I do not underestimate for a second just how difficult the last 16 months have been for those who have not been able to travel to see their families, for travel and tourism and for the aviation sector itself of course, and no Minister, let alone the Transport Secretary, would ever want to curtail our freedom and ask people not to travel, but protecting public health has rightly been, and will continue to be, the overriding priority of this Government, which is why we introduced some of the toughest border measures in the world.
However, thanks to our brilliant vaccination programme, we are now in a position where we can start to think about how we live with coronavirus, while returning life to a sense of normality. Last week, I said at this Dispatch Box that the Government intended to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated travellers returning from amber list countries. I am now pleased to be able to provide more detail.
As one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, we must use these advantages to restore many of the freedoms that have been necessarily lost over recent months. So I can confirm today that from
The change I am announcing today will prioritise those vaccinated in the UK. However, as I made clear last week, we want to welcome international visitors back to the UK and are working to extend our approach to vaccinated passengers from important markets and holiday destinations later this summer, such as the United States and the European Union. I will update the House in due course on how we approach vaccinated individuals from other countries.
When I highlighted the potential policy to the House last week, I explained that we needed to take some additional time to look at the evidence on children, who will not, of course, have been able to benefit from vaccines, and how they will be treated. I can tell the House today that children under 18 returning from amber list countries will not have to isolate on their return, nor take a day eight test. Children between the ages of five and 10 will only need to take a day two test. As before, children aged four and under will be exempt from all testing and isolation requirements. I know this was a big concern of families. After working with scientists and public health experts, I am delighted to be able to offer that reassurance today.
The success of our vaccine programme has been aided by those selflessly creating the great benefits for society and for the rest of the world by being part of the clinical trials, without which we would not have this vaccine programme. We committed to ensuring they are not disadvantaged as a result of being part of those trials, and I am delighted to announce that those on approved clinical trials in the UK will also not need to self-isolate, or take the day eight test after arrival from an amber list country. Passengers will need to prove their vaccination status, either through the covid pass, which is available on the main NHS app, not the covid app, or via the accessible letter, which can be obtained by calling 119, for those without access to smartphones. Passengers returning to England will be asked to include their vaccination status on their passenger locator form if they wish to benefit from the exemption to self-isolate. Transport operators and carriers will be required to check a passenger’s proof of being fully vaccinated before they are able to get on the form of transport.
The Government have been working closely with international partners on restarting international travel safely through certification. I am pleased to announce to the House today that more than 30 countries and territories are now recognising vaccine certification as part of entry requirements, and either accepting the proof of vaccination letter or the NHS app. We will continue to increase that number, so that the NHS app becomes the natural default. Passengers should of course check Foreign Office travel advice to understand the latest entry requirements and covid-19 rules at their destination.
We know that travel is important and that many people have not been able to travel for the last year and a half. This is not, of course, just about holidays, eager as we are for time in the sun; it is also about reuniting families who have been apart throughout the pandemic. It is about helping businesses to trade and grow and supporting the aviation sector, which hundreds of thousands of jobs rely on. The Government have backed that industry through £7 billion of support through this pandemic. As they tell me, the support is of course very welcome, but the only way to actually recover is to allow them to fly and for travel to resume again.
That is why I am also pleased to announce that, from
However, I want to be clear that, as we begin to ease restrictions, travel will not be the same as it was in, say, 2019. People should continue to check Foreign Office travel advice and, where possible, travel outside busy weekend times. Importantly, they should expect that their experience at the border will be different, because longer waiting times will be necessitated by the risks, even as we introduce and expand the range of e-gates available to read the passenger locator forms. Public health remains our key priority, which is why we will not make any changes to requirements applying to those arriving from countries on the red list, even where they are fully vaccinated.
The measures I have announced today have been designed in close co-operation with my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary, along with medical and scientific experts, to ensure we can continue to minimise the risk of new variants. As many of us know from personal travel experience, the Government will not hesitate to act if required and the data suggests that needs to happen. In other words—to put this on the record—an amber list country could still turn red, necessitating a change in behaviour when people return to the UK. Indeed, if a country goes into red, there will be mandatory hotel quarantine.
The UK has achieved many hard-won gains through our successful vaccination programme and the continued spirit and determination of the British people. We continue to encourage people to take up the vaccine when offered, not only to protect themselves but to restore previous freedoms more safely.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement.
