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Covid-19: Aviation

Volume 676: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2020

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on covid-19 and the economic impact on aviation.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has asked me to respond on his behalf.

The covid-19 crisis has affected every person in the country and every sector of the UK economy, and aviation is essential to that economy. It connects the regions together and it plays a huge part in the UK’s future as a global trading nation. That is why the Government have responded to the crisis with an unprecedented package of measures. On 24 March, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote to the aviation sector setting out the schemes being made available, including the deferral of VAT payments, the covid commercial finance facility and the coronavirus job retention scheme. The Civil Aviation Authority is also working with airlines, airports and ground handlers to provide appropriate flexibility within the regulatory framework. If airlines, airports or other aviation organisations find themselves in trouble because of coronavirus and have exhausted the measures already available to them, the Government have been clear that they are prepared to enter into discussions with individual companies seeking bespoke support.

We recognise that there remain serious challenges for the aviation sector, despite the measures that have been put in place. It will take time for passenger numbers to recover, and the impact will be felt first and foremost by the sector’s employees. The recent announcements about redundancies from companies such as British Airways, Virgin and easyJet will be very distressing news for employees and their families. These are commercial decisions that I regret, particularly from companies that benefit from the job retention scheme, which was not designed for taxpayers to fund the wages of employees only for those companies to put the same staff on notice of redundancy during the furlough period.

The Government stand ready to support anyone affected, with the Department for Work and Pensions available to help employees identify and access the support that is available. My Department has set up a restart, recovery and engagement unit to work with the aviation industry on the immediate issues affecting the restart of the sector and its longer-term growth and recovery. As part of that, we have established an aviation restart and recovery expert steering group, which is formed of representatives across the sector, including airports, airlines and ground handlers, industry bodies and unions.

The sustainable recovery of the aviation sector is a core part of our commitment to global connectivity and growing the UK economy. With airports, airlines and other parts of the aviation sector, we are putting in place the building blocks for recovery. The House will be updated as soon as possible on the next steps.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving aviation workers in your constituency and across the nation the chance to have their voice heard. I am grateful to the Minister for being a tireless champion for the sector.

This is a hugely challenging time for the aviation economy. Job losses are inevitable, but many of us are concerned that companies are using the pandemic as a justification to slash jobs and employment terms—step forward British Airways, the only airline that is effectively sacking its entire 42,000 workforce and replacing it with 30,000 jobs on inferior terms. BA has tried that before, but its workforce resisted. It is ethically outrageous that our national flag carrier is doing that when the nation is at its weakest and when we expect the country to do its bit.

May I ask the Government to use their full weight to stop unscrupulous employers using the pandemic as a chance to slash terms and conditions? Will the Department ask the Civil Aviation Authority to undertake an urgent review of reallocating lucrative landing slots at Heathrow to companies such as British Airways that indicate that they are downsizing, and perhaps handing them to companies that wish to expand and take on workers? BA has 51% of Heathrow landing slots, including the most profitable to John F. Kennedy airport. Will the Government change the job retention scheme to stop employers using it while simultaneously putting employees on redundancy notice?

On quarantine, that is the wrong policy at the worst possible time for the aviation sector and the economy. It gives companies such as BA justification for shedding staff and worsening terms and conditions. Thirteen of our 15 most popular international destinations have a lower R rate than we do. Will the Government commit to reviewing quarantine, bringing in air bridges from safer destinations, and developing an immediate exit strategy to allow the aviation sector to plan ahead? The situation is grave, but there is still time to save the aviation sector with further Government support and action to ensure that companies such as British Airways do their patriotic duty and stand by their hard-working and loyal staff, rather than deserting them.

I thank my hon. Friend for his work as Chair of the Select Committee on Transport and the fair but firm way in which he is standing up for the aviation sector.

My hon. Friend asked about the Government’s ability to stop employers making poor use of the pandemic to slash terms and conditions. I certainly would not expect employers to use the pandemic as a chance to do so. I think most people would agree that terms and conditions are usually a matter for employees and employers, but employees have recourse to a number of options for support in cases in which that is happening. I highlight the fact that in crises such as this we would hope that all organisations that are taking such measures treat their employees with the social responsibility that one would expect. I will do everything in my power to make sure that that is understood by those organisations.

My hon. Friend asked about the ability to reorganise the slots process. He is right to raise that. The Government are currently legally prevented from intervening in the slots allocation process. However, we want airport landing and take-off slots to be used as effectively as possible for UK consumers. As the UK aviation market recovers from the impacts of this terrible disease, I want to ensure that the slots allocation process encourages competition and provides connectivity, so that is something I will be looking at.

The Prime Minister has been clear, and I will be clear again today, that the job retention scheme was not designed for this purpose. It will be for Treasury to review the specifics of the scheme, and I am sure that colleagues will be taking note of today’s proceedings.

