[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: Fifth Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2019-21, The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector: Interim report, HC 1257, and the Government response, HC 28; Seventh Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2019-21, Safe return of international travel?, HC1341; e-petition 565102, Allow international travel to visit partners and family; e-petition 303081, Support the British aviation industry during the COVID-19 outbreak; e-petition 549014, Extend furlough beyond October for the travel industry; e-petition 331434, Extend furlough scheme for the UK Aviation sector to help stop redundancies; e-petition 552725, HM Government to outline a plan to Save Future Travel; e-petition 332280, A government cash bailout for the coach industry before it’s too late; e-petition 585438, Allow ALL vaccinated British Expats to visit the UK without quarantining.]
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Members who are not on the call list but wish to intervene—do we have anyone of that description? No, that is not necessary. In that case, I call Henry Smith to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered support for the aviation, tourism and travel industries in response to the covid-19 pandemic.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair for this important debate, Dr Huq, as we seek to recover from the covid-19 pandemic, and I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister in his place. I will be interested to hear his comments.
Aviation, travel and tourism were among the first sectors to face the negative effects of the covid-19 pandemic, which were almost immediate, and unfortunately, owing to the nature of those industries and the restrictions still in place, they will be among the slowest to recover fully. In normal times before the pandemic, more than 1.5 million people were employed in those sectors. Sadly, many of them have lost their job over the past 15 months or so. About 50% of people in the sector are still on furlough, which finishes at the end of September, and I fear that if travel, aviation and tourism cannot pick up meaningfully over the summer months, many of them will also unfortunately lose their job.
This is devastating for aviation communities such as mine in the Gatwick area. An assessment of unemployment from February 2020 to February 2021 showed an increase of 115% across the nation, but for the top 20 aviation communities the increase was 147%. I do not think we have yet seen the worst of the situation.
Do not mistake this for some parochial plea for support for these sectors because aviation and international connectivity are essential for the UK economy. In normal times, outbound travel accounts for a contribution of about £37 billion to our economy, and inbound travel accounts for £28 billion. That travel has not been able to operate meaningfully for a year and a half, and the impact has been significant. If we were able to operate in a more meaningful way this summer, it would make a contribution to the UK economy of an estimated £19 billion—quite significant.
The title of the debate refers to support for the travel and aviation sectors. The best way to support them is to allow them to meaningfully and safely operate. If that cannot happen, I am afraid the bill for unemployment benefits this coming autumn and winter will be a significant burden to the taxpayer. Many companies and employers in the sector will be coming to the Government asking for bailouts. Far better that we let the industry recover and make money for the UK Exchequer, whose bills are already significant, than cost it some more.
I pay tribute to the Government for the world-leading vaccination programme over the past six months. We were told just before Christmas that if we had a successful vaccination programme, that would allow us our liberty and enable us to get back to much more normal life. Yesterday, we hit the target of 60%-plus of people across the country who have been doubly jabbed with covid-19 vaccines. I fear that we are squandering the vaccine dividend that we were told would allow us far greater freedoms once again.
We are, quite simply, at a competitive disadvantage. Many countries in the EU and the world are allowing a far greater number of countries to be travelled to, particularly for those who have received full covid-19 vaccinations. This is not just about two weeks on the beach in a sunny environment, nice though that is. It is about global Britain and us being a trading nation. For every day that there is not meaning transatlantic travel between the UK and the US, an estimated £32 billion is lost to the British economy.
I welcome and support the Government’s traffic light system for international travel. It is absolutely right that for parts of the world where cases of covid-19 are still unfortunately far too high, we must protect ourselves against that and new variants. I support those quarantine arrangements, but for countries that have had a similar vaccination roll-out success and similar or lower infection rates than the UK, we need to have a much more pragmatic regime for amber and green list countries.
I welcome the fact that the Government are reportedly looking at requiring those who are fully vaccinated and travelling from amber countries only to test, rather than to quarantine at home. That would be very positive, but I think we need to go further. We need to expand the green list of countries—I welcome reports that it will be announced later today that Malta and the Balearic Islands will be added to that list—but the list needs to be far wider than that.
The cost and complexity of covid-19 testing for international passengers is a major disincentive for people to travel. For a family of four, it really becomes prohibitive. It is ridiculous that many tests are more expensive than the flight itself. Perhaps more rapid antigen testing for lower risk countries would be appropriate, particularly if we are also dealing with people who are fully vaccinated. If there is a positive test, they can have a PCR test to back that up. It is interesting that, of those who have been tested who have been able to travel, less than 1% have proved positive in that test.
This is about people’s jobs and livelihoods. It is not just about going on holiday. Airports are likely to lose a further £2.6 billion if we do not see meaningful opening up. We are losing about £60 million in exports throughout this period because we do not have people able to visit this country and spend their money here.
Finally—I want to make sure that as many colleagues as possible can take part today and I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members from all parts of the country and across the House for contributing to this important debate today— I want to comment on where respect for the restrictions is beginning to seriously break down. We hear that Wembley will be three quarters full for the Euros final, because an exception will be made for VIP guests from UEFA to come to London. I do not mind Wembley being near capacity. I welcome that easing of restrictions, but what is not right is to have one rule for VIPs and another for everybody else. When parents cannot go to school sports days, VIPs should not be able to come to Wembley.
The answer is to open up in a realistic and pragmatic way, to save jobs and recover our economy from the devastating effects of covid-19. The best way to support the travel, aviation and tourism sectors is to allow them to operate, save those jobs and make money for our economy, rather than them being yet another burden on every taxpayer for years to come.
Thank you very much indeed, Dr Huq. Many of us here attended yesterday’s day of action for the travel industry. Fine people from all over Britain were there. They do not want a handout. They want to get back to work and they were united in one thing: a feeling of total abandonment by this Government and, I am afraid to say, by my party and all the Opposition parties in this House. In 26 years as a Member of Parliament, I cannot remember an instance like this, when the leadership of all the political parties have been more or less in the same position on a policy, and on one that has no basis in the evidence any more.
We hear the Government say constantly that their decisions are based on the data and public health is a priority, but, as Henry Smith has already pointed out, that is now clearly belied by the facts. The seven-day covid rate in the UK is as of yesterday 97 per 100,000. In Greece, it is 31— much lower on the islands. In Italy, it is 13—one seventh of the UK rate. In Germany, it is eight—less than a tenth of the rate here in the UK. Yet people arriving from or coming back from those countries to here, all with a negative PCR test, still have to quarantine for 10 days. It makes more sense in health terms to quarantine someone travelling from Ealing to Exeter than someone travelling from Italy, Germany or Malta to the UK.