When I questioned the Secretary of State on publishing the data, he said:
“The JCVI and Public Health England do indeed publish their methodology and the data behind it for each of these countries. It is already published.”—[Official Report,
However, the assessment of
The debate last time focused on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, yet none of those countries has had the data published; nor have the countries that are critical to our economy, including the US, Canada and the vast majority of the EU. When the full data is published, will the Secretary of State ensure that it shows a very clear direction of travel for each and every country to instil travel confidence once more? Will he finally allow a full review of the delay in adding India to the red list, alongside Pakistan and Bangladesh, which led to the rapid spread of the Johnson variant, which he knows has delayed the easing of restrictions in the UK?
I also note that, in just a week, the Government have effectively taken our suggestion to scrap the confused amber list, but it is not clear whether some of the countries that are currently on the amber list should be moved to the red list. Can the Secretary of State confirm that a country-by-country assessment was carried out ahead of today’s statement?
As the Secretary of State will know, Labour has been calling for the introduction of an international vaccine passport. He states that an agreement has been reached with 30 countries to accept UK vaccination status. So far, that list has not been published and it is not clear what pre-testing and arrival testing will be needed.
I welcome a common-sense approach that will allow children to travel with their vaccinated parents and carers. Will he confirm that every single one of the 30 countries that he says will now accept NHS vaccination status will allow children to travel without additional restrictions?
The Secretary of State will know that, in addition to the uncertainty around the travel list, the cost of testing is turning away would-be travellers. PCR tests often cost more than £100 a person. The Government could stop the rip-off we are seeing from private testing companies by instead using spare capacity in the NHS testing sites, supported by an updated NHS app, which would confirm testing status alongside vaccination status. We know that testing is a critical element of limiting the spread of covid. Will the Secretary of State take forward these suggestions and finally make meaningful progress?
When I asked the Secretary of State what action was being taken to open up transatlantic routes, he said that a US-UK working group had met the week before “for the first time”, yet no update has been provided on that today. How many more times has the group met since then? What progress has been made?
The international travel community and the tourism sector needed the Government to really step up, but I am afraid that Ministers have found themselves wanting. Labour is clear that the Government must follow the example of other countries by intervening and bringing forward a sectoral deal to protect jobs. Why have the Government still not brought forward such a deal, when the Chancellor promised it nearly a year ago?
When I visited Heathrow last month, it pointed out that more than a quarter of its cost base goes in fees and levies to Government. If Ministers do not want a holistic support package, can they at least look at the fees that are paid directly to the Government? On Eurostar, why has it not had the same business rates support as aviation, as an international travel operator? There should be a level playing field.
The announcement did not cover mask wearing. It is pretty clear that the Government have been all over the place on mask wearing, despite masks reducing the risk of passing on the virus to other people, especially and critically on public transport. Why does the Secretary of State believe that they should now be the subject of personal choice? Like me, will he commit to continuing to wear his mask on public transport?
The hon. Gentleman mentions the JBC data. The methodology is on the website, as I have mentioned before. I am sure it will continue to publish a full range of analysis as more countries are moved about and we have the next review of the green, red and amber lists on
The hon. Gentleman brings up India every time we speak. It does not matter how many times that we explain the fact that we put India on the red list two weeks before it became a variant of concern, and a week ahead of it being a variant of interest, he continues to come to the House and make that point time and again.
He mentions the list of 30 locations that are accepting either the NHS app or an NHS letter. That is already published and available on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website, which gives me the opportunity to stress that when somebody travels to any location, they will want to use the FCDO website as the bible on the requirements on entry and departure from that country.
I want to update the hon. Gentleman and the House on one late change. Not just children travelling with adults, but all children will be exempt in the same way as somebody who is double-vaccinated.
He mentions the cost of tests. I have come to the Dispatch Box before and agreed that the cost of tests was too high. I am very pleased that, since May, costs have continued to be driven down as more than 400 providers have stepped up to the plate to produce tests. I was looking at the detail this morning. There are tests as inexpensive as a tenner, albeit that those tests are in person, but there are quite a number of tests now for much lower prices than previously.
He asks for an update on the US-UK working group that Biden and the Prime Minister announced. That work is ongoing. Those meetings are taking place each and every week. As I have explained to the House before, there are quite a lot of technicalities to overcome, not least an executive order from the previous US Administration—212(f)—which actually bans travel for anyone who has been in the UK or Europe for the 14 days previous. We are working through those issues with them. They are currently being held at official level.
