aviation sector.

Before I come to my main point, I wish to pick up on one of the points raised by my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, who referred to the British Airways situation. I have constituents affected by the British Airways decisions, about which I have had concerns that I have raised with the company, but I also have constituents who will be losing jobs at other airlines and at Heathrow airport itself. That is an impact of the rapid reduction in the number of people who are flying around the world. The best way to ensure that those people have jobs and to support those jobs is to get planes flying again. I welcome the fact that the Government have introduced the air bridges—that was a positive move—but I fear that the air bridges have increased not certainty but uncertainty for people, because of the constant changes that have taken place, sometimes within 24 hours.

Although I have some concerns about the air bridge policy, I wish to focus on testing, and I welcome what Abena Oppong-Asare said about the importance of testing. First, let me set out the background. This is an important point: stopping people flying into the UK is not going to mean that there is no virus here in the UK—the virus is here; we are going to continue to have cases of covid and will have more cases in the coming months—but it does mean job losses and a negative impact on our economy. Passenger numbers at Heathrow have fallen by 82% and cargo is down 35%. It is reckoned that for every 1,000 passengers, one job is created. The fewer passengers, the fewer jobs. Cargo is also important, particularly for the UK as we are looking to improve our trading relationships around the world, and a lot of cargo is carried on passenger flights.

Sadly, there are those who say that if we want to promote testing and therefore reduce quarantine and increase the number of flights, we are putting public health at risk and putting the economy first. This is not an either/or situation; it is about assessing the proportionate risks. It is about mitigating the risk of people coming into the UK with the virus while at the same time reducing the risk of a damaging impact on the economy. I am certain that testing has to be the way forward in the foreseeable future, but at the moment airports are not even permitted to trial tests on passengers.

It is incredibly important that, far from leading the world, the UK is lagging behind. Japan has been testing since April, and Germany, France, Austria and Iceland all have testing, which variously reduces the quarantine period or means that people can abandon it. In all, 30 countries have testing facilities at their airports. British companies, with their ingenuity, have been developing new rapid tests—TravelSafe Systems recently demonstrated one to me in a GP surgery in my constituency. The infrastructure is there and the testing capability is there and being advanced as we speak.

Crucially, trials would provide data. Currently, decisions are taken on the basis of modelling, which has not proved itself to be infallible during this pandemic. Real data would be much a better basis for making decisions. The Government’s position currently appears to be that if there is a risk with testing that one person has a false negative, we cannot test anybody. That is a counsel of perfection and it is wrong. We have to see testing introduced in our airports. We are talking about not a single test to abandon all quarantine, but possibly a test on arrival and a test a few days later to reduce the quarantine period.

I am sorry that the Minister finds himself responding to this debate, because I think the DFT gets this, so my message is to No. 10, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care, and it is a simple one: if we want to get the economy moving, and if we want to get planes flying again, give airports permission to trial tests. Stop the UK dragging its feet; let us lead the world and set the standard to restore world travel and world trade.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I have to reduce the time limit to three minutes.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 1:49, 10 September 2020

General Electric Aviation Wales, in Nantgarw, near Caerphilly, it is one of the most important employers in south Wales. It employs 1,400 people, has an excellent apprenticeship scheme and is recognised as one of the key anchor companies in the whole of Wales. As the site maintains and overhauls jet engines from 90 airlines around the world, it has been hit hard by the contraction in air travel. In the late spring, the company announced 180 voluntary redundancies. That was a serious blow, but at the beginning of July the company announced the loss of 369 jobs—quality, highly skilled jobs that neither the company nor, indeed, south Wales can afford to lose.

The Welsh Government are doing their utmost to be supportive, but what is really needed today is for the Westminster Government to be proactive, especially with regard to extending the furlough scheme. This would not be a long-term measure, because there will be an upturn in the number of flights and there is absolutely no doubt about the effectiveness and efficiency of the Nantgarw site. In fact, in early 2017 Nantgarw was selected, after intense competition, as the site to repair and overhaul the GE9X, the world’s largest and most efficient jet engine.

If the Government do not give the necessary support to General Electric in Nantgarw, this will be in sharp contrast to what is happening in so many other countries. In France, Germany and Italy, for example, there is great Government support for the aviation industry. The Governments of those countries are giving massive support to their companies, because they realise that it is a very necessary investment.

Let me be clear that if the Government do not support the sector, and Nantgarw in particular, when jet engines need maintenance, the sector will again be at a huge competitive disadvantage. Once skilled jobs are lost, they are extremely difficult to replace.

So I ask the Government to please step up to the plate and do what is necessary. They must come forward immediately with a comprehensive support package for the sector. In particular, they need to support furlough.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell 1:51, 10 September 2020

May I start by welcoming the Minister to his post? He is a welcome addition to the Department for Transport team. When I left the Department 14 months ago, I resolved that I would not speak in this place about transport issues for a while, because it felt appropriate not to tread on the toes of my successor. I am here today because I believe passionately that this is an issue that must be addressed, and quickly. This is a crucial industry not just at our airports, but across our country for a whole range of businesses and a whole of people whose livelihood depends upon it.

I echo the comments of the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, on the importance of testing. This has to be the way forward. It is vital for the industry not only that we get short-haul flights moving again, but that we open up transatlantic routes, which are fundamentally important to the industry. We can only do that through testing. I cannot understand why we are not at the very least trailing testing on a number of routes to demonstrate where the issues are. My message to the Minister—and, through him, to all those on the Treasury Bench, in No. 10, in No. 11 and elsewhere in Government—is that we have got to do this, and we have got to do it now. There is absolutely no reason why a regime of trial testing in this country could not be introduced in a few days, or why the results could not be carefully monitored on selected routes to give us a blueprint to take things forward. We must do this, and we must do it now.

We also have the issue of our airports. Our airports, and many of the businesses that support them, are operating at a fraction of their normal capacity because the Government are telling them that they have to do so. In that situation, we cannot apply the normal regulatory regime. For example, we cannot tell our airports to pay their full business rates when the Government are telling them not to operate their business. This autumn we have to take a pragmatic and realistic approach for the businesses affected.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

Does my right hon. Friend share my view that much of the real pain of this situation will be felt by our smaller regional airports across the country, which will play a vital role in helping our nation recovery from the current situation? Will he join me in urging the new Minister—I, too, am delighted to see him in his place—that bringing forward the review of regional connectivity should be at the top of his to-do list?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I absolutely agree, because this is not actually about our principal airports; it is about the regional airports, which are the cornerstone of their local economies. Heathrow airport will be there in 10 years’ time whatever happens, but we cannot say the same of our regional airports, which are facing a financial crisis as we go through this pandemic. We cannot expect it to be business as usual for the taxes they pay, the regulations they follow and so on. A sensible series of steps will have to be taken this autumn to ensure that those businesses are still here in a year’s time when this crisis begins to abate, as we all hope it will.

I also want to echo some of the comments of the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman. It is inevitable, sadly, that there will be job losses as a result of what is happening at the moment. I wish it were otherwise—we all wish it were otherwise—but it is not. However, it must also be the case that every airline should strain every sinew to ensure that they protect as many jobs as they can, because these are the people on whom those airlines and airports will depend as they seek to rebuild their business, hopefully in 2021. So my message to all those employers is: do what you have to do to keep your businesses afloat, so that there is still an employer there, but do not go beyond what you need to do to deliver that recovery. That would be absolutely the wrong thing to do in this incredibly difficult time for our country.

We must also consider the broader sector, because this is not just about airlines and airports. It is about a whole range of other businesses, including the suppliers to the aviation sector, the firms that make the planes, parts of planes and equipment at our airports, and the travel businesses, large and small, that depend on this sector.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

My right hon. Friend is making an important point about the broader sector, because across the north of England and north Wales, a huge amount of the supply chain for the airline sector and the people who actually make the planes is really vulnerable at the moment, including Gardner Aerospace in my constituency, which is at risk of losing half its staff. So this is a really important point for the Government to take away from this: this is a much broader sectoral issue.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

These are crucial points. If we are seriously to rebalance our economy, we cannot afford to lose some of the fine manufacturing businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere that service our aerospace sector so well and make it at such a fundamentally important part of the manufacturing side of our economy.