We had further proof this week when the Government published Public Health England’s findings on the testing of arrivals from amber list countries and all arrivals between
If the Government were really basing their decisions on data and public health, there would already be more countries on the green list and there would be a significant expansion of that list today—and not only places such as Malta, Madeira or the Balearics, as briefed by someone in Government for today’s newspapers, but Italy, Germany, Finland, the Greek and several Caribbean islands, and many other countries currently on the amber list that all now enjoy a fraction of Britain’s covid rates. If the Government do not do this, we will know their decisions have nothing to do with the data or public health, and everything to do with politics and control.
We have seen that in the UEFA decision. It is completely outrageous for the Prime Minister to grant an exemption to our quarantine rules for thousands of bigwigs from European football when he is actively preventing ordinary British families from seeing loved ones abroad or from simply having a holiday, destroying thousands more jobs in an industry already on its knees in the process.
I am beginning to think that the Prime Minister does not want British people travelling abroad this summer because they will see how life in other countries got back to normal and that those countries are freer than us, despite our much-vaunted vaccine dividend. Many of our European neighbours have been free to travel since Easter, and now Americans can too. From next week, every EU citizen will be able to travel freely—with a vaccine, a negative test or proof of infection—using the green card system, and Americans are already flocking back to their favourite destinations in Europe, although of course not to here. Our Government are only just now talking about the possibility of a vaccine passport— allowing people to travel without quarantining if they have a vaccine. We are less free than our neighbours, we are less free than Americans and we are less free than we were last summer, in spite of being the most vaccinated country in Europe after Malta.
Even with this high level of vaccination and immunity, if we are to remain closed for fear of an as yet unknown new variant, we will never unlock. My right hon. Friend John Healey, the shadow Defence Secretary, told Sky yesterday that we need to restart travel again as soon as possible, and he warned that Britain is getting left behind. He was absolutely right. I hope that signals a change in in my own party’s policy. Regardless of that, the Government, who are responsible for this, need to do the right thing, let the British people travel safely again and throw the thousands and thousands of fantastic people who work in our transport and travel sectors a desperately needed lifeline. Let them get back to work before it is too late.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Henry Smith, who has done so much to champion the plight of Gatwick and the wider Sussex community, and my friend Mr Bradshaw, a fellow Transport Committee member, who speaks for me as well as himself. The remarkable point is that our calls are on all our Front Benches—we are all, cross-party, disappointed with all the Front-Bench positions. We do not feel that we are being led to a better place for our constituents and those who want to go abroad to see their loved ones and retain some life.
I have received emails not only from constituents but from people across the country who are crying out for some form of help to allow them to get back to their lives. I will read a few, if you do not mind, Dr Huq. Anna Wozniak is a cardiac physiologist at Doncaster Royal Infirmary. She has worked hard through the pandemic. She cannot afford to meet her boyfriend in America anywhere and meet the cost of testing, nor to take time off work to quarantine. Erin Cork from London has not seen her boyfriend, who lives in New York, for 467 days. Imagine that.
Missed life events have come through as well. Giulia Molteni is a dual UK-Italian national. She is 35 weeks pregnant with her first child. Her double-vaccinated Italian parents have not seen her while she has been pregnant, and she feels that she needs her mother’s support. Her parents want to come to the UK, but it is a huge financial commitment, and they are concerned that Italy could be added to the red list, as hotel quarantine costs are out of the question. One of our own in the travel sector, Louise Gardiner, works as a ground staff member at Heathrow. She had her son Rowan in May 2020 and he has met his Californian father only four times. He has never met his paternal grandparents. Louise was supposed to move to the US to be with her partner, but due to the pandemic her earnings have been lost, so she no longer qualifies as a sponsor.
I could go on and on with all the emails that I have received, but this is not just about holidays, as people sometimes say—although what is wrong with going on holiday? People’s lives are being ruined. Their mental health is being put at risk because of a ridiculous and restrictive policy that appears to have no basis when we look at the data. Let us look at what has happened with the traffic light system and travellers returning to the UK. Analysis of the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace found that only 89 of 23,465 passengers who travelled to the UK from amber list destinations between May and June tested positive for coronavirus—a rate of 0.4%. There are 167 countries on the amber list, and there were no positive cases from 151 of those.
If the Government look at the data, it surely demonstrates that going abroad is safe when we consider the amount of covid on these shores. It has positive benefits not just for people, but for our international trade and our economy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley has stated, it is worth billions to the economy. What will actually pay for our NHS and our vaccination programme? International travel and international trade.
I will be particularly interested to hear the Labour Front-Bench spokesman’s speech and whether he will talk about why the sector needs aid and a specific sector-based deal. He might be better placed to call for his own leader and shadow Home Secretary not to ditch the amber list and move all those countries to red, because that will just put more and more people on the scrapheap when it comes to their jobs.
Dr Huq, I have taken my four minutes, but I could go on for four hours. I am absolutely sick and tired on behalf of all the people who want to get their lives back safely and travel abroad, and the workforce I met yesterday, who care so passionately and are so positive about their sector and their customers. Let us give them their opportunities back, take a bit of a risk, cash in on the vaccine dividend, and allow people to travel internationally again.
Thank you for your leniency, Dr Huq, in permitting me to leave a little earlier. I commend Henry Smith for securing this debate on a very pressing matter facing many constituents and businesses across the United Kingdom.
Yesterday, I joined representatives of the Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents, local pilots, cabin crew, ferry workers and hoteliers at a protest at Stormont, as part of the national Unite day of action to highlight to the devolved institution at Stormont the need for support for the sector and to demand a restart to international travel. It has now been over a year of devastation for jobs, family incomes and the future of the sector. Many have already lost their jobs. In my constituency, just three weeks ago, Thompson Aero announced 180 job losses, one quarter of the workforce, in a devastating blow to the local economy. Each of those jobs is someone’s livelihood—the means to pay their mortgage, feed and clothe their family and to secure their future.
Although the support provided by the Government to the sector has been welcomed over the past year, I know from a conversation I had with the industry yesterday that what it really desires more than anything is an indicative date of hope—a date for when international travel will be allowed once more. That will be the kickstart that the industry requires for the businesses to make money, generate cash flow, and support the jobs of tens of thousands of people once again. We have to get to that point soon because businesses are at breaking point right now. With no clarity and constant knock-backs, their sustainability becomes more difficult day by day. We need to do this safely and sustainably, as stop-start will only cause more problems for the industry. I believe we can do this now, and I urge the Transport Secretary and the global travel taskforce to provide this pathway.
The vaccine roll-out is our passport to restart travel. It is proven that the vaccine is of huge benefit to people, and therefore we need to go forward and get travel opened up again. We also need clarity around travel. A lot of constituents are confused by the mixed messaging, and this is also inhibiting travel. Now is the time to act, before it is too late for jobs and much-valued local businesses.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and thank you for your leniency in letting me leave slightly early this afternoon.
