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Volume 672: debated on Thursday 5 March 2020

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement about the collapse of Flybe.

In the early hours of this morning, Flybe ceased trading. This was a commercial decision by the company and Flybe has filed for insolvency. UK airports handled 9.5 million Flybe passengers in 2008, 80% of whom were travelling within the UK. An estimated 15,000 passengers were due to fly today, so our immediate priority is to support passengers travelling home and employees who have lost their jobs.

Flybe has had a challenging year in terms of its financial performance, with a decline in bookings and increased competition. Levelling up connectivity across our regions and nations is a top priority for this Government. We are driving forward HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, we have announced a £5 billion funding package for bus and cycle links, and we are investing £6.6 billion to improve the condition of local highway networks between 2015 and 2021. We are undertaking a review of regional connectivity to ensure that the UK has the domestic transport connections on which local communities can rely, including regional airports. The Treasury is also reviewing air passenger duty to ensure that regional connectivity is supported while meeting the UK’s climate change commitment to meet net zero by 2050.

These measures featured in conversations with Flybe back in January and, in turn, it agreed to continue operating. Since then, we have been working tirelessly to explore multiple options with Flybe shareholders to find a solution. Flybe outlined that problems with its business had been compounded by the outbreak of coronavirus, which, in the past few days, has had a significant impact on demand. The directors have therefore decided that it was not viable to keep Flybe operating. Unfortunately, in a competitive market, companies do fail, and it is not the role of Government to prop them up.

Given the time of year, the nature of Flybe’s business and fleet, and the routes that it flies, sufficient alternative transport arrangements should be available, either with other airlines or by road and rail.

The number of passengers abroad is small and it is further reduced as a result of coronavirus. For those passengers who are abroad, there is sufficient capacity on commercial airlines to return to the UK. The Civil Aviation Authority and the Secretary of State are encouraging these airlines to offer rescue fares, and that is already happening. I thank those airlines, including easyJet, which has today announced that it will offer Flybe passengers a dedicated rescue fare until the end of May. We are working with bus and rail operators to support Flybe passengers to get to their destinations, and I am extremely grateful that the Rail Delivery Group has this morning confirmed that all operators are offering free travel to Flybe staff and passengers for a week.

I ask passengers due to fly with Flybe in the next few days not to turn up at the airport. Instead, they should look at the website set up by the Civil Aviation Authority, and talk to their travel agents, travel insurance providers and credit card companies. For those who do arrive at UK airports today, we are making Government representatives available to offer support and provide information to affected passengers.

I express my sincere sympathy to those who have lost their jobs as a result of this failure, including crew, engineers, technicians, staff at Flybe headquarters in Exeter and others. We understand that this is a worrying time for workers and their families. The Department for Work and Pensions stands ready to support anyone affected by the closure with its rapid response service offer, which will be available to all those affected through local Jobcentre Plus outlets. Additionally, in the event of any redundancies, there are special arrangements for employees who are owed redundancy payments and other payments by their insolvent employer. The redundancy payments service in the Insolvency Service can pay certain amounts owed to former employees from the national insurance fund. I will work with my ministerial colleagues to ensure that any redundancy payments are paid to affected employees as soon as possible.

We recognise the impact that this situation will have on UK airports, particularly those which have large-scale Flybe operations. The Government stand ready to support the sector, and I have full confidence that it will respond as effectively as it always has. We are urgently working with the industry to identify opportunities to fill routes, and I have spoken to the airlines today to emphasise this. Aviation is facing challenges globally due to the impact of coronavirus. The Government are well prepared for this, and as the wider economic picture becomes clearer, the Chancellor has said that he stands ready to announce further support where needed. I will be chairing a roundtable with members of the aviation industry next week to discuss issues presented by coronavirus.

I thank passengers for their patience and appreciate the work undertaken by everyone who has again stepped up to ensure that passengers and local communities are supported. We will continue to work across Government to ensure that passengers and staff are able to access the information and services they require at this sad and challenging time.