Of course, the Government can do something in this field because as a nation we procure, for military and civil purposes, a significant amount of equipment. This autumn, as we go into the Budget round and look to step up capital spending to help us through the recovery, we have the ability to take procurement decisions that will help the businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and others. My message to Ministers would be that, as we look at how best to take ourselves through the recovery, the purchasing power they have to invest in equipment that we will need for the future could make a real difference if they were to bring forward some of those orders now.

My final point is that we absolutely have to rebuild the sector, get these businesses going again and get people flying again, but there is also a duty on the industry and all of us to ensure that it is, as far as is possible, a green recovery. There is no simple way of solving the environmental impact of the aviation sector. It cannot suddenly become net zero or green overnight, but it has to take steps in the right direction, whether through the electrification of airports, the reduction of fuel consumption of planes or other methods that can make the industry less environmentally impactful. My message to the industry and to the Government is that they should work together to ensure that the industry really is on the mend and that we get people flying again, but do so in the most environmentally sustainable way possible. This is a crucial industry, and it must get back to something like normal, but it needs to do so in a way that is consistent with all our futures.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood 1:58, 10 September 2020

I have Liverpool John Lennon airport in my constituency, so I would particularly like to congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee, Huw Merriman, and my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare on obtaining this debate and giving me the opportunity to say something about what is happening there. I found myself agreeing with the former Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling—a rare event—when he said that this involves a much broader range than just the airlines and the staff who work in the airports. We have air traffic controllers, ground handlers—it is Swissport at Liverpool John Lennon—and various retail outlets, many of whose staff are on furlough. There are also the airlines—mainly easyJet and Ryanair at Liverpool John Lennon—as well as airport security and other service providers, and that is just at the airport. I have not mentioned industries that service it, as the right hon. Gentleman did.

In addition, tourism and the visitor economy in Liverpool have been a huge part of the regeneration of the city. This has been dependent in part on the airport, and it was particularly boosted by our year as European capital of culture in 2008. It supports some 35,000 jobs in the industry. As John Irving, the chief executive officer of Liverpool airport, told me and as all parts of the sector have told the Government, aviation was one of the first sectors impacted by covid. The impacts are worldwide and ongoing, and therefore will be significant for some time, and full recovery post covid is likely to take a long time, with some people suggesting that volumes will not recover in the next two or three years.

So far, the impact has been bad: 15% of the jobs at my airport, John Lennon, have gone, with more redundancies not ruled out; easyJet, one of the main airlines there is making 70 redundant at Liverpool airport, despite having taken a £600 million loan from the Government and paid out £174 million in dividends to its shareholders at the beginning of furlough; and Swissport has 60 jobs at risk at the airport in my constituency. Many of the retailers who are still on furlough will face an uncertain future in October, and a significant number of security staff and others providing services in the airport find their jobs at risk.

Passenger numbers are 65% below what would be expected normally at this time, so ongoing difficulties cannot be ruled out, and the 14-day quarantine chopping and changing of arrangements from one week to the next simply generates uncertainty. On the lack of progress in finding a way forward on testing, I completely support what the former Prime Minister said. There is no adequate financial support for those who suddenly find themselves having to quarantine, and this adds to the uncertainty. We must have a sector-specific deal for aviation, and we must have a tapering or a continuation of the furlough scheme to make sure that this industry does not completely disappear in future months.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys 2:01, 10 September 2020

Three minutes—gosh! I am glad the high-speed rail Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, is on the Front Bench to inspire me to get a move on.

I welcome the new Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Robert Courts, to the ejector seat role of aviation Minister. He is the fifth in two years; I was No. 3. Such is the turnover that who knows how long he will last. Will he still be there to bring us in to land? I do not know, and that is part of the problem. The sector does not have the continuity in the Department that it needs for long-term decision making. He has fantastic officials, but he certainly has not got enough of them. In the past year, they have had to deal with the collapse of Thomas Cook, the slow, prolonged agony and death of Flybe and now covid-19. They are absolutely frazzled, I have no doubt, which means they cannot do the longer-term work, on issues such as slot allocation, that I think are so important for the Department to grapple with.

I agree with everything everyone has said so far—there is no point repeating it—but on testing, let me make a plea to learn from Italy, which now has obligatory pre-departure testing. There is no environment more conducive to the transmission of the virus than that on board an aircraft. We have a chance to test people before they board, and we should oblige all UK-registered airlines to do just that. Passengers would check in half an hour early, as they do in Italy at the moment, and if they test positive, they would not be allowed to board. That would stop the importation of the virus into the UK. To me, it stands to reason.

May I assist my hon. Friend Steve Double by making a few pleas on behalf of regional airports, in case he does not get the chance to do so? The Government need to move faster on regional airports. They were having an existential crisis already when Flybe collapsed, and it is currently a case of apocalypse now. There was a regional airport review, it had conclusions and there was a 10-point plan. I know because I wrote it, and left it in my in-tray, so I know what it is going to say. The Department knows what it wants to do on public service obligation flights, and that can easily be changed. They are all domestic routes and there is no quarantine angle at all: we can make the changes now.

The Minister may have heard—in fact, I doubt he has heard yet—that Southend airport has, just this week, installed its new £400,000 security scanner. It is one of those that allows passengers not to have to remove liquids from their baggage, and it is part of our overhaul of transport security. They are immensely good news across all airports, but they cost an incredible amount of money—£400,000. In many smaller airports, they require a complete redesign of the terminal layout. Just go and ask the chief executive of Leeds Bradford. Can the Government do more to consider better use of capital allowances to facilitate that sort of investment?

My mantra as Minister was that we were the aviation nation and had to remain so to be ambitious on behalf of the UK sector, but we risk becoming a flightless nation, stuck on the ground and unable to go anywhere. There was a flightless bird called the dodo, which is now extinct. Do not let UK plc’s aviation sector become extinct, please.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield 2:04, 10 September 2020

With Teesside International Airport in my constituency, aviation is obviously important to us. I welcome the Government’s £8.5 billion support package for the industry and their approach to travel corridors, which have allowed aviation to start its return to normality. I hope that, as science develops, the air bridges will become more focused and better, but so much more is required.

The recent investment in Teesside International Airport is bringing jobs, connectivity and economic growth to the north-east. Ben Houchen, the Conservative Mayor of Teesside, set out four years ago to save the airport, which is a prime example of what a well connected local airport can do for an area. It is connecting Teesside to the world, broadening horizons and increasing opportunity. It has created jobs for local people, not just in aviation but in other sectors as well, and it is a critical part of the transport infrastructure for the region, with direct links to the rest of the world via Amsterdam and Heathrow that serve as a magnet for business investment.

That connectivity is a key asset for both private and public sector organisations relocating to the area, and it will be an obvious benefit for the Treasury or other Departments that are thinking about relocating. We need appropriate support to ensure that regional airports survive and continue to provide the connectivity that drives and facilitates investment and plays a critical part in both the levelling up and build back better agendas.

In getting aviation back on its feet, we have the opportunity to redefine the aviation sector. After the reset driven by covid-19, we can move to a more sustainable and greener future through a balanced and considered approach. Climate Assembly UK, which today published its report “The path to net zero”, supports the need for an ongoing and sustainable aviation industry and makes recommendations that include the need to engage the population in making necessary changes and promoting UK travel.

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

My hon. Friend will share my concern about the fact that Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick is now looking to offshore 350 jobs to Singapore. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government really need to engage with such businesses, because once local skills bases disappear, they are gone for good?

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I agree absolutely. We need to do all we can as we go through the covid-19 crisis to make sure that we retain key industries and jobs in our country.

Climate Assembly UK also recommend investments in the development and use of new technologies for air travel. There are different aspects of that to consider, including the development of sustainable fuels—some investment in that sector would be good—and the work of companies such as Kromek in Sedgefield, which is developing technology to analyse the air on an aeroplane between take-off and landing to see whether the virus is present on the plane. If we can test on the plane, we do not need to test at the airport—we will know whether there are people carrying the virus on the plane. I would encourage investment in those sectors, which could make our airlines safer and cleaner, and give confidence to both business and leisure travellers.