The Home Secretary will be making a statement on the quarantine measures immediately after this, and I do not want to pre-empt her, but I can confirm that the measures will be subject to regular review. My Department, through the aviation restart and recovery unit, is working non-stop with the sector and Government partners to plan for the future of aviation, enabling it to recover. No option is off the table, and we are looking closely at air bridges, which are also known as international corridors. I will be working tirelessly, as I have done over the last 10 weeks, to do whatever I can to mitigate the impacts that have been felt by the aviation sector.

I congratulate the Chair of the Transport Committee on securing this urgent question. The aviation industry is looking to the Chancellor for leadership, but he is not here today, and it has been locked in a holding pattern once again. While the Treasury dithers and delays, the crisis continues to unfold, with 12,000 job losses at BA—a quarter of its workforce; 4,500 redundancies at easyJet; 3,000 staff at threat of redundancy at Virgin Atlantic; GE Aviation making a quarter of its global workforce redundant, with jobs at risk in south Wales; and Airbus describing this as the biggest crisis in its history. So where is the urgency, the clarity and the specific support package that the Chancellor referred to back in March?

This is a sector that contributes £22 billion a year to our economy, with 230,000 jobs across the industry and the manufacturing supply chain dependent on it. It needs to change to meet the challenge of climate change. So why did one industry leader tell the Transport Committee just a fortnight ago that the Government were “asleep at the wheel”? Can the Minister go back and wake the Treasury up?

We have been calling for an aviation sector deal. Can we have one? If so, by when? British Airways has taken taxpayers’ cash to furlough its staff. Why is anyone surprised by that? We warned the Government that this would happen. Will the Government now ensure that any bail-outs come with conditions to protect jobs, workers’ rights and taxpayers’ money? Will the Government ensure that any company in receipt of support from British taxpayers also has its tax base here in the UK? Will the Government hold them to tougher environmental targets to achieve our net zero ambition, rather than simply allowing them to go bust through Government inaction and incompetence?

Finally, we have the Home Secretary ambling along this afternoon with a face-saving quarantine plan that has huge consequences for our economy and without any publication of any evidence to support it on public health grounds. None of this is good enough. This is an issue for our whole economy. With respect to the Minister, her Department is neither use nor ornament. We need the Treasury to act. The Chancellor should be here. They should have turned up this afternoon, and I hope she will take that message back in the strongest possible terms.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place as shadow Minister. I am responding to this urgent question as the Minister responsible for aviation who has been working with the sector over the last 10 weeks to understand the impacts and the issues related to our airlines, airports and the whole aviation sector.

We cannot overestimate the impact that the coronavirus has had on the whole UK economy, and the aviation sector has been acutely affected. We have been working hard in Government, and it is pretty clear for most people to see the unprecedented level of support that the Chancellor and this Government have delivered across the economy, which has had a massive impact in the aviation sector. The Chancellor was incredibly clear that any business that had explored all the Government schemes and needed bespoke support as a last resort could enter into discussions with the Government. It is absolutely right that we request those private businesses to exhaust all other options before that, including raising capital from existing investors and exhausting all the economy-wide measures that are in place.

The job retention furlough scheme has had a massive impact in the aviation sector in keeping people employed. As I outlined in my opening answer to the urgent question, I will do whatever I can as Aviation Minister to encourage companies to use the furlough scheme and make use of the other Government schemes without making people redundant. We absolutely have not been asleep at the wheel. I am not sure that anybody else recognises that description. Of course, a bail-out by the taxpayer or any other Government support would need to comply with state aid rules and require us to meet our legal obligations, particularly on climate change.

On quarantine, the Prime Minister made it very clear at PMQs just now that we need to keep the infection under control, and the Home Secretary will introduce measures to try to mitigate it.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Aviation supports 1 million jobs in the UK, including 114,000 in aerospace and 1,700 in my constituency, and international air travel is necessary for trade; without it, there is no global Britain. Given that, instead of introducing measures to close Britain off to the rest of the world, why are the Government not taking a lead in developing an international aviation health screening standard, to save jobs and ensure that Britain is open for business?

I recognise the importance of the aviation sector, particularly in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. The restart and recovery unit, which we set up within the Department, is working across Government, the sector, including the airlines, airports and ground handlers, and trade bodies, and looking at how we can do exactly that—get internationally agreed standard health measures. We are working incredibly hard to gain consumer confidence so that people want to travel again. We want to meet our objective of keeping people safe and reducing the spread of coronavirus while also trying to get the aviation sector up and running as quickly as possible.

