Question for Short Debate
My Lords, clearly, this is a topical issue that is causing much concern to many people. I am sure that all noble Lords will have read reports in the press, heard interviews on the radio and seen scenes of chaos at airports on the television. For example, yesterday’s Daily Mail reported:
“No end in sight to holiday nightmare. Airlines ‘resign themselves to summer of chaos’ and Heathrow boss warns of 18 MONTHS”—
“of misery as passengers face more mayhem today with huge queues and bag collection in ‘disarray’”.
Today’s Daily Mail reported:
“The airline chaos causing travel misery for Britons plumbed new depths today as a video showed baggage falling off an overloaded conveyor belt and left strewn across the floor in Manchester Airport’s arrivals hall.”
However, we must remember that this is about individuals and families, not generalities. We should not lose sight of how this has impacted on people who were just hoping for a holiday. Tuesday’s Mirror quoted Ali Haynes, who arrived at Luton Airport with her partner and five month-old baby three hours before their easyJet flight to Palermo was due to depart, only to learn that the plane had been grounded. She said:
“We’re now stuck in Luton departures with no information on what next. Holiday ruined.”
The Financial Times reported on Michael Norman, who tried to fly back to Manchester from Faro, Portugal, on Sunday. He said that easyJet did not tell passengers that their flight was cancelled until they were at the departure gate. He said:
“We have no idea, it is as if they abandon you … they should not be flying people out on holiday if they cannot fly you back”.
The Daily Mail again:
“Furious mother posts picture of her exhausted six-year-old daughter while stuck in Cyprus after Tui cancelled family’s flights TWICE”—
again, its emphasis—
“as experts warn travel chaos is set to get even worse.”
Now, there are many horrendous things going on in this world. For example, there is the suffering of people in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas and, at home, there is the increase in poverty with families being forced to choose between food and heating. However, I make no apology for raising the issue with the Minister. In the context of what everyone has gone through during the Covid pandemic, we can all sympathise with those who are thwarted in their simple and understandable wish to take a break, typically somewhere warmer and sunnier than they might expect at home. While most of the coverage has focused on those on holiday, it is entirely possible that there has also been an adverse effect on business travellers, who increasingly use budget airlines.
In raising the question I am not really interested in conducting a post-mortem on who has been to blame for this situation. I am not even that interested in hearing about what action the Government have already taken to address the problems. What I would like to hear from the Minister is some empathy with travellers and an indication of what further action the Government might take to help alleviate the distress that is still arising daily—particularly when we are told by none other than John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport, that, as things stand,
“it will take 12 to 18 months for the aviation sector to fully recover capacity”.
Is there really no end in sight? With my flights booked for later in the summer, I really should declare an interest.
We therefore need to be clear about the Government’s analysis of the reasons for the problems that travellers face, and then what more should be done about them. I think it is reasonably clear that an inadequate response to the recovery of foreign holidays is at the heart of the problems. We know about the impact of the pandemic on the global aviation industry. The Government did the right thing in supporting aviation, but it was not enough: tens of thousands of jobs were cut. In the first lockdown in particular, the industry made significant cutbacks in its workforce. The problem then was the uncertainty about any recovery in travel; no one knew how long the pandemic would last or how it would turn out, so it was unclear until relatively recently when things would get better for the travel industry.
It has been suggested that the airlines should have predicted that there would be surge in demand when the world opened up again. But there were various false starts, and it is not surprising that the industry acted, as it has turned out, with caution. Now, however, it is clear that, with vaccination, fewer border restrictions and no sign of a more dangerous variant, things are returning to something like normal. Flights are returning to levels not seen since 2019 and, as a result, the understaffed airlines and airports are struggling to cope with the increased demand.
It appears that the biggest problem is the recruitment that is needed to fill the gaps in staffing required to meet current demands. Airlines and airports need countless different jobs to operate, from security guards to cabin crew, but there are widespread staff shortages across much of the economy following the pandemic. Many people who previously worked in the industry have also found better jobs elsewhere, without the pressure of shift work and relatively poor pay. It has also to be said that there is no doubt whatever that the problem in recruitment in the UK has been exacerbated by Brexit. I am not trying to reopen the issue of Brexit, at least in the context of this debate, but as a result, there are simply fewer people available to work in the industry. To the extent that it is possible for EU citizens to work here, the terms of employment that they now face because of the additional restrictions make the work far less attractive.