The collapse of Flybe is disastrous news for passengers and employees alike, and will cause real anxiety in many regions throughout the country. The loss of 2,000 jobs—many in areas that are very heavily reliant on aviation—will be an extremely heavy blow, as will the wider impact on supply chains and regional economies. About 2,000 direct jobs are due to be lost from this collapse. What steps is the Minister taking to help those workers to find new jobs?

Sadly, Flybe follows an ever-growing list of British airlines to go under in recent years, and the Civil Aviation Authority has time and again made monumental efforts to look after passengers. Will the Government draw on the skills and expertise of the CAA if existing capacity does not prove sufficient to guarantee that every Flybe passenger gets home safely? We must recognise the generous offers of assistance from other businesses to support Flybe staff and passengers, but yet again airline workers face an anxious and uncertain future while the Government have sat on their hands and allowed this to happen. Recent airline failures have already lost approximately 11,000 jobs. This time the Government must respond and provide Flybe staff with all the necessary support. Flybe has said that the impact of the coronavirus has contributed to its collapse, so what assessment has the Minister made of the risk to other airlines, and what preparations are now in place?

Flybe has provided critical regional connectivity for many locations throughout the country with no other viable option than flying. We listen to no end of rhetoric on the importance of regional connectivity, but yet again the Government have allowed a service of critical economic importance to fail. Any kind of positive or proactive approach has been completely lacking. The Government must now answer on how vital regional links will be maintained following Flybe’s collapse.

Finally, the sector has asked the Government to review the 80/20 rule whereby if they do not use the slots, they lose them. This forces airlines to continue with flights that are half-empty, or worse. Will the Minister address the industry’s concerns on this matter urgently? Will she break the radio silence that has been happening for many, many months on the issue of regional connectivity?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman in the sadness that he expressed about the loss of jobs for people working for Flybe. When any organisation collapses in this way, it is a sad day for the individuals and communities it affects. I personally am extremely committed to making sure that we, as a Government, are working with colleagues to ensure that those individuals—those staff members—are given the advice and support that they require. In particular, we are very lucky in that we have been engaging with the industry, which is pulling together, and some airlines have said that they are going to prioritise staff from Flybe within their recruitment process. So that is good, and I am hoping to see movement on it as time goes on.

Turning to next steps, with regard to the passengers, obviously everybody is concerned about individuals travelling and how they will get back and move around the country. I reiterate that the majority of Flybe passengers are travelling domestically. As I have outlined, we are working with the airlines on fares and on making sure that the capacity is there. We are also making sure that people can travel on the railways. Of course, those conversations will continue. I am having a meeting later today, so if any MP would like to ask specific questions or get an update on where we are with that information, I would be very grateful if they attended.

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, because we have had many debates and discussions on a number of things over the years, but I disagree with his statement that we have sat on our hands. We, as a Government, have absolutely been working hard on this. We have been determined to be able to work with shareholders and work with the company in order to secure Flybe for the future. I must be really clear: we are in this situation today because Flybe shareholders and directors took the decision to place the business in insolvency. This is not where I, as the aviation Minister, wanted to be with regard to Flybe.

I am acutely aware of the impact that this will have on regional airports. The hon. Gentleman is right: we have spoken a lot about regional connectivity. However, we are determined to deliver on our promises to the country—that is, making sure that we are levelling up, and that regional connectivity via those airports remains viable. My Department and officials are working really hard with the airlines and the airports. We have been speaking to them today. I personally have had conversations with the airlines and the airports today. We will be maintaining that work in order to establish replacements and the ability of the industry to pick up some of the routes that are affected. We will look at and discuss some of the ongoing challenges relating to those specific airports.

The 80/20 rule, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is controlled by Airport Coordination Ltd and the European Commission. The European Commission is central to that, as he will understand.

My Department and I, specifically, have been having these conversations. I am in connection with the industry to understand the challenges, and I am taking that forward to do what I can, in my role as a Minister, to ease this burden. I stand here willing to speak to anyone this afternoon and to give people updates as and when I can. I hope that has given some comfort.