Back in March, the Chancellor said he was working on a specific package of help for airports and airlines. We are still waiting for that support. Will the Minister press the Chancellor at least to follow the Scottish Government’s lead in giving the industry 100% business rates relief for a year? Will she also echo what the Chair of the Transport Committee said about the despicable behaviour of Willie Walsh and IAG? In the short term, we all understand and accept that the industry needs to reduce in size, but the manner in which Mr Walsh is choosing to do this should be illegal, if it is not already.

This affects the supply chain too. Sadly Rolls-Royce has today confirmed it intends to cut 700 jobs at Inchinnan in my constituency. The company is looking to offshore yet more work, despite having taken UK Government research and development money and job retention scheme money. The UK, but particularly Inchinnan, is being disproportionately affected. Are the Government engaged with, or have they offered any support to, Rolls-Royce to mitigate job losses? Finally, will the Minister join me in urging Rolls-Royce to engage meaningfully with the Scottish Government on supporting jobs at Inchinnan?

The hon. Gentleman has raised several of these points with me previously, and I have tried to articulate to him before the support being offered to the aviation sector. Once it has looked at all the Government schemes and exhausted all other possibilities, such as going to shareholders to see whether they can support their businesses, businesses in the sector can come to the Government to discuss bespoke support. As he would imagine, those discussions are ongoing.

On business rates, which the hon. Gentleman has, rightly, mentioned before, the Chancellor was clear about where those business rate alleviations would happen and that is obviously a matter for the Treasury. On the impact of the reduction in aviation on the wider jobs market in the aerospace industry, and particularly on Rolls-Royce, as I have outlined, the furlough scheme was not introduced in order for businesses to put people on notice of redundancy while they were on furlough. As hon. Members would expect, we will work across Government, including with colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to assess the significant impact that will be felt across the economy, and particularly in the wider aerospace sector. We will do whatever we can to ensure that we engage with those businesses and protect as many jobs as possible.

Manchester airport generates 100,000 jobs and is an essential motor for growth across the north of England. If we are to save those jobs, it is essential that companies behave responsibly, and that the Government partner with the sector to ensure that the vital peak summer season goes ahead. For that to happen, we need immediate clarity about the criteria for safe countries, and the names of the countries that will be air bridges should be put in place rapidly.

My hon. Friend is right. Across Government, we are working with the sector, at pace, and with officials and representatives, to get those measures in place so that people can get back into the air and travel as soon as possible. I caveat that with the point that ultimately, limiting the spread of coronavirus and keeping the UK population safe must be our priority, but I am determined and will work hard to find a solution.

As we have heard, British Airways has taken public money from the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme that was intended to protect workers’ jobs, and instead it has used it to put 12,000 workers on notice of redundancy. The purpose of the scheme is to keep people in work, not to let them go on the cheap. Will the Minister join me in condemning that behaviour, and will she ensure that any further support will protect the workforce as intended?

Shareholders and employers should consider their social responsibility to the people in their businesses. They take the benefits in the good times, and they should share the burden when times are harder, particularly when in receipt of taxpayer moneys. As I have said, I will do all I can to ensure that that is understood by those organisations.

The Minster will be aware of how important the airline sector is to connecting Scotland not just with the rest of the United Kingdom, but with the whole world. With airlines under pressure and flight paths being reduced, there is real concern in Scotland that it might lose out. Will the Minister reassure me that the Government will do everything they can to protect Scotland’s air connections, not just with the rest of the UK, but across the world?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Air connectivity with all our devolved Administrations, particularly Scotland, is important, and regional connectivity and our smaller airports will very much feature in our planning for the recovery stage. I am incredibly cognisant of the fact that we must do a lot of work to keep that connectivity and deliver on our levelling up agenda, and that is exactly what I intend to do.

I thank the Minister for her answers, and I echo the point about the use of taxpayers’ money and the furlough scheme, and the corporate responsibility of carriers such as British Airways. A 14-day quarantine would ground the aviation industry and all jobs and businesses that rely on it, but as yet we have not provided aviation-specific financial support. Given that the 14-day quarantine is in effect a Government mandated shutdown of a large part of the passenger airline industry, does the Minister agree that sector-specific financial support should be provided, as we have done for other sectors that have been directly shut down, such as shops and pubs?

I recognise the importance of the aviation sector in my hon. Friend’s constituency; he has been a champion of it and spoken to me about this issue a number of times already. We absolutely have already delivered unprecedented financial support already for the airlines, which have the ability to access the Government schemes. As we move through the period of restart and recovery, we are working with the industry to assess what the problems, issues and requirements will be. We have not taken anything off the table and we will continue to work through things. We are obviously working closely with the sector to deliver on the quarantine announcement.

