I beg to move,
That this House has considered the aviation, travel and tourism industries.
The aviation, travel and tourism sectors are an essential part of the UK’s identity and economy. More than that, they are a driver in creating a global Britain and in levelling up our country. That is reflected in the history and the facts. Before covid-19, the UK had the largest aviation market in Europe and the third largest globally, contributing £22 billion to GDP and directly providing around 230,000 jobs.
Tourism is similarly hugely important to our economy, as people travel from home and abroad to share in our culture, our landscape, our history and traditions, and the warm welcome from all corners of our United Kingdom. In 2019, 4 million people were working in the tourism industry, with the sector directly contributing £75 billion each year to the nation’s economy. The Government understand the severe impact of covid-19 and the effect that the necessary restrictions that have been introduced to control it have had on the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism sectors.
The House is united in wanting to see international travel reopened as soon as it is safe to do so, enabling those living here to see the family and friends they have been separated from for so long; for business to be done; for holidays to be enjoyed; enabling far countries to be explored; and for our friends from all corners of the wide world to be welcomed once again to the United Kingdom’s shining shores.
I spoke to the Minister beforehand. The holiday and travel sector, in particular, has great uncertainty. What help can be given to businesses such as Laser Travel in my constituency that offer a tailored, top-to-bottom service? Existing furlough, self-employed support for international travel businesses for a further six months, retained business rates relief and a further tailored recovery grants regime for travel agents, tour operators—
I would be delighted to discuss this matter further with the hon. Gentleman. Later in my speech I will come to some of the factors that have been available to some of the wonderful travel and tourism businesses that we have all over the United Kingdom. That may give him the answer that he wants. If it does not, I am happy to discuss it further with him and I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—the tourism Minister—would be happy to do so as well.
As I was saying, everybody can be reassured that the Government recognise the critical national importance of international travel. It connects families that have been kept apart, boosts businesses, brings in investment and underpins the UK economy. It is essential to the way that we see ourselves as a country: open, international and cosmopolitan. That is why it is essential that any steps that we take now lay the groundwork for a sustainable, safe and robust return to international travel.
In February 2021, the Prime Minister asked the Secretary of State for Transport to convene a successor to the Global Travel Taskforce, building on the recommendations set out in November 2020. The taskforce published that report in April 2021. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the travel and tourism industry for its enormous contribution and close co-operation with Government in the development of the report and for its continued support in the ongoing efforts to successfully implement the report’s recommendations. The report set out a framework for a safe, sustainable, robust return to international travel, seeking input from across the transport industry.
The Secretary of State confirmed on 7 May that non-essential international travel would resume on 17 May, lifting the “stay in the UK” regulation and allowing international travel to recommence under the new traffic light system. The system cautiously balances the reopening of international travel with managing the risk posed by imported variants. It categorises countries based on risk, allowing us to protect public health, and particularly the roll-out of our world-beating vaccination programme, from variants of covid-19.
The Joint Biosecurity Centre produces risk assessments of countries and territories. Decisions on which list a country is assigned to and any associated border measures are then taken by Ministers, who take into account that JBC risk assessment alongside wider public health factors. The Government have had to make difficult decisions in the early stages of the return to international travel; however, they are necessary to ensure that we do not risk throwing away our hard-won achievements, which have been possible only through the hard work of the British people, and people coming forward for their vaccinations when called. However difficult these times are, and I am under no illusion that they are challenging, we must not risk having to go backwards.
To address the immediate impact of travel restrictions we have introduced an unprecedented package of financial support across the economy, totalling approximately £350 billion. By September 2021, the air transport sector alone will have benefited from around £7 billion of Government support, including accessing more than £2 billion through the Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility and around £1 billion to £1.5 billion of support through the furlough scheme. That is the same job retention scheme that some Labour Front Benchers have criticised and called “money wasting”. I could not disagree more, and I am sure that the people whose jobs it has saved would disagree as well.
The extension of the furlough scheme to the end of September this year allows us to continue supporting businesses and protecting as many jobs as possible. As part of our economy-wide support we have provided over £25 billion to the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors in the form of grants, loans and tax breaks. We have extended business rates relief and introduced new restart grants of up to £18,000 for many in the sector. We have also extended the cut in VAT for tourism and hospitality activities to 5% until the end of September.
The levelling-up fund, the city and growth deals in Scotland and Wales, and the towns fund all show that the Government are investing in tourism infrastructure across our Union. This week, we announced town deals for a further 33 towns as part of the towns fund programme. Those places, which range from seaside towns such as Hastings and Hartlepool to the historic market towns of Bedford and Bishop Auckland, will share over £790 million to boost their local economies, create jobs and help them to build back better from the pandemic.
To date, we have announced town deals for 86 places across England worth over £2 billion in total. A new £56 million welcome back fund is helping councils to boost tourism, improve green spaces and provide more outdoor seating areas. Part of that funding will be specifically allocated to support coastal areas, with funding going to all coastal resorts across England to welcome back holidaymakers safely in the coming months.
On health certification and testing, the border requirements that international visitors will need to follow depend upon the risk rating of the locations that they have been in prior to arrival, as I referred to. As variants of concern still pose a significant risk, testing from a UK Government approved provider remains in place. We recognise that the cost of those tests is still too high. Although we have seen the price of post-arrival tests decrease from around £210 to around £170, we continue to explore options for lowering the cost of testing further, including cheaper tests being used when holidaymakers return home.
Passengers can now use the NHS app to demonstrate their covid-19 vaccination status or alternatively can request a letter that outlines proof of vaccination five days after they have received their second dose of a covid-19 vaccine. The ability to prove one’s vaccination status for outbound travel using the NHS app and an inclusive letter service means that several countries now accept vaccinated visitors from the UK with reduced or removed testing and health measures.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that matter. We are considering what role vaccination may be able to play in facilitating international travel. I will refer to that again in due course.
The measures set out in the traffic-light system are not set in stone. That is also an answer to my right hon. Friend’s question. We are working towards a future travel system that can coexist with an endemic covid-19, and indeed recognising, as he has pointed out, the strong strategic rationale of the success of the vaccine programme. We are working to consider the role of vaccinations in shaping a different set of health and testing measures for inbound travel into our country. We will set out our position on that in due course.
The Minister has talked about the way the traffic-light system might work. We were promised that there would be a green watch list that would give travellers more time, but that simply was not used in the case of Portugal. Could he expand on that a little further?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point and appreciate that it is one on which many hon. Members will want an answer. We have always been clear that we could use the green watch list where we were able to do so. We have equally always been clear that when the evidence requires us to take swift action, we will do that, because the public would expect us to take action to protect public health, which is what we did in that instance.
As recommended in the Global Travel Taskforce report, the Government’s approach will be assessed on 28 June, 31 July and 1 October. This is to ensure that the measures and the approach in place are still adequate, that they are relevant, and that they are efficient. Of course, the first of those review points comes up at the end of this month.
The GTT report included a commitment for the Government to produce a tourism recovery plan, as was reiterated in the 22 February road map. That tourism recovery plan will set out the transformation and growth of the sector over the next five years as part of our economic recovery. The plan will address both the short-term and medium-term issues affecting the sector, such as bringing back consumer demand and supporting businesses as they reopen. We also wanted to set the sector on a long-term path to support delivery of the Government’s wider objectives, such as levelling up, strengthening our Union, and enhancing growth and productivity. We want to future-proof the tourism sector. We are determined to see the development of a more sustainable, innovative and data-driven tourism industry.
As we return to travelling, building consumer confidence is key. On 17 May, we published a passenger covid-19 charter that sets out consumer rights and responsibilities while restrictions are still in place, alongside the Government’s expectations of the businesses in the sector. In the meantime, we will be regularly reviewing travel measures, taking into account the latest domestic and international data. The system we have designed will be adaptable to the evolving epidemiological picture, and the Government must of course be prepared to take action at any time to protect public health.
My hon. Friend mentioned that the Government plan two or three further checkpoints during the summer. Is he actually saying, as he talks about consumers and recovery, that if a destination is not placed on the green list or the amber list by 31 July, it cannot be reopened to travel before 31 October?
If I have understood my right hon. Friend’s question correctly, the position is that we continue to assess all the measures that apply in terms of policy at the checkpoint reviews. Similarly, we look approximately every three weeks at which countries fall into which list. When I talked about consumer confidence in the charter, I was referring to the rights that consumers have and the responsibilities of those in the industry. I hope that I understood his question correctly; if not, I will come back to it later.