On support for the industry, it is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not reflect what the industry itself is saying. I noticed that the Airport Operators Association is saying that this is a significant step forward that it widely welcomes, and that people will be able to get away on a “well-deserved break”. Airlines UK, which represents the airlines, says:
“This is a positive move towards the genuine reopening” of the sector. Once again, it warmly welcomes this move.
The hon. Gentleman says, “Labour have been clear”, but I have to say that it is anything but clear. What is clear is that there is a division between him and the shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds. First, the Opposition wanted quarantine lessened; then they wanted everyone in a hotel; then they wanted it to be done on a case-by-case basis; then they wanted to shut down travel, open up travel, put everyone on the red list and put more countries on the green list. This is not a policy. It is just plain politics.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. This is the first step in opening up Britain for business. However, I note that in his statement he said that people should expect that their experience at the border may be different, with longer waiting times than before. When queues at the border have been a problem in the past, extra staff have been brought in, including from other Government Departments, to support Border Force. Will my right hon. Friend, on behalf of the Government, guarantee that every effort will be made to bring in extra resources and deploy staff in different ways, including changing staff rotas at Border Force, to ensure that there can be a smooth movement of people through our borders and that we do not see inordinately long queues?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s question. She is absolutely right. I have been working with the Home Secretary and Border Force on exactly that issue. I should perhaps be a little more specific about where travellers might expect queues. Quite a lot of the checking will be done upstream—in other words, before people board the aircraft, train or boat, at the location from which they are returning. Queues at check-in abroad may, in fact, be the place where those problems most exist. Many airlines are developing systems to further automate that process, but they will be doing quite a complicated job, checking the passenger locator form against the booked test still required on day two and, of course, vaccine status. I think it is fair to warn people who are travelling this summer that it is a process that we have not had to do before. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is important that the borders at this end are as smooth as possible. Indeed, a lot of investment is going into automating all that.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
I share the concerns of the shadow Secretary of State, Jim McMahon, about the lack of transparency in the data, and the Secretary of State’s answers on that were simply not good enough. We need to see more data and more quickly than we are at the moment. Although I welcome the thrust of the statement, I think the Secretary of State is being just a little disingenuous when he said the industry tells him that support is welcome and they need to get flying again. In and of itself, that is of course correct, but what he did not say is that that industry is still crying out for further support, because most of the industry has not had grant support, despite being the hardest hit sector in the economy.
I have said a number of times in the last few weeks that Glasgow Airport in my constituency has lost a third of the workforce that is based on site. That is 2,000 jobs gone locally at the airport and well over another 1,000 jobs beyond the airport that are connected to aviation. The Scottish summer season is already well over two weeks old and by the time this policy kicks in for England, teachers in my area will be back in schools three weeks thereafter, so only a very short window remains. The Government must therefore extend furlough for the sector—no ifs, no buts. Although this announcement will help, the number of passengers will still be significantly down, so the need for a sector-specific support package is still very clear.
From the outset, the Scottish Government have said that caution is required regarding international travel and people should think carefully about travelling abroad, as situations can suddenly change. The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with the other home nations and are cautiously supportive of exploring options for the easing of restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from countries on the amber list, but only if the clinical advice supports it and the systems are in place to ensure the wider safety of the Scottish population.
Rumours have circulated for months about robust Cabinet discussions on international travel, with, among others, the previous Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster often on one side, and the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport on the other. One cannot help but note the change of pace in the changes to international travel now that the new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, is in place. How can plans for an ambitious return of travel be made if the UK Government’s rush to unlock domestically, with 100,000 cases a day and so on, means that other countries close their borders to UK travellers?
Lastly, as has been said, mask wearing on aircraft and, indeed, all public transport is to most of us a no-brainer. As the Secretary of State did not address the shadow Secretary of State’s question, I will ask it again: will mask wearing on aircraft be compulsory? Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he will continue to wear a mask on all public transport?
I should point out that the change of pace is because we now have a situation in which the majority of adults in the UK are fully vaccinated. That was not the case a month ago, when we postponed step 4; it is the case now. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that I was in fact already discussing the changes with the previous Health Secretary.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that I omitted to mention masks; I should bring the House up to speed. We will still provide, in guidance, information about mask wearing. We know that it is sensible in more enclosed spaces, and personally I will wear a mask where it is appropriate to do so. The airlines have already said that mask wearing is a condition of carriage in, I think, all the cases that I have seen, and where it is a condition of carriage, I will of course always wear one. On the other hand, if we are talking about being in an empty carriage on a long-distance train for many hours, people will use their common sense, which is something that we on the Government Benches absolutely applaud and agree with. We are pleased to be able to get back to a guidance situation.