The aviation sector is vital to our economy, to jobs, to trade and to growth, and there are many proposals on what support could be given, ranging from business rates relief to bring us in line with counterparts in Northern Ireland and Scotland, some form of employment costs support beyond the end of the job retention scheme, some funding for the Civil Aviation Authority, suspension of air passenger duty and, in particular, support for investment in more sustainable airline fuels. I strongly encourage urgent efforts on some or all of those.

There is a post-covid-19 vision for a UK economy that is stronger, more sustainable and more productive, which works for all the UK’s nations and regions. Aviation can play a key role in that future, connecting us to the world, supporting business and UK exporters, and supporting the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely directly and indirectly on aviation, including those in our world-leading aerospace and tourism sectors. It is important that the Government understand the damage caused by the pandemic. With the right support, the sector can emerge on the other side with as many jobs and as much infrastructure as possible, and with opportunities to support a green economic recovery through investment in low-carbon aviation technologies.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley 2:09, 10 September 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Huw Merriman on securing this debate and my hon. Friend Robert Courts on his new position as aviation Minister.

I first had the opportunity to raise the potential impact of covid-19 on the aviation sector back in January. I have the privilege of representing the world’s busiest—or it certainly used to be the world’s busiest—single runway airport, and this issue is extremely important for the wellbeing of my local economy, which has the headquarters of Virgin Atlantic airlines, easyJet’s largest centre of operations and many others. However, as other right hon. and hon. Members have said, this is also an extremely important industry and sector for the UK economy.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

My hon. Friend is a formidable champion of aviation, particularly in West Sussex. Does he agree that an important point in this debate is that the impact affects the entire supply chain, from companies such as Avtrade in Sayers Common in my constituency, which neighbours his, all the way down through companies that provide the food, luggage, baggage handling and maintenance contracts?

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is exactly right: the UK aviation industry is vital to the whole of our national economy, and there is a ripple effect. If, as an island trading nation, aviation is not supported, the negative impact is felt throughout the whole economy. That is why I make no apology for being parochial about Gatwick airport; this is an important issue for the whole British economy.

I am very grateful to right hon. and hon. Friends from both sides of the House for joining me in the Future of Aviation Group, which I am honoured to chair. We have introduced a 10-point plan of recovery and support for the aviation industry. As I have two minutes left, I will highlight just five of those key points.

First, as has been mentioned, testing is essential. Over 30 countries test arrivals for covid-19. That is important not just for confidence for people travelling again, but for public health confidence. We are at a competitive disadvantage with countries in Europe, such as France, Germany, Italy and Austria, who do test if we are not testing. Further afield, other countries such as the UAE and Singapore test too. It is absolutely vital. Virgin Atlantic tells me that it does not expect business to be at even a quarter of 2019 levels by the end of this year. Testing would help that.

Secondly, we recommend an extension of the coronavirus job retention scheme—the furlough—for aviation sector employees until March 2021, because, effectively, the aviation sector will experience at least three winter seasons as a result of the situation.

Thirdly, business rates relief for airports in England, as has occurred in other parts of the United Kingdom, is extremely important.

Fourthly, I have been arguing for many years for the reduction—indeed, the scrapping—of air passenger duty, but we need a relief for at least the next year to support airlines.

Finally, we need a sustainable regrowth of our aviation industry. In February, the UK airline industry committed to net zero carbon by 2050. We need investment—some £500 million of matched investment—from the Government with industry to develop sustainable aviation fuels. That is the way we recover, for our whole country.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields 2:14, 10 September 2020

The star award for using covid as an opportunity to demoralise and destroy its workforce has to go to British Airways. One of my constituents—a long-standing employee of 25 years—told me that after months of toxic bullying and mental anguish, she has been offered a new contract that is so deliberately ambiguous that she feels she has to take it or face redundancy. The worrying proposals in the new contract include, for example, that she may be forced to relocate temporarily or permanently to anywhere in the world. An associated company may also take over her holiday entitlement; that company will also have access to her health records and, bizarrely, the right to search her and her property. All that for a 40% reduction in her pay, while the outgoing chief executive is £3 million better off.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

The hon. Lady has made an important point. Does she agree that because this appalling behaviour towards the workforce has gone unchecked, it has been replicated by other companies such as Centrica? Does she also agree that the Government should support the Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill, sponsored by my hon. Friend Gavin Newlands, which would stop this appalling practice?

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

The hon. Member’s intervention leads me nicely on to my next point. My constituent tells me that some of her colleagues have actually taken their own lives and some have suffered heart attacks. The Government are not powerless. They can put a stop to these awful fire and rehire practices before they spread through other industries.

Our easyJet base in Newcastle has also closed. Our neighbours in Europe, recognising the value of regional connectivity, jobs, skills and a supply chain that benefits the wider local economy, have given substantial bailouts—not loans—to their operators. They have also substantially extended furlough, which the Government here rejected outright yesterday. I spoke to an easyJet pilot who asked me to put to the Minister why the Government are not considering travel corridors on a region-by-region basis in the same way they have applied measures in the UK. It does not make sense to shut down access to an entire country when just one part of it has an outbreak of coronavirus.

I am sure that the Minister will tell us that the Government have set up the aviation engagement unit, but can he tell us exactly what it has achieved? From what I can see, it has achieved very little so far. My constituents’ futures and jobs are on the line. It is in the Government’s gift to do something. Why don’t they?

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon 2:17, 10 September 2020

I thank my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, the Chair of the Transport Committee, for securing this much needed and timely debate on the aviation sector. It has been a pleasure to work with him on the Committee, under his chairmanship.

We have considered the devastating impact of the coronavirus on the aviation sector and the Government’s response to support the sector, not least travel corridors, safe travel guidance, passenger refunds and, of course, the furlough scheme. I welcome reports that the Government are looking at more comprehensive testing at UK airports to reduce the time for quarantine, which would further help the travel industry get anywhere near back on its feet.

The much anticipated aviation recovery plan is due this autumn. It simply cannot come soon enough to address the scale of the crisis still facing the sector. The Government should be commended for setting up an unprecedented level of support to protect jobs but, sadly, despite the measures in place, the obstacles to survival faced by many smaller airlines and regional airports would challenge even the most experienced pilot.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

My hon. Friend represents the nearest airport to my airport in Newquay. Does he agree that the regional airports are going to play a vital role in delivering on the Government’s levelling up agenda, and that if we lose them it will make the Government’s job of investing in the regions even harder?

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

My hon. Friend takes the words straight out of my mouth. Colleagues will recall the collapse of Flybe in March, which was devastating for its employees, many of whom live in Exeter and East Devon.

Despite Government intervention and offers of assistance, Flybe shareholders chose to walk away from an airline that they signed up to support. It was a punch in the gut to regional connectivity, and the impact is still felt in East Devon and across the south-west. Although some form of Flybe routes from Exeter airport have been brought back to life by new airlines, the future of these routes remains on a knife edge. Back in March, a review of air passenger duty was announced as part of a package of measures to support Flybe and regional connectivity by air. Many colleagues welcomed this move to level the playing field by ensuring that regional airlines were not hampered by having to pay APD twice. It is essential that the Government use all the tools at their disposal to ensure a fair and level playing field for operators such as Loganair and Blue Islands, which operate from Exeter airport.

After months of engagement with the aviation industry, I hope that the Government are actively considering scrapping business rates for airports for 12 months, with Government support making up the difference to local authorities that would feel the pinch. Airports in England have paid more than £17 million in business rates since the start of the lockdown in March, despite passenger numbers dropping by around 97%. In response to the Transport Committee’s inquiry, the Government said that discussions on business rates were ongoing with airports. I urge the Government to speed up discussions and offer solutions that support the future of regional aviation because we will not be able to level up our regions if we level off regional connectivity.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment) 2:20, 10 September 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare on securing this debate and the Chair of the Transport Committee on his work, his support and his Committee’s excellent report.