I am grateful to be called in this important debate, not least because, like most hon. Members here, I joined the lobby yesterday and met constituents who had travelled to Westminster. I wanted to show my support for the travel industry in these challenging times. It was a lobby that highlighted yet again that the UK travel industry has had to deal with extremely tough impediments, more than most industries, and needs our support.
Today’s debate comes in the midst of what is still an incredibly challenging time for businesses and workers in the travel and tourism industry. Analysis from ABTA—The Travel Association estimates that 195,000 people working in the travel industry have either lost their job or are at risk of losing their job due to the crisis. Considering that the sector employs around 526,000 people across the UK in normal times, we are looking at the livelihoods more than a third of the people in the industry being wiped out.
I will focus my remarks on smaller travel businesses, which feel forgotten and are staring into the unknown. Office for National Statistics figures show that revenue for travel agents and tour operators have been down 86% to 90% each month since February 2020, with no specific sector support forthcoming from the Government and limited access to more general grant support measures. ABTA estimates that around 60% of SME travel agents will not have the cash to survive for more than three months, based on current trading conditions and the Government support that is available at the moment.
Last week, I visited Karen Marin Reyes and the team at La Vida Travel in Newport East. La Vida Travel is an award-winning business with a loyal local following and a reputation for very good customer service. Karen, who was here in Westminster yesterday for ABTA’s day of action, spoke to me about the difficult outlook her business and the sector faces, and echoed all the calls for sector-specific financial support for the travel industry, which remains busy but is struggling to make money in the face of very low new bookings and cancellations.
Companies such as La Vida Travel were not able to shut their doors when the pandemic came; they were busy helping their customers, including processing many cancellations and rebookings. Like all hon. Members, having helped constituents abroad to get home during the first months of the pandemic, I do not underestimate how stressful that is for clients and the staff helping them, or the sheer amount of work involved. These businesses were also having to foot the bill for transaction charges from credit cards, debit cards and banks, which are not refunded to the travel agent. I would like the Minister to look at that specific point, because they are carrying that loss themselves.
Travellers typically book six months ahead, so there are long delays in receiving payments made for bookings, which are only received a few months before the date of travel. These companies do not see the money for many months. For bookings that are being made now for next summer, the travel agent will receive payment in the spring at the earliest. Because of lack of confidence, many travellers are unwilling to pay in full for holidays next year because of the uncertainty. I note the comments made by other Members about the need for consistency in travel advice. My right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw made a strong contribution about that; we need confidence in the Government’s system.
The knock-on effect of all these factors is a shortage in cash flow that is especially pronounced for smaller travel businesses, especially as they make their money to survive through the winter in the summer. They need more help with the loans that they are due to pay back, because many just do not have the money at the moment to start making payments.
We need the Government to step up and do better. As others have said, it is not just about holidays; it is about people’s jobs and livelihoods.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Henry Smith on securing this debate. He was spot on with his remarks about Wembley, much as I want us to win that match on Tuesday, and I also agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, the Chairman of the Transport Select Committee. We do have an airport in Southend, which is very popular; I always have to balance that with the complaints about damage to the environment and night flights, but I am very proud of it.
I want to concentrate briefly on the tourism sector. A major aspect of the tourism industry is that it is seasonal, and Southend is a coastal town where the local economy thrives in the summer. With the extension of restrictions, many businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries will continue to suffer despite the recent warm weather. The Government have undoubtedly provided generous financial support packages, but many limited company directors and businesses in my constituency have frankly been left to fend for themselves. I ask the Government to implement a robust recovery strategy in the travel and tourism industry as we return to some sort of normality.
I have spoken to concerned business owners in my constituency who rely on tourists to eat in their restaurants, drink in their pubs and stay at their hotels. Grants were welcomed by many of my constituents, but they did not cover the fixed costs of operating small businesses, and those businesses do not, unfortunately, have the reserves to survive much longer. Many of them are running at a loss. The Government should provide further support in the form of extending the reduced rate of VAT and the business rate relief.
However, it is not just the hospitality industry that relies on the influx of tourists: it is the leisure and entertainment industries as well. Being a popular seaside town, Southend would normally attract plenty of tourists to our wonderful summer festivals and theatres, for example. Southend carnival has been cancelled this year, and the Leigh regatta, the Leigh Folk festival and the Village Green festival have all been postponed, which damages the local economy. I say again that, when coronavirus lockdown measures come to an end and restrictions are fully lifted, the Government should provide support to local authorities to help them cope with the influx of people to tourist hotspots such as Southend.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar, I have seen how helpful Qatar Airways has been to our country during the pandemic, transporting over 100,000 people safely back to the United Kingdom, and I say a big thank you to them. Qatar Airways is heavily suffering, and that country is on the red list despite having relatively few coronavirus cases compared with other countries, and despite a high proportion of its population having been vaccinated.
In conclusion, there are so many reasons why Southend should become a city next year. We are a cultural hub with a plethora of charming local boutique shops and brilliant stores, and if it is not being greedy, I think we should be the city of culture as well. Southend attracts many visitors each year to our beaches, our theatres, and the world-famous Southend pier. Tourism is a major part of our diverse economy in Southend, and while it will play a part in gaining us city status, the individuals and businesses who comprise the industry need urgent governmental support to recover from the pandemic.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Sir David Amess. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Henry Smith for the work he has done to champion this issue. Like him, I have a great interest in aviation because of the close proximity of Manchester airport to my constituency: obviously in his case, it is Gatwick. Around 3,500 people living in my constituency work at that airport, not just as pilots and cabin crew but in all the ancillary services—the catering services and engineering services—that generate business and provide employment for people who live in my constituency. It is those people who I am speaking for today.
Actually, I have already spoken quite a few times in the House on this matter, because it is an incredibly important issue for our economy. This is a critical sector, not just for my constituency of Warrington South but for all of our regional economies. It is really interesting that Members from every part of the United Kingdom have attended the debate, demonstrating the critical issue that we are all facing.
In Parliament Square yesterday, the pilots, cabin crew, travel agents, catering staff and all those in the wider supply chain, who are desperate for the industry to make some progress, had some incredibly compelling messages. More than 1.5 million people are employed in the aviation, travel and tourism sectors, and the cabbies are really feeling it as well. I cannot say how many times I have got into a taxi in London and the first thing the driver has talked about is the lack of tourists in the city and how it is impacting on their livelihoods. Sadly, many of the people working in the sector have already lost their jobs, and so many are still on furlough. We know that the aviation and travel sectors make their money during the summer in order to survive through the winter.
