– in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 19th July 2021.
(Urgent question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will make a statement on changes to international travel rules.
After a hugely challenging 16 months for the aviation industry, I am delighted that new rules allowing fully vaccinated people to travel to nearly all amber list countries, without isolating upon return, came into effect this morning, although people will still need to comply with necessary testing requirements. This coincides with a change in our advice, meaning that the do-not-travel rules for amber countries have now been relaxed, which will be a huge boost to our aviation and travel sectors ahead of the vital summer season.
Also from today, children under the age of 18 will not have to self-isolate when returning to England, making family reunions and holidays far more accessible. Children aged four and under will continue to be exempt from any travel testing, while children aged five to 10 will only need to do a day two PCR. Eleven to 18-year-olds will need to take both a pre-departure test and a day two PCR, as is the case for arrivals from green list countries.
I must reiterate that public health remains our priority, and with our measures on international travel we are safeguarding the gains made by our successful domestic vaccine programme. That is why, on Friday, the Government took the decision to exempt France from the new arrangements for fully vaccinated people returning to England. This decision was taken after concerns were raised by the Joint Biosecurity Centre over the persistent presence of cases in France of the beta variant, which was first identified in South Africa. I understand that the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, will be able to answer questions on the data and the concerns raised by the JBC in a statement shortly.
I can also confirm to the House that, since 4 am this morning, there have been changes to the countries in the traffic-light system. Bulgaria, Croatia, Hong Kong and Taiwan have been added to the Government’s green list; Croatia and Taiwan have also been added to the green watchlist, signalling to passengers that these countries are potentially at risk of moving from green to amber at short notice should swift action be required to protect public health in England.
The Balearic islands and the British Virgin Islands have been added to the amber list and, unfortunately, Cuba, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sierra Leone have been added to the red list.
We keep all these measures under constant review to ensure that they remain necessary and proportionate. The system we have designed is adaptable to the evolving epidemiological picture, and the UK Government are prepared to take action at any time to protect public health.
I would like to know whether the Transport Secretary, as a genuine pilot, has been forced to self-isolate today. He should be here, he should have made the statement to the House, but that courtesy was not provided.
Again, the Government’s travel rules have been thrown into chaos and confusion. The British people, the travel industry and Members of this House are running out of patience. The Government have been all over the place from the start. Let us remember that the UK was one of the last countries in the world to introduce restrictions on incoming passengers. By the time such restrictions were introduced, 22 million passengers had arrived in the UK. Then, came a blunt intervention with a total lockdown, but without the financial support for aviation.
When the traffic light system was introduced, we were promised full publication of the data and the criteria. That did not happen. It is little wonder—it is as clear as day—that the delay in adding India to the red list was all about the Prime Minister’s vanity and not about the national interest or public health.
We now see even more confusion, with changes being made for travellers coming in from France, but we have also seen reports that the high rates of the beta variant are in fact not in mainland France, but on the Indian ocean island of Réunion, 6,000 miles away. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case?
Why have a traffic light system, if there are different rules for countries that happen to be in the same category? The Transport Secretary told this House that a country-by-country assessment was published: Mr Speaker, that was not the case. Even the most recent update has only 10 countries listed, and France does not even get a mention. When will the Secretary of State ensure that the full data for every country being assessed is published?
Will the Minister comment on reports over the weekend that travellers from Spain and Greece may well be subjected to the same restrictions as travellers from France? It is remarkable that a major airline CEO commented over the weekend that the Government are
“making it up as they go along and causing confusion and uncertainty”.
The travel industry was promised a rescue deal, but it never arrived. It was promised air corridors and air bridges, but they did not happen either. Now, it is vital that the Government take the action needed, get their house in order and give this important industry the support that it needs.
I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman on confusion and uncertainty. The irony of the Labour party calling our position uncertain and confusing will not, I am sure, be lost on the House.
This is the party that supported hotel quarantine, but then said that quarantine should be on a case-by-case basis. This is the party that said no one should be travelling, but then called for more places to be added to the green list. This is the party that supports using covid certification, while at the same time saying that all amber countries should be red and off limits to everyone.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about confusion, before coming to the House maybe he should sit down with the shadow Home Secretary and decide what their position is first. The Opposition party tells us to be cautious and to follow the evidence—that is precisely what we have done with France. That may explain why the hon. Gentleman’s Labour colleagues in the Welsh Government have followed our action precisely.