On behalf of the Transport Committee, I want to express sympathy for the passengers inconvenienced and, in particular, the staff, who will be devastated and to whom I hope better things will come. Airline insolvency reform was in the Queen’s Speech. I know that the Minister works hard for business, but I want to press her: when will there be an opportunity to introduce legislation, so that we can help airlines as they either unwind or are able to recover?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and note his particular interest as Chair of the Select Committee. He is right that we announced in the Queen’s Speech that we would legislate to enhance the Civil Aviation Authority’s oversight of airlines and its ability to mitigate the impact of failure. I am keen to move that legislation forward as soon as possible, and I am happy to give him further updates.

First and foremost, this is horrendous news for the employees of Flybe, who have lost their jobs in an abrupt, public and distressing manner. Of the 2,000 Flybe staff, about 300 were based in Scotland, with 130 of them in my constituency at Glasgow airport. My thoughts are with all of them, and my constituency office stands ready to assist any local staff affected.

This is also terrible news for passengers, airports and, in particular, regional connectivity. I need not remind the Minister how important regional connectivity is to Scotland. Flybe operated over half the UK’s domestic capacity outside London—that is a huge gap to fill. That said, I am hopeful that some of these routes can be backfilled relatively quickly. I know that Glasgow airport has already had productive discussions with airlines, and in particular Loganair.

There is no doubt that Flybe management have questions to answer; the warning signs have been clear for many years. While I do not blame the UK Government for Flybe’s demise, they, too, have some serious questions to answer. The Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and spoke of the “rescue” of Flybe, yet here we are. I am sure that some passengers bought tickets as a result of the apparent strength of the Government intervention. Will the Government refund those passengers? The Secretary of State also made great play of the regional connectivity review—where is it? It was deemed urgent then, yet we have seen nothing. Moreover, many warned of the consequences of the Government failing to bring forward airline insolvency plans following the collapse of Monarch. It took Thomas Cook to go bust before this Government leapt into action, sadly all too late. If they had acted, we could have avoided the scenes at airports last night, with passengers and Flybe staff alike stranded.

I understand that the Secretary of State is to speak with Michael Matheson. What assurances can the Minister offer Scottish regional passengers? Will she consider extending public service obligations to key regional flights, which are lifeline services in parts of Scotland? The next few months will be extremely challenging for the entire travel and holiday sector. What assurances can she give that no more businesses will go to the wall, as this statement contains merely warm words and no actions?

I understand the distress and concern in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and region about the flights operating out of those airports. We have had some good news: Loganair has already committed to ensure that 16 of the routes stay in place. We are hopeful that we will be able to work with industry to pick up some of those routes, and I can assure him that the Department is determined to backfill those routes and maintain the viability of regional airports. He asked me a number of questions. I am more than happy to speak with him afterwards if he wants to go into detail and to speak with Scottish colleagues about the particular effect on Scotland and the PSO routes.

Flybe’s headquarters are based at Exeter airport in my constituency of East Devon. This is devastating news for Devon and for regional connectivity in the south-west. Now is the time to invest in the south-west, and my colleagues and I will be watching the Budget next week with great interest. My thoughts are with the people who have lost their jobs as a result of the decision taken by shareholders to walk away despite the support offered by the Government. Everything should now be done to support those who have lost their jobs, and I know that the Department for Work and Pensions is stepping up as we speak. Will the Minister explain what steps are being taken to secure as many Flybe routes as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I understand his particular concern about Exeter airport. It truly is sad for employees in his constituency, and just to reiterate, we do stand ready to do what we can for those individuals. We are working very hard in my Department, as we have been since the early hours of this morning, with the airlines to make sure that we can fill as many of the routes as possible. Those in the airline sector have been great in coming together and working with us in a very constructive way to deliver on that. I give him my assurances that I will be looking at this in the next days and weeks to make sure that we are able to continue our connectivity.