It is worth repeating that British Airways, which has benefited from covid-19 taxpayers’ support, has issued redundancy notices to its entire 42,000-strong workforce and shamelessly intends to make 12,000 redundant and to rehire the remainder on much worse contracts. British Airways has taken hundreds of millions of pounds of Government money that is intended to protect workers’ jobs. In the words of the many British Airways employees in my Leicester East constituency who fear for their futures, this is immoral, opportunistic and greedy. Did the Government not agree conditions? Do they plan to stand up to this corporate bully? Will they say now—now—how they will guarantee protections for workers?

I feel the concerns of BA workers and others, and we want to make the point to these organisations that the use of Government schemes is preferable to making redundancies. Terms and conditions are a matter for negotiation between employers and employees—the Government are not part of that—but I have already stated that we would expect employers to treat employees fairly and in the spirit of partnership.

Up to one in three households in the London Borough of Hounslow could be affected by job losses at Heathrow. Will the Government work with aviation communities and their local councils, and with aviation unions, to deal with the economic and social impact on our communities of the decimation of the aviation sector?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point, because it is quite right. The Department for Work and Pensions stands ready to support anyone who is affected by the announcements and those job losses. As the Minister responsible for the aviation sector, I have said that I am keen to work regionally, where we can, when particular areas may or may not be affected disproportionately by the loss of these jobs.

Without airports, there can be no aviation sector. Many of our smaller regional airports, such as Cornwall Airport Newquay, have been deeply impacted by this crisis, and there is great concern about their future. Such airports will be vital to the recovery of the aviation sector and, indeed, the wider economy, so will the Minister say what steps she is taking to support our regional airports?

My hon. Friend is quite right that the regional airports—our smaller airports throughout the UK—will be and have been affected by coronavirus. I have given my assurances to those smaller airports that we will work with them on the recovery stage to secure our connectivity. They are important pieces of infrastructure and I am very cognisant of the fact that once such important pieces of infrastructure are closed or lost, it is harder to reinvigorate them, so I will be working my hardest to try to protect them.

My many constituents who are employed by British Airways are absolutely devastated by the threat of losing their jobs and the proposed downgrading of their terms and conditions of employment. That is a message that BA needs to hear loud and clear from this House. I am glad to hear that the Minister shares the concern of so many Members about the proposals, but will she go further and condemn this behaviour and make it a condition of any financial or business support that BA reverses its decision?

I have been clear with the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) about my position on that particular point. We need to recognise that coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on all businesses, and that airlines are not immune from some of the financial challenges faced by other parts of the economy. However, we absolutely stand by the point that this was not the intention of the job retention scheme; I think I have already made that point.

If British Airways continues to treat its employees with contempt by refusing to take section 188 off the table and refusing to move the deadline past 15 June, will the Government consider speaking to the Aviation Authority to encourage it to remove the airline’s legacy landing slots as leverage to ensure that it treats its employees with the respect that they deserve?

I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have outlined, businesses get the benefits from being shareholders in the good times, and they should be sharing the burden in the bad times. Ultimately, it is the workers who make—and, really, dictate the success of—any business. I have already outlined that there are opportunities as we work through coronavirus and move to the end of December, and I am quite willing to look at anything that can benefit, open up and increase competition in the aviation sector.

In the Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe), she said that she wanted to make the point to BA that the job retention scheme was not to be used for redundancies. Can she confirm specifically what engagement the Government have had with BA? It is at least three weeks since I was first contacted by constituents who are appalled by the way in which they are being treated after a lifetime of loyal service. What have the Government actually done to engage with BA on this point?

The hon. Lady will accept that I have been engaging regularly throughout the last 10 weeks with the whole aviation sector, including with BA and other organisations that have made similar announcements, and I will continue to do that. Questions such as this will make a clear point to those organisations. As I have said before, the organisations taking these decisions ultimately need customers, and if customers view that their actions are below par, people might start voting with their feet when booking flights.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) for securing this urgent question. As an MP for Greater Manchester, I am particularly concerned about Manchester airport and the wider impact on the north-west aerospace and aviation industry. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me what assessment she and her Department have done regarding employment in the sector itself and in the wider supply chain?

I thank my hon. Friend and note the importance of the Manchester airport, which is close to his constituency, and the work that is done there. We have been engaging with the airport extensively over the past 10 weeks, as hon. Members would expect. We are working across Government, through a Government-led taskforce on aviation. I am working with my colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to look at the extent of the impact on a wide range of jobs in the sector, not only at airlines and airports. That work is ongoing and will very much influence policy.

Liverpool John Lennon airport in my constituency supports 7,000 jobs and contributes £240 million in gross value added to the local economy, but saw no international flights at all from mid-April to mid-May. The chaotic and strangely timed Government quarantine plan will prevent any early recovery and cost the aviation industry generally more. In view of this, what specific support will the Minister offer to the aviation industry generally, and to regional airports in particular, in exchange for this sudden imposition of Government policy?