In the last couple of minutes, I would like to say a little bit about our priorities for the future of aviation. The UK has a proud history at the forefront of global aviation. It provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds to the UK’s GDP and tax revenues—money that is invested back into our vital national services. We are working on a strategic framework that will focus on building back better and ensure a successful UK aviation sector for the future. That framework will set out a plan for a return to growth of the aviation sector, and it will include consideration of workforce and skills, Union connectivity, noise, innovation, regulation and consumer issues. The strategy will complement the Government’s net zero aviation strategy. It will consider the critical role that aviation plays in growing the UK’s global reach and we will publish it by the end of the year.
The measures I have outlined demonstrate how determined the Government are to support this vital industry as we start to rebuild the economy. I am a Minister in the Department for Transport. By definition, I want to see people travelling, and I want to see people flying. I want a thriving aviation industry. I want to welcome people back to our shores to enjoy the delights our country has to offer, and I want our people to be able to explore the wonders of the world. But we cannot and will not rush this, and we cannot and will not undermine our hard-won progress. If we move too quickly—recklessly, even—we could throw away our progress and take us all, including the travel, tourism and aviation industries, back to square one. The best way to support our aviation, travel and tourism industries is to resolutely follow the vaccine roll-out, return life to normality and allow these industries once again to soar.
It might be helpful for colleagues to know that I intend to run the debate until around 4 o’clock, because there is another debate after this, and therefore there has to be a very low time limit of three minutes, I am afraid, even at the beginning. I apologise to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May); I normally try to give her more than three minutes, but we are really under pressure this afternoon. I should point out that Members who are further down the list simply will not have a chance to speak today. They will be able to work out by the arithmetic whether or not they will have a chance to speak, so they do not have to come and ask me. It is a pleasure to call the shadow Minister, Alex Sobel.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I will try to be as brief as possible, to give Members the maximum time. My role as shadow tourism Minister means that I am lucky enough to visit many of the wonderful and various tourist attractions that Britain has to offer. Just a few weeks ago, I celebrated the reopening of museums and galleries by attending the launch of Grayson Perry’s “Art Club” exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. More recently, I visited the beautifully kept gardens and buildings at Chiltern Open Air Museum and enjoyed the gardens at Batsford arboretum. School holidays for my children have been made more enjoyable for the whole family thanks in no small part to Legoland Windsor, the Wave in Bristol, Whipsnade zoo, the Wild Place Project and Roger Tuby and Stewart Robinson’s fairgrounds. I also visited Stratford-upon-Avon, one of our biggest tourist magnets, and was delighted to see it so busy, and I visited Scarborough to welcome back domestic coach tourism.
While all these attractions are still doing what they do best—educating, entertaining and enchanting their many visitors—they have one thing in common: they have all been let down in one way or another by the Government’s lacklustre and patchy support over the course of the covid-19 pandemic. Last September, I stood here and impressed the need to protect the hospitality industry. We know that hospitality is one of the major forces powering the UK tourism economy. Establishments providing food, drink and accommodation rely heavily on the tourism trade and must be protected for their sake and the sake of tourism—an industry worth £155 billion and responsible for more than 3 million jobs. That is why my party—the party that supports frontline businesses—is calling for a flexible repayment scheme to tackle the £6 billion debt burden facing the hospitality industry without harming the recovery of businesses that are still unable to turn a profit. It is the fair thing to do.
We also need to consider the other huge threat to hospitality recovering: the staff crisis. Venues have been hit by the triple whammy of changes to the immigration rules post Brexit, many workers deciding to return to their country of origin in Europe, and the pandemic and previously furloughed workers retraining and moving on. I have heard this time and again from Bristol to Scarborough. The Government must address the shortage of workers.
To protect the tourism industry itself, we were promised a plan, to which the Minister referred. In April, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—who is present and can advise the Minister—assured me that the tourism recovery plan was on the way and would be announced by the end of spring. But the sector is starting the season late and there is still no plan. Neither our domestic nor our international travel and tourism industries know what support they can count on as the summer season starts. Instead, we wait. Will the Minister tell me whether we are having the longest spring on record? When can we expect the plan? I am sure his DCMS colleague will help him with that.
The coach industry waits for a package of support that aligns it with other areas of the leisure and hospitality sector. Tour guides, events staff and other excluded workers wait to see whether they are eligible for Government support in the plan. Fairground operators wait to see whether there will finally be a Government support package that does not exclude them because of their lack of static business or shop front. Travel agents wait for sector-specific funding, while the lack of inbound and outbound travel and the uncertainty over testing regimes and quarantine continue to hit bookings. Zoos and aquariums do not wait; they continue with the inadequate zoo animals fund—which many in the sector call the “zoo closure fund”—and ask what the tourism recovery package will do to help them, their staff and their animals.
I should mention that the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire, has chosen this period to undertake a review of destination management organisations. It is important that DCMS aligns the review of DMOs with the tourism recovery plan to best support the promotion of local and regional tourism. Any funding must be used to encourage co-operation and streamline processes, ensuring that DMOs are best placed to be at the centre of the English tourism ecosystem, while ending the need for them to compete for limited funding. I hope the Minister will give us clarity on both the tourism recovery plan and the review of DMOs when he responds to the debate.
Nowhere is uncertainty felt so keenly as by the outbound travel industry, with so many yearning for a holiday abroad. We have been told that we absolutely should not travel to amber-list countries, but essential travel is okay. Then we were told that perhaps holidays could be essential—then that, actually, it is dangerous to travel abroad this year and we should not do it, but to just be careful if we do. “Go to Portugal.” “Come back from Portugal.” “Why did you even go to Portugal?” Why were there so many mixed messages on outbound travel? It is key to the UK economy and, right now, clarity on holidays is critical to the UK’s collective psyche. The Government must step in to bring reassurance.
It is worth remembering that planes are not the only way to get abroad. The pandemic has hit Eurostar and other train operators hard, yet the Government have not supported them at all. We need a comprehensive strategy for our regional, national and international railways that goes beyond the current franchise-support programme to address the impact of covid-19 on operations such as Eurostar.
We all want to go back to normal. As a country, we have endured so much. We are tough. We do not need to be infantilised by the Government; we just want clear, truthful messaging. We know that uncertainty hurts our economy and that financial support promotes recovery and levels the playing field with the competitors in Europe—many of which have received the sort of support that we should provide to our tourism industry—that are taking advantage of the lack of support for our sector. Now is the time for the Government to step up and deliver a package that will give businesses certainty, the ability to plan for the future and a chance to rebuild.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
This is a disappointing debate, because one year and one week ago this very issue was raised in this House. A different Minister was at the Dispatch Box at the time, but she promised me that the Government were working hard across the sector to
“get internationally agreed standard health measures”—[Official Report, 3 June 2020; Vol. 676, c. 850.]
in place. One year on, we are no further forward. Indeed, we have a devastated industry, jobs lost and global Britain shut for business.
More than not being any further forward, we have gone backwards. We now have more than 50% of the adult population vaccinated—it is a wonderful programme—yet we are more restricted on travel than we were last year. In 2020, I went to Switzerland in August and South Korea in September. There was no vaccine but travel was possible. This year, there is a vaccine but travel is not possible. I really do not understand the Government’s stance.
Of course, it is permissible for a person to travel to countries on the amber list, provided that it is practicable for them to quarantine when they come back, but Government Ministers tell people that they must not travel and cannot go on holiday to places on the amber list. The messaging is mixed and the system is chaotic. Portugal was put on the green list, people went to the football, then Portugal was put on the amber list, leaving holidaymakers scrabbling for flights and devastated families having to cancel their plans. That is not to mention the impact on the airlines, on travel agents here and on the travel and tourist industry in our longest-standing trading partner in Europe.
Business travel is practically impossible: global Britain has shut its doors to business and investors. In a normal pre-pandemic year, passengers travelling through Heathrow spent £16 billion throughout the country, including at places such as Legoland Windsor, which is partly in my constituency. That has been lost.
There are some facts on which the Government need to be upfront with the British people and about which Ministers need to think a bit more when they make decisions. First, we will not eradicate covid-19 from the UK. There will not be a time when we can say that there will never be another case of covid-19 in this country. Secondly, variants will keep on coming. There will be new variants every year. If the Government’s position is that we cannot open up travel until there are no new variants elsewhere in the world, we will never be able to travel abroad ever again. The third fact that the Government need to state much more clearly is that sadly people will die from covid here in the UK in the future, as 10,000 to 20,000 people do every year from flu.