My remarks today reflect the situation around Heathrow, but are not limited to it. I thank and commend the local authorities around west London, and also west London business, Brunel University and others, for their remarkable efforts to come together for local rescue and recovery plans. I also welcome the call for an aviation communities fund from local authorities, particularly to support re-skilling, business growth and infrastructure.

This is a national emergency and the impact of not acting now to secure an aviation deal and to support businesses and aviation communities in the next few weeks will be devastating. The cost to the state will be far greater than the cost of measures to get us through even to the spring, when many companies expect to see demand grow. The message from employers is clear: aviation is much more than airports and airlines. It is the aviation fuel companies, retail, baggage handling, hospitality, security, logistics, facilities management, engineering, airline catering and much, much more. Their needs are different—some are paid for each flight, some are paid per passenger, and some are paid for services such as meals on flights—but their sustained success depends on each other. It is urgent to act now, because section 188 notices are being issued as companies plan for what they expect to be the end of furlough at the end of October.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

One of the suggestions that the unions and others have put forward is that Her Majesty’s Government could mitigate the level of redundancies to recognise that those the hon. Lady has referred to, who could be made redundant, will have been paying national insurance of some 14% and their pensions as employees, while also saving the UK benefits and redundancy payments. Her Majesty’s Government could provide some funding—perhaps 25% funding—for each employee’s wages to retain the skills and, at the same time, ensure that the business can get to January and November next year where it needs to get to.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

The hon. Member makes a very important point. Indeed, may I put on record my thanks to Unite, GMB and the other unions that I have been working with for all that they have done, day in, day out, to support workers and their businesses? He also makes a very important point about the retention of skills. Airport businesses have said to me that it takes six to nine months to train somebody to work in such a complex environment. Even cleaning an aircraft is as much about understanding security and counter-terrorism as it is about being able to serve all those passengers and the company. I thank him for making that point, because it links to the issue that this is about not just individual employees, but our readiness to recover when the time comes and keeping our businesses in place.

It is important to act now. Tens of thousands of jobs could be saved by a flexible extension to furlough, allowing employers to have employees on reduced hours perhaps, which will mean that families are supported to pay their bills and to stay in work. If the Chancellor and the Transport Secretary do not do this, they are simply passing a preventable problem over to an already stretched Department for Work and Pensions. In Feltham and Heston alone, there has been a 74% increase—to more than 19,000 people— in the number of people on universal credit. The local citizens advice bureau has talked about the level of inquiries it has had on debt. People are now being forced to borrow from loan sharks to pay one bill as another red letter looms.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

No doubt the hon. Lady will share my disappointment that the Chancellor’s promise of tailored support has not yet materialised. Does she agree that ending furlough in October, just at the point when payment holidays are ending, will cause real difficulties for families? There is no respite for them. It really is time for the Government to step up and provide tailored support for furlough.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. She shows that families will look forward to Christmas with dread, rather than with aspiration and hope for the new year. In six months’ time, we could be seeing children who are preparing for exams after two years of disrupted education being evicted from their homes—that is the scale of what will happen. I request that the Government act quickly to ensure that we get support in place early and that we do not see a wait until November, when it could be too late.

A recent report by Oxford Economics has shown the scale of local jobs around Heathrow: 133,000 jobs are being directly and indirectly supported, including in the Prime Minister’s constituency. Following his response to a parliamentary question about membership of the expert steering group, however, I am concerned that the Minister is not hearing all the voices in aviation. Perhaps he will not mind if I write to him with additional suggestions for under-represented voices and academic voices that could be useful in thinking about the future of aviation.

In summary, I make five recommendations: working with employers, a flexible and targeted continuation of furlough to keep people in work until aviation recovers—other countries are doing it, and so should we. Business rates deferral has been called for by Heathrow—I have written to the Prime Minister about it; Heathrow has not said “waiver”, it has said “deferral”—to help with cashflow, which in turn will help other businesses. Reduced quarantine through increased testing will bring greater confidence to fly. I also recommend a slot waiver review, so that airlines are not penalised next year for being unable to use slots this year. Finally, I recommend investment for growth, including through a new communities fund.

That extension of furlough, however, should also be conditional. For example, Heathrow has issued its own section 188 notice and, on Dnata Catering, many employees have written to me to say that they are being forced to sign a new contract on reduced terms. Instead, those companies should be negotiating with their unions for a solution—

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 2:26, 10 September 2020

I commend my hon. Friend Huw Merriman for securing this debate and for his work on behalf of the thousands of employees in the aviation sector. This pandemic has impacted the sector hugely.

I place on the record my thanks to my constituents who are employed by British Airways, Victoria Lines, Andrew Harris and Jay Kalijan, who have engaged with me extensively on the impact of BA’s treatment of them. I have endorsed the campaign calling for a review of the landing slots allocated to BA.

I am thankful that the Government have taken unprecedented steps to protect workers in the aviation sector, with support in excess of £8.5 billion. Had the Government not taken those steps, the impact would have been more catastrophic than it already is, although we must do more. Despite such an unprecedented intervention, British Airways, Ryanair, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic have all made, or intend to make, large-scale redundancies. The situation is unsustainable, as major UK airports continue to see losses.

The impact on the aviation sector is not limited to the major airlines or the big international airports. It was clear early on, with the collapse of Flybe, that regional connectivity was also at risk. I am proud of the work of our Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, who has taken Teesside International airport from strength to strength, having saved it from virtual destruction after it was given away by Labour-controlled local authorities. If anyone needs an example of how essential aviation is to protecting local jobs, following the rescue of Teesside airport, the international sporting brand Dunlop specifically chose to retain its UK offices in my constituency, because of that connectivity. It is important for recovery that we support regional airports.

I believe strongly that we need to recognise that national policy can often disadvantage regional airports. I am therefore glad that before the March 2020 Budget, a review of airport passenger duty was announced. The scrapping of the duty would further support regional connectivity. As we build back greener, we must support our regional airports. They enable economic growth, maintain regional connectivity and lead to job creation and retention.

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead 2:29, 10 September 2020

The north-west aerospace cluster is the largest in the country, contributing more than £7 billion to the UK economy and employing thousands of people, so this is an issue of great importance to my constituents, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I thank Huw Merriman for bringing this critical debate before the House.

Allow me to declare an interest: before I had the great privilege of representing the people of Birkenhead in this House, I served as north-west regional secretary for Unite the union. During that time, I represented many of the thousands of aerospace workers who now find their jobs under threat, including Rolls-Royce employees at Barnoldswick, where many operations are now being moved to Singapore. I am sure I will not be alone in condemning that decision as utterly shameful and as endangering the world-leading status of British aerospace.

At the height of the pandemic, I applauded the speed and enthusiasm with which British aerospace companies responded to the ventilator challenge. It demonstrated an industry that is versatile, highly skilled and able to diversify quickly to meet the needs of the nation. We call the industry world beating for a reason. With British aviation facing unprecedented challenges, however, the need for a comprehensive recovery strategy has never been clearer. The Government say they need to bring together trade unions and industry leaders to save jobs, protect apprenticeships and lead the charge towards a carbon-neutral sector. I would also stress the importance of mitigating job losses through diversification, focusing on socially useful production, especially the medical goods and green technologies that will be so essential in the years to come.

The Government have long recognised the pressing need for such a strategy, and yet this week they have announced that their recovery strategy will only be published some time in the autumn. That is utterly shameful. I also call once again on the Chancellor to act against companies that accepted money from the job retention scheme and then cut jobs. The Government’s inaction so far has already caused irreparable devastation. Thousands of jobs have been lost, many more are set to be offshored, and the industry is drawing ever closer to falling off the furlough cliff edge. Time is fast running out. The Government must act now.