Through our approach, we are helping to get international travel back on its feet. Fully vaccinated people are now able to travel without isolation to the vast majority of countries in the world. However, we will never hesitate to take action quickly where it is necessary to protect our vaccine roll-out.
I welcome the fact that it is now possible to travel to amber list countries without the need to quarantine, at last, but that is not the case for France. Many travellers, whether for business or leisure purposes, will have their lives disrupted as a result. Will my hon. Friend the Minister publish the data on which this unexpected decision was made? Since we now know it is possible to change initial decisions, will he commit to review this one before waiting three weeks to do so? While he is there, will he also reassure us that there will be no further problems for travellers from this country who have been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India being denied entry to any European Union country?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the disruption that is undoubtedly being caused to his constituents and others. I entirely recognise that concern, and he is right to raise it. I know he will understand, however, that the action we have taken is to protect public health, which is, of course, the first duty of any Government in these circumstances and is what I think people would expect us to do. All this policy is kept under constant review in any event. As my hon. Friend will know, there is an assessment of the country listing every three weeks, and there is of course the policy listing as well, which comes up at the end of this month. If he was referring to the concern that existed over Malta’s accepting AstraZeneca vaccinations, my understanding is that that confusion has been resolved.
Let us now go to the SNP’s spokesperson, Gavin Newlands.
As it happens, Mr Speaker, I am joining you from Glasgow airport, where I have just been updated on the latest developments.
I have spoken many times about the impact of the pandemic, with more than 3,000 aviation-related jobs in and around the airport having already gone. Notwithstanding the UK Government’s criminal dither and delay over the decision relating to travel from India and the importation of the delta variant, we do take a four-nations approach to international travel, so may I ask whether the Government gave the devolved Administrations notice of the decision on travel from France so that they could prepare?
However, whether we are talking about the decision about France or the fact that, owing to the delta variant, international travel is increasingly not in our gift—for example, Bulgaria added us to its red list just as we put it on our green list—the Minister must surely see the need for a specific package of support for the entire sector. The UK Government’s support does not even compare well domestically, let alone with that of the UK’s international aviation competitors. Is the Treasury not listening, or are the Minister and his colleagues just not shouting loudly enough?
The Government have at all times an ongoing programme of engagement with all interested parties, including those in the devolved Administrations, and, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the Scottish Government have followed our action in this case. We continue to talk to them, as we talk to all our international partners—that, I think, is the answer to the second part of his question—and he will of course be aware that, most importantly, we continue to talk to all parts of the sector to understand how they may best be assisted at this time.
Apart from a rapid roll-out of vaccines, there are only three ways to control this situation: lockdown, which is unthinkable, the rubbish “pingdemic” test and trace, which we should abolish as soon as possible, or and being tough on foreign travel. May I urge my hon. Friend to be honest with the British people and say, “Our advice is going to change constantly. We cannot foresee this disease. Don’t go abroad this summer, but if you do go abroad, you go entirely at your own risk”?
The approach that the Government take is a balanced one. It is important that people are able to travel: it is important to people who have friends and family abroad whom they have not seen for a long time, and to those who need to be able to sustain their businesses, as well as the businesses in the travel sector itself. What we are doing, however, is opening international travel in a way that is robust and sustainable and protects public health. I think that that balance is achievable, and I think it is what we have set out.
I have a constituent who is currently in Russia caring for a sick relative. She cannot be vaccinated where she is, and will need to return to the UK to get a vaccine that is recognised here, which, given the severity of her relative’s illness, is very difficult to manage. This highlights the difficulties of the status of vaccines for those undertaking international travel. This needs to be managed properly, so may I ask what steps the Government are taking towards developing a mutual recognition of vaccines, particularly in view of the need to secure the longer-term future of the inbound tourism industry?
I am sorry to hear about the case of the hon. Lady’s constituent. If there is any assistance that I can offer, I will offer it. The hon. Lady is, of course, right to point to the fact that so many of the solutions here are international, and we continue to work bilaterally with international partners in, for instance, the World Health Organisation, and also with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to ensure that we find that international solution as soon as we can.