We are falling behind the rest of Europe in our decisions to open up, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) has indicated. The Government may say all they have, as the Minister has, about the importance of the aviation industry, but they need to decide whether they want an airline industry and aviation sector in the UK or not, because at the rate they are going, they will not have one, certainly not as a key sector in the economy, as it was before the pandemic. It is incomprehensible, I think, that one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world is the one that is most reluctant to give its citizens the freedoms those vaccinations should support.
I think it is clear to all of us just how important international travel is to the economy, and to the tourism and hospitality sector in particular. With European and world connectivity now more important than ever, it is the Scottish Government’s ambition to see airports and airlines restored to 2019 levels of connectivity as quickly as possible.
It is clear to all Members just how crucial tourism is to the Scottish economy. Luckily, the Scottish Government are perfectly aware of that. UK Hospitality is clear that, although the Scottish Government are providing funds through breathing space for business rates, the UK Government are just kicking the can down the road. Moreover, the fact that they have remained committed to imposing a September cliff edge on the sector by ending furlough and the 5% VAT rate is unforgivable.
I would love to, but I am extremely pressed for time so I will crack on.
Given the time constraints I just mentioned, my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) will make more comment on the tourism sector in his speech.
I think we all accept that the very nature of the pandemic has meant that reaction to events has had to be quick, changing in some cases day to day based on epidemiological evidence. Believe it or not from my tone sometimes, I am sympathetic to the pressures on Ministers and officials who have had to deal with the pandemic day to day and hour by hour, taking decisions with massive consequences for our economy and society. It has to be said though that the Government’s conduct in preventing the further importation of the delta variant was nothing short of a disgrace.
It is difficult to work out whether irresponsible delays in reintroducing travel restrictions to and from India while case numbers were surging were down to governmental desperation and self-interest while trying to set up a trade deal that would not be necessary if the kamikaze mission of Brexit had not been set in motion, or just sheer incompetence. Whatever the real reason, the result has been the importation of delta cases that could have been prevented had timeous action been taken or, indeed, had the UK Government just followed the advice provided on hotel quarantine, as the Scottish Government did. The UK Government even refused to help identify passengers in England travelling on to Scotland so that they could also be required to enter quarantine hotels. We can see the result of that approach right now in the rising delta caseload.
Although some restrictions on air travel are still necessary, aviation more than any other sector needs help and support from the state at this time of emergency. Unbelievably, we are still waiting for the type of sector-specific support promised by the Chancellor right at the start of the pandemic. Even with the limited fiscal and constitution levers at their disposal, the Scottish Government stepped up immediately and provided more targeted support to aviation businesses than the UK through extending 100% business rates relief for the whole of last year, and now for this financial year, too. In contrast, when the UK Government finally followed suit, they did so in a much more limited way when it came to eligibility and capping that support. They have also failed to match the additional year’s support, extending the limited scheme by only six months, a position that will surely have to change should their policies continue.
In a coup de grâce, the Government also saw fit to remove the extra statutory concession that had provided vital retail revenue for airports across the country and that was of particular importance outside London and the south-east. That decision has already resulted in dozens of retail outlets closing and hundreds of jobs going from airport retail in Scotland alone. The impact of that lost revenue will not only be felt in retail operations; the income was used to cross-subsidise a huge amount of airport operations, including attracting new routes and retaining old ones. In short, the decision is a hugely myopic one that I hope the Treasury will reverse.
We might think that that was plenty for the industry to be dealing with, but there is always one more thing with this Government, particularly if it involves Brexit. UK airlines have been put at a competitive disadvantage versus their EU counterparts when it comes to cargo and chartered routes. In terms of traffic rights, we—in the form of the Civil Aviation Authority—are very quick to grant rights to other European airlines, but the same reciprocity does not occur in many European countries. That clearly makes it much more difficult for UK-based airlines to secure contracts. Indeed, nothing makes that point more starkly than the fact that the Ministry of Defence has given a contract to transport UK armed forces personnel to a Polish airline, bailed out by a Polish Government, which we have quickly given rights to fly. All the while, UK aircraft remain grounded and the air crews and associated personnel remain furloughed at the taxpayer’s expense.
So much for taking back control. This is yet another Brexit dividend from people who brought us the sunny uplands—the same uplands our hill farmers are currently wrestling with. This is no way to secure an aviation sector, or the hundreds of thousands of jobs that directly and indirectly rely on it in the short or long term. Building capacity and sustainability in the long term has to be the priority for Government and the industry once the worst of the pandemic is over.
I have lost count of the number of times that regional connectivity has been raised with Ministers in this place. Our economies and wider communities are being held back and damaged by the UK’s over-centralising, decades-old policy of reliance on London and the south-east as gateways to the rest of Europe and the world. Regional connectivity is needed if we are to attract visitors and tourists over the coming months as restrictions are lifted. Although VisitScotland, the Scottish Government and the tourism and hospitality industries are all working hard to restart the sector, the fact is that visitors need to be able to get here in the first place.
We have now been waiting 17 months for the regional connectivity review. Local economies need that review to report, and to report now. There is no time to lose for communities that stand to be frozen out of recovery and see jobs and prosperity disappear for want of any strategy or plan from the Government. It must be remembered that for regional airports, Flybe’s collapse was a hammer-blow that preceded the pandemic. Even without covid-19, we would still be facing the same substantial challenges and, I rather suspect, the same lack of action from the Government.
I must make an uncharacteristically positive point. With the demise of Flybe, Loganair is now the UK’s largest regional airline. The airline is based in my constituency, and I was very proud to see the announcement this morning that it was the UK’s first regional airline to become carbon-neutral. I congratulate it on that initiative.
In conclusion, I go back to the gravity of the situation. The lack of action that I have spoken of has extended to sector-specific support, business rates relief and airport retail. Even at this stage, I still urge the Government belatedly to follow up on their promises with action. As the Minister himself has said, pre pandemic the country’s aviation sector was the third biggest. The Government’s inaction has ensured that it will not be, as we move out of the situation. It is time to listen to the industry and our aviation communities and map a future that ensures sustainability, economic growth and job security.
The aviation industry was one of the first to face the negative impact of the covid-19 pandemic 15 months ago. Sadly, because of the overly cautious restrictions and the confusion coming from the Government, it will be one of the slowest to recover.
I see this daily as the representative of an aviation community. It is timely for us to remember that we are not just talking about two weeks on the beach in the sun; this is about people’s livelihoods, their wellbeing and their jobs. It is also important for our UK economy. Outbound international travel accounts, in normal times, for a contribution of approximately £37 billion to the UK economy, and inbound international travel accounts for about £28 billion, at 2019 levels.
More than 1.5 million people were employed in the aviation and travel sectors. Sadly, many of those have lost their jobs and about half are on furlough. The furlough is coming to an end in September and will need to be extended if the aviation and travel sectors are not able to regenerate themselves by being able to operate at least to some meaningful degree in the coming summer months. This lost summer, which I fear it will be, will cost the UK economy some £19 billion. I am encouraged to hear news from Cornwall today that there will be a UK-US travel taskforce. The fact that we do not have transatlantic travel at the moment is costing our UK economy about £32 million a day, and that puts us at a competitive disadvantage compared with many other countries.
I pay tribute to the Government for the world successful vaccination programme. More than 70 million doses have been delivered, but we are squandering that advantage by being overly cautious and not being able to open up. This is about global Britain. This is about international trade. This is about people’s jobs. I urge the Government to allow aviation to safely reopen, which it can do with vaccination and testing. I also urge them to reduce the cost of testing and to remove the VAT on testing to allow greater freedom of movement. If they do not do that, the industry, rather than making money for the UK economy, will be asking for further bail-outs, which will cost every taxpayer much more.
Today, I want to focus on a specialist sailing holiday company in my constituency, which has been running for several decades and has essentially been unable to run its business since March last year. It told me that, with the current travel restrictions, it is losing £1 million in revenue every three weeks. This tour operator has not been able to access much of the Government’s support, including business rates relief. It also missed out on some council grants because it is classed as offices, which were not officially told to close.
To add insult to injury, the company is now facing repayments for a loan under the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme from the end of this month, at a time when it is still almost completely unable to trade. These companies have not even been able to take full advantage of the furlough scheme given that cancelling holidays, which so many have been forced to do, takes more work than arranging them in the first place and therefore staff have been needed to deal with disappointed holidaymakers.
Then there is the absolute shambles that is this Government’s approach to international travel, which is compounding travel companies’ problems. When I asked the Transport Secretary to publish the evidence behind the decisions on the travel ban list, I was told:
“The advice, evidence and methodology which inform these decisions relates to on-going development of Government policy and therefore cannot be published at this time.”