I hope that the Minister will not strain our credulity by claiming, like one of her colleagues, that Brexit has improved the staffing situation. I hope that she will admit the problems and, accepting that Brexit is done, look at what scope there is within the agreements that have been reached to adjust the rules on employment to alleviate the staffing problems. We know that there are also problems with the rate at which new employees can be recruited. Some of the jobs are sensitive, requiring lengthy background checks and training.
My question today is: what more will the Government do to alleviate this situation, or are they effectively saying that everything that could be done has been done and that it is really up to the airports, the airlines, the ferry ports and the ferry companies to solve the problem?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for initiating this important debate. I speak from the experience of working to support the chaplaincy of Gatwick Airport—I was glad to hear the Minister speak so positively of her experience of coming through it recently. However, like so many other parts of the aviation industry, the airport was dealt a harsh blow by the Covid pandemic. Many staff who were foreign nationals, though receiving furlough payments, went back to their home countries and have not returned to work in the UK. This affected the security department, hospitality industry and the hotels especially, and it has had a devastating effect on the economic life of the town of Crawley, which was already in receipt of investment from the towns fund as part of the Government’s levelling-up programme.
It has been hard to replace this pool of experienced workers, nor has it been easy to recruit new staff locally, especially for specialist jobs that require a significant period of training to meet a necessarily high standard of security. The Government have provided some assistance by amending airport security regulations, but there is a plea from Gatwick that Ministers do more to ensure that there is sufficient resource to process security and ID checks as well as manage the border and process passport applications.
I understand from my colleagues at Gatwick Airport that the salaries it offers in recruiting new staff are comparable to those in other airports and in other sectors, comparing well with salaries for posts of similar responsibility in the NHS, education and the service sector. We found that the package at Gatwick is sufficiently attractive to draw new staff from the police force and from British rail management, so also depleting staffing in those important services.
New staff, especially younger recruits, are experiencing verbally threatening behaviour in their working lives which they have not experienced before and find very disturbing. This rarely seems to be addressed in their training, with the result that many people just do not turn up for their shifts or have even resigned, thus creating more staff shortages at short notice on terminal concourses.
This is an indication of a serious shortage of able people from whom to recruit in order to sustain a service industry that cannot offer working from home, which has become the norm since the pandemic. Those working in the transport and hospitality aspects of tourism continue to look to government for investment in recruitment, training, maintenance of quality and delivery of service.
In this context, I urge serious consideration for the role of chaplaincy in an airport, which is comparable with a hospital, prison or school, where those served are not simply the users but the staff, who face significant challenges. Airport chaplains minister to distressed travellers as much as they contribute to sustaining the morale, professional aspirations and quality of life of staff in such places, in order to deliver the best possible service. Salaries for chaplains represent good value for money and should be required for best practice on the part of any company running one of our airports.
The successful presentation of the UK to foreign travellers is formed by first impressions. Emerging from a well-run airport at Gatwick, they will find that Network Rail has done good work on improvements to Gatwick rail station, but the quality of trains on offer is then poor. Apart from two Gatwick Express services an hour, the other trains have no provision for luggage and are often already crowded and very uncomfortable. The mix of suburban and international travellers is not a good start to a happy visit.
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount. I support my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton and congratulate him on securing today’s debate and the expert way in which he introduced it and laid out the context for what I hope will be its main purpose: finding out the Government’s view of what is going on and what, if anything, they are trying to do about it. It is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. I have learned a bit about chaplaincy services and, as someone who goes on some on the trains to which he has just referred, I know exactly what he means about the mix of commuter traffic and people who are visiting this country, sometimes for the first time.
Today’s debate is very timely. It is not very popular with the Government Benches so far as I can see, but I understand that it is still very timely because we all know that it has been triggered by what we saw happening over Easter and over the recent Whitsun half-term; and, in the summer that lies ahead, these problems are likely to cause even more chaos. I do not know if the Minister happened to see the news last night; I should think that from time to time she does. At the moment, there is no end of scenes of luggage and queues, and more news about flights being cancelled. In fact, it is not difficult to film huge queues at airports these days, and we have also seen photos of air crews helping to get luggage off planes because there were not enough baggage handlers.
