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Covid-19: Public Transport

Volume 673: debated on Thursday 12 March 2020

We have published health guidance for staff and the transport sector, following carefully the Public Health England advice on protocols. In addition, I have contacted the various ports on several occasions.

As the Secretary of State knows, the World Health Organisation has declared covid-19 to be a pandemic. Will he clarify what new measures will be taken to keep passengers and transport workers safe on public transport?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Obviously, the issue of covid-19 is occupying the minds of everybody in this country at the moment. As an example, 2,500 posters—digital as well as printed—have gone up in our railway stations. There is a very wide programme of enhanced engagement, and we are working with the Public Health England protocols. Yesterday I met the chief executive and chair of Network Rail to discuss the subject. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who has responsibility for aviation, and I have also had similar discussions with all the aviation industry leaders.

Yesterday, we saw welcome support in the Budget for small and medium-sized enterprises to deal with coronavirus, but ferry companies and airlines are very much at the forefront of that challenge. What financial support and liquidity are available to these companies? Will the Secretary of State update the House on what progress he has made on reforming slot allocation, and will he meet me and sector representatives to discuss the adequacy of the Government’s support so far?

My hon. Friend was absolutely right last week to raise the issue of the so-called ghost flights; I think he was the first person to raise the matter in this House. I have since written both to the slots allocator in this country, Airport Coordination Limited, and to the European Commission, which has indicated that it will alleviate those slots to stop empty flights flying. My hon. Friend is also right about the pressure that the airlines are under, and we are doing further work with the Civil Aviation Authority and the EU, particularly over EU regulation 261. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss the matter.