As furlough comes to an end in September, we need to look carefully at how we extend the support for the sector if travel is not possible, so that it can generate income through the winter months. The lost summer, which I fear it will be, will cost our economy somewhere around £19 billion. I mentioned earlier my relationship with Manchester airport, and we have rightly heard lots about airports. Manchester airport is the engine room for the northern powerhouse, and we need to do everything we can to support it and get it back up and running.
I want to spend my remaining time by talking about some of the microbusinesses in my community that really rely on the sector. I listened to Jessica Morden talk about travel agents in her constituency, I am hearing about exactly the same issue from travel agents in my constituency. Adrian Harper, who owns a travel agency in Lymm, talked to me last week about consumer confidence being shattered. As we heard earlier, the sector has gone through massive structural change and disruption through the arrival of global competitors such as Expedia, which has changed the nature of the business. It has not just damaged the business in the short term; it has made a massive change. The clientele—predominantly now a base of older people—need to be able to plan for the future, and they have no certainty about what will happen in the months and years ahead. These are not people who want to jet off to Ibiza with a week’s notice; they are planning six to 12 months ahead, and sometimes years in advance, for worldwide cruises and trips to see family on the other side of the world. One of the key issues that the sector faces is that, due to low consumer confidence, people are booking, cancelling, rebooking and everything else in between. That is impacting significantly on the cash flow and income of small businesses.
I am looking forward to the announcements due to be made later this evening by the Secretary of State for Transport. I very much hope that we will see some advances in terms of the green list, and I look forward to giving the industry the chance to get back on its feet.
I express my gratitude to Henry Smith for securing this important debate. As we know, the past 15 months have scarred many of our once-thriving and great industries, which have been struck down by the consequences of a devastating pandemic, but the aviation, tourism and travel industries have been especially hard hit.
Despite bringing in £22 billion to the UK economy in a normal year and sustaining thousands of jobs, including in my Slough constituency, the Government seem to have left the industry largely to fend for itself, even though restrictions have reduced international travel by 97%. Coronavirus measures have undoubtedly saved lives and protected the NHS, but they have not come with the levels of financial support required. Some 50% of all aviation staff are still on furlough. UK airlines have announced over 30,000 job cuts, and a further 1.5 million jobs are still at risk. That is without taking into account the supply chain and supporting businesses that rely on the aviation and tourism sectors.
Given my Slough constituency’s proximity to Heathrow airport, I know all too well the impact that the situation has had on our community. My inbox has been full of correspondence from airline workers, ground staff, taxi drivers, travel agents, retail workers and others who have been left behind despite working in the industry for decades. Behind each of the numbers, there is a lifelong career, a family being supported and a passion being fulfilled. Real people are involved here, and they have been continually let down by Government through no fault of their own, which is why Government should step in. Restrictions must come with measured and tailored support. The Labour party has been clear about that all along in discussions with unions, airlines and airports. Political squabbles will not help those who have lost their jobs, but assured and sensible action from Government will.
It is clear what is needed: a bail-out package for aviation on the conditions that a clear climate plan is in place and that companies have set out terms to protect workers and their rights. Rather than delivering that and ensuring that struggling industries flourish post pandemic, the Government have taken their usual approach of confusion and backtracking, with bluster over the amber list, being too late to put countries on the red list and providing little clarity for passengers.
The mess we have seen over the last few weeks on the quarantine policy epitomises that, so why have the Government not reviewed the policy and outlined options for robust testing in airports to safely minimise the need for 14-day quarantine periods? Why have they left passengers, including my own Slough constituents, to pay thousands for quarantine hotels without sufficient access to drinking water and good-quality food? Why did Ministers not prevent, from the outset, the mixing of passengers from green list countries with those from covid hotspots? Why is it one rule for elites who have the ear of Government, and another rule for hard-working Brits? The whole thing is chaotic.
Like all here today, I want to see a thriving and greener aviation sector in a post-pandemic Britain. If we are to achieve that, we must ensure that adequate support is available now, because this shambles has gone on for long enough.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq. Today, I feel a sense of déjà vu. On Monday this week, I spoke in the House about the future of the steel industry and the devastating effect that the loss of jobs in that industry can have on communities such as mine in Cynon Valley. Here I am, three days later, speaking about the aviation industry, and again I must highlight the same problems facing my constituents.
I have said this before, but I cannot say it often enough for some Government Members to grasp what it really means. Unemployment, poverty, worrying about their family’s future, worrying about keeping a roof over their head and worrying about whether to heat or eat—these are realities for far too many people in areas such as mine. Those are areas that this Government talk about levelling up, in a sham and a shambles of an attempt to address the underlying problems caused by a total lack of investment or an industrial strategy to take people such as my constituents into a greener, more secure and more prosperous future.
Like steel, aerospace is a vital manufacturing industry for the Welsh economy. In Wales, it generates £1.47 billion in GVA. The threat to GE Aviation in Nantgarw in south Wales, which employs workers from my constituency, is significant, and it arises because of the lack of an industrial strategy from this Government and the dominance of their belief in a free market economy. In 2020, 540 redundancies were made, and more job losses are on the horizon. There is no question in my mind but that aerospace needs a strategic, sector-specific support package, and I fully support Unite’s industrial strategy, “Fighting for the Future of UK Manufacturing”, which was published this time last year. The answers and the way forward are there.
In GE Aviation, we have here in south Wales a skilled and relatively well-paid workforce, and the loss of those jobs will have a huge knock-on effect on the local economy. One of my constituents, Ross Williams, who is an aviation worker and a trade union official, said:
“We’ve lost almost half of the workforce at GE aviation Wales, and almost half the workers from Cynon Valley…We fear that without sector specific support either by way of a furlough extension or other government funding…jobs within it are under massive threat. We as a Trade Union feel that once these jobs and the specific skills sets within them are lost they will be gone forever. We are desperate to maintain these highly skilled engineers, these well paid jobs”.
The answers are there—read Unite’s document and invest in upskilling and reskilling our workforce.
We know from the pandemic how vital and helpful a sound British manufacturing industry is when repurposed to meet new challenges. We must build local, buy British—positive public procurement—stop offering contracts to the lowest bidders, involve the workers, through their trade unions, in decision making and look at new models of ownership of these industries. The free market economy is not the answer to our economic woes. We cannot build the economy on job losses and site closures. We need Government investment for a just and well-resourced transition to a green industrial revolution to tackle climate change. The will is there to make these changes. The skills and the workers are there. Their trade unions are there. Where are this Government?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq, and to follow my hon. Friend Beth Winter. My thanks go to Henry Smith for leading this important debate and to my right hon. Friend John McDonnell for his work on this issue.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has had a severe impact on the aviation sector. It has already caused a huge number of job losses in my own constituency and throughout the country. To add insult to injury, we have seen bad employers in the sector resorting to outrageous fire-and-rehire practices—essentially, using a pandemic to disgracefully diminish the terms and conditions of their hard-working staff during the most stressful of times. There is no doubt that the situation for the aviation and tourism industries is complex. They are some of the only industries where the easing and tightening of restrictions are not wholly determined by the UK Government; they are also reliant on decisions taken in other nations.