If that is frustrating for me, can Members imagine how frustrated travel agencies are given that the future of their business and livelihoods is based on decisions for which there is no publicly available criteria and, in many cases, very little logic? This leaves businesses such as my local tour operator unable to plan in advance on the basis of coronavirus data and hugely damages consumer confidence.
What is most frustrating for me is the lack of leadership. Ministers need to admit that, basically, they are not allowing foreign holidays and to mitigate the impact of that on the travel industry with proper financial support. The current approach is the worst of both worlds, where the travel industry is being allowed to fail and we are not even properly securing our borders against coronavirus threats.
Time is running out for our travel industry and the brilliant local businesses and staff that make it up. I sincerely hope that the Minister is listening properly to the debate today.
I listened carefully to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts). He is a good man and a good minister. I know he does not share the Government’s universal view, but today we need him, and his colleagues in the Department and elsewhere across Government, really to step up the pressure on the places where the problems really are.
People in the Department of Health and in the public health world have done a fantastic job in many respects in the past 12 months—the vaccination programme is something of which we should all be proud—but they do not understand the business model of the travel sector, and the decisions they are taking are going to cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, put businesses out of business and leave the sector decimated. The Minister talked about the future of the aviation sector. Well, there is not going to be one if we do not get this resolved pretty quickly.
I was disturbed to hear the Health Secretary talk about getting international travel back up and running in the medium term. That is not good enough. We had an approach. We had a green list. The Joint Biosecurity Centre recommended putting Malta, for example, on the green list. Are we flying to Malta? No. That is inexplicable and indefensible, and it has got to stop. If a country is recommended as safe to fly to, we should be able to travel to it.
We also have an amber list. We are told that we can fly to countries on the amber list, but we have to quarantine when we get back, but we are also told that we should not go on holiday to them. Well, I am afraid that I simply disagree with that. My view is very clear: if people are willing to travel to a country on the amber list, for whatever reason, and if they are willing to follow the rules on self-isolation when they get back, they should be free to travel there. I simply disagree with Ministers who say, “We don’t want you to travel to an amber list country for a holiday.” We want the industry to recover. If people are willing to follow the rules around quarantining, they should be free to travel wherever they wish, and I think they should do so.
If we do not take steps as quickly as possible—the default really has to be that we open up places as soon as they are safe—we are going to see this industry decimated. We now need a much, much, much less risk-averse approach to international travel. We need a proper road map back into operation for the sector. What are the milestones? When can we open up amber countries to the green list? When can people start travelling freely without quarantining? What are the milestones that have to be reached to achieve that? We have done that domestically; let us now do it internationally and let us do it pretty quickly.
If we do not, the situation is very clear. We had a lively debate in this place on Monday about whether we could afford an extra aid budget. The argument the Government put forward is that the public finances are under huge pressure, and they are right. But they are going to be under even bigger pressure if we do not sort this sector out, because it will make no money until 2022 and we will have a straight choice: either we bail it out to the tune of billions of pounds more, or next year we will have no airlines, closed airports, and lots of little businesses like the one we just heard about in north London will have disappeared. That is not what I want, so my message to Ministers is: get this done; sort it out; get that road map in place; and start to take a less risk-averse approach.
Quite unusually, I find myself agreeing with many contributions from both sides of the House today. I want particularly to concentrate on the aviation sector. Clearly, the aviation, travel and tourism sector is unique in this crisis. While other sectors are enjoying a cautious but steady recovery and reopening, the short-term and long-term future of this sector remains extremely uncertain. In addition, it is one of the only sectors whose recovery is not determined solely by the policies of the UK Government, but is highly dependent on the often rapidly changing policies of Governments abroad. However, given the ongoing restrictions that the UK Government are applying to the aviation sector, the sector requires a specifically tailored recovery plan, which this Government sadly have not yet afforded it. Not only is this lack of support putting employers and employees under extreme pressure; it is also putting the UK market at a competitive disadvantage, where European counterparts have provided that much needed support and comfort.
It goes without saying that the workers—almost 230,000 of them in the aviation industry—are highly skilled. They go through a complex process of training to gain qualifications, of checking and of certification. The industry is potentially facing an exodus of workers who are going to leave for more stable sectors with a more predictable recovery prognosis. Quite frankly, the industry cannot afford such skill leakages at this time. A further extension of the furlough scheme would afford employees the flexibility to be furloughed at short notice without the potentially devastating impact on their income, and would serve to protect the skillset that the sector desperately needs to retain during the recovery.
I am honoured to serve as a member of the Select Committee on Transport and as such I have become well-acquainted with the particular challenges facing the sector, and in my capacity as chair of the Unite the union parliamentary group I have closely followed the industrial disputes within the sector, including the disgraceful fire and rehire practices at British Airways and Heathrow airport and, as always, I commend Unite on its work in fighting on behalf of its members in these sectors and once again call on the Government to outlaw fire and rehire to prevent more of these cases and end this unacceptable practice.
The uncertainty that has characterised the Government’s pandemic response endures with the recent traffic light system for foreign travel. Minister, in the time I have left I want to urge you to extend the coronavirus job retention scheme to the sector; extend the furlough scheme and give this sector and the workforce the support and reassurance it so desperately needs.
I suspect that this is one of those occasions when the Minister would be surprised if any Member on either side of the House were to speak in support of the system that the Government have put in place and I am certainly not going to surprise him myself. I speak of course on behalf of the many thousands of my constituents who depend on aviation, particularly associated with Manchester airport, for their livelihoods, but I speak also for the many thousands more who need that vital connectivity for their businesses or other crucial aspects of their lives.
It is important to reflect on the huge importance of the aviation sector in this country; it has always been a huge British success story, making a £200 billion annual contribution to the economy and generating £4 billion a year in tax revenue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) referred to the debate about overseas aid; coincidentally, the same amount of money involved in that debate is how much we are simply giving up in tax revenue from the aviation sector by requiring it not to fly. Over 1 million jobs are supported by the sector.
Secondly, of course this is not just about holidays, as has been said by other Members: important though holidays are to many people, it is also about millions of British citizens and residents who are being denied the possibility of seeing their family and friends who live overseas, and it is about business more generally. There can be no global Britain without the aviation sector.
A constituent wrote to me yesterday describing the business-crushing approach the Government are taking to travel. He said:
“We literally have multi million pound potential being postponed because of the decisions of this Government.”
That is just one of many small and medium-sized enterprises losing out, unable to make the progress it wants to make.
Finally, I would just make the point that the Minister’s opening remarks seemed so encouraging, with the determination to get travel back and get aviation flying again, but it does not seem that way to the aviation sector. The aviation sector does not see the Government laying out a road map to a safe return to international travel; what it sees is the Government putting in place opaque and unpredictable obstacles that prevent that safe return to travel. We need clarity, we need certainty, we need a predictable approach, and quickly we need to see that approach set out in a way that allows the industry to plan for a return to safe travel over the summer.
The pandemic has put unprecedented strain on the travel industry and stress on consumers, and the recent decision to remove Portugal from the green list immediately without first placing it on a watchlist has only exacerbated the problems for both. Confidence has been damaged and the lack of transparency by not allowing the data to be scrutinised has compounded the confusion and hindered the ability to plan ahead for businesses and consumers.
To focus on business support for airports like Manchester, the airport and ground operations support scheme is insufficient at £8 million per airport—that does not even cover the rates bill—and support by means of loans will only defer the problem as the start date for any meaningful return to international travel gets pushed ever further back, with no clarity on how and when it will restart. Vaccination was meant to be the key. More than 50% of people are now vaccinated, but we do not hear of covid passports any longer. There will be another travel taskforce between the USA and the UK—a little less talk and a little more action would be appreciated by airports, airlines, businesses and leisure travellers. The covid test scheme is, frankly, an expensive mess. The Government website on providers has no information on whether they are accredited, no guidance on what to do if things go wrong and no advice on the capacity of any provider. Is it acceptable for the Government to expect travellers to do their own research into such a new market, which is prone to scams and fraudulent behaviour? Effective consumer protections must be in place for travellers in the event of any problems with testing, and clear advice for potential travellers is also key.
It is really unhelpful that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office travel warnings do not always echo the amber and red warnings given by the Department for Transport. Indeed, the Secretary of State himself gave incorrect advice regarding refunds for travellers with bookings to an amber country. Travel insurance does not give all the answers; it is confusing and not well understood. How is the Minister working with the regulators and insurance industry to ensure that this is better understood and better regulated? The Government need to clearly state their priorities. If overcaution and virtual isolation is the aim, the industry needs financial support so that it is protected; if that is not the case, the Government need to let the industry trade more freely. Businesses and travellers deserve clarity and transparency.