Giving evidence to the Treasury Committee yesterday, the Governor of the Bank of England said that the effect of coronavirus was likely to be “large”, but “temporary”. Does the Minister agree that if, at this very difficult time, infrastructure that might have survived without the problems caused by coronavirus is actually allowed to go to the wall by the Government, the effect of coronavirus will not be as temporary as the Governor thought?

I thank the hon. Lady, but I would disagree with her: we have not let Flybe go to the wall. However, we are assessing—and, as a responsible Government, we are continuing the preparation for—the wider economic impact of coronavirus. It is a moving picture, and as she would imagine, we are keeping things under close review. The Chancellor has said that if action needs to be taken, he stands ready to do so. We must remember that this was a commercial decision taken by an investor that has been affected by the coronavirus. We understand and are looking at the challenges, and we will continue to work to make sure that the economic prosperity of this country survives.

Eighty-four years ago, the first Spitfire flew from Southampton airport in my constituency, on 5 March 1936. The news last night will be devastating for the 1,500 people who rely on Southampton airport in my constituency. The Minister will know that 95% of flights at Southampton airport are provided by Flybe, and that the short runway means it is unlikely that other carriers will be able to take the brunt of replacement services. Will the Minister talk to the Treasury as soon as possible to ensure that the APD review concludes as quickly as possible and that local regional airports can expand if they need to?

I thank my hon. Friend. Regional airports are massively important for the regional connectivity of the UK, and so is air travel in getting people around. There are particular issues with Southampton airport, as my hon. Friend mentioned, given the short runway. The Chancellor was clear about the APD review, and we are clear that we will do the regional air connectivity review. I am very passionate about making sure that our regional airports stay viable and open.

I was meant to be a domestic flyer with Flybe this morning, but I could not get a train, and the infrastructure development of cycle links would not have helped either, because I was going to Belfast with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) on business for this place. Northern Ireland is uniquely dependent on Flybe. It is disappointing not to have a statement from the Government about that. What are they going to do to support the Northern Ireland economy, which will be devastated by this infrastructure decision?

As the hon. Lady will know, the decision to put the business into insolvency happened in the early hours of the morning. We have stood ready and worked hard to get a response out, and we have CAA and Government officials at some of the airports affected to deal with some of these issues. We are absolutely clear that Northern Ireland is a key part of connectivity around the United Kingdom. I have spoken with some Northern Irish colleagues this morning, and I am very clear that I will continue to work with them to find solutions that work for Northern Ireland in the future.

Today should be a day of celebration in Cornwall, as it is St Piran’s Day, but it will be tinged with sadness because of the devastating impact this will have on the Cornish economy, particularly so close to the Easter holidays, which mark the start of the tourism season. The Government already recognise the crucial importance of the Newquay to London link, because it is supported by a public sector obligation; will the Minister confirm that that PSO will remain backed by the Government, and will she work with me, Cornwall Council and the industry to find another carrier to pick up this vital route as urgently as possible?

I can confirm that we are determined to ensure that that route continues, and I will of course work with my hon. Friend and Cornwall Council to deliver that; we are doing so already, but we will step up efforts.

Overnight Northern Ireland has essentially lost about 25% of its capacity, and there may well be a lag in finding new carriers, with a knock-on impact for the local economy. In the Government’s response to the situation and in formulating a new strategy, will the Minister take into account the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland? A one-size-fits-all approach does not work, as we do not have alternative road and rail links. Also, in terms of climate change and APD, there might need to be some special consideration of the Northern Ireland situation.

I completely agree. I absolutely recognise that the situation is different in Northern Ireland, and the Department and I will work with regional colleagues to understand the specific issues relating to Northern Ireland and make sure that we are able to develop policies that work both for the Northern Irish people and for the economy.