The Secretary of State for Transport said that the traffic light system was based on infections, vaccination, variants, testing and quality of data and that he would publish the detail. He still has not done so. Does this Minister agree with me that there needs to be transparency over the traffic light system, and the criteria used, to enable the industry to plan?
I am pleased that positive noises are now coming out of Government regarding the likelihood of restrictions ending on
I commend this industry for its flexibility during this crisis, but the ongoing complexities and uncertainties mean that there must be a tailored support package. The industry cannot survive much longer with frequent and unplanned stops and starts. Does the Minister agree with me that the aviation and tourism sectors must be given a bespoke job protection scheme beyond the current proposed end of the coronavirus job retention scheme? A bespoke financial support package would allow the industry to engage in proactive recovery planning. It would offer a sense of security for employees against further stop-and-go travel restrictions that may occur in the future.
Skills retention is key for the stability of the sector, but we are already seeing a skills leakage from the industry to sectors that have managed to recover faster. A new starter in the aviation industry will need to go through a complex process of training, qualifications, checking and certification. The time between recruitment and the first day at work is usually a matter of several weeks. A medium-term extension of the furlough scheme is therefore necessary to protect the skills that the sector will need in the future.
A recent report by Syndex UK—a report commissioned by Unite the union—stated that the support required for the industry as a whole would be a maximum of £1.4 billion for 18 months, based on the assumption that an average of 40% of the employees are eligible for furlough during the whole period. The support package would begin to pay for itself in the long term, as it would aid a faster recovery. In addition, we can easily measure the recovery by looking at passenger numbers. That means that the duration of the support could be tied to the return of demand and therefore it could fall away when the industry recovers.
I hope that the Minister will consider these ideas, because, as I am sure he will agree, the aviation and tourism industries are critical to both the UK economy and our national interest.
We can all agree that of all the sectors affected by the pandemic, aviation, travel and tourism have been hit particularly hard. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has indicated that the aviation sector has been the hardest hit of the entire economy, with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost or under threat. The latest data also shows that travel agencies and tour operators suffered an 89% decline in output in the first year of lockdown, when severe restrictions were imposed across the travel industry.
If the traffic light regulations continue to have the impact that they are having, more support will be desperately needed. We need to retain the existing furlough scheme and self-employed income support for businesses operating in aviation and international travel, without tapering, for a minimum additional six months, with future reviews built in. Also needed is the creation of a new sector-specific recovery grant regime for travel agents, tour operators and travel management companies that rely on international travel for their revenues. Travel agency businesses receive all their income through commission paid close to their clients’ departure dates. Given the cautious restart of travel, they need additional financial support to help them through the coming months. The issue of travel agents carrying the cost of refunding card payments was raised earlier in the debate, and I raised it specifically with the Chancellor last April. It has still not been addressed.
International travel is extremely important to our tourism and hospitality sectors, but we also know that it is important to reduce the risk of importing new cases and new variants of the virus. Indeed, the new delta variant entered Scotland while Scottish restrictions were at their highest levels because the UK Government would not engage with concerns expressed by the Scottish Government. They were too slow to act. That could have undone all the hard work and sacrifice that populations across the UK have made to help beat the virus. That is not good enough.
We need to reinstate a four-nation decision-making approach to international travel, which was suspended by the UK Government as the Scottish Government urged more action. It must be recognised that the aviation industry faces one of the longest periods of recovery, given the impact of covid-19 on route networks. The French and German Governments have given more than twice the financial support for every aviation and aerospace job than the UK Government have.
The Minister will be keen to tell us about the support that his Government have already provided, but there is no escaping the fact that the French and German Governments have provided double the support that those jobs have had in the UK. Clearly, those Governments are backing their travel industries now to help provide a driving force in the economic recovery of their countries. I urge the Minister to do all in his power to provide further support to these sectors at this challenging time.
Thank you, Dr Huq; it is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship. I thank Henry Smith not just for securing this debate but for his tenacity and championing of this cause from the very start. That really should be recognised. I also thank the Minister before he even gets to his feet. Our meetings have not been as productive as I would have liked, but despite that he has been available and he has listened. Like others, I urge him to listen to the gaps. It is the gaps that we are concerned about today and the gaps that urgently need the support.
As the Minister will know, my constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is very close to Edinburgh airport. Constituents of mine include pilots, cabin crew, ground crew and those who work in the general airport environment. I also have constituents who are travel agents, and they are the group I am currently most concerned about.
In ordinary times, outbound travel is worth more than £37 billion a year to the UK economy. It supports the employment of more than half a million people across the UK and plays a crucial role in sustaining our leisure and business activity. ABTA’s collective membership puts people on planes, ships and trains—outbound, inbound and domestically—across leisure and travel. It is fundamental to our regional connectivity, opportunity and prosperity. The aggregate turnover is £40 billion in normal times and that supplies over £6 billion to the UK Treasury.
Those businesses know that recovery will be slow. The travel sector has been hardest hit, with bookings down by 90% and in some cases more. A 2021 survey of ABTA members found that 57% of small and medium-sized enterprise travel agents did not believe they had the cash to survive more than six months, based on current conditions and available Government support. Strikingly, 87% of SME travel agents believed they would fail within a year.
I am not complaining about this only to the UK Government; I am raising the issue across these islands. The Scottish Government recently said that travel agents have had support. They have had support in Scotland and down here, but it is not enough, it is not tailored and it does not recognise their unique needs. That is the fundamental issue. It must be really hard for business people who have invested their lives in building a thriving travel business to hear of an underspend by the Scottish Government of more than £450 million when they desperately need that help now.
This is about a joined-up approach. It is about coming together and recognising where the gaps are, and, most importantly, recognising the fundamental role that travel agents play in the industry. The airlines have had staff on furlough and been bailed out, and the public have either been on furlough or been allowed to continue to work and enjoy an income, but the travel agents are the ones who have moved bookings, taken the cancellations and kept open the pipeline of supply for the recovery we all hope for.
All of us—Government, tour operators and airlines—should be bending over backwards to ensure that travel agents get the support they desperately need, because they will secure and supply business as we move forward.
With Heathrow in my constituency, naturally I am worried about what is happening in both aviation and tourism. The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in my constituency has risen by more than 220% in the first year of the pandemic, so there is an urgent need for action.
I will make four brief points. First, I agree with the criticisms of the Government’s list system made by my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw and Huw Merriman. The system is confusing and ineffective, and it needs reform based on the data we now have, but whatever system we use, it needs to be properly resourced. Also, there has been a lack of sufficient staffing support for border control at Heathrow. That has put existing staff under intense pressure, and even put their health at risk.