My own experience, for what it is worth, has not been as bad as that. However, on a recent flight back to the UK, the plane landed on time but there was then an inordinate delay while finding enough ground crew staff to find it a berth and take the luggage off. Maybe that has happened to other noble Lords. As for the queues that can arise at passport control, as happened at Heathrow on 24 May, I have known the sheer frustration at seeing large numbers of automatic entry gates seemingly shut because of a lack of staff. I thought that the whole point of these e-gates was to make returning to the UK streamlined and quick for British citizens. No wonder we are told that some airlines are now taking action to cancel even more flights because they know that in the current circumstances there simply are not enough staff to cope with the work.
There is no doubt about the significant disruption. I will cite a couple of examples which the House may well know about. First, on 28 May, easyJet announced that it would cancel more than 200 flights. The airline said that about 24 flights from Gatwick would be cancelled each day between 28 May and last Monday. Secondly, British Airways cancelled 120 short-haul flights to and from Heathrow Airport on 3 June, although it did say that the cancellations were pre-planned and that passengers had been given advance notice. Thirdly, TUI announced that nearly 400 flights would be cancelled from 31 May until the end of June.
Then there is the issue of delays. For people at Manchester Airport on 29 May, it was not good enough for the airport to apologise for the delays at check-in and baggage reclaim and say only that the reason was that there were issues facing several airlines. Of course, very few of the thousands of people who have been adversely affected in recent weeks—and who will be in the months to come—will be watching today’s debate. However, if any of them are, I hope that they will see that Parliament is an important forum for their complaints to be heard and answered.
Mind you, am I the only person to look at what is happening—to see the airport queues and the cancelled flights and the delays that people face at airports and to learn that it is taking far longer than it should for people to have their passport applications processed, and to be told that the Government cannot process in good time the numbers of security applications now being made for airline and airport staff—and then discover that the Government have now announced that they want to reduce the size of the Civil Service?
It feels as though these are the ingredients of what we might otherwise call a failing state. People are entitled to ask who is to blame for all this. Like my noble friend, I am not here to indulge in a blame game because I hope there will be a educative purpose to this debate—to identify who might be to blame for what—in the hope that we can put things right. I often feel that in a debate such as this the Minister’s speech should come first, to enable us to contribute our views in the light of the Government’s arguments. However, it is up to my noble friend Lord Davies to do that in his winding-up remarks.
What has been going wrong? Is it that too many people want to travel? As my noble friend said, after the Covid restrictions of the past two years, it is hardly helpful to blame people for wanting to travel again. Is it because the airlines have acted recklessly? I hope the Minister will tell the House whether she agrees with the Secretary of State, who has apparently said that airlines and operators had
“seriously oversold flights and holidays”.
Is it, as the airlines claim, because it is taking too much time to get security clearances for the staff they now need? Here it seems that the Government have a case to answer. The director-general of IATA recently said that security clearances which used to take three or four weeks are now taking as long as three months. Can the Minister tell the House whether this is true and, if it is, what the Government are doing to fix it? Has it in some way all been affected by the war in Ukraine because Civil Service resources have understandably been diverted from regular Home Office tasks to deal with the urgent need to process visa and asylum applications? Or is it for some other range of reasons? Some people have suggested IT glitches, supply chain issues and even runway maintenance problems.
Whatever the explanation, it all amounts to something of a perfect storm with fuel and energy prices and the cost of living rising, which we are about to address in the next debate, and rail strikes looming, and those planned might not be the only ones. Air travel problems are an ongoing problem and the Government at least owe the country an explanation for what is happening and what they think is going wrong. I hope the Minister can tell us what it is, together with any government plan to remedy the situation because action is needed. I much look forward to her reply.
My Lords, I apologise to the House at large and to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, for speaking before time. I fully concur with him that it would be helpful if Ministers were minded to speak first and then we could all join in accordingly thereafter.