Constituents across Hyndburn and Haslingden have been in touch with me because they have booked holidays and are due to depart soon, but have unfortunately been “pinged” and forced into isolation after close contacts. Most of these people are double-jabbed. Can the Minister confirm that discussions between his Department and the Department of Health and Social Care are ongoing to resolve this, and to do so before
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise her constituents’ concerns. I accept that this is a very difficult situation for her constituents, and for others all across the country and in all parts of the industry. I can confirm that across Government we continue to discuss the next steps we may be able to take. When we are able to, we will come back to the House and update people.
Owing to our proximity to both, a large number of my constituents work at Manchester airport and Liverpool John Lennon airport, or otherwise rely on them for their livelihoods, and that includes our local taxi trade. The business rates relief for airports and ground handlers in England was welcomed by the sector and is a much needed boost for everyone, as is the Chancellor’s extension for a further six months. However, those payments, capped at £8 million last year and £4 million this year, barely touched the sides for some airports, yet the Minister repeatedly assures us that the Government are helping the sector. When will the Minister step up and provide real assurances that our aviation industry will be given the support it needs?
The hon. Lady is quite right to draw the attention of the House to the importance of Manchester and Liverpool airports. I visited Liverpool airport not long ago, so I understand how important it is for her area. I am grateful to her for acknowledging that the airport and ground operations support scheme was welcomed and has been of assistance in relation to fixed costs, in particular business rates, to airports around the country. The most important thing we should all be doing is looking to find a way to enable people to get flying again. That is the way we will best be able to support our airlines and airports, which are so important in many different ways to all our constituents across the country.
I think the Minister is as confused as I am by the Opposition’s position. They spent many weeks criticising a non-existent delay in action on the Indian variant and now they criticise prompt action on France.
It is absolutely right that we make the most of our fantastic vaccine roll-out to restore the freedoms we have had to sacrifice. Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging everyone who has not yet had the jab to get it, whether they live in Thornley, Hurworth, Newton Aycliffe or anywhere else in the UK, so that airports like Teesside International airport can take off again?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to enable airports like Teesside to take off again. We are seeking to lay in place a system that enables a robust, cautious and sustainable return to international travel in particular. He is absolutely right that the vaccination programme is a great national triumph. I encourage everybody to get their jab when it is open to them to be able to do so. It will help to protect them, their friends, their family and the people they work with. It will also help, as he quite rightly points out, with travel.
I thank the Minister for his answers so far. I know that he wants to help and assist. I know that that is his purpose. I have been contacted by constituents who have loved ones who have died in Poland, and who are having difficulty travelling. There are those who want to travel from Morocco to visit elderly dying relatives and are also having difficulty travelling. My staff spent 35 minutes on the phone this morning on just one of those issues. I am not being critical, Minister, but it really is an issue. Given the fluidity of travel arrangements, where tourists are already on holiday and restrictions change while they are there, will the Minister make allowances to those who were not expecting to quarantine on arrival back in the UK, as there have been reports of a lack of medication and basic daily needs?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right that the Government wish to see travel restart, provided it is in a safe and sustainable way. He draws attention to the reason for that: often it is not just about people going on holidays, important though that is because of the jobs the industry sustains, but because people have not seen relatives who may be ill. It is important that we do that in a globally connected country, and we will continue to do that in a safe sustainable way. If there is anything I can do to assist any particular constituents, such as those he mentions, I hope he will not hesitate to contact me and I will see if there is anything I can do to assist.
It is unarguable that the effect of imposing quarantine on travellers to France will be significantly to reduce the numbers of those wanting to travel. With that in mind, does my hon. Friend agree that the imposition of Operation Brock on the M20 in Kent, which is designed to cope with long queues at Dover or the tunnel, was a trifle premature, and that Operation Brock should therefore be removed as soon as is humanly possible?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that question. I know that it matters a great deal to his constituents and that he has been a leading voice in campaigning on it. I recognise the disruption to his constituents. At the weekend, the Kent Resilience Forum put in place the moveable barrier between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 that enables Operation Brock to be implemented. That is a precautionary decision by the KRF in advance of the summer holidays. The KRF will keep the decision under review and will deploy Operation Brock for as short a period as possible. I entirely recognise the strength of feeling on this matter. I know that the Minister for Kent will be arranging a meeting between the KRF, my right hon. Friend and other interested MPs as soon as possible.