The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner for Glasgow airport and often challenges me on these matters; I have to say to him that he might want to look a little bit closer to home. It is only very recently—in June—that the Scottish Government banned Scots from travelling to Manchester. As a direct result, easyJet cancelled new routes that would have connected a whole bunch of Scottish airports. No wonder the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association has said that the Scottish Government’s approach to aviation is sacrificing the industry. I am afraid a lot of the answers the hon. Gentleman is looking for are closer to home. Meanwhile, the UK Government have provided £7 billion of support to the sector. I notice that the opening up announced today has so far yet to be reflected by Scottish Government announcements as well. If the hon. Gentleman really wants to help, he can help to move along the policy in Scotland.
Rejoice, rejoice! This is a much-needed shot in the arm for those who have had two shots of the vaccine in their arm, and for an industry and workforce who have been laid low during the pandemic—perhaps more than others—but have always been confident and steadfast in their belief that we can all travel safely again.
In welcoming this announcement, may I ask the Secretary of State also to keep an eye on the testing regime? We know that only 0.4% of those who have come back from amber destinations over the past couple of months have tested positive for covid. Can we perhaps look at the testing costs, which are still a barrier for those travelling? It would be great if, rather than people having to take an expensive PCR test, lateral flow tests could be used instead, and those who do test positive could then take a PCR test. I will look to the Secretary of State to keep on championing those kinds of ideas. Will he also make sure that the Foreign Office advice and website is as up-to-date as he is on this matter?
I thank my hon. Friend, who does a superb job as the Chair of the Select Committee and has been very consistent in his support for the aviation sector. He will be interested to know, as will the whole House, that we will have a further review date on
This week, the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary warned of a considerable spike in infections, with perhaps 100,000 positive cases detected every day. That will clearly put pressure on our testing services, but it will also have a chilling effect on inbound travel, as people choose to travel to nations with lower infection rates. What kind of compensation is the Secretary of State looking to bring forward for the travel industry, because many travel companies in my constituency have really struggled over the past year as a result of the lack of Government support? Will he ensure that the support is long term, so that these companies have a bridge into their future?
It is of course true that there is a third wave, given the delta variant. We in the United Kingdom are in the fortunate position of having our exceptional vaccination programme, which will allow us to open up on
This announcement is a big step in the right direction and will provide a much-needed boost for the travel sector, so I welcome what the Secretary of State has said. It also provides a meaningful choice of holiday destinations for families looking to go abroad this summer. However, the Secretary of State will be aware—the Chair of the Transport Committee touched on this—that testing requirements remain costly and burdensome, especially for families. He mentioned
I certainly welcome my hon. Friend’s welcome of the policy. On the cost of testing, the narrative tends to run a little behind what is happening in the real world, so I jumped on the gov.uk website this morning to take a look, and there are some very inexpensive tests available. The cheapest I saw was £4.95, although that was quite specific because it referred to an individual test centre, which might be nowhere near. Let us assume that the costs are higher than that, but recognise that they are no longer the hundreds of pounds quoted in the spring. I want to see the costs continue to be driven down. I give him an assurance that we will carry on working with the scientists and looking at the data. We will not be testing people for a moment longer than is required, but our primary responsibility is to protect people in the UK. We do not want a variant to come in that we simply fail to pick up.
I warmly welcome this statement, which finally restores to us some of the freedoms that our European neighbours and Americans have been enjoying for some considerable time. If I understood the Secretary of State correctly, the green list testing requirements will still leave travel more restricted this summer than it was last summer, when we did not have the vaccines. As he will understand, reciprocity is absolutely vital for travel, and the lack of immediate reciprocity for other countries means that they are less likely to open up to us anytime soon. So why, when many European countries already accept our vaccine passport, are we incapable of accepting theirs now?
Of course reciprocity is very important. I have already explained the situation with the United States, and reciprocity would involve it not having Executive Order 212(f) in place, which would immediately relieve some of the issues. They still have 50 different ways to verify tests, because there is no central system—each state has its own version. The European example is better, as the right hon. Gentleman says. I am working very closely with my European counterparts and in regular contact with them. We wanted to have a first phase in place as quickly as possible—easy to verify through the UK vaccine programme—but we will move as quickly as possible to the next phase, to satisfy his concerns, working with other countries, including on the EU digital passport.