The seeming unpreparedness, the random cancellations and the lack of information to passengers is galling, with airlines caught on the hop. For all the justifiable criticism, however, a thought should go out to the poor souls on the ground who are having to field an impossible situation. The whys and wherefores are, in reality, academic. What is required now is to identify what measures are to be implemented to alleviate the situation. Many have been put forward already. I have six, some of which are somewhat duplicates.
First, more resources to vet new staff for security clearance are essential, as the current two weeks to two months is a bottleneck. Many give up and go elsewhere. Secondly, an immediate increase in staff at check-in procedures is fundamental. Thirdly, we need more trained air crew and ground staff to be able to cope with absences. As an interim measure, airlines should organise crews from elsewhere. On Tuesday, a crew was parachuted in from Latvia for my flight back to the UK.
Fourthly, airlines have depleted cash reserves, with many having borrowed heavily to survive the pandemic. Would something akin to the furlough scheme to help airlines recruit and retain their reserve staff be a solution? Fifthly—I was surprised at this—liquids do need to be removed from bags at security checks, but do computers really need to be? Portugal, for example, has removed the need.
Sixthly, the policy of airlines knowingly overbooking flights should end forthwith, a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. With the current situation, any seat capacity should be required for those affected by flight cancellations and the like.
On the wider front, if the Minister is minded to reply to this while she is her feet, what is the current situation regarding the registration of outgoing passengers by Border Force, so that we can keep better control of who is actually leaving the country as opposed to having a record of those entering it? Since time immemorial, we have been informed that the process is being sorted. What is the latest on that, if the Minister is minded to respond? If not, I look forward in due course to a letter.
I was saying that I greatly look forward to the Minister’s reply to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I hope that what I am going to say now will not be taken as any criticism of her; she defends her department’s brief in this House with style and stamina.
However, I have to ask: where is the Secretary of State for Transport? He is Macavity, the mystery cat: when things go wrong, he is never there. We have gridlock at Dover, chaos at the airports; queues at the pumps; a tube strike and a looming train strike, and it seems that none of this has anything to do with the Government and there is nothing they can do to put it right. The Government’s job is to govern. When problems like these arise, it is time for Mr Shapps to step forward.
I heard a rumour that he is moonlighting—that he has something else. Perhaps he is running for the leadership of his party, or maybe he is doing as he did when he first came into Parliament: running, under a pseudonym, a private business offering to make one very rich in return for sending him a small cheque. Whatever he is doing, he should stop it and revert to the job of the department and try to put right the problems so clearly set out by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I greatly look forward to the Minister reassuring me that that is indeed what will happen.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for introducing this important debate. These are complex issues that have harmed the tourism-related sector in general and have done further harm to our international reputation as an efficient and competent country. This sits alongside our sorry status as the slowest-growing major world economy—with the single exception of Russia—and adds to our problems as the G7 country with the highest inflation rate. I would not go quite so far as talking about a failing country, but it is a serious situation.
The border situation has caused stress and had a financial impact on many families trying to travel abroad, many of them for their first foreign holiday for years. In relation to ferry ports, it has caused even further harm to traders trying to export goods to the EU in particular because of the costs associated with long delays to get through customs.
We as a country are not alone in having problems with processing airport passengers, but we are suffering a more widespread problem for several reasons. We have firmer borders than most EU countries, which benefit from freer-flowing traffic due to Schengen. Some other Governments have taken a more organised and timely set of measures to support passengers and traders as traffic flows expand following Covid. And of course, uniquely, we have Brexit. The Minister will not mention it, so I will: prior to Brexit, 40% of ground handlers were from EU, and they are proving impossible to replace.
I am certainly not going to stand here and say that all of the blame attaches to the Government. Some airlines in particular have a poor record on cancellations; for instance, the last-minute cancellations by Wizz Air are totally unacceptable. These companies were cushioned during Covid by significant amounts of customer cash that was frozen in the form of vouchers. People are now using these, and any well-run company would have predicted that they would use them as soon as possible. BA has also cancelled a lot of flights, but it has done so with a much longer lead-in time. It is facing recruitment problems, which is not a surprise because it took the opportunity of the pandemic to reduce terms and conditions for flight crew—so BA no longer has the recruitment advantage that it once had.