Constituents attempting to return from abroad have contacted me in desperation because official Government advice is not to take a PCR test if they have had covid-19 in the last 90 days, yet testing is a requirement both to return to the country and as part of the test and release scheme. Can the Minister offer some much needed clarity for my constituents and say how testing requirements for people returning to the UK apply to those who have recently had a positive PCR test abroad?
The guidance on testing is laid out on the Government website. I know there has been a change as of today, which is worth bearing in mind. I am happy to write to the hon. Member to give her that precise clarity so that she can pass that on to her constituents and indeed to others who may need to refer to it.
I am looking forward to my holiday in the English countryside this summer—and may I invite my SNP colleagues to join me in enjoying the beautiful English countryside? For those who would like to journey abroad, will my hon. Friend provide greater clarification on how his Department will examine the travel corridors and on his further commitment to the aviation sector in the months to come?
The aviation sector is vital to hon. and right hon. Members across the House for the connectivity and employment that it brings and for our place in the world. The Government are committed to continuing to review the measures we have in place and to building a restart of international travel that protects public health and is safe, robust and sustainable. To that end, we review the country allocation regularly, and there are checkpoints at the end of July and in October when we will review the overall policy. I of course commit to keeping that under review.
It feels a little like groundhog day: I stand before the Minister to ask for sector-specific support for aviation and he reels off figures that bear no relation to the reality of what aviation workers and the sector actually need. UK airports, compared with those in other countries, have had an absolute pittance from the Government. Will there be specific support for aviation to get it through a second summer of reduced travel, before it is too late?
I recognise how important this is to the hon. Member, to her constituency and to her constituents who are employed in the sector, and I recognise that this is a difficult time for the sector. As she knows—she recognises the figures—we have provided about £7 billion of support through the cross-economy schemes as well as the AGOSS scheme, to which I referred earlier. We will keep all those things under review. We are really trying to enable the sector to restart in a safe, sustainable way that protects public health. By doing that, we help Luton airport, the airlines that operate from it, and all her constituents.
Nearly seven in 10 British adults have now received two doses of the vaccine. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should use the long-term protections that the vaccines provide to restore some of the freedoms that we have lost in the past year, including the ability to travel abroad?
My hon. Friend is quite right that the vaccines have been a major national success story and we are looking at ways to capitalise on that to restore freedom and the ability to travel. Of course, the measures that come into effect today are a major part of that. We will continue to examine ways in which we can take the next step.
The Association of Independent Tour Operators says that the changes to travel to France have “squashed” consumer confidence. Of course the SNP upholds the rule that public health must come first, but the continued tumult of international restrictions and rules will deny the travel sector a full recovery any time soon. Businesses such as Travel Your World in Forfar in my Angus constituency desperately need dedicated support, so will the Minister finally accept that and commit to new financial support for the travel sector for as long as this international chaos persists?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that point. I recognise that these are challenging times for his constituents who work in the sector. I am also grateful for his acknowledgment that he supports the principle, as the Scottish Government have done; I think that people would expect us always to protect public health, and I know that he accepts that. As I have said to other right hon. and hon. Members, we are very keen to make sure that we restart international travel in a way that is sustainable and robust and protects public health. That is the way to assist his and all our constituents in the travel sector, wherever we are in the UK.
I am pleased that Teesside holidaymakers who choose to fly to amber list countries can do so from Teesside International airport once again, but may I ask the Minister to reconsider the position of Dubai on the red list? The United Arab Emirates has vaccinated approximately 82% of its population and is home to hundreds of thousands of British expats who just want to come home.
I pay tribute to Teesside International airport for the expansion in services there; it is very good to see, and I hope to see very much more of it in the weeks and months ahead. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we keep the categorisation of all countries under constant review. We are guided by the data provided and the advice given by the Joint Biosecurity Centre for Ministers to make the decisions, and we will continue to review those at all times.
July and August are crucial months for airports, but the modest uplift in travel expected this year means that airports such as Newcastle International will continue to face an extremely challenging financial outlook for some time. Can the Minister confirm when we will see a more targeted comprehensive support package for the sector, as well as further help such as the harmonisation of quarantine rules for UK nationals vaccinated abroad and action to bring down the high cost of testing?