This is awful news for Hampshire, and for the great number of our constituents who are going to face a very uncertain future. There is obviously not a queue of airlines waiting to pick up the regional Flybe routes, and let us be clear that that was the case before the covid-19 virus plunged the industry into even further doubt, but the basic truth is that if Flybe had never existed someone would have had to invent it. This model works brilliantly in the United States, where regional airlines, often backed by the larger carriers, are successful businesses, but Flybe clearly could not make it work this side of the pond. Why does the Minister think that is the case, and, realistically, what are this Government prepared to do? What can they do to change that, given the importance the Minister rightly placed today on regional connectivity and our manifesto commitments in this area?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern regarding the airport in his locality, but, as I have outlined, we have been clear about having a review of regional air connectivity and making sure that we truly understand the solutions. Once we have done that, we can work out ways to move forward. But today is very much about short-term solutions and the reaction to the collapse of Flybe. There are many issues, and I am more than happy to discuss them with my hon. Friend and other colleagues after the statement.

As the Minister will be aware, one of the partners in this failure is Stobart, which operates Teesside airport on behalf of the Tees Valley Mayor and was contracted to do the job because of so-called expertise in the industry. This must be an added anxiety for the Mayor, who has seen losses increase at the airport under Stobart’s management. He said that it is business as usual this morning for flights, despite many of them being dependent on Flybe systems. Can the Minister also guarantee that all flights from Teesside will operate as normal and that there is no cause for concern?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have a fantastic Mayor in Teesside, and I have had discussions with him. One of the things we will be doing is making sure that, as I have said today, we are working really hard within the Department, talking to airlines and to the airports to make sure that we are able to provide and backfill some of those routes and that the airports remain as viable as possible.

Obviously my sympathies go out to the staff affected by the collapse of Flybe, and also the passengers affected in Banff and Buchan and throughout north-east Scotland, because a large number of its flights would have been serviced from Aberdeen. I know the Government are committed to levelling up regional connectivity across the whole United Kingdom, not least from discussions I have had recently with the Secretary of State specifically on the loss of other flights between Aberdeen and London: Flybe’s own flight to London City; Loganair’s to Southend, recently; and the easyJet flight to Gatwick last year. Can my hon. Friend confirm that she will work closely with the industry, the airports and the airlines to minimise the disruption caused by the loss of these Flybe routes?

I understand my hon. Friend’s specific concerns, which we have spoken about before. As I have tried to describe from the Dispatch Box today, I am very keen to work with the airlines and those airports to understand the specific issues and challenges that we need to address to enable those routes and flights to continue. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and colleagues.

Obviously, the regional point-to-point services will be the priority, but will the Minister bear in mind that, especially for services from Scotland, Flybe provided the limited competition that we have at the hub airports at Heathrow and London City? Those slots will be much more difficult to fill. Will she impress on the airport operators that those slots must be kept available for regional flights and must not just be snaffled up by the big guys doing long-haul?

I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns. As he will appreciate, I have already had conversations this morning with the airlines and my officials, and we will continue to do that in order to maintain regional connectivity and those routes. The conversations are ongoing, and we will be working through this over the next few days and into next week.

South-east airports such as Southampton’s have a role to play in levelling up because they provide connectivity to Belfast, Scotland and all parts of the United Kingdom. Does my hon. Friend also recognise that Southampton airport provides a vital link to the Channel Islands for those seeking medical treatment at Southampton General Hospital? Will she undertake to make the airport one of her key priorities, given its 95% reliance on Flybe flights, and reassure Hampshire colleagues that she is absolutely cognisant of the impact of its short runway?

I note my right hon. Friend’s particular concerns about Southampton; a number of colleagues have already addressed some of the challenges there. It is absolutely true that Southampton airport is vital for passengers travelling from the Channel Islands for health reasons. I am absolutely committed to making sure that I work with colleagues, airlines and airports to solve some of the issues following the collapse of Flybe.

I share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) about the lack of attention that the Government seem to have paid to routes to Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is also involved: Cardiff airport, which will be hit badly by this announcement as well, had crucial routes to both Belfast and Dublin.

Will ferry travel be included either in the free travel being offered by the rail companies or in rescue fares? Obviously, routes to Holyhead, particularly through Pembroke and Fishguard, could also be a way of enabling passengers to get to their destinations.