Let me say at the outset that I am chairman of the all-party groups on business travel and on Portugal, and I do not need to tell the Minister how the decision ignoring the data and the illogical decision about Portugal last week have caused widespread dismay. I have been speaking on hospitality and events in this House since March 2020, as many colleagues have. I am proud of the fact that in my constituency we have international travel businesses such as Swords Travel, which was named the UK and Ireland’s top travel agency this year, but like so many it highlights the problems it has had. Unless there is clarity on the future of international travel or more Government support, if the industry is not allowed to reopen more quickly, many of the fantastic services for which Swords Travel and others are recognised will simply not be there in the future.
Like everyone else, I recognise the enormity of the support provided by the furlough scheme, which has been incredibly helpful. However, unlike retail and hospitality, the travel sector has not had that same level of specific sector support. Therefore, if the Government are not going to reopen the industry, I urge them to think about what they may be able to do in terms of grants and support for the industry. I said a moment ago that I am the chairman of the all-party group on business travel, and this is an area that contributes more than £100 billion a year to the UK economy. Business travel management companies have seen a collapse of revenue, which has decreased by some 88% since pre-pandemic levels, and the decrease in business travel trips across 10 key routes alone has cost the Government some £3.3 billion in the past six months. Therefore, when the Government reconsider, I hope they will include priority business travel destinations alongside traditional holiday destinations for the next review of the green travel list. If they cannot be added to the list, that will compound the need for further support.
I listened carefully to the Minister and, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), I, too, know him to be a good man, but I have to say to him that if all social restrictions are lifted on 21 June, as planned, aviation and international travel will be the only sector without a meaningful restart date. Therefore, I seriously urge him to use 28 June as the opportunity to repurpose the risk-based system, which does enjoy support but clearly is not working. He should be recognising the vaccination status of travellers. We should be looking at the replacement of the expensive PCR—polymerase chain reaction—test requirement for green countries, which are inherently low risk, and we should be removing the “do not travel” messaging on amber countries. Many of those—the testing and the quarantine-on-return measures—match the risk posed, and I urge the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for Transport to use 28 June to reopen international travel for business, holiday and family reasons.
This will come as no surprise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I will take a slightly different tack from what has been said before. If our country is going to get itself back on its feet once covid thankfully has passed, we are going to have to play to our strengths.
What is one of the greatest strengths of the tourist industry? What is something that was invented in Scotland? What is important as part of global Britain? Golf. During the time when the Kaiser’s high seas fleet faced Admiral Jellicoe and Admiral Beatty’s grand fleet, a small golf course was built in a place called Pitcalzean, which is near Nigg, near Invergordon. It was greatly used in two wars by Royal Navy personnel. Sadly, in the late 1960s, it fell into disuse and was closed down. I have a constituent called Robert Mackenzie who has tremendous plans to re-establish this golf course entirely using private finance. It has the support of the local authority and goes to planning shortly.
I very much hope that we can see that project come to fruition, but I am making this speech because we recently had a similar project at a place called Coul, near Dornoch. It went all the way to the final stage of the race, if you like, and suddenly having got all that way, the Scottish Government decided to call in the application and turn it down. It is heavily rumoured locally that it happened due to Green party influence on the Scottish Government. This must not happen again.
Jobs do not grow on trees in my constituency—we all know that. Golf can be a terrific tourism product that we can offer people, and it is ultimately sustainable in the longest possible term. I very much hope that both those projects will go ahead. I just say in passing that the name Pitcalzean is one that will fox Hansard, I do believe, and I will be happy to furnish them with the correct spelling by email once I have stopped speaking.
Last year, I invited the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to come and see for himself the Scottish whisky industry in my constituency and other things he cared to see. The right hon. Gentleman came, and I believe the visit was a success. It may prove to be something unusual for an Opposition MP to do, but at the end of the day, I am about trying to get the best for my constituency, and I will speak to politicians of any party if it helps bring things to fruition.
I extend the same warm invitation to the Minister responding to this debate today or, indeed, any other member of Her Majesty’s Government who would like to come and see what we already have in terms of golf—and in whisky, food or whatever, too—but also what we seek to do for the future. As I said at the beginning, and I say it again, this is all part of the effort to get our great country back on its feet.
The UK’s vaccine roll-out has been remarkable. Unfortunately, other countries have not kept pace with us and fully opening up our borders to international travel would put our brilliant progress into jeopardy. Tightly controlled travel corridors are a necessary solution, but they clearly present significant challenges to the airline and travel industries. Although international travel is limited, regional airports provide an opportunity to increase connectivity and help us bounce back stronger as we emerge from the pandemic.
Our extremely high level of air passenger duty is a barrier to expanding domestic flights, as we charge one of the highest levels of APD in Europe. Somewhat astonishingly, as air passenger duty is a departure tax, it is currently applied to the inbound and outbound journeys of a domestic return flight. That double taxation has enormous impacts on small regional airports, such as Blackpool airport, and makes many potential routes financially unviable. It also acts as a disincentive to travelling from regional airports to major UK hub airports. An airline running just one domestic connection with an average of 100 return passengers would need to make about £1 million a year just to cover the duty.
Despite huge support from residents across Blackpool, the airport lacks commercial passenger flights. Scrapping aviation tax for domestic air travel would help level the playing field and give a real opportunity to get Blackpool flying once again. Some capital investment will also be necessary to accommodate commercial passenger flights, including a replacement terminal building, as the previous one was ripped out and sold off by the Labour-run council. Hence, I was disappointed that airport infrastructure was not within the scope of the recent levelling-up fund. Reopening Blackpool airport for commercial passenger flights would increase tourism, help to create more high-skilled, well-paid jobs and bring greater investment opportunities. We know that there is pent-up demand for holidays and that people want to spend quality time with their family and friends. Blackpool is the UK’s premier holiday tourist destination, and domestic tourism will bring a welcome boost to our local economy.
The Treasury support to keep businesses viable until the resort could reopen again has been phenomenal. Over £97 million has been given to Blackpool businesses, and it is great to see so many of them reopen once again over the last few months. However, on my recent visits to hotels and tourist attractions, they have made it clear that two points need to be put across to the Treasury to make sure that we can bounce back strongly. The first is the VAT reduction continuing beyond the current extension already outlined, and the second is the requirement for social distancing to be reduced from 2 metres on 21 June.
I just say gently to the Minister that the Government need to get real in this debate. Even the industry’s figures suggest that it will take at least until 2023 to 2025 for aviation demand to recover from pre-crisis levels. A report by the New Economics Foundation and the TUC suggests that as many as 17,000 jobs could be lost from the sector even if demand returns, thanks to automation and changes to working practices. That could have a devastating impact on my community. In fact, it already is and that has not been helped, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) said, by the behaviour of companies such as BA and Heathrow forcing through fire and rehire strategies to cut wages and terms of employment. I thank Unite the union for the work that it has done and the campaign that it has waged against that.
The reality is that we need a concrete and very effective aviation recovery strategy. That means a recognition by the Government that they simply cannot precipitately turn off the support that they have provided so far. We need a continuing job support and retention scheme specifically designed for this sector, just to give us the breathing space for the strategy for recovery to take place. Of course, any recovery or future strategy for aviation must be a green recovery, but this transition to an environmentally sustainable aviation sector will be successful only if it is a just transition. For my constituents, this means providing workers with the training and expertise needed to work in a lower emission and increasingly automated sector. However, it also means providing support and training to enable workers to shift into other emerging industries and sectors. Arrangements are also needed that put protections in place for lower-skilled and lower-paid workers, who will be the most vulnerable, as we have seen.
I also say to the Government that we need to think through the support that is needed to develop local economic strategies for hearty airport communities such as mine and those other Members have raised in the Chamber today. Any review of aviation policy must strike an equitable balance between the benefits that aviation brings and its adverse environmental, economic and health costs. That is why the “growth at all costs” mantra in Government must end. The review of aviation taxation is also necessary to fund the new strategy. As a final point, if levelling up is to be meaningful, Heathrow expansion competing against regional airports has to be cast into the dustbin of aviation history.