The hon. Member raises a number of points; I will do my best to address them all quickly. She has spoken very compellingly in debates that I have attended about the importance of Newcastle International airport to her constituents and the jobs that are provided. We are continuing to take steps to see what we can do to reduce the cost of testing; she will have noticed that it has been coming down over recent weeks. We will continue to do anything we can to support the sector as we look forward to a successful restart.
I, too, woke on Saturday morning to lots of concerned residents who were upset about the change in self-isolation rules for people coming back from France. Can my hon. Friend reassure me by answering two particular questions?
First, why did the Government move so quickly to change those rules? I think that that message really needs to be key. Secondly, why was France singled out when beta prevalence is seen in many European countries and it is seen by many to be quite low in France?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am conscious that the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment will shortly make a statement and may be able to assist further with my hon. Friend’s specific points on data, but he is absolutely right to raise those questions. As I know he will understand, the reason for speed is that, as we have always said, sometimes we just have to act quickly to protect public health. Unfortunately, one thing that we have always found with the pandemic is that things move quickly and sometimes we have to take quick action. We have always said that we will, and I think it is right that we do.
The restrictive list of green countries, the expense of numerous tests, the changeability of rules, the severe quarantine arrangements and the refusal to give mutual recognition to vaccine certificates from other countries have discouraged UK citizens from travelling abroad and have stopped much of the inward tourism that generates so much money for our economy. First, will the Minister consider increasing the list of green countries, given the vaccination programmes in some of the countries that tourists would go to? Secondly, will he grant mutual recognition to vaccine certificates issued in other countries, so that tourists from other countries can come here?
Those are two very important points. I would very much like to see more countries on the green list, but we have to be guided by the advice that is sent by the Joint Biosecurity Centre. A number of different factors are taken into account, and they are listed on the website. They include vaccination, prevalence and the presence or otherwise of variants of concern. This has to be data-led, as I know the right hon. Gentleman will understand, but of course we would like to see more countries on the green list as soon as possible. With regard to the mutual recognition of vaccines offered elsewhere, we have said that this is a phased restart. Today, we are allowing those who have been double-vaccinated in this country to travel abroad and then come back without having to self-isolate, and that is a step. We are also looking to see what we can do to offer the same recognition to those from abroad. I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman any more at the moment, but I hope to be able to come back to the House to do so in due course.
On freedom day, it is very good news that we can now travel to amber-list countries without restriction. In fact, for someone who is double-vaccinated, they can almost be treated as green countries. However, people can travel to these countries only if the Foreign Office advice says that they are safe to travel to. Could the excellent Minister confirm that the travel advice from the Foreign Office has changed, as well as the advice from the Transport Department?
My hon. Friend puts his finger on a very important point, which it is right to clarify. The advice that we in the Department for Transport give is around the risk of importing a variant or prevalence of the virus back into this country. The Foreign Office, in giving its travel advice, is dealing with the situation that exists in the other country. It has to take into account a number of other factors, such as political stability and the state of the healthcare system in the other country, so it is essentially looking at different things. We are dealing with the risk of incoming; it is dealing with the risks, and the advice to be given to British citizens, in the other country. The Foreign Office will always have the ability to do that.
As covid cases in England go through the roof, 1,200 scientists have backed a letter to The Lancet saying that it is completely reckless for this Government to lift all restrictions today. International experts are saying that England as an international travel hub is now a risk to the rest of the world. The reality is that the Minister’s traffic light system is going to be meaningless as more countries such as Bulgaria put the UK on their red list, so when are the Government going to provide real support for the travel industry, rather than continuing to cause chaos and uncertainty?
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. I simply do not agree that the system leads to uncertainty. It is a robust system, and we have explained in detail how it is put together to enable the industry and our constituents to have an understanding of the system. We will obviously keep it under review, but I think that when the hon. Gentleman looks at the systems that are in place across the world, he will see that ours is actually quite advanced.