The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point. As I hope he will appreciate, when I came to the Chamber conversations were still going on; we literally had the agreements on rail and with regard to easyJet just before I came in. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer, but I assure him that my colleagues and officials at the Department for Transport are working on those very options to get individuals home.

My constituency is home to Birmingham airport, and the collapse of Flybe is extremely worrying. My thoughts go out to all the hard-working staff who will be worrying about their jobs this morning. Will the Minister tell us what measures the Department for Transport will be taking to ensure that Flybe staff are fully supported in getting new jobs? Will the DFT continue to monitor the situation and encourage other airlines to take them on?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the staff and some of the challenges. We are lucky today to have the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), on the Front Bench. She will roll out the rapid response service for those staff.

As I have outlined, Loganair has agreed to prioritise some of Flybe’s former staff. We will be working really hard with it and the rest of the industry to make sure that we can get those people into new jobs. Some of them are highly skilled and have great experience. We need to make sure that we find them new roles as soon as possible.

I thank the Minister for taking the time to call me this morning and to extend her thoughts and offer support to all those affected at Belfast City airport and in the surrounding areas. She knows that Flybe catered for 67% of all passengers who travel through Belfast City airport and 80% of its total network, so this is hugely important.

I indicated to the Minister this morning that I believe that this a huge test for the Government. They have been large in their ambition when it comes to commitments on and the importance of regional connectivity, but light on detail and delivery. In recognising just how crucial regional connectivity is, will she assure us that the Chancellor—through air passenger duty—and other Departments will do all they can to make sure that we have the best conditions to not only support but grow regional connectivity, which is so crucial to our local economy?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am personally very interested in and care a lot about the Northern Ireland economy and some of the differences there compared with mainland UK. I reiterate that we are committed to regional connectivity, and I will work hard on that in this role. We had a manifesto commitment to consider the devolution of short-haul APD in Northern Ireland. We will work with the restored Northern Ireland Executive to consider any proposals submitted for the devolution of short-haul APD, and I stand ready to engage with Northern Irish colleagues at any time to take particular issues forward.

As somebody who, many moons ago, trained up as an airline pilot, I have a lot of sympathy with former colleagues. The sector is very much seen as a specialised sector, so will my hon. Friend work with the Employment Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who I am grateful to see in the Chamber—to address the perception of specialisation? Other employers might see that as a barrier to entry, as opposed to looking at people’s transferrable skills.

I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend is right about the highly skilled nature of some individuals who have been working for Flybe. They absolutely have transferrable skills that can be used in other sectors. We will work together closely to make sure that we do all we can to recognise that.

The GMB trade union estimates that 1,400 supply chain jobs are at risk, as well as the 2,000 Flybe jobs. I welcome the support that the hon. Lady has mentioned from the Department for Work and Pensions. Will that be extended to supply chain employees, and will lessons be learned from the problems that some former Thomas Cook employees faced at jobcentres after that collapse? The Flybe overseas pension scheme is based in the Isle of Man, so members do not have access to the Pension Protection Fund. Can she offer any reassurance to members about the future of their pensions?

As the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, we are working across Government—across the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions—on the response to the collapse of Flybe, to make sure that all the issues and troubles, particularly for staff, are addressed and that we are able to respond. I am happy to give him more updates at our briefing later in relation to specific, detailed questions on some of the issues that he raises. We stand ready to make sure that we deliver for individuals who have been made redundant. We also learned a lot from Thomas Cook’s collapse, but I remind him that this is not at the same level as it was with Thomas Cook.

Flybe is regrettably the second failure of a UK-based business in this sector in just six months. What parallels does my hon. Friend see with the collapse of Thomas Cook last September, and what lessons have been learned to ensure that the sector is not affected again in the near future?

My hon. Friend will know that we are working hard with the industry and the sector to understand some of the challenges. It is key to highlight that the Flybe collapse, in particular, has been reported as being due to the effects of coronavirus, so we are obviously seeing the impacts of that. We are not where we wanted to be as a Government—we were working hard to secure Flybe’s future. However, he is absolutely right, and as a responsible Department, we are making sure that we have those conversations with businesses and are absolutely on board with what is going on.

