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Thomas Cook

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019

16. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the collapse of Thomas Cook. (900123)

Now that the repatriation of those Thomas Cook passengers is complete, my focus is on the next steps, including the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that the airline insolvency review will be turned into an Act of Parliament.

May I first pay tribute to the staff of Thomas Cook in Glenrothes, who for a great many years have provided my constituents, and indeed myself, with a very professional and courteous service? Last week, the Government finally admitted that no Minister had spoken to Thomas Cook directly before the company collapsed. The Secretary of State claimed that the company could not be saved, but then some parts of the company in other countries were indeed saved. Will he now accept that if the Government had engaged sooner with Thomas Cook, they could have mitigated the impact of this failure, fewer people would have lost their jobs, the cost to the taxpayer would have been less and fewer people would have seen their holidays ruined?

That is simply not correct. I met the chief executive of the company on 9 September, and I have checked my closing words to him at that meeting, which were—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might want to listen. My closing words to that company and to the chief executive were: “If there is anything that Her Majesty’s Government could do then please get in touch.” The response was: “There is nothing that can be done at this time.” Later, on 18 September, he wrote to the Government asking for not the £200 million that has been reported, but up to £250 million. That decision would have required accounting officer sign-off for a company with debt of perhaps £1.7 billion or, we now hear, perhaps even £3 billion. It simply would not have stacked up. We would have spent all the money that has been spent on repatriation in any case, as well as money to bail out a company that had enormous debts.

The travel industry has a proud record of pulling together when a company goes under, and that happened in the Thomas Cook case. Thomas Cook would have had an air travel organisers’ licence, so the money that was used to repatriate people from abroad should be recovered from that fund, which is levied on the travel industry. The net cost to the Government should therefore be very small.

My hon. Friend is right, at least in part. The ATOL coverage will cover a large proportion of the cost. However, the company was an airline as well as a travel company and, as my hon. Friend will be aware, airlines are not currently covered under ATOL—that is part of the review. In any case, we will ensure that laws are in place to make sure that the fleet can be used regardless.

The truth is that it is shocking that this Government let down Thomas Cook staff. They lost their livelihoods while the gaffers got rich off their bonuses. The subsidiaries Condor in Germany, Thomas Cook in Spain and Thomas Cook in Sweden are still flying. The Government have stood by and let the business in the UK fail. When the Secretary of State gets to his feet, will he just say sorry for letting down all those hard-working staff and the British taxpayer?

The whole House and, indeed, the whole country is aware that those on the Opposition Front Bench do not understand how an economy functions.

If there was any possible way to ensure the survival of a company whose directors were allegedly being paid millions of pounds—it is interesting to hear that the Opposition want us to have backed those millions of pounds of bonuses with yet more money from the public purse—we would have done it, but, as I said, it would have required accounting officer direction, because it simply did not stack up. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the reality is that Hays Travel has come in and rescued many of those jobs, because well-run companies survive. Poorly run companies cannot survive.

Observers of our proceedings will doubtless have heard the sedentary exclamations of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), who is further validating the assertion that I make to audiences around the world, which is that he is the loudest Member of the House.