Here we are again: MPs from both sides are getting up and asking for a plan for recovery for tourism and aviation, and asking for clarity on the border, and yet we have a Minister unwilling to stump up the support desperately needed to save businesses and jobs under threat because of restrictions on travel. These restrictions, while necessary, may be in place for another six months, and if we believe what Ministers are saying, they mean that we should not even be booking holidays this year. I will try not to repeat the points that I have made in numerous debates on aviation that have taken place in the past year because it is a bit like groundhog day: the sector spends time ahead of these debates lobbying for support and clarity on the border, and Ministers get up and offer neither clarity nor support.
Luton airport is one of the foundations of the economy in my constituency. The council depends on its revenue, and local charities benefit so much from the money that it brings in. To protect as many jobs as possible that Luton airport supports—whether that is people who work in its bars or cafes, air traffic control, airport taxi transfers, airport parking or any of the other thousands of jobs that depend on people moving—we need a clear road map for recovery for international travel now. At what point in the vaccine roll-out will it be safe to travel? When will the Government get a grip of the border policy? Where is the cash to support jobs in the sector and its supply chain?
People are desperate to get abroad again, not just for holidays but to see loved ones; yet we have had travellers trying to navigate the traffic light system changing at the last minute, Ministers saying, “It’s safe to travel, but you shouldn’t,” and people going without water and food for their kids at quarantine hotels. It has been absolute chaos. I absolutely believe that we need as strong a border policy as possible to halt the spread of new variants, but the chaos has not done that, as we see with the delta variant from India. At the very least, there must be clearer guidance for people travelling to and from green and amber destinations, and the Government must improve their communication with the sector.
Those of us in airport towns have been asking the Government to deliver the cash to save jobs. Let us look elsewhere, where this has been done better. The French Government gave €7 billion in state-backed loans to Air France. The Dutch gave €3.4 billion in support to their biggest airline. Our sector has had a pittance for runway maintenance, although any recovery package cannot be unconditional. I have been following the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into Ryanair and British Airways, which have offered cash refunds in very few cases. I want people in Luton North who did the right thing and cancelled trips when it was illegal to travel to get their money back.
In calling for support to protect jobs, I am also calling on the Government to step in and do more to protect jobs from fire and rehire practices from the likes of BA. It is wrong, and businesses should not be using the pandemic as an excuse to water down people’s rights at work or pay. They trade on our country’s name but not in our country’s interest. I hope that the Minister can give the sector the answer that it needs, or else we will be back here in a couple of months asking the same questions, seeing more jobs lost and still getting no answers.
I do not doubt for one moment that the Minister, the Secretary of State for Transport and the Department for Transport are pushing across Government to try to get aviation and the travel industry back to where it needs to be, but I feel that the Government as a whole are being far too cautious. As a result, today I have written on behalf of the Transport Committee to the Prime Minister asking him to give more clarity and certainty, and to really set out the rule base of the traffic light system—what it really is, and is not, supposed to be.
I did that because on Monday I asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to give a concrete milestone based on the data for when we can get the industry back on its feet. His response was:
“A variant that undermined the vaccine fundamentally would put us in a much more difficult place as a country, and that is why we are being as cautious as we are.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 676.]
Effectively, some form of unknown, unforeseen risk means that we cannot do anything right now. To me, that is an absolute tragedy, because our vaccine roll-out has been a tremendous success. By 21 June we hope to have vaccinated all those over the age of 50 and the clinically extremely vulnerable twice, accounting for 99% of the mortality risk. The vaccine is effective against all known variants. Indeed, of 12,383 delta variant cases 126 ended in hospital admissions. Of those, 28 had one dose and three both doses, so we know that when the most vulnerable are double-dosed we are safe. I have put it to the Prime Minister that that has to be the milestone for when we can unlock this great industry.
For those who say, “Well, there’s still risk,” indeed there is, but there are also risks for those people who cannot go and see their boyfriends or girlfriends and have not done so for over a year. What about their rights? What about their wellbeing and mental health? There is also the risk for those who have not seen their newborn grandchildren and may worry that they never will if this carries on. What about those people? There are also the people who work and rely on this industry to get by. Once delivering for global Britain, and for people to get worldwide global travel experiences, they are now lucky to be delivering for Amazon. Over 5,000 people per month have lost their jobs in this industry since February 2020, and that needs to be looked at as much as this unknown risk that is being talked about.
I have written to the Home Secretary as well—I have done a letter-writing campaign; we are doing our best to push everyone who has influence—because it is also vital that we have the Border Force resources to ensure that people can go through the airports safely and, again, give more confidence to all.
I will not take any more time, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I know you will not let me—but my goodness, this Government, and indeed all the other Front Benchers, need to wake up to this industry that is on its knees.
Tourism is the very lifeblood of Scotland. It is no coincidence that our unofficial national motto is “Ceud mìle fàilte”—“A hundred thousand welcomes”. Scotland loves visitors and visitors love Scotland, so the covid pandemic and lockdown have been as painful for the tourism and hospitality sector as for any in Scotland—a country so geared up for them and reliant on them.
I noticed that the Prime Minister flew to Cornwall yesterday to talk to the G7 about upping its game on climate change. While I am sure the aviation industry welcomed his visual endorsement, it is yet another tourism sector that has suffered from a lack of targeted support. The French Government provided Air France-KLM with €7 billion-worth of support to help jobs. The German Government have gone way beyond the commitment level of the UK Government by also pledging €7 billion to their largest airline, Lufthansa, thus not just ensuring the survival of Lufthansa but allowing it to compete more effectively post pandemic with companies that may well be weaker as a result of the pandemic—alas, companies such as the UK airlines.
I mentioned the Prime Minister’s private jet trip to Cornwall, for which he has endured some ridicule. On the environment, as with so much else, he is a veritable geyser of hot air rather than substance. While we all recognise the importance of jobs in the aviation industry, we all recognise too the vital need for a greener transport future. The UK Government missed a major environment opportunity when they ignored the 167,000 people who signed a Greenpeace petition calling on the Chancellor to attach environmental conditions for airlines. Not only was the Chancellor’s help for UK airlines much more modest than their European rivals, but the essential environmental caveats all of us want to see for a greener future were not attached to the assistance given, nor indeed was a requirement to strengthen workers’ rights—although with the Conservatives that probably surprises no one.
Finally, I say to the Minister, and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that however you travel, if you are looking for a wonderful spot to go on holiday this autumn, I would recommend my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire. I would challenge any Member to find a more beautiful piece of the world than picturesque Perthshire, glorious Kinross, and the stunning Ochil hills. Rocks, castles, whisky and extraordinary food: we have it all and you are more than welcome.
I would challenge the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) with Staffordshire Moorlands, which is equally if not more beautiful than anything he has described.
I rise to speak on behalf of the many tourism businesses in my constituency—in particular, my largest tourism business, Alton Towers. I have three points to make. First, the Government should be taking credit for and benefiting from the success of the vaccination. We should be celebrating the fact that we have the most successful vaccination programme in the G7. Over the past few days, I have enjoyed watching baseball in the United States of an evening. I watched the Cubs at the Padres a couple of days ago, and the Boston Red Sox, my team, at the New York Yankees. What I saw was a wonderful full stadium. I saw people sitting together with no social distancing, not wearing face masks, and enjoying the sport. I thought, what a wonderful example of celebrating the vaccine programme. I urge the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), who is no longer here, to think what we can do to benefit in the same way that people in the United States are benefiting from the vaccine programme. I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) —how can we be in a worse position this year than we were last year, when we did not have any vaccines? I will make the point again that I made in my intervention, which is that confidence in all of the tourism and travel sector relies on certainty. That means using the green watch list rather than just going straight to amber for travellers in Portugal, many of whom are constituents of mine who were very upset about that.
My second point is about what is essential. I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that this was an essential industry, because for too long we have been told that we can only do essential things. I had begun to worry that the Government seemed to think that life was not about anything more than eating, sleeping and possibly having the occasional glass of wine, which we were still able to do. Actually, life is about far more than that. It is about going to sports stadiums and watching our favourite team—even in the Euros, which are about to start this weekend. It is about riding rollercoasters at Alton Towers and about seeing loved ones, and it is really important that we stop thinking just of the bare essential.
That brings me to my final point, which is that when locations are allowed to reopen properly, please can they be allowed to reopen properly, not with restrictions? At Alton Towers, we queue outdoors—I am sure many of my colleagues have queued at Alton Towers. I can promise that Staffordshire weather is not always that good, but we queue outdoors, and that is the safest place to be. We need to make sure that venues such as Alton Towers can have maximum capacity. They also need to see the VAT cut extended, because they have been on the knees for far too long, and they desperately need it.