Our priority is clear: it has been to halt and limit the spread of the coronavirus. Officials in our Department are working with the sector in order to gain a set of standard health measures that can be applied across the industry and that will be internationally recognised. We are working with the sector to find ways in which we can allow people to travel safely and come into the country without the need for quarantine, but ultimately it is absolutely the right time to implement quarantining as we are seeing a reduced number of transmissions and we want to protect the UK and the people within it.

My constituents in Hertford and Stortford who are employed by British Airways at Stansted airport are desperately worried for their jobs. Will my hon. Friend join me in supporting them and condemning BA? Will she also urge BA—a profitable cash-rich company that has availed itself of Government support in this crisis—in the context of Project Birch to engage with the Government, unions and staff and not to destroy my constituents’ jobs?

Like my hon. Friend, I too have British Airways employees in my constituency and I understand the pain and worry that this is causing those individuals. There is so much concern among the whole of the UK population about what this means for them economically, and I have made the point that this is not what we would expect. Quite rightly, we are not part of the ongoing discussions, but I will monitor them. I will continue to talk to the unions and to those businesses in order to limit the number of jobs that are lost.

I have had scores of emails from people representing years of loyal service to British Airways, who initially welcomed these lefty-looking furlough and job retention schemes and are now finding that the public purse is being used to effectively chuck ’em on the scrapheap. May I ask the Minister to revive another old Labour tradition and, rather than acting a bit like a bystander, bang some heads together and get the unions, the airlines and the Government round the table—they can have beer and sandwiches at No. 10 if they like—to thrash out a sector-specific deal to save aviation in this country?

I like the hon. Lady’s optimism for beer and sandwiches. I personally do not drink beer, so that would not necessarily be of benefit to me. Wine is more to my taste. But I should say that we remain committed as a Government to do what we need to do and align the policies in order to get planes up in the air. The aviation sector is so important for the UK economy and it will remain so, particularly with our regional connectivity. We will work through this crisis with the aviation sector in mind, working on what we can do to mitigate its impact.

Will the Minister continue to press the Home Office on introducing a flexible quarantine rather than a blanket quarantine, so that countries with high infection rates can be targeted rather than every country, including those with low infection rates? While she has the opportunity, given that some extensions have been given to review periods, will she give a commitment to the House that any review, post 29 June, will be for three weeks and three weeks only and will not be extended to four weeks or further?

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that any quarantine review period needs to be understood by the sector. As I have already outlined, we are working with the sector and we are investigating air bridges. There is a lot of work going on internationally as well, with other international organisations, and that is quite right because this is not something that purely affects the UK. In relation to quarantine, a number of countries are following suit or have already implemented measures at this time. The Home Secretary will be making a statement immediately after this in relation to the policy, and I obviously do not want to pre-empt anything that she might say.

It is quite clear from the callous and cavalier attitude of Willie Walsh that he only understands one piece of language, so may I gently suggest to the Minister that this matter definitely needs to be escalated? When will the Prime Minister pick up the phone to Willie Walsh and make it crystal clear to BA that unless it halts its plans, those much-coveted slots at Heathrow will go? We need much stronger language from the Government on this, because many of my constituents are frankly cheesed off about it.

I accept that constituents will be concerned and upset; that is a completely understandable position.  I have tried to outline that I will do what I can as aviation Minister to mitigate or limit the number of job losses. We have not stopped working on that—I have not, and the Prime Minister was also clear that this matter was not in the spirit of the furlough scheme—and we will keep on working on that.

The slowdown in the aviation sector is having a big impact on jobs in my constituency—Airbus, Rolls-Royce and GKN employ several thousand people—so does my hon. Friend agree that we must get the aviation sector working again quickly, not only to protect jobs, but to preserve our country’s world-leading industrial manufacturing capability in civil aerospace and, crucially, in defence?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is right to say that the success of the aviation industry has a direct impact on some of the wider aviation manufacturing technology being developed in this country, and it has a particular effect in my constituency too. We will continue to work across government to understand the full impact this has in the wider supply chain and to provide mitigation as far as we are able.

On Asda, Marks & Spencer, B&Q, John Lewis and Sainsbury’s, the Minister and I have been here before, when employers have been choosing to reduce terms and conditions for their long-standing staff simply with 90 days’ notice. BA, however, is the employer that bears our country’s name and holds our country’s flag; is this what we want for Britain in post-coronavirus times? We will not fight our way out of a depression by reducing people’s pay.

The hon. Lady is right to say that we have had conversations in this vein many times before. As I said in my opener, I regret the job announcements that the organisations have made. We also need to accept that we are in unprecedented times, and we are working hard with the sector—with all stakeholders, including unions, industry representatives and companies —to fully understand what that will mean for the future and what we need to do to provide mitigation. I have set out my position a number of times today and I will continue to work to try to limit those job losses.

