Aviation Industry — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Worker Exploitation: Leicester Textile Industry – in Westminster Hall at 3:40 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:40 pm, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. It is normal to thank the Member who secured the debate, but I have to apologise to Chris Grayling instead. When he was Secretary of State for Transport, I asked him on the Floor of the House what first attracted him to build a high-speed line from his home in the south-east of England to his season ticket seat at his beloved Old Trafford in Manchester. That is the last time I will be flippant today.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this much-needed debate. It was entitled “Aviation Industry”, but that is the last thing we have talked about—we have talked about the pandemic. I would love to discuss how the sector could evolve to honour our commitments to the Paris agreement; to investigate the scope for even more highly skilled, highly unionised jobs; to discuss airspace modernisation, which is needed in this country; and to talk about how Britain can continue to be a leader of nations. Frankly, there will be no aviation sector in the UK if the Government do not get a grip of the pandemic and provide the appropriate and necessary support that the business needs.

As has been pointed out, the UK is already a world-class leader in aviation. The Prime Minister wants to look for new world-class industries—that is great, but my advice would be to protect the ones we have first. During the first four months of the pandemic, there were 99% fewer passengers. The current lockdown measures mean that, again, many airports are experiencing zero scheduled passenger arrivals or departures. Many hon. Members have defended their airports today. If airports are not turning over a million passengers, they are not really making a profit, so national infrastructure could be wiped out over the next few months if we do not do something.

Before the introduction of the second lockdown, UK airports were already projected to lose at least £4 billion by the end of the year. There will clearly be consequences such as shorter operating hours, fewer routes, long-term job losses and the risk that some airports may close their doors for good. UK aviation has now faced nine months of losses. While the rest of the economy began to open during the summer and early autumn, international quarantine measures prevented air travel from reopening and destroyed consumer confidence in flying.

Decisions such as letting all those people in in the first place, then introducing a global travel ban, and now the hammer of quarantine are killing the industry. The Department for Transport has to talk to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has to talk to the Department for Transport. They both have to talk to the Home Office at the same time. We need a co-ordinated approach from the Government.

Emerging from the most drastic and sustained reduction in passenger numbers that the aviation system has ever seen, UK airports are in a critically poor state to perform their role as enablers of growth and prosperity. A few weeks ago, there was a story about geological activity in another Icelandic volcano. A decade ago, the ash cloud shutdown was over in less than a week and cost the sector more than £1 billion. A new eruption would not do anywhere near the lasting damage that the Government are currently doing by not intervening in the aviation sector.

Aviation sustains 1.6 million jobs around the country. The International Air Transport Association tells us that 300,000 jobs are at imminent risk. The biggest impact of the failing industry will be in local airport communities such as Hounslow, Luton, Crawley, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds—so much for the levelling-up agenda in our country. Those communities have grown dependent on their airports, which drive much of the local economy. Heathrow is famously the biggest business rates payer in Europe. As has been pointed out, in England and Wales, the Government have refused to give the resources and business rates relief to airports bleeding cash, as has happened in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The sector brings £22 billion a year into the economy and is a critical part of its fabric. We have all seen the impact of cuts and what they have meant for staff, with some 4,500 jobs lost at easyJet; bases closing at Newcastle, Stansted and Southend; 12,000 job losses at British Airways; 3,000 jobs lost at Ryanair; 4,500 jobs lost at Virgin Atlantic; and more job losses at Heathrow, Manchester, Gatwick, Stansted and our smaller regional airports. The country cannot get back to economic health if we erode the foundations of our economy.

It appears that everybody is calling for a sector deal for aviation. It was not that long ago that the Chancellor reflected that the Government would have to make such an intervention. We are led to believe that there was a sectoral deal ready. I have also asked the Minister about that at the Dispatch Box. Where is the plan that we are all expecting?

This has been a terrific debate and I pay tribute to Members who have participated. Paul Girvan spoke eloquently about regional connectivity and the importance of airways to Northern Ireland. I disagree on everything politically with Henry Smith, except aviation and the respective Chagossian communities that serve our airports, which is Manchester in my constituency.

I could not agree more with Mr Carmichael, because I spend most of my holidays there. The sooner we get connectivity up and running, the better for me and my wife. As Jack Lopresti pointed out, the aerospace sector in Bristol is dependent on getting aviation running. There were Members who supported Heathrow. My hon. Friend Seema Malhotra made an eloquent speech. Paul Holmes defended Southampton airport.

My right hon. Friend John McDonnell made a really good political point. He knows that my politics is about human dignity. We undermine people’s human dignity when we cut their terms and conditions in the face of a pandemic, when they have gone over and above to help keep that industry going. Simon Jupp made such a good point: how come Tesco gets rates reductions but our airports do not?

My hon. Friend Sarah Owen, who continually makes good speeches, stood up for her constituency airport. My hon. Friend Grahame Morris and Sammy Wilson asked where the plan was. We are eight months in and we need that leadership. Saqib Bhatti talked about Birmingham airport and defended it excellently. The Chairman of the Select Committee, Huw Merriman, has been a clarion voice in standing up for the industry.

Gavin Newlands said that we are probably now going to listen to the Minister give a list of business loans. Sir Edward, you will get this reference. It will be like a litany of saints, a beatification, on a Roman balcony. There will be one after the after, but what we do not need is lists. We need leadership and we need it now.