Photo of Joy Morrissey Joy Morrissey Conservative, Beaconsfield 2:31, 10 September 2020

I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Robert Courts, on his new role—long may it continue—and I thank the Government for their £8.5 billion of investment in the aviation sector,

What has been shocking in this pandemic has been the way aviation companies have responded and treated their employees, and by far the most shocking has been British Airways, which is what I want to speak on today. It is about fairness and the lack of fairness displayed in companies such as British Airways, which I feel has been using the pandemic as an excuse to liquidate its assets and move it transnational base out of Britain and overseas.

Today, I want to speak on behalf of constituents in places such as Marlow, Beaconsfield, Flackwell Heath and Hedgerley who have worked for British Airways, some for 20 or 30 years, and who have been left with virtually nothing. As we move towards October, can we look at how businesses are going to respond when the furlough scheme ends and how we treat companies such as British Airways that hold valuable slots at Heathrow?

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I am sure that, like me, the hon. Member has heard many heartbreaking stories from constituents treated appallingly by this nation’s flag carrier. Will she call on her own Front Bench to ban this fire-and-rehire policy it is using? There is a private Member’s Bill before us tomorrow. The Government should be taking this on, because it is a practical and obvious way they can step in to back BA employees.

Photo of Joy Morrissey Joy Morrissey Conservative, Beaconsfield

I thank the hon. Member for raising the important issue of how we can hold companies such as British Airways to account. It is an issue of fairness. If it is going to liquidate not only its assets but its British employees, we should look at which companies are retaining the highest percentage of British employees and think about how we can reallocate the slots to them. There should be a reward for fairness.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Conservative, Bracknell

We are continually being told by companies such as British Airways that the rationale for the current staff restructuring plans stems from covid-19, and covid-19 only. To prove that point, does my hon. Friend agree that British Airways should undertake now to rehire its staff on their old terms once the good times return?

Photo of Joy Morrissey Joy Morrissey Conservative, Beaconsfield

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, particularly as I believe British Airways pointed out to its shareholders that it planned to get back to levels of profitability and demand by 2023. It also plans, through its partner company IAG, to acquire Air Europa for an estimated €500 million off the back of the hardworking BA employees who have dedicated so much time to build up the assets the company as a whole is benefiting from. I hope we can look at landing slots, and how we can hold BA and other companies to account.

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Conservative, Newbury

I have said before, and I say it again in this House, that I would like the steering committee to consider including an employment lawyer, an employment judge or a judge from the employment appeal tribunal to oversee the redundancies that are being conducted in the aviation sector, so that we get fairness and parity of treatment across staff in the coming months.

Photo of Joy Morrissey Joy Morrissey Conservative, Beaconsfield

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which she raised in the first debate. BA employees said it was an excellent point and that they would like to see that. They have had no representation and no way to appeal against the practice that BA has used against them.

I hope we can move toward a better approach to the aviation sector. I will fully support that. I fully support further tax cuts to aviation and further furloughing—anything to keep the sector going. However, we should not reward bad behaviour by giving in to companies that exploit British employees at the cost of transnational profits.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

The hon. Lady rightly said that BA has behaved very badly towards its employees and everybody agrees on that. Will she then explain why she is not willing, and her party is not willing, to back the fire and rehire Bill?

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 2:37, 10 September 2020

I congratulate Members from both sides of the House on securing such a vital debate.

The Airbus CEO has warned that this is the gravest crisis that the aerospace industry has ever known. The need for Government intervention is crucial for the survival of the sector and its 1.6 million jobs. Yesterday, I met Jamie, a trade union rep from BWT Senior Aerospace, who was taking part in a “save our jobs” rally. Jamie and the members in his factory have agreed to a four-day working week, resulting in saving at least a third of the planned redundancies in his plant. The agreement demonstrates that trade unions and their members are prepared to play their part to preserve employment during the pandemic.

I am now going to say a sentence I never, ever thought I would utter: well done Michael O’Leary and Ryanair. After announcing huge job losses in May, Ryanair entered negotiations with Unite the Union and came to an agreement on a temporary pay cut for members which took redundancies off the table. In stark contrast is the behaviour, as has been mentioned, of British Airways. BA is responding to the pandemic by firing all its 42,000 staff and rehiring those who survive, roughly 30,000, on inferior terms and conditions of employment. Some face a loss of income of between 55% and 75%. BA received £200 million from the UK Government’s coronavirus loan scheme and over £100 million in furlough payments, yet it is paying its outgoing CEO Willie Walsh a leaving bonus of over £800,000 as part of a total package worth £3.2 million.

Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Labour, Ilford South

Does my hon. Friend agree that that £833,000 will stick in the craw of so many decent British working people across the country and that the Government should immediately take action to look at the issue of the slots? It should also say to British Airways that it will be stripped of the right to have British livery on their planes for good unless it decides to treat its staff in a decent and proper way.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Painfully for me, Willie Walsh is a Liverpool supporter who has obviously never learned the words of our famous anthem of solidarity, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, because he has left his entire workforce to walk alone while he disappears into the sunset not fearing the prospect of using a food bank, which is where he has shamefully left many of his loyal workforce with his actions.

Is it too much to expect companies such as BA, which has billions in reserve, to show the same loyalty many of its employees have shown to it over the decades and not to take advantage of covid-19 to launch an opportunist attack on its staff’s terms and conditions? I call on the Minister to show the solidarity and empathy with the BA staff that the company has not shown and to consider the following proposals. The BA plan to fire and rehire its staff on worse terms and conditions is undeniably a fundamental attack on the rights of its workforce. It is immoral, and shamefully, it is spreading to other sectors of our economy, including British Gas, which with BA joins a list of dishonour in treating a loyal workforce appallingly.

Will the Minister pledge support for urgent legislative change, such as the Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill, a private Member’s Bill that we may consider tomorrow, to outlaw this shameful practice once and for all? I also urge the Minister to amend slot regulations and put in place much more rigorous conditions for all the legacy slots to ensure that from 2021, the UK Parliament will use its power to set additional local criteria for slot allocations that incentivises internal investment, social responsibility and connectivity. We cannot build a brighter future for our nation post-covid while we have companies acting with such blatant disregard for their employees and our communities.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester 2:41, 10 September 2020

I, more than many, welcome the new Minister to his place and wish him every success. Before I say anything else, I just want to say that my thoughts are with all those affected by the bus crash in my constituency this morning. I praise those who responded so well from the emergency services and the students. There are very serious questions to be asked about what happened and why it happened, and I am already asking them.

In three minutes, I will make three points, if I may. Like many Members here today, I represent a lot of British Airways employees who are nothing short of furious, upset and disappointed at how a crisis of no one’s making became an industrial relations catastrophe. I have been contacted by constituents who are facing a loss of income of sometimes up to 70%. It is not fair to raise the issue without recognising that aviation has been decimated by the pandemic, and that is not of BA’s making, but I add my voice to colleagues who have rightly said that it is no way to treat a workforce who have made it one of the most successful airlines in history and the flag carrier for the UK.

Secondly, I wholeheartedly welcome the Government’s recent commitment to establishing a Jet Zero Council with the goal of making net zero carbon emissions a reality for flights in the future. We wrote to the Secretary of State in February this year with a decarbonisation roadmap from the organisation Sustainable Aviation—a detailed plan to achieve zero carbon by 2050 by investing in cleaner aircraft, engine technology, smarter flight operations, sustainable aviation fuels and high-quality carbon offsets. Post covid, all those actions remain essential if we are to achieve that ambition.

There are a number of things the Treasury could do to help, but I would suggest that should be led by some £500 million of Government funding, matched by industry, to support the delivery of sustainable aviation fuel plants in the UK. That is partnership, jobs and building back greener.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Conservative, Eastleigh

Talking about going greener, does my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour know that Southampton airport, which is by our constituencies, needs to extend its runway to enable greener travel and stop constituents travelling to Gatwick and Heathrow. Will he encourage Eastleigh Borough Council to get on and decide? If not, it is time for the Government to issue a special development order to extend that runway.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

Yes. Many of my constituents rely on Southampton airport for their family income, and we have been decimated by the demise of Flybe, as my constituency neighbour knows. I know that he is working so hard to get his local council to see some reality and not just be blinded by its ideology. That development is connected with my point about jet zero for exactly the reason that he said. The runway extension at Southampton international airport was already needed, but it is now actually needed to allow the airport to survive full stop.