Although the aviation industry will face significant challenges in the months and years ahead, regional airports across the UK will continue to be well placed to increase economic growth and boost connectivity in the longer term. Does my hon. Friend agree that restoring commercial passenger flights from Blackpool airport in the longer term could boost tourism, increase economic growth and really help to deliver the Government’s levelling-up agenda?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; regional airports can have such a major impact on the local communities they serve, and there is much pride in having an airport within one’s area. These airports are absolutely part of our levelling-up agenda and of being able to increase and improve our UK’s connectivity, not just within the UK, but abroad. That is absolutely part of our recovery and planning for the future,

I echo concerns about the shoddy treatment of BA staff. Newcastle airport is the single largest site for employment in my constituency, supporting 4,000 jobs there and 19,000 across the north-east region. The airport is pivotal to our regional economy. Airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland have been granted business rates relief. In England and Wales, the Government have offered that to retail, hospitality and leisure, but not to aviation. The Minister says that business rates are not for her Department, but the Chancellor is not here. Can this Government not see that this industry needs support, both now and to deal with the future economic storms that are clearly going to come, which will have an impact on areas such as the north-east in particular?

I understand the impact that any reduction in jobs or stress on organisations in the hon. Lady’s constituency will have on her constituency. The Chancellor did announce an unprecedented level of support, and use has been made of that. The option to come to talk to us about bespoke support has been there and is still there. I am continuing to talk to airports and airlines about the ability to tap into that. We will continue to work with those in the sector to mitigate some of the issues and impacts they are understandably feeling at this moment in time.

Constituents of mine have told me that BA’s plan means that they face redundancy, significantly reduced wages and worse working conditions. The company should step back from the brink, and instead work with trade unions and the Government to develop a strategy that protects jobs and the environment. Will the Minister commit to using the Government’s powers to prevent this betrayal of staff, such as withdrawing slots at airports and exploring the option to bring the company back under public control?

I think I have outlined the point quite clearly, and I have answered a number of questions in the same vein. I will continue to do what I can to make organisations in the sector aware that we would rather they used the unprecedented Government support available to them before making redundancies. I absolutely understand the concerns of the workers affected, and we will continue to look at all the options we as a Government have to make use of.

I also represent a number of the British Airways employees affected, and I am grateful to the Minister for her commitment to keep pressurising the airline to try to minimise the number of job cuts. Indeed, I would encourage her to do that not simply with British Airways, but with all the other airlines affected. This sector is the busiest and biggest of its kind in Europe in normal times, and it is crucial to our economy. Can I ask her to work with the Chancellor, as he comes to his next financial statement during the course of this year, to look at a longer-term recovery plan for the sector that goes beyond the immediate Government support and actually sets a path that can put this sector back where it should be, which is at the top of the European league table?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right about the scale and importance of the aviation sector in the UK compared with other parts of the world, and also about the level of employment that it creates in the UK. I am committed, as the Secretary of State is, to working with the Treasury and across Government—with all Government Departments—to find solutions for a sector that has been affected badly, and obviously may experience a slight lag in the restart due to the nature of the work it does. I am committed to working with my colleagues across Government to find solutions to those questions.

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments, particularly on BA, which is affecting a lot of employees in my constituency as well. Southampton airport is an important contributor to the economic prosperity of the wider region. It has already seen the loss of Flybe, which was 95% of its business, so it was already struggling before covid-19. What further support can the Government give regional airports, such as Southampton, which are relied on by a wide range of companies and are lifelines for business and other travel?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I know very well the impact the coronavirus has on Southampton airport, which is a great asset on the south coast. We are engaged constantly with the airports. I am committed to doing that and to having such conversations about what we can do to help those regional airports, and that will continue. We fully understand their pressures, and where we can act, I will do my best to achieve that.

On 12 May, I raised with the Transport Secretary the worries of many of my constituents, some of whom had over 30 years of service. One constituent highlighted to me that, on his road alone, there are five BA members of staff. Let us be clear: these are staff members who have given up birthdays and funerals to serve BA. They have made sacrifices, and they fear losing everything when this sham of a consultation ends in two weeks’ time. Will the Government act urgently now to ensure that support is provided to those constituents and others?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Department for Work and Pensions stands ready to help and support anyone who is affected by this. I must reiterate that terms and conditions are for negotiation between the employer, the employee and/or their representatives and that the Government are not part of those discussions. If terms are not agreed to, there are still options for recourse. I am monitoring the situation closely. Many constituencies are affected. We will keep an eye on what happens in relation to the point that she raises, but, absolutely, I want all employees to be treated fairly and given the respect that they deserve for the contribution that they have made to the businesses in which they have worked.