While most of my constituents may have liked the peace of lockdown without planes coming into Heathrow over our heads every minute, we know that our leading national airport should be moving towards full operation at some point, but the big question is when. Apparently, it will be between two and five years before aviation is back to its pre-covid levels. Meanwhile, what will the cost have been to many of my constituents during this time, and when will the Government respond appropriately?
Hounslow Council research has found that the aviation sector and the wider supply chain contribute to over 20,000 jobs locally and support many small and medium-sized businesses across our borough. Some 8,000 jobs in Hounslow have been lost in 2020, and the number of my constituents claiming universal credit has skyrocketed. People have told me the personal cost to them, such as those losing their jobs in roles such as airline catering, and those working for British Airways at Heathrow airport, as well as for Mitre and other companies, who face being fired and rehired.
The Government have provided no sector-specific support for the UK aviation industry, unlike in France, Germany and Austria, where Governments are protecting jobs while imposing strong environmental conditions to help reach net zero. Instead of a strategy and sector-specific support, the UK Government flip-flop over international travel.
In addition to the points made so well in this debate so far, I want to add one about the delay in enabling testing at our airports. Heathrow provided the space and services for testing departing and arriving passengers last summer, yet the Government drag their feet on utilising them. There has been the delay in adding India to the red list and the further delay in setting up an arrival terminal for red list country arrivals. Passengers and staff have been exposed to covid infection in overcrowded arrival halls for hours on end, thanks to Border Force being incapable of fully staffing the immigration desks, despite passenger levels being way below the norm. North-west London public health directors have been raising concerns about the infection risks to travellers and staff at quarantine hotels. On investigating this, they found that staff working for different Government Departments and agencies were not talking to each other, let alone the local authorities.
Going forward, the Government must listen to local leaders such as Hounslow Council leader Steve Curran, who is calling for an aviation communities fund to support communities that have been so badly affected with support for businesses and for workers on reskilling and skill leak, and on environmental opportunities using the high-level skills we have in the aviation sector. We must put the environment at the heart of our response. Aviation contributes 8% of our emissions total here in the UK, and the figure is rising.
Those travelling, those wanting to travel and those working in the sector have been let down constantly over the past year by the Government and, frankly, they deserve so much better. I hope that the Government listen to them.
Tuesday 4 March 2020 was a day I will never forget. Shortly before midnight, the last Flybe flight landed back in the UK. Passengers disembarking from the plane bid farewell to tearful staff. Flybe’s new owners decided to walk away from the troubled airline, despite the Government support on offer. Overnight, 2,000 people lost their jobs, many of which were based at its Exeter airport headquarters in my constituency of East Devon.
Back then, the majority of routes from Exeter airport were operated by Flybe. Some 16 months later, all but one of the routes once operated by the airline from Exeter have operators ready to take to the sky. So much work has been done locally to support the sector, with councils working together with the industry and Members of this House to secure additional bespoke support from this Government.
However, all this hard graft is at severe risk. We have an incredibly successful vaccination programme, yet we have one of the most restrictive policies on international travel in the world. I will leave others in this debate to argue the sensible case to open up safe routes, but if we cannot travel internationally planes are grounded, airports are quieter and travel agents remain closed.
Confidence is at an all-time low in the aviation and travel industry, and among passengers. Without confidence among passengers, the furlough scheme may be propping up roles that simply will not exist within months. I ask the Government to seriously consider three main asks.
The first is to extend the furlough scheme for specific sectors, including aviation. Some 50% of aviation staff are still on furlough. We must avoid a cliff edge with mass redundancies in every corner of the country. The second is to extend the welcome business rates relief package for UK airports for a further six months. Thirdly, high street travel agents and language schools have drawn on lifeline support from Government grants. Topping up these schemes with extra cash and encouraging councils to target this funding would lend a lifeline.
If we do not reopen borders, more must be done to give airports, airlines and the travel industry a fighting chance of survival. Global Britain could become little Britain if we do not.
My constituents are significantly impacted by the aviation industry, and I have been hoping to raise their case in this place for a long time. Thousands of my residents in Lewisham East live beneath two major flightpaths, with planes flying over-head to and from Heathrow and London City airport.
Travel restrictions during the pandemic brought a welcome respite for many of my constituents living underneath those flightpaths, but there is no doubt of the important role the aviation sector plays in our economy for travelling reasons and for jobs. However, in reviving the aviation industry, the Government must consider how we can make important improvements. This is all part of building back better.
The noise pollution and emissions from living beneath two busy flightpaths can have a devastating impact on my constituents’ health and wellbeing. Noise pollution would be a greater problem for them if London City airport and Heathrow were to expand and increase their traffic.
Prior to travel restrictions, one of my constituents wrote to me to explain that she suffered as a result of the low-frequency noise, describing it as extremely depressing, debilitating and painful. Another constituent has been left feeling depressed and suicidal due to the consistent disruption caused by night-time noise.
These cases are not isolated. In a meeting I held about the issue in summer 2019, residents packed out the room to tell me their distressing stories arising from the lack of consultation from air flight operators and the commonality of noise interruption and pollution, from the early hours of the morning until late at night. This is unacceptable. The Government must not and cannot ignore my constituents. They must address aviation noise before travel begins to increase. It is a serious concern.
Children in my constituency may well be suffering from undetected health issues arising from low-frequency aircraft noise. According to the World Health Organisation, noise is the second largest environmental cause of health problems, yet no regulations are in place to monitor it and to protect our residents.
We need assurances from the Government that areas such as mine with high population density will not revert to having busy flightpaths that constantly disturb people and reduce their and their families’ quality of life. Will the Minister carry out an assessment of flightpaths over densely populated areas and work with airports to alter their flightpaths accordingly? For the health of my constituents and the good of the planet, our aviation industry must be rebuilt responsibly.
Let me start my contribution and end it on this point: there is no earthly reason why restrictions cannot be lifted on what has been dubbed freedom day, 21 June. Right now, we are in danger of winning the battle but losing the war, destroying our aviation industry and all connected to it in the process. I concur with every word of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said in her excellent speech. As she said, our extraordinary vaccine roll-out is working, with half the population inoculated twice, yet after 15 months of restrictions, the traffic light scheme, welcomed as a phased restart to international travel, has proved a false dawn, being used only to further curtail our freedoms.
This week holidaymakers faced chaos after Portugal went from amber to green with no warning. The cost to the travel industry in all its guises is truly terrifying. I have a lot of respect for the Minister, but his fine words ring hollow, I am afraid, and I fundamentally disagree with the Government’s confused stance. The aviation industry has seen its value plummet, with half its staff still on furlough and 1.5 million jobs at risk.
This situation is totally unacceptable. We are squandering the advantage created by our pioneering vaccination programme for fear of new variants, which are here to stay and which we must—must—learn to live with. “Global Britain” is our battle cry, but countries with weaker vaccination programmes than ours are opening up faster. Spain and, shortly, France no longer require fully vaccinated passengers to quarantine. We must urgently move them and other low-risk countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and the USA on to the green list.
The travel and tourism industry is planning a day of action on 23 June. We must support it, scrap the onerous burdens it faces, reduce the number of tests and allow fully vaccinated passengers to travel restriction-free. Let me finish as I began: freedom day on 21 June must be respected. It is time for state control to end and for common sense to return.
I will echo many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), and I also find myself echoing, quite unfortunately, the contribution from the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) in raising concerns about the aviation industry near to my constituency at Edinburgh airport.
The frustration within the industry is significant. It is a simple fact that a plane cannot take off without an engine. The travel industry’s engine is travel agencies, and without travel agencies, we will not recover our travel industry. One such business in my constituency is called Travel Your World. Bruce Lamond, who runs that company, signed off one of his emails to me with, “To travel is to live,” which is from Hans Christian Andersen. That business has been without income since March 2020, and many Scottish travel agents are in a similar boat. He has been working full time. He has not been able to furlough his staff. He has had to pay full wages with no income and no means to make an income, and unlike other retailers, he remains open but unable to make any money.
The Department for Transport’s traffic light system is disorganised and unhelpful, and the limited notice, which was so evident this week with the Portugal decision, has damaged public confidence significantly. Even visiting green list countries can cost in excess of £170 per person on top of the trip, for testing and other considerations. Bruce tells me that the industry is down and is now being kicked while it is down. What other part of the industry is getting absolutely no support for doing the right thing? Bruce’s business is losing thousands of pounds a month and time is running out.