As a neighbouring MP, I represent the southern parishes in Winchester district, and we want to see a noise-preferred route, for which Southampton airport is responsible in its own airspace up to 5,000 metres. That was left out the last time the airport was expanded and had planning permission. I need Southampton airport to understand that I will support it, but it needs to support my constituents too.

British Airways has many questions to answer. I know that BA slots at Heathrow are not in the Government’s gift, but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the debate. Jet zero is something that this Government can be proud of, and I look forward to seeing it develop in the months and years ahead. Air travel and meeting our climate objectives and climate commitments are not incompatible, and we should not fall into the silly trap of seeing them as either/or. Finally, I will work with Southampton airport, but it needs to work with me.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North 2:45, 10 September 2020

I thank all those who have secured the debate, and I hope colleagues will understand my offering special thanks to my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins, for helping to make this debate finally happen.

I cannot stress enough the urgency of the situation faced by airline and airport workers in Luton right now. For us, this is for not only our airport but our town’s whole economy. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Courts, to his place. I really hope that he takes this opportunity to listen and to act, with his first major act being to save thousands of jobs in Luton and save this vital industry.

The seriousness of the pandemic is an existential threat to our airlines, our airports and the workers who keep them running. People in my constituency who work at airlines such as easyJet and Wizz Air at Luton airport and across the supply chains cannot afford to wait for the Government to carry on dithering on support for the airline industry. As has been stated, it is not just specific sectors but specific areas like Luton that need Government support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South and I have been calling for the Government to protect jobs and support our town since March. We have written to Ministers. I have lost count of the number of calls we have been on with industry leaders, workers and trade unions. I have had countless items of correspondence from airline and aviation staff asking what action the Government are prepared to take and why Governments in France and Germany are supporting their workers but ours are not.

As the furlough scheme comes to an end, our workers face a cliff edge, and they are still wondering what happens next. The mixed messages need to end. We need clear, sector-specific support; increased testing, track and trace; and international co-operation, not competition. While the Government promised us that they would do whatever it takes to get people in Luton through the crisis, in so many ways, we are still waiting. When I say that I will do whatever it takes, I mean it. I will meet whoever it takes and twist as many arms in Government as I can until they listen to the sector, to Luton, to airline staff and to the trade unions, extend the furlough scheme and protect as many jobs as possible.

At the start of the pandemic, the Conservatives promised Luton that they would do whatever it takes to get us through this pandemic. There is still a chance to keep that promise, but the situation is urgent. Time is running out; they cannot wait much longer. The promise to do whatever it takes will be broken, more jobs will be lost and lives will be ruined if action is not taken now. We need to see the Government step up and give sector-specific support for the industry, for workers and for towns like Luton.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham 2:48, 10 September 2020

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Robert Courts, to his place. This is an incredibly important debate for my constituency, as Buckingham is conveniently commutable from Luton airport and Heathrow airport and not too far to commute from Birmingham airport. Many of my constituents who work for airlines and airports have written to me with horror stories about the way they have been treated, particularly by British Airways, but also easyJet.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Huw Merriman—the Chairman of the Transport Committee, on which I serve—for securing the debate. With time being short, I will not repeat the arguments made, but I certainly agree with the central premise that, to get aeroplanes in the sky once more, to get people flying and to save this sector, we have to look at increased testing capability.

I very much welcome the £8.5 billion that the Government have already made available to the aviation sector. While we look to save jobs, which is the most important thing, we have to accept that no change is not an option. Anybody who argues for simply no change is probably not going to win that argument. Where we have to look most specifically is at how we are going to get British Airways, in particular, to change its mind and its attitude to its employees. I add my voice to those of right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken on that subject. Let us focus on the balance sheet of British Airways: the company made a £1.1 billion profit, after tax, last year; it has £2.6 billion in cash reserves; and it has £5.8 billion in shareholder equity. All those facts were detailed in the Select Committee report, and all that is before we get on to the parent company, IAG, and its reserves. So as BA takes a cold, hard look in the mirror, it could consider, having taken so much furlough money from the British taxpayer, being a little more like Barratt Homes in its approach to taxpayers’ money.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

I hope that the new chief executive officer of IAG is listening today and has heard so many different voices from across the Chamber. Does my hon. Friend agree that now would be the time for the company to think again and come to a reasonable agreement with its workforce?

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that British Airways has behaved appallingly throughout this crisis. Covid has brought challenges to every business, of every size, but when we look at some of those balance sheet numbers I just detailed, we see that British Airways really does need to take that cold, hard look in the mirror. In the minute I have remaining, I wish to talk about a particular issue that has come to my attention.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I will be quick. The issue relates to veterans who joined BA. The scheme that allowed them to leave the armed forces and go to BA is now being abused, in that although it is great news that some BA pilots have been able to go back to BA for secure employment, at the start of this crisis the deal was that they would be able to return to BA on a set date. Half of them now cannot do so, and I encourage BA to look at that again.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

We are moving on to the wind-ups now, and I have to say that 37 Members have not got in. More have not got in than have got in. Clearly, that is not acceptable, but it shows how popular this debate is. Perhaps one suggestion to make to the Backbench Business Committee is that where it has two debates that have a link, it could hold just one debate, so that more Members can get in. However, that is something for the Committee to look at.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 2:52, 10 September 2020

Let me, too, start by welcoming the new Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Courts, to his place—if he is listening. He has a fantastic job, albeit an extremely difficult one, because the challenges facing our aviation industry are manifold and unprecedented. Our Committee managed to examine them in depth and detail, even though Members were scattered in spare rooms and at dinner tables around the country. That is a tribute to the Clerks, the staff of the Committee and its Chair, Huw Merriman, who opened the debate so powerfully. I thank them for their generosity and hard work in ensuring that the Committee’s report was as thorough as it was. Those challenges facing the industry are not going away, and as the decision to scrap the furlough kicks in over the coming weeks they are just going to get worse. Aviation faces a crisis the likes of which has not been seen since world war two.

As others have, I wish particularly to highlight the fact that regional airports across the UK are facing existential challenges. Too often, aviation policy and debate seem to be driven by the big London airports, particularly Heathrow. The local airports around these isles, such as Glasgow airport, in my constituency, provide not only domestic links, but connectivity to Europe and a world without a stopover in the south-east of England. That connectivity is now under serious threat. Many airports are teetering on the brink, hit by a double whammy of coronavirus and the collapse of Flybe earlier this year. Others still face short-term and long-term challenges that not only threaten their businesses, but risk having a severe impact on other sectors of the economy as well.

There is a real urgency to this issue, and recommendation 9 of the Committee’s report urged the Government to commit to complete and publish their much-heralded regional connectivity review by the end of the year. To say that the Government response is underwhelming is an understatement. It said:

“Workstreams focusing on regional connectivity will continue beyond the publication of the Autumn recovery plan”— one that is already coming too late for many. The only action in response to the connectivity points was the support for some Northern Irish routes: nothing about support anywhere else in the UK; nothing about increasing use of public service obligations; and, on the review, nothing about a definite timetable, let alone the required acceleration to it. This simply is not good enough. I ask the new Minister to look at this issue and to do all he can to bring this forward.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health Team Member)

On regional connectivity, the first airline to fall foul of covid was Flybe. Does my hon. Friend agree that in supporting the Flybe workforce as a result of the pandemic, EY and the Government have been completely neglectful? The workforce have been cast aside and completely ignored throughout this whole experience. They should have had full entitlement to the job retention scheme and should have been protected, because they are essential to the recovery post covid.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I could not agree more. The Transport Secretary came to the Dispatch Box and said that he had saved Flybe. Furthermore, the Chancellor promised back in March that there would be sector-specific support for the aviation industry. The Secretary of State stood in the same room as me, looked the industry in the eye, and said, “I understand the enormity of what you are facing and this Government will stand by your side.” But where is he? Where are the Government? The loyal workers of British Airways, EasyJet, Menzies Aviation, Swissport and so many others look at their P45s or their shamefully slashed contracts and do not think that the Government have been by their side. What is left of the sector is waiting. As of now we have seen nothing, and, as we have seen, it is the employees who are taking the brunt.