I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend and he is absolutely right to put public health first, but he also has to recognise that public confidence in going abroad is now in a ditch. The travel agent industry is on its knees now, and it is on its last knees. My hon. Friend is responsible in the Department for setting the amber-list countries, and he has made the decision on France. If he cannot say when that decision will come to an end and stay like that, which I know he cannot, can I urge him to follow up on this matter? I have written to the Chancellor and to the Secretary of State for Transport to say the travel agent industry needs—in fact, must have—new grants applied to it because it cannot survive. Minister, it cannot survive. It employs thousands of people and produces a huge amount of taxation revenue for this country, but it will not survive. It needs that support, Minister.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for having drawn that to the House’s attention. We will all have seen in our constituencies the critical importance of the travel agency sector, including the employment it brings and the way it opens up the world to all our constituents. We will of course continue to talk to the sector and to all our colleagues across Government in order to understand the way in which the sector may be best supported, but I emphasise the point that I have made today that getting people travelling again in a way that commands public confidence by protecting public health is the way in which we will help all parts of the travel sector.
In April, the rate in Britain was very low and the rate in southern Asia was very high, yet there were no restrictions on people coming from southern Asia, leading to the Johnson variant taking hold here. Now the rate in Britain is very high but we are preventing people from travelling to other countries where the rate is much lower, so there is chaos; people are uncertain about what is happening. Simultaneously, we read in The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail that Conservative MPs are turning off the app so that they do not get pinged and are able to go away on their holidays. Does all this not just add to the sense that we have a Government who are not in control and have different rules for the people from those that they are willing to follow?
Travellers from the US and Canada, which have lower covid rates than the UK, can now travel to Europe but they cannot travel to the UK. I heard what the Minister said about the recognition of vaccines. May I urge him to move as quickly as possible on that? Is it not time to stop talking about green or amber countries and to start talking about green or amber travellers?
My hon. Friend puts his finger on a really important point: understanding the importance of vaccines and what that can tell us. There are a number of aspects on which we need to fully understand the science—for example, on the transmissibility of the virus if someone is vaccinated and the effect on different variants. We are working at great speed but doing the work diligently to make sure that we can take full advantage of the success of our vaccine roll-out and protect public health at the same time.
Is there anything that the Government can do to help families who have a young adult who is currently 17, but who turns 18 during the holiday season? They cannot be vaccinated and, if they can, they cannot have both, and yet they can perhaps travel away but they cannot come back if they have turned 18 in the meantime. Is there any way we can relax the rule, perhaps to apply it from September, so that families can have a holiday together?
The rules as they apply are laid out in detail online and all families can look at those and understand them. I am very happy to consider that suggestion and any others that right hon. and hon. Members may have to refine the system, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point.
It is worrying that the Minister fails even to allow for the prospect that it is entirely possible that much of the world may follow Bulgaria and place travel from the UK on a red list. If that were to happen, what comfort can the Minister offer to the UK travel sector? Does he not recognise that now is the time for additional support for that beleaguered sector, as travel disruption looks set to continue for the foreseeable future?
It is difficult for me to comment on the steps that other countries may have taken or may take in future, because they all have differing systems. We continue to talk to all our international partners, both in multilateral and bilateral forums, to understand how best we can enable travel between us, for all the reasons that we have discussed in the House today.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s work on the reopening of international travel while Opposition Members support a complete shutdown. It has been possible thanks only to the success of our historic vaccine roll-out, but while we see the country opening up further today, travel companies in my constituency still have some very rough months ahead, even were travel to be completely unencumbered. They have found themselves low down the grant priority list after 16 months of just refunding customers. Where the Government confiscate, the Government must compensate. Will he therefore add his weight to calls on the Chancellor for ongoing sector-specific support?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. Again, he is right to draw attention to the travel agencies in his constituency, which are, of course, having a very challenging time. I entirely recognise the difficulties that they have. As I have said to other hon. Members, the best way we can help all these sectors is by having the vaccine, rolling out the vaccination programme as we have been doing, and then ensuring that we can restart international travel in a way that protects public health.
When travelling through the channel tunnel or by air, circulating in their respective terminals, people are not just in public places but in workplaces. In the light of soaring infection rates, will the Minister ensure that all measures under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 are taken to protect our transport workers, including public health measures such as wearing a mask and social distancing, to stop the transmission of covid-19?
A number of different points were raised in the hon. Lady’s question. All employers and all workplaces of course have to enforce the law as it stands; Parliament has legislated and that must be enforced, and there are authorities to do that. On covid-safe travel, a lot of detailed guidance has been made available and I would expect everybody to continue to follow it, to keep everybody safe, as indeed they very much are doing. Some travel providers may decide to take steps in addition, such as making a mask a condition of carriage or of entry. I am confident that those assessments that each travel provider undertakes on their premises or in their transport means will enable everybody to travel and to remain safe while they travel.