Aviation is a complex industry; the services provided involve airport facilities from runways to shopping as well as airlines, ground handling, baggage handling, passport control, security and air traffic control. These are run by a range of separate commercial companies and by the Government, but the passenger sees them as all part of a single integrated experience. Throughout the pandemic, the Government showed themselves willing to intervene to support other industries, such as the railways. But government support has been much weaker for aviation, and airports in particular. Since last summer, the sector as a whole has been warning the Government that it could not just restart but instead needed a long lead-in time. The Government’s stop-start approach to foreign travel, although understandable, made that more difficult.
The Government cite £8 billion-worth of support for the industry, but, if you look at this in detail, the overwhelming majority of it is commercial loans and export guarantees. Unlike airlines, airports could not totally shut down; for safety reasons, runways have to stay open and life-saving flights have to continue. Overall, airports lost £10 billion during the pandemic, and they now need government investment in their future.
This debate is an excellent opportunity to ask the Minister some questions. During the pandemic, there were long queues for passport control and inadequate numbers of Border Force staff. Border Force currently says that it has training for new staff in hand, ready for the summer season. Can the Minister tell us about these expansion plans, particularly because there will be additional demands on personnel at our ports, as new and more complex checks will be introduced later in the year?
Lying behind all of these stories of ruined holidays are those stuck at home because they cannot get their passports renewed. Can the Minister update us on how the Government plan to rapidly improve this service? Are they able to speed up security checks for staff at airports?
Some new freedoms come with Brexit. One specific one is the possibility of VAT-free shopping at airports. This would help them to recover, but the Government have failed to introduce it, and UK airports are now at a disadvantage in comparison with some EU countries. Do the Government intend to tackle this anomaly? What are they doing to improve consumer rights?
Some airports have been much more heavily affected by airline cancellations, over which they have no control, of course. Does the Minister agree that there is a need for a much more strategic government approach, working closely with the industries concerned, to provide steady long-term support to rebuild these sectors?
I was appalled to hear the Secretary of State hectoring the travel sector, full of blame for a complex industry that has faced a disastrous on-off situation. That attitude damages our country. International travel and trade are our window to the world. If we cannot manage to operate them effectively, it does fundamental damage to our reputation. This complex sector needs the Government to rise above the blame game.
My Lords, as experts warn that disruption is likely to persist through the summer months, the Government must take responsibility and act to ease the chronic disruption at ports and airports. This week alone thousands of flights have been cancelled and hauliers have had to wait at Dover as a result of lengthy queues.
The travel chaos is now damaging the UK’s supply chain and world-class businesses, as well as ruining holidays. Sadly, this disruption was not inevitable. Ministers should have prepared months ago, working with the industry representatives to put together a co-ordinated plan. It is now eight months since the Government appointed a logistics task force to manage the supply chain crisis causing chaos at Dover, but Ministers have since admitted that this task force was abolished the day after, when the reshuffle took place.
The defining feature of good government is an ability to spot crises ahead and then co-ordinate properly to avoid them, but this is exactly what Ministers have been unable to do. I am reminded of the millennium bug ahead of the year 2000, which many now erroneously think was a myth. As the head of a large, complex organisation at the time, I found the Government’s intervention tiresome, but, as our understanding of the problem grew, we were grateful for the early intervention. The truth is that the millennium bug did indeed pose a real danger to the UK economy and infrastructure. It was only through proper management that the danger did not materialise.
The Government have failed to avoid this crisis, and now Ministers need to show some responsibility and take concrete steps to tackle the chaos growing on their watch. First, we need co-ordination, and that means convening emergency talks with the major ferry operators and Eurotunnel Freight to boost capacity on routes over the channel. Parallel talks are needed with the airline industry to try to solve the crisis, or at least manage the shortages in an orderly way. As part of this, the Government must bring together industry, airports, unions and Governments to tackle the chronic low pay hampering recruitment and address the skills shortage leaving the aviation industry thousands of staff short for this summer. In the past, there was loyalty in the civil aviation industry. That has been eroded by employers’ efforts to reduce costs by making workers poorer. Not surprisingly, people made redundant in the pandemic have better jobs, with more sympathetic employers, that they are unwilling to leave.