My hon. Friend Mr Dhesi raised the issue of the quarantine system resulting at times in the abysmal treatment of families who have been forced to quarantine at great expense. On arrival at Heathrow, they have been crowded on to buses, often unsafely, and they often find that the booking for their original accommodation has been cancelled. When placed in accommodation, they are provided, exactly as my hon. Friend said, with inedible, inadequate or unsuitable food.
Secondly, my constituents—the workers in those sectors—want to get back to work and to get back to earning a decent living, but they know that doing so safely will take time. They are not unrealistic about that, so it is critical that the Government recognise the fact that some sectors will need continuing support. As my hon. Friend Kate Osborne said, precipitously ending the furlough scheme and the financial support being provided now will force many of my constituents into either losing their job or having their wages cut even further. The Government need to provide some certainty and reassurance to the companies and the workers in those sectors that there will be continuing support to get them through the remainder of the pandemic.
My third point, regrettably, is that the appalling practice of fire and rehire, which has taken hold in our economy, started initially on any scale at Heathrow. Thanks to Unite, we fought off the worst aspects of the first wave of that attack on my constituents, but that does not mean that the threat has gone away. Other companies are persisting in what is effectively workplace bullying. That is why we need urgent legislation to ban the practice, not the mealy-mouthed, broken-promise approach that we have seen from the Government so far.
My fourth point is that, as we come through the current crisis brought on by the pandemic, we need to recognise that we must face up to the next crisis, which is the existential threat of climate change. The Climate Change Committee today criticised the Government for setting wonderful targets with no means to deliver them, and that is exactly the situation in aviation. As my hon. Friend Beth Winter said, we need a sustainable aviation strategy, and we need it fast. It should be based on a clear, just transition programme so that communities such as mine are given resources to develop a local economic strategy that will ensure we benefit from the environmentally sustainable aviation sector and have access to skilled and well-paid jobs in other developing sectors of the economy. We need that urgently, if not tomorrow.
Finally, as a west London MP, I want to say this: let us end the ludicrous nonsense that building a third runway will in any way comply with our climate change duties.
We had a similar debate in the Chamber less than two weeks ago, but the situation facing the aviation sector, and indeed much of the wider travel industry, is so stark and immediate that we could debate the issue of support every week. The hon. Gentleman, who represents Gatwick airport in much the same way as I represent Glasgow airport, has campaigned hard on this issue, and I commend him for it.
One third of the 6,000 on-campus jobs at Glasgow airport have gone, and countless more have gone in off-campus support services and supply chain companies. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that those thousands of local jobs have gone while there is a furlough scheme in place, such is the cash burden and the grave outlook for the sector. I do not want to begin to imagine how many more jobs will go in September if the furlough scheme is not extended in that industry at least.
We are looking at a calamity for thousands of families across Renfrewshire, and perhaps hundreds of thousands around the UK. That would be an economic catastrophe, both locally and nationally. I very much echo the comments that John McDonnell made about fire and rehire. It needs to go now.
Amid all this doom and gloom, there is a sector trying to remain positive and plan for a brighter future. It includes Loganair, based in my constituency at Glasgow airport, which has announced that its new GreenSkies programme will include a £1 charge on every ticket to invest in schemes aimed at tackling climate change and to remove the same amount of carbon from the environment as is generated by its aircraft. It is also beginning trials in Orkney of aircraft powered by hydrogen and renewable electricity. It has committed to being fully carbon neutral by 2040. That, of course, follows Glasgow airport becoming the first to introduce electric bus fleets to its operations, and achieving carbon neutrality for emissions under its direct control in 2020.
Ambitious plans for net zero are not only the preserve of Glasgow. I am not parochial—well, not on this occasion. I spoke to Bristol airport recently, which proudly told me of the ambitious plans on contributing to making the industry and the country at large net zero. That is all excellent stuff. It is very welcome and, indeed, necessary, but the reality is that if the sector survives, much of it will be so indebted or reduced in scope and capacity that the capital required to make such investments simply will not exist. That is clearly me done with the positivity, Dr Huq.
I said to the Secretary of State this morning during Transport questions that I have lost count of the number of times I have brought up support for the aviation sector since the start of the pandemic, either before or after the Government promised to do just that. I have since had the opportunity to check and the answer is 34. I have brought this up 34 times with the Government and had the same bluff and bluster response, including that the industry has had access to various routes for loan funding. That has resulted in our airline industry having a higher debt ratio than much of its international competition, where support has been largely through non-repayable grants, which in the USA totalled over £23 billion, in Germany nearly £8 billion, in France £6.5 billion and in the Netherlands £3.2 billion.
In November, the Government finally announced limited business rates support for the sector, seven months after the Scottish Government had announced a similar scheme in Scotland. I say similar, Dr Huq, but in Scotland the scheme is uncapped and extends to airlines based there as well. Moreover, this moratorium has been extended by a full year by the Scottish Government, while the UK Government’s limited and capped version will continue for only six months. Given the situation the sector faces, this is clearly unsustainable. In his summing up, I hope the Minister will confirm that an extension is being considered. If so, will the caps and limitations be removed?
We finally have an agreed four-nations approach to border health to manage the risk of importation of new cases and variants from international travel, in the form of the traffic light system. Under the previous arrangements, the delta variant entered Scotland because the UK Government would not engage with the Scottish Government’s concerns, as my hon. Friend Patricia Gibson has already mentioned.
The level of risk earlier in year was such that all UK Governments were advised that all direct arrivals should enter managed-isolation hotels. Scotland did so, but only red list arrivals had to do so in England. Moreover, the UK Government refused to help identify passengers in England travelling on to Scotland, so that they could also be required to enter quarantine hotels. The significant delay, perhaps for political reasons, in announcing that India would go on to the red list was far too long and we can see the direct results of that in our record case numbers in recent days.
Any system, traffic lights or otherwise, needs to be dynamic, requiring rapid decision making on emerging risks that are identified by the Joint Biosecurity Centre. The Scottish Government are keen to stick to a four-nations approach, but if Scottish Ministers feel they need to, they will make the decisions that are right to protect Scotland. Fundamentally, we absolutely understand the importance of international travel to the tourism and hospitality sector, not least for jobs in my constituency.
In terms of the wider tourism and hospitality sector, which is equally important to the Scottish economy, UKHospitality is clear: while the Scottish Government are providing firms with breathing space on business rates, the UK Government are just kicking the can down the road. The Scottish Government’s extension of 100% hospitality rates relief is for a year, which is far longer than the three months offered in England, with a discount for a further six months.