I very much welcome this statement from the Secretary of State and also his restatement of the significant financial support being given to the sector. Is it his judgment that these changes will allow the sector to stand on its own feet from a business viability perspective, or are we still going to have to put significant sums of public money into it? We need to have this debate, because every bit of caution that people advocate comes with a price tag that must be met by the taxpayer, and that debate is essential as we go forward.
It is worth reflecting that this country is leading the way. I was having a look at which other major economies in Europe are going for an unlock as we expect and hope to do on
Not only has the Government’s hotel quarantining policy been an utter mess, but the handling of complaints and of the legitimate calls for exemption has been painfully slow by official channels. I have had toddlers left without milk and kids so poorly nourished in these hotels that ambulances have been called out. Some people have been left without access to drinking water, and families in Luton are being charged nearly two and a half grand for it. Can the Secretary of State tell me who is making a profit from these astronomical charges, and why there is no discount for people on low incomes?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight these cases and fight for her constituents. I just want to point out that the figure that is charged at the moment does not make a profit for the Government. In fact, it is still being somewhat subsidised in the process. I also want to point out that people should not be travelling to red-list countries. The only people who should be coming back to Government quarantine are British or Irish citizens or people with permanent rights of residence, and there should be a limit to the number of people who are still abroad and wishing to return. I sometimes come across cases where people are still using the red list as if it is a case of “It’s okay, I can come back and hotel quarantine.” That should not be the case. However, if the hon. Lady has individual cases, I am concerned to hear about them. The system is handled by the Department of Health and I would be very happy to pass them on.
The Secretary of State has quite rightly sounded a note of caution in saying that anyone who chooses to travel to an amber list country needs to be prepared for the possibility that it could become a red list country before they return. What happens if someone has booked to travel to an amber list country and it becomes red before they travel? Has he had discussions with the travel industry and the travel insurance industry to determine whether passengers will be entitled to a refund in those circumstances, or will they simply have to sacrifice their holiday and lose all their money?
The travel industry has stepped up to the plate, by and large. For nearly everywhere that people can book—I encourage consumers to take a look—people are able to get a guarantee of a refund or a change of date if there is a change in status, and holiday insurance has become quite adept as well. The Government have also tried to assist. For example, under the Air Travel Organisers Licensing scheme—ATOL—people used to be able to get only a cash refund, but we have made those vouchers effectively Government guaranteed, so that people can take them with assurance. That is also helping the travel sector to weigh up its difficulties with cash flow.
To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I am working very closely with the travel industry. He is absolutely right to raise the case. The most important thing that people can do is check before they book—particularly now, particularly this year—to make sure that refunds and rebooking are allowed in their contract.
The Secretary of State’s statement will be a lifeline to the aviation industry which he has done so much to try to support throughout the pandemic. Inbound tourism is clearly very important to the economy of the United Kingdom; I therefore hope that he will be successful in swiftly ensuring that overseas visitors, not just returning British passengers, will be able to enter the United Kingdom relatively easily and safely. I hope my right hon. Friend will also be able to work with the FCDO to ensure that all World Health Organisation-approved vaccines are accepted in overseas countries, particularly including European Union countries such as France.
Finally, with reference to the issue raised by my right hon. Friend Mrs May, will the Secretary of State ensure that there are facilities not only at airports, but at the channel ports particularly, to ensure the swift flow of passengers?
I absolutely hear the call for inbound tourism, which I have heard from both sides of the House. We are working on that as phase 2; there are some further complications with how to accept different proofs of vaccine, but I absolutely agree with the idea that, as a very good basis, we should accept vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organisation.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point about not just airports but other types of port. Those around the channel tunnel are, of course, some of the busiest in the country. I think that it is right to tell people that the additional checks are likely to cause delays on both sides of the channel this summer. They will want to prepare and plan their journeys with supplies and ensure that they pick the best time of day to travel to avoid such delays. I am already working closely with my French counterpart to minimise any delays as much as possible.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but the latest stats from the Office for National Statistics on the coronavirus job retention scheme show that 57% of employees in the passenger air transport sector remain on furlough. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor to extend the furlough to avoid a job crisis in the aviation sector before it ends?
