Egypt: Suspension of Flights - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Baroness Randerson:

Asked by Baroness Randerson

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the decision by some airlines to suspend flights to Cairo, Egypt, as a security precaution.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, the decision by British Airways to suspend flights to Cairo for seven days is an operational matter for the airline concerned. The airline has stated that this is a precautionary measure. The Government take security very seriously and remain in close contact with all UK airlines in relation to security matters that could affect their operations.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, there is undoubtedly some confusion about the situation, not least among the responses of airlines. BA and Lufthansa suspended all flights to Cairo on Saturday—although Lufthansa resumed flights on Sunday—whereas Air France and EgyptAir flights have continued normally. Meanwhile the Egyptian aviation Minister has expressed to the British ambassador his dismay at BA’s response, and the Foreign Office advice still does not warn against air travel to Cairo, although it continues to warn against travel to Sharm el-Sheikh. I realise that the Minister cannot discuss in this Chamber the details of security issues, but could she clarify exactly what the Foreign Office advice is about flights to Cairo? She will appreciate that it is holiday season and many people are anxious about this. Why is only BA responding in this way?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

This is an operational matter for BA. It has taken the measures it has as a precaution, and it is up to it to decide how it operates. I am happy to confirm to the noble Baroness the travel advice currently on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, which has not substantively changed. While it does not advise against travel to or from Cairo Airport, it reminds visitors that:

“Terrorists in Egypt likely maintain the intent and capability to target aviation. The greatest threat is on the Sinai Peninsula where Daesh operate with greater freedom, but terrorists are active in Mainland Egypt, including Cairo”.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

In the light of the Government’s answer—that it is British Airways’ own decision to do this, based, presumably, on its information and intelligence—have the Government contacted British Airways to ask what information it has that has led it to this decision?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am reluctant to go into great detail about security matters but I can assure the noble Lord that the Government remain in close contact with all UK airlines about security matters that could affect their operations. We are also in contact with our partners around the world, as appropriate.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, is it not reasonable that the airline concerned, which has the first responsibility for the passengers it carries and the crews it employs, should be the organisation that we trust to take a sensible precautionary decision? I am sure that the noble Lords and Baronesses asking these questions from the other side of the House would have an awful lot to say if we were to lose an aircraft or any crew members or passengers because of a terrorism problem on that route.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my noble friend for his observation; I know that he speaks with great experience. It is entirely reasonable for individual airlines to make appropriate operational decisions. In the case of British Airways, it has taken the decision that it has as a precautionary measure.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I do not wish to upset the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, but I do not think that I have challenged the right of British Airways to make this decision or said that it may not be an entirely sensible one. But clearly, if the Government have some idea as to why BA has made this decision, why are they not advising other airlines flying direct from Britain to Cairo to take similar action in respect of their flights?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am sure the noble Lord will understand that I cannot go into much further detail about the security information, where it might have come from and who might have had it, whether that is airlines or nation states. Suffice it to say that we maintain a good and open relationship with all UK airlines and they are able to make their own operational decisions.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

Will the Minister clarify whether the Government are warning people of danger in flying to Cairo or not? The information she read out from the Foreign Office website appears to be a middle way, which is what caused me to ask the Question in the first place. There is a lack of clarity. I am not questioning the Government’s decision, but it is their role to provide clarity and certainty, if necessary on a strongly precautionary basis on issues of this kind.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

In 2018, 415,000 people visited Egypt and the vast majority of those visits were absolutely trouble-free. The Government keep all travel advice on their website up to date and as I mentioned, the advice has not substantively changed. It is the Government’s duty to provide advice to their citizens, so that they can make the decision for themselves.