This is the second occasion in six months when workers have tried to get to their workplace to be told that their company has ceased trading. This surely suggests that the regional connectivity review is urgent, so can the Minister tell us a timetable for the completion of the review?

The regional air connectivity review is something that I am particularly interested in, and I am glad, as the Minister just appointed, that I will be heavily involved in it. As the hon. Gentleman would imagine, I am pushing for the review to be done as soon as possible.

For many, domestic flights are sometimes the only viable option. Does the Minister agree that no business should be held back by poor transport links, and that we must do more to build up infrastructure in certain parts of the country?

Absolutely, and that is what this Government are committed to delivering on. We are committed to delivering and levelling up all regions of the country, and that includes air, rail and other forms of transport. In the Department for Transport we are determined to do that and to deliver on the Government’s objectives.

More than half the flights out of Wales, particularly from Cardiff, are Flybe, and the Minister will know that Flybe was reliant on domestic flights but also on European flights and therefore, like Thomas Cook, was badly hit by Brexit. Is the Minister evaluating companies that are facing Brexit weakness and then coronavirus? What is she doing about that? More generally, what are the Government doing about that?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s point is that we are working with industry and speaking to industry to understand the challenges that are faced, particularly by airlines and more generally, with the advent of coronavirus. We seek to understand the issues relating to the UK as well as the impact on the global airline trade, which obviously will also affect the UK. That work is ongoing and we will continue to work to make sure that we have a good understanding and take action that is appropriate in order to maintain what we can.

Staff and suppliers will be devastated by the collapse of Flybe. Regional economies and cultural activities will also be severely impacted, especially in the absence of decent cross-country rail links, as in the north-east. This weekend, Newcastle United fans were due to fly to Southampton for the premiership match. Newcastle United fans have enough to deal with, with exploitative ownership, without having to make rip-off last-minute travel plans, so what will she do to ensure that they get to the match, and to support Newcastle—the airport, that is, not the team?

I support the airport, although I do not support football much. But Newcastle is a great team. The hon. Lady raises a key point. As I have outlined, we are working with transport providers to make sure that people who planned to use Flybe are able to travel. I will take that forward as a specific action. I thank the hon. Lady.

As the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) mentioned, last night’s announcement will have a significant effect on Welsh connectivity. More than 50% of flights from Cardiff airport were operated by Flybe. Scotland and Northern Ireland have powers over APD, and they may be able to use them to mitigate the damage. Will the British Government remove their ideological opposition to empowering the Welsh Government with this vital tool?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s question and his concerns. At the moment we do not have any plans to change the APD policy. Our policy is as per the Exchequer Secretary’s response to the Welsh Affairs Committee report in September 2019:

“The UK Government has carefully considered the evidence gathered by the Welsh Affairs Committee and your final report, alongside reports commissioned by the Welsh Government and Bristol Airport.”

I thank the Minister for her response. It is always important to hear her words and direction. In Northern Ireland the significance of Belfast City airport is greater than that of other airports as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) has said. There has been some indication that other airlines may be prepared to fill those gaps. Is there any indication whether that will happen? The UK is the only major European nation to see a decline in direct connectivity in each of the past two years and, given the sad news today, surely the Government must take urgent action to reduce APD at all levels.

We will work as closely as we can with the airports and airlines serving Northern Ireland so that we can maintain that connectivity, because connectivity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is important. The Chancellor has made a commitment to review APD, and I have already outlined our manifesto commitment to deliver on short-haul APD in Northern Ireland.

Bill Presented

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Priti Patel, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Thérèse Coffey, Secretary Brandon Lewis, Justin Tomlinson and Kevin Foster, presented a Bill to make provision to end rights to free movement of persons under retained EU law and to repeal other retained EU law relating to immigration; to confer power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to social security co-ordination; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 9 March, and to be printed (Bill 104) with explanatory notes (Bill 104-EN).