As the hon. Lady knows, the furlough scheme is part of a national scheme. UK-wide, it has supported those in aviation and across the economy. Of course, it is starting to wind down through September, which is why today’s announcement is particularly timely: because it gives aviation and travel companies the ability to get going again. I hope that, closer to home, the hon. Lady will put pressure on the Scottish Government to follow. At the moment, it seems that Scottish Members are calling for more support, but the most important thing of all—allowing the airlines to fly—does not seem to be forthcoming from the Scottish Government.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement that not only football, but air travel, is coming home. I will not repeat colleagues’ points about clarity, testing, self-isolation, wearing a face mask and all the rest of it, but will my right hon. Friend please reassure me that as a result of his announcement there is absolutely no need for London Southend airport to stage more night flights? They really do cause a nuisance to local residents.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on shoehorning two things into his question: first, 45 minutes since anyone has mentioned coming home, he got it into aviation, and secondly, he mentioned night flights, which were not entirely part of my announcement today. I know that Southend airport is very important to his local economy. I will not comment on the night flights position specifically, but I was relieved to see that flights will be able to continue there after the operator experienced difficulties recently.
I, too, welcome the statement from the Secretary of State. However, I would like to understand what he is doing to fix the issue with the quarantine hotels. My 34-weeks pregnant constituent who returned to the UK was quarantined in Greenwich at the O2 InterContinental hotel. On days one and two she ended up in hospital, on day six she was denied travel to hospital for a scan, and by day eight she had lost her baby and spent four days in ICU because she nearly lost her life. Will he meet me to discuss getting quarantining right for families, and especially the tragic case of my constituent?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s welcome for the package. I am very, very sorry to hear about the situation that she outlines. Of course everybody in a quarantine hotel should have access to medical assistance. I am not aware of the details but I am happy to help to arrange for the correct Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care to meet her to discuss her constituent’s case.
I very much welcome the announcement from my right hon. Friend, which will make such a huge difference to families wanting to see their relatives, to businesses in my constituency, and of course to people who want to go on holiday.
Can I come back to the point on reciprocity? While we can ease the measures domestically, what happens when people land on the other side also impacts their ability to work, see relatives and so on. Ideally, we want international safety standards and an international approach that is synchronous across all nations. Will he update the House on his discussions on taking that forward?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his campaigning on this subject. He has done a great deal in talking about safety standards and campaigning to get to a situation where we can help to reopen things. He is right to talk about reciprocity. He will be interested to hear that I chaired a meeting of the G7 Transport Secretaries with my equivalents earlier in the year and will do so again later in the year. Our drive is to introduce those international standards, because clearly coronavirus is not going away any time soon and we want to make sure that an internationally recognised system is in place. We are doing our part, since we have been chairing the G7, to make sure that those standards are recognised globally.
We find ourselves in a position where previous failures of the UK Government have left us as a centre for a new variant. How does the Secretary of State’s plan for ending quarantine take account of keeping future new variants out and the consequent impact that this may have on the ability of UK citizens to travel?
First, I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s point. We have had one of the most rigorous border check systems in place. When I was in the House only last week, I think that every single speaker in all parts of the House urged an opening up, so I am interested to hear his views. Secondly, the steps in place still require a pre-departure test and a PCR test on or before day two in order that it can be sequenced, and there is all the other guidance that exists as well.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. These are absolutely the right measures to be taking. However, can I encourage him as soon as possible to go further and look to expand the number of green list countries to which international travel is possible, particularly working in the US-UK travel taskforce? It is estimated that every day we do not have meaningful transatlantic flights is costing the UK economy some £23 million?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his work and campaigning on this subject; his constituency is greatly impacted by the success or otherwise of aviation. Yes, we will certainly look at which countries fall into the red, amber and green categories. For the purpose of clarity for the House it is probably helpful to say that the next review will take place on
I thank the Secretary of State for his update, as always. What steps have been taken with the Republic of Ireland Government to ensure that the correct tests are taken as assessments? This was an issue for a constituent of mine and his pregnant wife only on Monday past: a Ryanair-supplied test was deemed insufficient and around 300 people were placed in a quarantine hotel with no idea at all of just what had happened and what had gone wrong. Can the Secretary of State assure my constituents that the right information will be conveyed to the travel sector so as to make international travel as smooth and understandable as possible?
I was not familiar with that Republic of Ireland situation, but I undertake to speak to my opposite number—we do speak regularly—and receive an update, and perhaps write a letter to the hon. Gentleman with information to take the case further.
Far be it for me to get between my hon. Friend and the House authorities, but I do have to say it is time for those delegations to be able to return.