I very much welcome the fact that fully vaccinated people can now travel to amber countries without having to quarantine on return, but I am disappointed with the change in the situation with France and, in effect, the creation of a new “orange-red” category. It is right that the Government act quickly, and it would have been a disaster if France had become a red country, but new variants are going to keep on coming—that is inevitable—and what the sector, families and travellers need is certainty and predictability. Will my hon. Friend assure me that at the next review certainty and predictability particularly will be looked into, and that the traffic light system will remain a three-pronged one, rather than covering all colours of the rainbow?
I am keen to reassure my hon. Friend that the system we have laid out in the Global Travel Taskforce report—the red, amber, green system—remains in place. A precautionary measure has been taken, for the reasons explained, with regard to France. I agree with him that certainty is what we would like to provide—we aim to do that through the system that we have. One difficulty, of course, is that if a situation develops in another country with regard to a variant or increased prevalence, we have to react to that, and it is right that we do so. In answer to his question as to whether these matters will be kept under review as we continue to consider policy, I can tell him that they will, of course.
Infection rates are at their highest since January, and the Health Secretary has said that he expects a spike following the relaxation of regulations today. So how can it be responsible of the Government not to require people to wear masks on transport? People spend long periods next to one another on planes, trains, the undergrounds and buses, so how can it be responsible not to require people to wear masks in those environments?
There are two parts to the answer to that question. I believe the hon. Gentleman is referring to the broad range of transport, rather than simply international maritime or aviation—he refers to domestic travel as well. The Government are seeking to ask people to exercise their own judgment and responsibility, which is a situation we do have to get back to. However, we have made it clear that in some circumstances we would expect masks still to be warn, and some travel providers have also made that stipulation. If that is the case, it is right that people follow it. The reason for that is that there are very different circumstances between a crowded tube train and a rural train late at night that has only one person on it. There are different circumstances and we are seeking to make allowances for those.
I want to touch further on points raised by my hon. Friend Mr Bone. Recently, I visited Blue Bay Travel, a business based in my constituency, and people there particularly highlighted the mismatch that is causing issues between the traffic light advice for some countries, which would allow people to come back into the UK, and Foreign Office travel advice, which prevents them from leaving in the first place. Will the Minister please look at what more can be done to better join up this advice, to make it easier for travel businesses and for those wishing to travel abroad?
I am very happy to assure my hon. Friend that I, like the Department for Transport more broadly, will continue to talk to our colleagues across government to see what more can be done. I have to point out again that the two issues are dealing with different aspects—almost two sides of the same problem. We are dealing with the risk of importing the virus, or variants of it, into this country. The Foreign Office is seeking to give advice to British citizens when they travel abroad; although we will obviously continue to talk to each other, they are dealing with fundamentally different things.
There is already confusion over recent international travel announcements as well as an increase in the rates of covid. We all know that masks cut the risk of getting covid and passing it on to others, so leaving face coverings to personal responsibility is just a recipe for further confusion, conflict, chaos and, of course, more covid. It also leaves 3.5 million clinically vulnerable people frightened to travel. Should not wearing a mask just be compulsory on all modes of transport?
It is right that we allow transport providers to assess the situation on their own mode of transport and to make that a condition of carriage if required. Moreover, it is also right that we trust people to take the right decision for themselves and for those around them.
It is great that international travel is now happening again, and I am absolutely clear that we must continue to do all we can for our aviation, travel, leisure and hospitality sectors. May I please draw the Minister’s attention to the high cost of covid testing? Our families returning from holidays are forking out lots of money for this, so may I ask him to consider the uniformity of the policy and also to get the costs down, please?
My hon. Friend raises a critically important point. We are working with industry and across Government to see how we can help with the cost of testing; the Government are aware of it. We seek to enable that information to be made available to consumers on the website, which shows the different providers, but he will have noticed that the cost of testing has been coming down over the past few weeks and months, and I am confident that, as we see more travel in a safe, sustainable way, the cost will come down even further.