The Committee also recommended that business rates relief should be extended in England and Wales to aviation businesses. The only sector-specific support for the aviation industry has come from the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive in giving airports and ancillary firms a rates holiday for a year. The Treasury must step up and do the same.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I will make some progress.

We also looked at problems faced by thousands of customers in their attempts to secure refunds from airlines after cancellations caused by the pandemic. It is unacceptable that airline after airline has decided that the law does not apply to them—although given the example set this week by the Government it is perhaps unsurprising—and tried to evade their legal responsibilities by fobbing customers off with vouchers. While welcoming the recent, belated announcement extending the protections under the ATOL—air travel organisers’ licence—scheme, the reprehensible behaviour by some airlines has shown that we need to look at how the system operates and whether we should be keeping passenger fares in trust.

This PR disaster has been confounded by the actions of airlines such as British Airways/IAG. While making full use of Government finance, BA/IAG and its hatchet man-in-chief, Willie Walsh, who has just skipped off into the sunset with an £800,000 bonus pay-off, have sacked 12,000 staff and fired and rehired 30,000 more, with staff forced to take wage cuts of up to 60% and drastically reduced conditions, under threat of being thrown on the dole in the middle of the biggest economic crisis since the war.

We have also seen ground handler Menzies Aviation follow a similar path—this despite, during a phone call with me, assuring me that it absolutely would not be taking this kind of approach: an approach that we said would swiftly be followed by others if the Government refused to act. So it has proven, with blue chip company Centrica/British Gas making the same threats, along with many other companies across the UK. This sort of disreputable and despicable management tactic should be against the law, but is not. I again repeat my call for the Government to get behind my Bill or introduce their own measure to make these bully-boy tactics illegal. But despite the difficulties they cause for advocates like me, an industry should not and cannot be judged on the behaviour of its worst members.

At the start of this period, aviation supported nearly 1 million direct and indirect jobs. For those of us who represent airport constituencies, there is real danger that the flood of redundancies becomes a tsunami, with a catastrophic impact on our local and regional economies. The effects on the supply chain are even more devastating when it comes to aerospace companies such as Rolls-Royce. At Inchinnan in my constituency, 700 jobs—over 50% of the workforce—are gone. These were high-skilled, high-value jobs, now lost from our economy, perhaps never to return. I fear for the long-term future of high-level manufacturing like Rolls-Royce if the Government continue to lift not a finger to save jobs and save local communities.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

At the Prestwich aerospace cluster there are 4,000 jobs, and over 10% have already gone. Aviation is a worldwide industry. How the aviation sector in the UK is going to come out of this depends on support from the Government. Other Governments are extending their furlough schemes. Is it not the case that this UK Government need to extend the furlough scheme and invest in sustainable technologies? We need to provide further innovations so that the UK leads the world—leads other countries—and comes out stronger and better.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Please reply very briefly, because you really do have to sit down at 3 o’clock.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

Okay. I recognise that when looking at our more successful and dynamic European neighbours, seeing such success is sometimes hard for those on the Government Benches. They must surely admit, however, that at least those countries have a plan that goes further than something scrawled on the back of fag packet. France and Germany have decided significantly to extend their furlough schemes because it makes economic sense—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am sorry, but we are really constrained by time.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 3:00, 10 September 2020

Before I address the debate, and with Mr Speaker’s permission, in my capacity as chair of the Co-operative party parliamentary group, I want to place on record my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Chris Herries, who passed away during the recess. She served the Co-operative movement with dedication for many years, most recently as chair of the Co-operative party. She was a woman of great character and strength who made a huge contribution, and she will be hugely missed by all in the movement.

I welcome the new Minister to his place, and wish him every success in his endeavours for the industry. I thank Members across the Chamber for what has been a good debate. It has probably been a long time coming, but nevertheless the volume of interest—59 Members, many of whom did not have the chance to speak—shows the strength of feeling about the impact of this issue on local communities.

I thank my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare, the Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman, and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place—part of me wonders why the Government did not use their own time to allow it to take place a little sooner. I also thank the trade union movement—Unite, GMB, the British Airline Pilots’ Association, and others—for giving a voice to workers in the industry during a difficult time. Finally, I thank my hon. Friend Mike Kane for his leadership in giving detailed support to the sector on our behalf.

We have heard a number of concerns that the Government need to address. First, the impact on jobs has been significant. We heard about that impact in the opening speeches, and from my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra. We heard about it from the former Prime Minister, Mrs May, and the former Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling. I hope he takes this in a good spirit, but if the current Transport Secretary is being given advice on performance from the former Transport Secretary, I would say we are in pretty grim territory. With respect, the issue of literally ordering ferries that did not exist gives me a bit of room to say that.

This is a serious issue, and for so long, Members have been crying out for concerted Government action to ensure that further job losses do not take hold. I am afraid, however, that the Government have been found wanting, because a lot of this was entirely avoidable. We heard in a powerful way about the impact on our regional economies if action is not taken. My hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Wayne David), for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) and for Luton North (Sarah Owen) are all profoundly rooted in their communities, and they fully understand the impact of these job cuts.

We heard from Members across the House the strength of feeling about British Airways and the way it is treating its workforce. I wondered whether some Government Members were becoming trade union officials at some points during the debate, and it was a pleasure to hear that unity. Such behaviour has been outrageous, with loyal staff with decades of service being treated in such a way—that point was made powerfully by my hon. Friend Ian Byrne and Steve Brine.

It stands out that England and Wales have not been given the resource to provide business rates relief to airports, as has happened in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government should consider that—they should consider all options—and we must ensure that local authorities in those areas, particularly where there are rates retention schemes, are fully compensated for any intervention that may follow. That is critical.

Why is this sector important? It brings £22 billion a year into the economy. It is a critical part of the fabric of our economy. It supports 1.6 million jobs. We have all seen the impact of the cuts and what they have meant for staff: 4,500 jobs at easyJet; bases closing at Newcastle, Stansted and Southend; 12,000 jobs at British Airways; 3,000 jobs at Ryanair; and 4,500 jobs at Virgin Atlantic. The list goes on, including through the supply chain at Airbus and GE in south Wales. How many more? The warning signs are there.

We all knew that aviation would be profoundly affected, particularly because of its high operating costs and seasonality—and, of course, the quarantine measures that have been brought in. It will take longer to recover as a result, so in that context, why not extend the support? It makes complete sense, not least because the sector will be critical to our recovery. This country cannot get back to economic health if we erode the foundations of our economy. It is not that difficult to understand: we need action and certainty.

I do wonder: in respect of those who have already been given notice of redundancy, had the Chancellor given more confidence by declaring much earlier that he would extend the furlough scheme, would fewer people have been made redundant? A lot of this is about confidence and how long it can be sustained, given the quarantine uncertainty and the lack of sustained financial support. And it could get worse: some estimates put the potential job losses at 124,000. That is a significant impact.

It appears that everybody is calling for a sector deal for aviation—including, by the way, the Chancellor. It was not that long ago that the Chancellor reflected that the Government would have to make such an intervention. I am sure the conversation was had around the Cabinet table. So, where is the plan that we all—including the industry— were expecting, to capture all this into a sector deal?

On the funding that has been given to airline operators, why has there not been the conditionality to protect the loyal workforce? It is on the record, in the response to my written question that was published on 3 September: there was no protection for the workforce.

Why have the Government not done more to protect the staff at British Airways? Significant public money has gone into BA, but there is silence on the Government Benches. Why did the Government give £600 million to easyJet while turning a blind eye to £174 million being paid out in shareholder dividends—and when? When the virus was at its peak. Imagine saying there is no money and coming cap in hand, but paying out that amount in dividends. Where were the conditions to protect our environment and lead the charge to reduce carbon emissions? None of this is good enough. We need better and more concerted action from the Government.