We have today set out a form of travel where amber can be treated as green and where double vaccination—or I should say full vaccination, because some people will have a single vaccination in the future—plus 14 days provides reason to travel, and I very much hope that that then brings to a conclusion this long-running situation where my hon. Friend and others have not been able to travel to important Council of Europe and other business.
The newly appointed Health Secretary has said that the UK Government’s policy of returning to normal may lead to as many as 100,000 covid cases per day. It is entirely possible that these case rates, uncontrolled by the UK Government, could lead to further curbs on UK travellers abroad. How will the Secretary of State’s plans announced today accommodate these projected domestic case rates?
It is important to know that we are in a different phase of this coronavirus now, as never before have we had the majority of our population double vaccinated, and everyone is welcome to come forward—and, indeed, should come forward—if they have not been for their vaccinations yet. The rest of the world is not quite in that situation as yet but will want to get itself to that position.
For us, therefore, increasingly the focus is not so much on the specific case rates—after all, we are not vaccinating children yet, and we wait for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to let us know whether it is scientifically proven and advisable to do so— but on hospitalisations and deaths. Other countries will experience the same thing, and there is no reason, as we have seen throughout the coronavirus, to think that one country’s epidemiological situation is different from another’s. We know that while we may have been suffering from the delta variant, other countries, sadly, will be in the future; I hope that they can get themselves vaccinated in time.
The whole travel industry will welcome today’s decision, which will help build confidence in the industry and among passengers. Clear and concise guidance will be needed quickly for airports, airlines and travel agents to navigate the additional paperwork required to check passengers’ vaccination status, but given that some people cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons, what can be done to provide confidence that we are not moving towards a two-tier society?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—the airline industry, for example, says that it is looking forward to working with the Government to continue this momentum and further open up markets—and I welcome his welcome for today’s announcement. He is also right to point out that there are some people who, for various reasons—I mentioned in my statement people who have been on a trial, for example—would not qualify under the normal circumstances. The other set of people, of course, are those who are clinically unable to have vaccinations for various reasons. We will bring forward guidance on all these issues.
My constituent Tracy Crabb has been double-jabbed, but she is one of those who has had the Indian-manufactured Covishield version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the EU currently does not recognise in its digital certificate travel scheme. That is absolutely crazy given that that drug is no different from the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured here. Some European economic area countries have said they will still accept Covishield, but most have not yet, and France apparently considers people with that jab as being unvaccinated. What is the Secretary of State going to do to try to get some common sense on this issue, so that Tracy and thousands like her can enjoy some of the international travel freedoms he has just announced?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, of course. If the vaccine is recognised by the World Health Organisation, there is no excuse not to recognise it. We are working with our friends and colleagues in the EU and elsewhere, and I am pretty certain that this situation will be resolved.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for coming to the House and making this statement, and for all the work he does behind the scenes to support the travel industry, but I have a concern. If I understand him right, amber countries can now be travelled to; the restriction has gone. However, the FCDO advice for those countries—Germany and Italy, for instance—is still that people should not undertake non-essential travel. Will that guidance be updated now for
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I should explain two things. First, FCDO travel advice is about the danger for somebody in a country. Of course, that could be about covid, but it could also be about political unrest or some other natural or other crisis going on in that country, so it is by necessity different from the traffic light system. The traffic light system is interested in the risks posed by that person, having visited that country, on their return to the UK. However, my hon. Friend raises a very important point about the travel advice to people going to amber countries, which at the moment says “don’t” for the purposes of holidays, for example. We will be changing that advice for the 19th to make it clear that people can travel for holidays and other reasons.
I confess that I was quite surprised by the response that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend Peter Grant on the issue of travel insurance, given that consumer body Which? has found that many travellers are
“being left with a false impression” about the travel insurance protection they would enjoy in the event of covid-related disruption to their plans, with less than 1% of UK travel insurance policies providing people with full, comprehensive cover for covid-related disruption. In view of those concerns, will the Secretary of State undertake to have discussions with the travel insurance industry to ensure that consumers can have confidence that they are appropriately covered in the event of disruption to their travel plans?
I want to be clear with the House: it has involved some cajoling—that is what I would describe it as—to ensure that the travel industry is in the right place more times than not. I am aware of the Which? report that the hon. Lady refers to. I am also aware that the competition authorities have been looking at this and, in the case of one or two of the larger airlines, have taken action. It is very important—I hope that she will accept this—that the Government are very much on the side of consumers, and we want to see flexibility in the system. That is why we backed the ATOL system for vouchers to be accepted, to make it easier both for travellers and for the industry, and we will do everything we possibly can to assist. I am very happy to accept the hon. Lady’s offer and arrange for the Aviation Minister, and perhaps the appropriate Ministers across Government, to meet her and discuss this issue with her.