The Minister did not answer the question on support for the aviation sector and associated sectors, such as the travel industry and hospitality posed by my hon. Friend Gavin Newlands, so, here we go again. Has his Department lobbied the Treasury for additional funds to support jobs in these sectors, and, if so, what was the answer?
The hon. Lady will be aware that we estimate that the aviation sector itself will have benefited from approximately £7 billion-worth of support by September, as well as the other sectors, which have benefited from the cross-economy support schemes that the Government have put in place. The best way that we can assist all of those sectors is to unwrap international travel as soon as we can while protecting public health, because that is the best way to help them.
Almost 70% of Ashfield residents have been double jabbed. Although that has given us back our domestic freedoms, does the Minister agree that another freedom that we need to get back is foreign travel, which will give our aviation industry a much-needed boost?
I am very keen to see foreign travel resume, because of the immense benefits that it brings to this country in individuals’ life experience, the jobs that it brings in, the money that comes into the Treasury, the families who need to be connected, and the businesses who rely on international travel. I am very keen to see all of that increase as much as we can. However, we must do so in a way that reassures the public that we are protecting public health.
The Minister’s regulations require people wanting to travel abroad to have PCR tests. When will the Government publish an up-to-date and accurate list of suitable, recommended PCR test providers for travellers, and what will he do to protect travellers from those companies that charge a lot and then do not deliver timely results, thus ruining travel plans for families at the last minute?
The Department of Health and Social Care continually reviews the list of providers. It has a rolling programme, and it takes action if providers are not delivering what they have promised.
Travel to the US is very important for businesses headquartered in my constituency. Several own major US subsidiaries, which they cannot adequately oversee—they cannot tour a factory, for instance, by Zoom—and many have major US investors whom they cannot update. Can the Minister assure me that he is doing everything he can to get a travel corridor in place with the US—I know that we have the taskforce—because it is essential that we can have travel going in that direction?
My hon. Friend gives a perfect example of the importance of travel: there are certain things we cannot do over Zoom and she is quite right to draw attention to that. Transatlantic travel is hugely important to the United States and to the United Kingdom for many reasons, and has obviously been greatly affected by the pandemic, which has kept families apart and made trade difficult. We want to restore travel with our closest ally as soon as we possibly can. My hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister and President Biden made clear the importance of bringing about the return of safe travel as soon as possible, which is why the joint UK-US experts’ working group to which she referred has been formed, and work is well under way to deliver that goal as soon as possible.
Significant concerns about conditions for people who return to the UK and in the quarantine hotels have been expressed by Members of this House and by the directors of public health for the local authorities around Heathrow airport. One cannot book a flight until the quarantine hotel is booked. My constituent had to wait for more than a week to receive vital HIV medication while he was waiting to enter the UK and then again while in the quarantine hotel. He contacted me and we were fobbed off by being told: “The hotels have on-site doctors”. He needed a specialist doctor to prescribe his essential medication, which he had to wait too long to receive. That is unacceptable and I worry how many other people’s lives and health are being put at risk due to such delays and the poor management of the quarantine hotels and arrival system. What steps is the Minister taking to prevent this from happening to others who arrive in the UK?
I am concerned to hear about the case raised by the hon. Member. If she would like to share it with me in writing, I will ensure that that complaint is sent to the right place and addressed. I am happy to take action on that individual case. More broadly, we of course continue, across Government, to ensure that the policies we have in place are not only accurate and required but carried out to the satisfaction of all involved. Circumstances have obviously been fast-moving. We are all committed to making sure that the policy is delivered and that quarantine hotels are managed appropriately.
I am sorry to say that the further restrictions for France stretch both the credibility of the system and the patience of the travel industry. The whole industry—from regional airports, including Exeter airport, to travel agents in places such as Sidmouth—continues to watch as its reserves are dried up, Government support is reduced and its ability to trade is hampered to an extent beyond that of any other industry. Will my hon. Friend look again at bespoke support for the travel and aviation industry, to avoid further job losses affecting hundreds of thousands of people?
The travel industry and regional airports, particularly Exeter airport, have powerful voices in this place, not least that of my hon. Friend, who is exceptionally eloquent and powerful in making the case to me and others. I commit to remain in close contact with him and all in the sector so that we can best understand how we may be able to support them. As I have said, the best way to do that is to ensure that we are able to travel in a way that protects public health. None the less, we must enable travel.
I suspend the House for two minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.