Secondly, Ministers need to form a supply-chain council of key industry groups, ports, unions and Government, so their voice is heard loud and clear in the planning, preparation and delivery of measures to tackle the disruption. This council can then be used as a springboard to cut the red tape choking British business, with veterinary agreements to reduce checks and forms for fresh food and goods, contributing to the lengthy waits at ports.
Finally, we also need real leadership to tackle the Cabinet Office backlog in security checks for airport staff, to allow employees to be safely recruited ahead of the busy summer period. In addition to this, the Government must also look to the future and improve conditions for hauliers around Dover, with proper facilities for drivers to wait in comfort along the first phase of the route. If Ministers had properly planned, prepared and co-ordinated, this crisis could have been avoided. Sadly, they have not, and we are therefore dealing with the consequences.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to discuss the important issues that noble Lords have raised today, and particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for securing this debate. I shall try to focus on what the Government are doing currently and will do in the future. I agree that it is not about blame, but it is the case that this is a private sector, operated by quite talented and well-paid people, and they need to take some of the responsibility for making sure that communication happens in what is a complex sector, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—it is not just one sector; there are all sorts of different elements within it. The Government clearly have a role to play in that, which I shall come on to fairly shortly.
It is great to see people returning to international travel—it is really good. When I was stuck in a queue in Gatwick about 10 days ago, I actually really enjoyed it. People were in particularly good humour; we all got on our flights eventually and it was fine. People were actually very happy to be going away again. It is such a positive thing to see people traveling again. But very short-notice cancellations of long-awaited trips are absolutely devastating for those families and individuals. Clearly, we have to resolve various elements of what is going on at the moment.
I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, quoted numerous times from that standard of journalism, the Daily Mail, which was surprising to me. Nevertheless, one takes one’s stories from where one can—particularly when the support a particular argument. However, things are not as bad as they are portrayed in the Daily Mail—not by a long shot. The CAA has indicated that, over the jubilee weekend, the percentage of departing flights that were cancelled was 3%. So it is not, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, a crisis. There are issues that we must resolve—I absolutely accept that—with the Government working with industry, and I shall speak as I can.
I am trying to take a more measured tone about this, because we must also recognise that this is happening in all sorts of places across Europe. Noble Lords will have seen what has happened in Dublin and Schiphol. KLM has announced a suspension of ticket sales. In the United States, they had to cancel 4,000 flights at the end of May because of staff shortages and bad weather. This is not unique to the UK. It also means that there are not endless amounts of aviation personnel all over the world waiting to flood into our country. Therefore, even if providing additional visas was an option, which it is not, I am not entirely sure that there are staff who are willing to jump on board in the short term.
The issue of overbooking flights is a very important one. The Government are very clear that we want to see the industry being able to operate the schedule that it has committed to. Cancelling flights a couple of weeks before departure, as happened to me, although it was fine, or on the day of departure, is really not acceptable. We really want the industry to get together, plan properly and make sure that it can deliver what it has promised to deliver—then we will not have the stories in the Daily Mail, because people will be able to get on their planes. So we are working very closely with the CAA to make sure that the industry gets that message—and that, if it has to cancel a flight, which occasionally happens, it gives as much notice as possible. We are also very focused on refunds and compensation, because it is absolutely right that passengers get that.
I want quickly to turn to security alleviations, about which there has been a number of reports in the media. The Government are always very mindful that security must be our top priority; however, we have been able to put some alleviations in place. We have laid a statutory instrument before Parliament which will agree temporary changes to permit certain training to be undertaken while the background checks are still being completed. This is very helpful in shortening the period between the date of recruitment and the date of deployment.
We have already boosted the resourcing of security checks, and I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that there is no backlog of security checks within government. We have also agreed that HMRC employment history letters can be temporarily used as a form of reference check. Again, this helps contract the time between recruitment of staff and deployment. We have agreed to a series of alleviations to aviation security regulations, but noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot go into the detail of what those moderate alleviations are.
I am afraid that suggestions that the police, the military et cetera could be brought in to do baggage handling—I know that some airline CEOs have suggested that—are also wide of the mark. Frankly, although people in the military are highly skilled, they are not highly skilled at dealing with baggage. It is a job that requires training and confidence, so it is not a route we will be going down.