I warmly welcome this announcement. It will bring much relief to companies such as Travel the Globe, a very successful travel business based in my constituency that has struggled over the last 18 months of uncertainty, and to families and individuals hoping to travel and reunite with family. However, given that double-vaccination is key to unlocking international travel, what message does my right hon. Friend have for those who are still yet to book their second jab?
One of the things that is important is that people are fully vaccinated. That means with the vaccines we are using at the moment—two jabs—and then waiting for 14 days, they will be able to use the new dispensation we have announced today on amber list travel and not have to quarantine. The message is simple: if you have not booked your second vaccination and have had your first, please book. If you have not booked your first, book that. We have reduced the waiting time to eight weeks for those under 40. Please use this as the reason to get on the website and get yourself booked in for that second jab.
The Government made some major mistakes on our borders last year, but it is right that we move forward in a pragmatic and sensible way now in light of the success of the vaccine roll-out. I have heard from many constituents working in the travel industry in Cardiff South and Penarth in many small travel companies who have been hit hard by this crisis and want to see international travel resume in a safe way. Can the Secretary of State just be absolutely clear about the situation for residents in Wales? He says that UK residents who are fully vaccinated through the UK vaccine roll-out will not have to quarantine if they come back to England. Obviously, we will expect announcements in due course from the devolved Administrations about their own ports and airports, but is it correct that Welsh residents coming back into a UK airport—Heathrow or somewhere like that—will not have to quarantine?
Yes, I do want to stress that this is an announcement that I am making for England, but we are working closely with the devolved Administrations. There is, of course, only one international airport in Wales, which is Cardiff. I very much look forward to the Administration there coming to their own conclusions. They will also need to describe what happens, as was the case when we had country changes on and off the corridor list, to travellers who come to an English airport and then wish to travel across the border. I am sure that between the hon. Gentleman and I we can convince them to do the right thing, get on board with this, and enable both the English and the Welsh to travel with ease.
I apologise to the Secretary of State if I missed it, but I did not hear one word in his statement about the international cruise ship industry, an industry which has now fulfilled the Government’s request for a crisis workshop with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and has taken the extraordinary step of agreeing to a memorandum of understanding on repatriation. Can he reassure the international cruise ship industry that, as he talks about increasing traffic between international airports and opening the international economy, he will not neglect that industry and the 88,000-plus UK jobs that are reliant on it?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to stress the importance of the cruise industry and he will be pleased when I tell him that that these moves do include cruises from
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today and I am listening very carefully to his answers. May I ask him just to clarify two of those answers? First, in regard to the amber list review, if one country is on the amber list on
I must caution the House and everybody listening that of course it is the case that, while opening up today and making these announcements, an amber list country could in theory switch to being a red list country. I can provide my hon. Friend no such guarantee that from July to October there may not be changes. There could be. None the less, I think most realise by this stage that the path of the coronavirus is unpredictable and I hope that this double vaccination measure provides some reassurance. It can change quickly and I want to reassure him that we will always act to the best benefit of people securing their health going forward.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will he consider issuing separate guidance for business travellers who have multiple short visits abroad? It is self-evident that they cannot take a test three days before returning if they have only a one or two-day visit, so given that many business travellers will undertake such visits, will he issue that guidance? Can he also give a commitment to publish the criteria on which the decision to place a country on the green, amber or red list is taken? If the travel industry knew what the criteria were and the methodology, it would have an idea of the direction of travel rather than having sudden events and deadlines imposed upon it.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention the case of, for example, a business traveller who might go from A to B to C. One of the things that is little noticed is that a test is up to day 2—it is not a day 2 test per se. It might be helpful, though, if I were to write to him in more detail about the application and how that would work under this new system with regard to, for example, somebody travelling for business to many different places.
Finally, I am pleased to tell him that on the gov.uk website, the methodology for the Joint Biosecurity Centre is already set out. It does include subsections of a number of different criteria that apply. I often hear people say, “X country has fewer cases than we do, so why aren’t they on the green list?” The answer is probably that they are not sequencing their genome, they are not uploading it to the GISAID internationally recognised format, and perhaps they are not vaccinating people at quite the rate that we have. There are many different factors, but they are all set out by the JBC.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and I suspend the House for a few minutes to make arrangements for the next business.