I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the Government would be willing to enter into bespoke agreements and arrangements with airlines. Given that British Airways in particular is ultimately a private company and thinks that it can behave as disgracefully as it wishes, how do the Government intend to mitigate that?

As I have said, as aviation Minister, I would expect any organisation to treat their employees fairly and in the spirit of partnership. Absolutely, it is a question for the organisations as to whether they feel that they are carrying out their social responsibility and acting in a good way, but there are opportunities for us as we move forward. We have the restart and recovery project in which we are working with the sector to find ways that we can speed up the recovery in the aviation sector. I am sure that, across the Treasury and the Government, we are looking at ways in which we can mitigate all of the things that colleagues have, quite rightly, raised here this morning.

Now is the opportunity to move the aviation sector towards net zero. The Government need to require the gradual blending in of synthetic fuels, first, for all internal flights and then for international flights via international agreements. There is a mechanism for doing this via the renewable transport fuel obligation. Will she commit to making this move towards a net-zero aviation industry?

The hon. Lady knows that decarbonisation of the aviation sector is an important priority both for the Government and the sector itself. They have come together to work towards that. I, as the aviation Minister, and the Department commit to working with the sector to reduce those emissions and to decarbonise the industry as far as we are able.

May I put on record my thanks to the Minister for the meetings that she has had with me and my colleagues over this crisis to deal with the airport situation in Northern Ireland which has its own particular problems? I am sure that she agrees that the staff of British Airways—the cabin crew, the pilots and other staff—who operate out of Northern Ireland feel absolutely betrayed by the conduct of Willie Walsh and the organisation. BA carries the strapline “national carrier”, but that should be changed to “national disgrace” given the way that it has operated. None the less, the Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot close down air traffic, introduce a quarantine that will impact on airports and airlines and then say, “This has nothing to do with us”. Action has to be taken to address this matter holistically. I urge the Minister and the Government to act.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words, particularly in regards to our regional connectivity. Being able to continue that connectivity with Northern Ireland is a key priority, and it has been good to be able to continue to do that with Government support. We will continue, as I have outlined, to work together across Government with the aviation taskforce, working with the sector, working with experts, and working with our stakeholders in order to try to find solutions. The reality is that, with regard to aviation, there has to be consumer confidence to travel. We need to ensure that we are not only tackling consumer confidence, but creating the right environment with our policies in order to get airlines back in the air. I am committed to working with all our colleagues across Government, as is the Secretary of State, to deliver that.

Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 creates not just a general duty to consult with employees, but a specific duty to consult on avoiding redundancies, reducing the numbers of those selected for redundancy and mitigating the consequences. Will my hon. Friend commit to including an employment judge or an impartial employment lawyer in the steering group to assess whether BA and other airlines are meaningfully engaging with their statutory obligations and make this a condition of further Government support?

My hon. Friend makes a very good suggestion. I will happily take that away and see what I can do.

I have received thousands of individually written emails, including from residents in Ilford South, who have collectively spent decades and decades working for British Airways. Unite the Union members have given their adult lives to making British Airways our proud national flag carrier. BA is a multibillion-pound company, with £10.7 billion in liquid and other assets if we include the parent company, International Airlines Group. Will the Minister seriously consider whether any mechanism can be brought forward by the Government to look at the allocation of slots? Those slots are the most lucrative part of the operation from which BA makes its profits. That might make IAG, Willie Walsh and all the people swinging the axe on tens of thousands of people—remember, not only all of them being sacked and then re-engaged—sit up and actually listen to how serious Members are across this House. If not, will she ask whether they will return the British flag, because they do not deserve to carry it on their planes?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for questioning me on that particular point in the Transport Committee. I very much recognise his support for his constituents. The point I will make is that this has been a commercial decision taken by British Airways. We would absolutely expect any organisation entering into this process to do so with fairness and in the right way for its employees. I will do my best to work with colleagues across Government to deliver the support needed by those affected, and to try to our best to mitigate the job losses that are coming because of an unprecedented reduction in the number of flights that is not specific to the UK.

Moray is well served by Inverness airport, which has been operating only essential flights during the pandemic. Will the Minister outline what support the Government have given and will continue to give to regional airports such as Inverness, which serves people in Moray and across the north of Scotland?

We will continue to work with our regional airports to understand the full impact coronavirus is having on the operation of their businesses. As I outlined, regional connectivity is a priority for the Department. I will continue to work with individual regional airports to deliver on what we can do. Policy levers are available to us, and we will be exploring that more within the restart and recovery unit.