In fact, retail, tourism, hospitality, aviation and newspaper businesses in Scotland will pay no rates during 2021-22 at all. Kate Nicholls, the chief executive at UKHospitality, told the Treasury Committee earlier this month:
“In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 100% business rates holidays have been given to hospitality for a full year. It gives those businesses breathing space to avoid having to make the tough decision between paying taxes and paying people. In England we do not have that luxury. We will have to pay our taxes from day one.”
One of the cogs of the Scottish tourism sector is the coach industry, which is worth an estimated £400 million and supports around 4,000 jobs. Around 80% of the coach industry’s income is derived from tourism. The Scottish Government have a coach operators fund to support the sector, but the UK Government have no such scheme.
In written evidence to the Transport Committee, Kevin Mayne of Maynes Coaches said that the help and understanding of the Scottish Government towards coaching has been well received by the industry. Moreover, the then Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, told the Scottish Parliament in January that Westminster “declined” his calls to provide support for the coach industry across the UK. He said:
“That is why we are going ahead with the Scottish scheme to compensate coach operators, which are an essential and quality part of the tourism offering in Scotland.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report,
Mr Mayne provided the following in evidence:
“Mr Ewing’s description of coaching as ‘essential’ contrasts with controversial comments made by Transport Minister Baroness Vere at the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK Bus and Coach Conference on
She told delegates that the UK government regards home-to-school and rail replacement services as essential, but that other coaching activity is seen as ‘non-essential.’ That created a ‘very difficult’ situation for them when deciding whether to offer a UK-wide support package for coaches.”
Will the Minister commit to comprehensive support for the English coaching sector?
It is regrettable that the Conservatives remain committed to imposing a September cliff-edge on the tourism sector by ending the 5% VAT rate. In particular, extending the relief is critical for those who operate on a seasonal basis, a significant amount of whom are in Scotland, especially given that summer lasts for about a week. Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality said in the same Treasury Committee meeting:
“The single biggest thing that the Government have done to help the sector through this crisis, which has helped to support and sustain jobs through the crisis, has been to introduce a lower rate of VAT for tourism services”.
Can the Minister confirm that an extension is being actively considered?
I will conclude by bringing my remarks back to where I started: aviation. I said earlier that I had raised the issue 34 times—it is now 35 times. This morning, I asked the Secretary of State directly if he was going to introduce an aviation, travel and tourism recovery package to support the sector and its workers, such as those protesting on College Green yesterday. He could not jump out of the way quick enough, even though he was sat before the Dispatch Box at the time. Instead, the Minister, whom I very much respect, had to take the hit and repeat all the various stats about support. Although that support is welcome as far as it goes, we will see the demise of the sector if it is not improved. I ask the Minister again: are the Government actively considering an aviation, travel and tourism recovery package or, at the very least, some further support for the sector?
As I have said previously in this place, the UK started the pandemic with the world’s third-largest aviation sector. With about one third of the workforce already gone, it will certainly not be the third largest coming out of the pandemic, and there is a real risk that we will never regain such a lofty position without some dynamic and urgent action from this Government, who still seem unable to understand the importance of aviation to connectivity and the wider economy. Their time is running out.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. To Henry Smith, with whom I have been a fellow traveller for a number of years on the matters of aviation and the Chagos islanders, I say well done for securing the debate.
Gavin Newlands and I have just had a private discussion about the people of Scotland and Greater Manchester giving peace a chance. The First Minister should perhaps have picked up the phone to Mayor Andy Burnham before she made a decision to ban people from Bolton, which has a smaller covid outbreak than Dundee. I think we can do better than that. We are not going to burn the First Minister in effigy—that betrays human dignity—but we are thinking of donning the woad and marching north as a conurbation.
It was heartening to see the whole industry come together to lobby. As has been mentioned, yesterday on College Green, hundreds spoke up for travel, airlines, airports and travel agents. Unions, cabin crew, and colleagues from all parties united to highlight the dire situation of the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism industries. The hon. Member for Crawley robbed from my speech when he spoke in his articulate way about the worth of those industries not just to our constituencies but, as Andy Carter pointed out, to the wider economies around airports in particular.
That is why I really want to push the Government on what the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said about the sector-specific deal. The Chancellor promised way back at the beginning of the pandemic that he would deliver a sector-specific package for the aviation industry, and we are still waiting. The Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nigel Huddleston assured the House that a tourism recovery plan was on the way and would be announced by the end of spring. Well, solstice was on Monday, and according to my rusty Latin, it means “when the sun stands still”. The only things standing still at the moment are our travel, tourism and aviation industries.
There has been much debate about the traffic light system, which I know has been challenged by the Chair of the Select Committee, Huw Merriman. I should point out that there have been great speeches from Members from both sides of the Chamber, and I wish I could name them all in the time I have available. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is a real human cost. We in this House have lost friends. I have lost Lord Jimmy Gordon of Strathblane, who was a mate of mine. I lost an aunt to covid the other week. A councillor where I live has just come out of hospital after being in ICU. I have not seen my friends and family in the west of Ireland for nearly two years. There is a real human cost to this disease, and the hon. Gentleman was right to mention it.
On the traffic light system, the Government have to get going so that we capitalise on the immunisation dividend that hon. Members have mentioned, but maybe that is a discussion for another day. We are talking about getting confidence back in our industry, not lurching from false start to false start. Her Majesty’s official Opposition are thinking of setting up a taskforce to look at the number of taskforces that the Department for Transport has set up in the past 12 months that have been ineffectual.
Nobody is arguing in favour of unrestricted travel, but given the success and advanced state of our vaccination programme, thanks to the wonderful NHS, it may now be time for the Government to follow their own recommendations, which were announced in the global travel taskforce. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw, how can we as a nation be more restricted now than we were 12 months ago when we did not have a vaccine? The rationale and data must be published, and the methodology shared of how the decisions are made to place a country on the red, amber or green list.
I say directly to the Minister that the Manchester Airports Group should not be having to launch legal challenges against the Government in order to get transparency on the traffic light system. We will listen at what the Government say tonight, but we will see in a couple of weeks what the courts say.
We have a pandemic. We are not attacking the Government, but we are highlighting their inadequacies. This stop-start nature is ruining the confidence of this industry. As we approach the summer, the Prime Minister has been saying it is not going to be a full season. That immediately knocks millions more pounds off these important industries.
We have said time and again that we support the furlough scheme. I agree with Members who have said that we will highlight unscrupulous employers who have attacked workers’ pay and conditions during this time. That is not British and it is unpatriotic every time, and we will call it out.
We have consistently called for a sectoral deal. As is illustrated in this debate, politicians are urging the Government to intervene. Ministers have to intervene. The dither and delay cannot go on. We have to either get a summer season or introduce a package. The Government’s modus operandi is to put the situation back on the industry, whether it be travel agents or the cruise industry, which takes 2 million passengers a year from UK shores and adds billions to our economy, or whether it is passengers in amber list countries, making it up as they go along—“It is your responsibility for you to be safe.” The Government need to tell us and give confidence and certainty to the industry. That is what it is crying out for.