And all that comes before we get on to quarantine. Before quarantine was introduced, more than 20 million passengers came into this country without any restrictions in place whatsoever. We were one of the last countries in the world to introduce either partial or full restrictions. Then, almost as a knee-jerk action, we saw the introduction of a 14-day, blunt-tool quarantine with almost no notice, causing absolute devastation to an industry already on its knees.

We were then promised air bridges. The idea of an air bridge is that two countries have an agreement about passenger transfer from one to the other. We did not get that: half the countries on the list had restrictions on British passengers on arrival. That is not an air bridge. This is why there was confusion: people were literally booking holidays only to discover that they would have to quarantine in the other country, potentially for 14 days.

There is now a refusal to take action on a pragmatic suggestion to have testing at airports, obviously with a test five days afterwards to make sure that the risk is captured. It will never be about one intervention by itself, so it is not good enough to say, “Well, you’ll only capture this percentage at the airport, and that wouldn’t be enough”; it is about the range of interventions that, taken together, put this country in the best possible position.

The Government need to do more. There will be more job losses if they do not take concerted action and have a coherent plan. A new Minister is in place now—step up to the plate, please.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:09, 10 September 2020

May I start by congratulating the Chair of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, and other hon. Members, including Abena Oppong-Asare, on securing this debate on the unprecedented challenges that the aviation sector faces as a result of the covid-19 pandemic? I also wish to thank everyone in the sector who has worked so hard to keep vital services running throughout—a sentiment that I am sure is shared by all Members across the House.

I hope that the House will indulge me if I say what an honour it is to represent the aviation and maritime sectors in government. Both sectors have a long and proud history, demonstrating the strength of the UK at home and abroad. It is also somewhat intimidating, and perhaps a little impertinent, as a new Minister with one complete day’s experience in office, to respond to a debate of such knowledge and passion. We have heard from a former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May; a former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling); a former Aviation Minister, my hon. Friend Paul Maynard; a former Maritime Minister, my hon. Friend Ms Ghani; a former Health Minister; no fewer than two Transport Committee Chairs, my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood; and a great number of right hon. and hon. Members who have strong constituency interests and expertise. I am conscious that not all of those Members could be called to speak today, but they bring vast experience.

Heathrow alone has mobilised a large cadre of support from my hon. Friend Dr Spencer, the hon. Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), and my hon. Friend Joy Morrissey.

My hon. Friend Greg Smith represents three airports. He also made a very good point about veterans, which I have heard. We also have the huge experience of my deeply respected hon. Friend Henry Smith, who spoke on behalf of Gatwick. Southampton airport has been represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) and for Winchester (Steve Brine). Exeter airport was ably represented by my hon. Friend Simon Jupp, who has made a huge impact in a short time. Luton airport was represented by Sarah Owen. Newquay airport was represented by my hon. Friend Steve Double. Southend airport and Birmingham airport would have been spoken about, had time allowed, as would Glasgow airport, by the hon. Members for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands).

An enormous amount of regional expertise has been brought to the House today. In fact, the House even managed to bring a pilot into the debate, in the shape of my hon. Friend Paul Howell, who brings even more expertise. The House has brought out the big guns today, as we heard in powerful speeches as we considered the importance of aviation to the UK.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I hope the House will understand that I have a great deal to get through and will not be able to give way many times.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I congratulate the Minister and am pleased to see him in his place; I know that he has the experience and interest to take things forward in the way that we need. This might be the first request he has heard, but would he be prepared to meet my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson and myself as soon as possible to discuss the importance of the aerospace industry in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Yes, I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other honourable colleagues. Indeed, I look forward to engaging with Members from across the House on this vital sector. He does very well to remind me of the importance of the aerospace sector, which hopefully I will come to in a moment, and regional connectivity, which I will also comment on.

As Members are aware, this is an incredibly challenging time for the crucial aviation sector. It underpins our economy by unlocking trade, investment and tourism, and it provides regional connectivity, but it has been badly impacted by covid. The Government are clear that aviation will recover and will play a crucial role in driving our economy forward. We are helping it to do that by supporting it through the crisis.

The steps that the Government have taken have been truly unprecedented and have enabled airlines, airports and ground handlers to benefit from a very significant amount of taxpayer support. These measures include the Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility, which has enabled the sector to draw down £1.8 billion in support, helping airlines’ liquidity, and the coronavirus job retention scheme, which has seen the passenger and air freight transport sectors benefiting from £283 million of support, with 56,400 staff furloughed. These support measures, as well as the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, have all been available to the sector. Members will be mindful that I cannot comment on any commercially confidential matters relating to individual companies, but I can remind the House that the Government have been clear that we have always considered providing support to strategically important companies that can reasonably be expected to have a long-term viable future and whose failure or distress would cause disproportionate harm to the UK economy or society.

The support that the Government have provided has gone long beyond financial. In addition to the unprecedented cross-economy package of support that the aviation sector has utilised extensively, we have put in place several other practical measures to help the sector. In June, we published safer air travel guidance for passengers and operators, providing information that enables passengers to travel confidently by following the recommended measures to keep themselves and others safe. We have ensured connectivity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. We have protected consumers and supported the sector by confirming that we will stand behind the air travel trust fund.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston asked what the engagement unit has done. Well, I will tell her: we were the first country to produce safer travel guidelines for passengers and operators; we have introduced a unique travel corridor system to support the reopening of the sector while other countries kept their borders closed; we and the unit are continuing to work to establish options for possible testing approaches, ensuring that the health of the country is protected while supporting the sector’s recovery; and we have continued to work with the Civil Aviation Authority on regulatory easing during this unprecedented situation.

As we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) and for North West Durham (Mr Holden) and Wayne David, these are also challenging times for the aerospace sector. The Government will be providing the sector with over £8.5 billion of support over the next three years through the covid corporate financing facility. I am particularly aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson and Mick Whitley about job losses from Rolls-Royce in their constituencies. We have heard a great deal about job losses and redundancies.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am so sorry, but I am short of time; I would give way if I could.

The Government do understand the scale of adjustment that the aviation sector has had to make and the tough commercial decisions that companies have faced, including redundancies. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield, for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Winchester and Ian Byrne on this issue. The impact of redundancies on employees and their families is serious. As Aviation Minister, I expect companies to approach these matters sensitively, remembering the dedication and professionalism that their employees have shown over many years, as Mrs Lewell-Buck has quite rightly made clear; we have all met such employees in our constituencies. I commit to working openly with all sectors, as I hope companies will commit to working openly with their workforces to resolve these matters. I encourage companies to go beyond the minimum legal obligations at this time, and will be offering my support.

There are a number of things that I would like to speak about but cannot because I am out of time, including border health measures, travel corridors and testing. I apologise for not having given way to Members due to the amount that I have had to speak. I will conclude briefly by simply saying that the Government remain committed to working with the sector to ensure that this country remains the aviation nation.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 3:18, 10 September 2020

On behalf of myself and Abena Oppong-Asare, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken with such passion and determination for the aviation sector. I particularly thank all those who have waited so patiently after putting in to speak but have not been able to. It is incredibly frustrating that an aviation sector worth £28 billion to our economy that employs 230,000 people directly and over 1 million through the supply chain does not get more than two hours of debate in which we can show our concern, but I do hope that those voices have been heard.

I welcome the views, determination and commitment of the Minister and the Government to stand by the aviation sector. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead and I want to ensure that there is a collaborative approach, where we work with the Government to truly see better times ahead for the aviation sector.

I also thank all the amazing workforce who have got in touch with the Transport Committee. They are the kindest, most loyal people and workforce that I have ever come across, and they are well represented by their unions.

I want to send a message not just to the Government but to employers. We have used BA as the poster child here, and it is not too late to turn back. There is a new chief executive of BA’s parent group and I say to them: please change your mind and stand by your workforce; stand up for that great badge on your airliner, which is supposed to demonstrate the best of Britain; and do the best for your workforce.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the aviation sector.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

We are now going to suspend very briefly. Once both Dispatch Boxes have been sanitised and the main players are here, we will commence the next debate, and there will be a three-minute limit after the introduction.

Sitting suspended.