May I raise with the Minister the particular issue of the British Airways Avionic Engineering site in Llantrisant in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones)? I pay tribute to her for all the work she is doing to support the workforce there. Many of my constituents are facing the consultation now. It cannot be good enough for the Minister to simply say that the Department for Work and Pensions is ready to offer support if they lose their jobs. These are highly skilled, well paid jobs in south Wales. The site is worth £1 billion to the south Wales economy and over £6 billion to the Welsh economy as a whole. I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity, but her answers just are not good enough. My constituents, and constituents up and down the land, are desperate for Government intervention to support the aviation sector and all the jobs that many tens of thousands of them rely on.

The hon. Gentleman knows I have great respect for him, but we are supporting the aviation sector. We have delivered unprecedented Government support and those organisations have the opportunity to talk to us with regard to bespoke support. He is absolutely right that we in Government will try to deliver what we can to support those colleagues, but we also need to be asking those organisations how they will support workers affected by the commercial decisions they are taking. I will continue to do what I can in my capacity.

Much of the anger that has been expressed in this House is because British Airways has taken advantage of a Government scheme intended to protect jobs and used it as a convenient funding stream for a long-planned corporate restructuring. It is a breach of faith. Does my hon. Friend agree that British Airways should pay a price for that breach of faith?

My constituents have had to make huge sacrifices during this terrible outbreak, and they have responded with real solidarity, helping others and following the rules. Now those who work at the British Airways call centre in Newcastle see the contempt in which they are held, and they feel abandoned, betrayed and blackmailed. Does the Minister agree that, just as with Governments, businesses will be judged by their response to a crisis? Does she think that British Airways’ response is worthy of our national flag?

The hon. Lady is right: businesses are judged by the way they behave and the way they treat their employees. We will need to wait to see how British Airways is judged by the consumers and customers they reach out to, and I will do whatever I can to work with the airlines to mitigate any job losses.

I understand the public concern that has given rise to the policy on quarantining, but would it be worth publishing the economic and public health impacts of that policy, with and without air bridges, to properly inform the public debate?

The Home Secretary will make a statement directly after this session, and I would not want to pre-empt anything that she may be inclined to speak about. It is right that at this time, as we see a reduction in the spread of domestic cases, we do whatever we can to limit imported cases. That is why the decision has been taken. As I have outlined, I have been working hard with the sector, the team at DFT and across Government to find solutions to ensure that we can get aeroplanes in the air and passengers on their holidays as quickly as possible.

The Minister must have made an economic assessment of the effects of quarantine. Does she accept that there is no point in quarantining people coming from countries with a relatively low disease burden to the UK? If she does, which European countries specifically has she in mind for quarantine, since pretty much all of them have a lower disease burden than the United Kingdom?

My right hon. Friend will know that in DFT, we are working closely with our colleagues in the Home Office on the implementation of the borders and quarantining policy, to ensure that we are expressing the concerns and needs of the aviation sector and looking at how that can be implemented practically. There are a number of differences in the implementation of quarantining and other measures in many countries across Europe and the rest of the world, and we will keep working to find solutions.

Along with other Members, I am increasingly concerned by the actions and apparent decisions of British Airways and its management teams. While these are difficult times for everyone, BA has a duty to its employees, including all those who live in Newport West. I pay tribute to my colleagues from south Wales for the work that they have been doing; it is a concerted effort. What discussions has the Minister had with the relevant trade unions about the impact of the redundancies on people up and down the country?

My Department and I engage with the unions with regard to the impact on jobs. I have some other meetings coming up with the unions. Within the Department, we have been very clear, and as I think the unions would agree, we have been working with them over this period. We are committed to doing that to deliver on behalf of workers as far as we can.

Of course, British Airways is a private company, but the reality for many employees and customers is that it is a national institution. Many employees have perhaps shown more loyalty to British Airways because of that than they would have shown a normal airline, and that also includes customers. There have been occasions on which I have paid more to fly with British Airways because I felt some loyalty towards it as a British citizen. Will the Minister take into account both the employees who have been most acutely affected and those of us who, as nationals and citizens, have shown loyalty to British Airways when she decides how to deal with British Airways and how it has behaved over the last couple of months?

I think I have been very clear about my position. We need to keep working to protect as many jobs as possible, and we will continue to work with the restart and recovery group to find ways to help the aviation sector to recover.

Given that it has no basis in science, will inflict further damage on a travel industry that is already on its knees and is widely opposed in this House, including this lunchtime by the chairman of the 1922 committee, would it not be better, rather than introducing this quarantine policy for two or three weeks, just to abandon it and leave it there?

I have been very clear that the priority for this Government is to halt or limit the spread of coronavirus. It has to be accepted that we need to work to find those measures that will enable airlines to operate flights and passengers to travel safely, but also to stop the importation of cases as our infection rate is reduced. We are working hard across Government to find policy measures to achieve that, and that is what the quarantine policy is about.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the sitting for five minutes.

Sitting suspended.