The delay in opening up on
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Dr Huq. I thank the House for all of the excellent speeches that we have heard—all of them impassioned, well informed and constructive. I particularly thank my hon. Friend Henry Smith for securing this important debate. He is the voice of Gatwick and is consistently eloquent in his advocacy. He is consistently constructive. He has put the case with real passion and clarity today, and not just for his constituents, but for the travel, tourism and aviation sector in a much broader sense, highlighting the global importance of the sector. I thank him for so doing.
The House should be under no illusions: the Government recognise and deeply value the critical importance of international travel. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said that it is not just about two weeks in the sun, although as my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, who chairs the Transport Committee, said there is nothing wrong with that—and he is right, partly because of the enjoyment that it brings people and partly because what lies behind those two weeks in the sun are people’s jobs. It is about the industries and the sector in a much broader sense.
We have heard much, understandably, from many right hon. and hon. Members on the impact on jobs in their constituencies. I hope they will forgive me if I only mention them by name, given the very limited time I have. John McDonnell and the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart), for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Slough (Mr Dhesi) all mentioned the impact of this crisis on their constituents with real passion and clarity. My hon. Friend Andy Carter talked about the wider ecosystem and those who support the wider sector.
It is about jobs, of course, but it is also about much more. Travel, aviation and tourism also connect families that have been kept apart. It is about people’s lives. Travel underpins the economy in every possible way, but it is also central to the way we see ourselves as a nation: outward-looking, global, a trading nation. The desire to explore is in the British DNA. That is perhaps why so many Members are here today. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle gave a vivid description of the personal costs of the pandemic. That is why it is essential that the steps that we take now lay the groundwork for a sustainable return to international travel in the future and build upon our successful vaccination programme.
I will say a word or two about our approach at the outset. The Secretary of State confirmed on
I heard the comments from hon. Members, and I heard the speech from Mike Kane, for whom I have the greatest respect. However, when I hear Labour Members call for the amber list to be scrapped, which is precisely the thing that will harm the travel sector even more at the moment, and I set that alongside the reported comment that Mr Bradshaw gave from the shadow Transport Secretary yesterday, who said that we should open up travel, if I have understood it correctly—
The shadow Defence Secretary; I am grateful to him for correcting me. That is the confused position of Labour: simultaneously calling for the travel sector to be opened up while at the same time arguing to scrap the amber list, which would damage the sector. I hope Labour Members will forgive me for saying that they are not in any position to give lessons to the Government about how to manage this when their party’s position is changing by the day.
The right hon. Member for Exeter gave a reported comment from someone. Provided that is the case, Labour’s position is changing by the day.
In any event, the Joint Biosecurity Centre produces risk assessments of countries and territories for the traffic light system, so it is data-driven. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made, which are guided by the information given by the JBC and then made by Ministers. A summary of that is published on the website, alongside the wider public health factors that we have to take into account.
The right hon. Member for Exeter made a powerful speech. I entirely share his passion for international travel and I have the greatest respect for him. I know he will understand that, at a time like this, the Government have to take difficult decisions. We are in the early stages of a return to international travel, and as the data allow, we will look to open up international travel as it is safe to do so, but it must be safe, it must be sustainable and it must be robust. We have to accept that travel may not be quite the same this year. I say that because it is so important that we do not throw away the hard-won steps we have taken.
Thanks to the sacrifices of the British people, we have been able to get to the stage that we are at now. I accept that the approach is cautious, because it is meant to be robust. These have been difficult times, but none of us wants to go backwards, for the reason that the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East said at the beginning of his speech, when he reminded us of the cost of covid.
I hope the Minister will go on to say something about the expansion of the green list and what will happen with covid passports. Can he explain why the Governments of other countries—Germany, those in the rest of the Europe, and America—who have just as much concern for the health of their people, are ahead of us on international travel, when we are more highly vaccinated? Where is the vaccine dividend that the Government promised? We are getting left behind comparable countries, in spite of our vaccination levels. How does the Minister explain that?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point. Every country is approaching this issue in a slightly different way, and it is not as straightforward as simply comparing the way one country manages it with the way another does. We are doing something that is cautious, because we are seeking to protect the vaccine dividend to which he rightly draws attention. He asked me to talk about the green list. I know he understands that I cannot foreshadow any announcements that might take place later today, either on that or on the point of vaccination. We of course recognise the strong strategic rationale and the success of the vaccination programme, and we are working to consider the role of vaccinations in shaping a different set of health and testing measures for inbound travel. We will be able to set out our position on that in due course.
I stress that the measures that are set out at present, and what is seen by right hon. and hon. Members in the traffic light system at present, are not set in stone. We are working towards a future travel system that can co-exist with an endemic covid-19. As such, and as recommended in the global travel taskforce report, the Government’s approach will be assessed on
The Government recognise that there is plenty more to do. The tourism recovery plan has recently been published—I would have very much liked to speak about it in a bit more detail, but I am conscious that the time is rapidly running out. The Government are developing a forward-looking strategic framework for aviation, which will explore key issues such as workforce, skills, regional connectivity, noise, innovation, regulation and consumer issues, alongside climate change and decarbonisation.
I am sorry that I need to sit down to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley time to sum up at the end, but I will finish by quoting him. He said that the best way to support travel and aviation is to enable them to operate. The Government and I fundamentally agree with him on that, and we are working hard to turn those words and aspirations into reality. There are no two ways about it: the pandemic has brought dark times on the country. Thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, however, the light is growing.
I thank the right hon. Members for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), my hon. Friends the Members for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter), and the hon. Members for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart), for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) and for Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands)—he has had to fly back to Scotland and cannot be present.
I also thank my hon. Friend the aviation Minister. I know he understands the importance of getting the sector back up and running. Even though he cannot say so, I know he shares many of our frustrations. The message I want to leave is that we cannot operate as an economy, be it international travel or anything else, on a zero-covid strategy. The coronavirus will probably be with us for the rest of our lives. We will probably have to have a rolling vaccination programme for the foreseeable future. We will have to learn to live with it. We cannot afford for it to dominate our lives for much longer. Otherwise, the impact that it will have on employment and general prosperity—mental health has been mentioned as well—will be severe. There is a special case for the sector to have furlough extended beyond September, because of the fact that, unlike most other parts of the economy, it seems, sadly, that it will not be able to open in a meaningful way.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their eloquence and erudite comments, many of which, if not all of them, I very much agree with.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered support for the aviation, tourism and travel industries in response to the covid-19 pandemic.