We have engaged significantly with the industry throughout the pandemic, obviously, but particularly on this issue. The Secretary of State and the Aviation Minister had an industry round table on 1 June. Minister Courts, and Minister Hinds from the Home Office, also had an industry round table on 12 May. We are establishing a strategic risk group, chaired by the Aviation Minister, which will bring together all the different elements outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. We feel there has not been enough conversation and interaction between the airlines, airports, ground handlers and security people, all of which need to come together. We need to identify the risks—I would hope the industry has already done so—but we also need to identify some of the solutions the industry can put in place, as well as more things the Government can do, because if there are more things we can do, we would be happy to do them. Obviously, we have already done many things.
We have also recognised for some time that we need to focus on aviation skills. We published the Flightpath to the Future strategy very recently, and back in February last year we launched the Aviation Skills Retention Platform, because we recognised, as did the right revered Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, the importance of staff to the sector. There is also this thing about the people who work in it: they quite like it and they want to go back to it; they feel an affinity with it. Once an aviation person, always an aviation person. So, we are trying to make sure that we keep people, at least to a certain extent, so that they have visibility of what is going on in the sector, even if they have chosen not to work in it for a certain period of time but may yet come back to it.
Consumer rights is also top of mind at the moment because, obviously, we see the distressing stories and we want to make sure that consumers are getting the compensation they need. They need the information and the guidance, and they need to know exactly what their rights are and how to go about exercising them. The Flightpath to the Future strategy has put consumers first, and it recognises the importance of government and the aviation sector working together to rebuild consumer confidence. This will lead on various consumer rights elements, and, of course, noble Lords will have recognised that we published a consultation earlier this year on ways to boost air passenger rights. We have received a large number of responses to that, and we will be publishing a response in due course.
Turning to Border Force, the right revered Prelate referred to the important work of those at the border and spoke eloquently about the role of chaplains at airports. When I was Aviation Minister three years ago, I too was struck by the work they do. Border Force has been through a period of extensive planning and resource management to make sure it is as prepared as possible for the peak demand period. We are content that we will be able to cope with the various peaks. Sometimes there will be delays, but it is not going to be massively disruptive. The e-gates have been upgraded over recent months to support the flow of passengers. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, spoke about additional checks coming in from Europe. If they do come in—again, there is some doubt about that—they will be for PAF to undertake, not Border Force.
There were a couple of questions about the Passport Office and getting passports. I am afraid that is not within my brief today, so I will write on that matter.
I turn briefly, because I have a couple of minutes left, to Dover. Again, there is a lot in the press. I am responsible for roads in Dover and Kent and when I was away for the Recess, I would get sitreps probably two or three times a day on what was going on at Dover. They bore no relation to what was in the media. There was no gridlock at Dover, or lengthy queues. There were some delays, but nothing greater than one would have seen pre-pandemic on a busy summer day. Sometimes, people queue a bit for freight: it does not mean they sit in queues for eight hours. The queues still move; people just have to wait a little while. The reason we do that is to allow passenger traffic to move through more quickly. We did not see delays of more than an hour or two for passengers to check in; again, that would have happened pre-pandemic and in many circumstances, in Eurotunnel and at the port of Dover. TAP is currently not operating and we are about to remove Brock, which we do not now need; we will assess it later, towards the summer. Again, I am as relaxed as a Transport Minister ever gets about the situation in Kent. There is no shortage of capacity across the short straits; P&O Ferries is back sailing now, so capacity is not a problem. We had a minor problem with the PAF booths on Sunday 29 May, I believe—a few people did not turn up for work, but eventually the French sent some more, so that was all fine.
In general, we are not complacent but we have very good plans in place. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether we have plans and systems in place. Absolutely. I am all over it; I am on top of it. The Kent Resilience Forum has very good local plans and it reports back to the Minister. The noble Lord also asked whether we have a council. We do. A freight council was established last year; it meets quarterly and talks about supply chains and their integration with the transport system. The future of freight strategy will be launched very shortly.
I believe I have run out of time now, but I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions and I will write on any matters I was not able sufficiently to cover.