The Government’s support and funding grants have not been as available to travel agencies as they have to other businesses. The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association tells me that it has members who have exhausted their savings, remortgaged their homes and emptied their pension funds. What should they do? Close the business they have invested all their life in? Default on debts in excess of £70,000? They need and deserve answers from the top. Pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants are all open. Retail is open. It is time to put the engine back into the travel industry. It is time to give proper support to travel agencies.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend and neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), at the Dispatch Box, and I am sure he will agree with me on one point. While Perthshire and Staffordshire vie for visitors, the Cotswolds are an even more special place to visit, with their architecture, landscapes and hospitality. Last year, sadly, saw a 76% decline in inbound tourism, and the impact of that on jobs and livelihoods is of great concern to many of the constituents I represent. UK airlines have already announced more than 30,000 job cuts. As others have said, as we make great strides with our own fantastic vaccination programme now being offered to all those over 25, we must accept that many countries do not have the same level of coverage with their own vaccine programmes. On the traffic light system, I would urge the Minister to give a little more notice when we move suddenly from green to amber. We saw the chaotic scenes last weekend as huge queues of unsocially distanced people waited for flights in Portugal.
The inbound tourism industry supports 490,000 jobs worth £2.8 billion, and the wider tourism industry supports 1.6 million people. Travel industry experts predict that tens of thousands of jobs are at risk, including Mountain Kingdoms Ltd, a travel agent based in Wotton-under-Edge. The real fear for such businesses, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) said, is that despite the generous schemes that the Government are offering now, if they are not allowed to operate when the furlough scheme comes to an end, they will be in deep trouble. This summer is vital for many tourist industries, to enable their sector to rebound. The week from 22 to 31 May was English Tourism Week in the Cotswolds, which was a great promotion. I visited a number of businesses, including the Tetbury Goods Shed, Wild Carrot and Quayles Cornerhouse Bistro. I fear for them if they are not allowed to open fully on 21 June.
The Health Secretary has given the figures: of the 12,000 cases of the delta variant, only three who had had two vaccinations were hospitalised. Throughout this pandemic there has been very little communication on the wider impact of lockdowns. The emails and letters I have had from constituents about jobs, businesses, paying the bills, their mental health and their children’s education have gone into the thousands. I have to say to the Minister that the policy is very risk averse. If we keep locking down every time we have a new variant, we will never unlock, so let us fully unlock on 21 June, and let us open up and attract more countries to green list travel on 28 June. Our citizens will then be really happy.
No one wants to throw away our hard-won achievement of massively reducing the numbers of deaths and hospitalisations from covid by doing anything irresponsible. We have lost too many lives and caused too much pain and suffering to do that. It is, however, a legitimate expectation that our wonderful and deeply appreciated vaccine roll-out should be laying the foundations to get our freedom to travel back, and there is not enough clarity on how we will do that so that the sector can plan ahead.
Large parts of the travel, tourism and aviation sectors are prevented from trading their way out of the pandemic, with less of a safety net than other businesses that are now open. The fact that the safety net will start to be withdrawn from next month cannot be a fair or reasonable response. London Luton airport, where many of my constituents work, has had to lay off large numbers of people despite the furlough scheme, and the airport continues to lose millions of pounds every month. I know it has plans to be the most sustainable airport in the UK, and I am a strong supporter of zero-carbon aviation and the work of the Jet Zero Council. We need to make sure that international travel fully plays its part in getting to net zero.
One of my travel agents wrote to me to say that she has worked continuously since March 2020, but that work has involved cancelling, rebooking and cancelling holidays again and again, and refunding payments with hardly any income coming in at all. Now she has to pay back £200 every month from her bounce back loan. How is she supposed to do that with no income? A significant number of travel agents are limited company directors and are not eligible for the self-employed income support scheme either.
I think United Kingdom holidays are brilliant, and we have an amazing offer that I have been lucky enough to enjoy myself in the past, but people are not bad if they want to travel overseas. All those whose livelihoods enable people to travel overseas also deserve our support. It has been very disconcerting to have Ministers from outside the Department of Transport speculating on overseas travel. Across the whole Government, can we please just have the relevant Ministers from the Department for Transport providing official information without unhelpful speculation?
I think it is wrong that travel agents are in strand 1 of the restart grant scheme, given that they have, in many cases, virtually no income. Hospitality, leisure, personal care, gyms and sports businesses are in strand 2 and getting the higher £8,000 grant if their rateable value is under £50,000, even though they are open and able to trade. At the same time, travel agents, who have virtually no income coming at the moment, can only get the £2,667 grant. In addition, it cannot be right to reduce furlough payments from next month for any business in the aviation, travel or tourism sector that is still effectively unable to trade because of Government restrictions. That would not be fair or right either.
I am going to focus on the issues facing our business travel industry. The crisis facing this sector of our economy cannot be overstated. The Business Travel Association, which is the main representative body of the UK business travel industry, has highlighted that in a normal year its member travel management companies account for 6.4 million journeys and 32 million transactions, which contribute £220 billion to UK GDP. Business travellers do not just include those who strike the deals and develop the interpersonal relationships that drive international trade; they also include humanitarian aid workers, engineers, scientists, education providers and researchers, all of whom have witnessed unprecedented barriers to their work as a result of the pandemic.
The impact on this industry cannot be overstated. Travel management companies have seen a collapse in revenue of up to 90% in the past 14 months. According to BTA estimates, around 60% of the employees in the sector were made redundant and 80% of the remaining employees continue to be furloughed. Travel management companies are vital in the distribution chain for business travel. Airlines simply do not have the infrastructure to handle the volume and requirements of large-scale business travel, so they rely on such companies to handle those issues for them.
Furthermore, in a normal year, business travel accounts for 15% to 20% of the customer base of most airlines, providing an essential lifeline to airlines as a whole and contributing to the availability of low-cost flights for leisure travellers. If the sector continues to suffer such severe strain, the entire travel industry may experience dramatic knock-on effects.
The BTA has urged the introduction of several measures that could grant a substantial degree of security to the industry and its employees. The BTA would like priority business travel destinations to be included alongside holiday destinations among the next round of countries added to the green travel list. If the Government cannot expand the green list in June, the job retention scheme for the aviation and travel industries should be extended to December 2021. The BTA is also requesting grant funding of the same broad scope as for hospitality and leisure to support the industry until overseas travel can once again resume without restrictions.
I hope that the Government will consider these asks and act to support and reassure our aviation, travel and tourism industries that the UK Government are on their side. The resulting fall-out from our failure to support these industries could imperil them and create shock waves of harm throughout the economy for many years to come.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and a happy birthday to Mr Speaker.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I am grateful for this debate being called at a time when there is so much uncertainty in both the aviation and tourism sectors. I pay tribute to my union, Unite, for continuously standing up for this sector, particularly during this difficult time. I also want to draw attention to Manchester Airport, which is owned by the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester. A good model of a publicly owned and operated service, this airport is one of the largest centres of employment in the north-west, with more than 22,000 people directly employed on site, supporting a further 45,000 jobs in the north-west of England. The airport secures Greater Manchester’s position as a hub of trade and investment.
In this House, we all know the devastating impact that this pandemic has had, from the loss of family members and friends to the closure of businesses and the loss of jobs, but it now feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel. As the economy starts to reopen and vaccines have been rolled out, there is a real feeling of hope that we will be able to beat this virus. Unfortunately, for those in the aviation and tourism sectors, the uncertainty that has so defined the past year and a half remains.
As we know, before the pandemic, the UK had the largest aviation network in Europe and the third biggest in the world, yet the sector has been neglected by Government covid policy. There has been the grave threat to jobs, an outrageous resorting to fire and rehire practices, and a complete lack of sector-specific support. The airport and ground operation support scheme launched by the Transport Secretary in January has not covered even a meaningful proportion of any airports’ costs or tax, which stands in stark contrast to the policies of our European neighbours. Look at Germany, which has implemented plans to provide additional monetary aid to its airports to preserve infrastructure and jobs. Look at France, where there has also been strong monetary support for the sector. Then we look at the UK, where Government support has been dwarfed by sectoral needs.
No sector operates in isolation. The knock-on impact of Government negligence can be felt across the economy. In my constituency of Stockport, the loss of dividend paid out to Stockport Council from Manchester Airport totalled £6.4 million in 2020-21. It is highly likely that there will be no pay-out this year to next, and the same is assumed for the subsequent year after that. Therefore, in the space of three years, there is a predicted shortfall of £19 million based on pre-covid airport usage that cannot be budgeted for and is not covered by Government grants. This is on top of years of funding cuts, in which the council has already lost 49.2% of its settlement funding between 2015-16 and 2020-21. There are also the additional costs that have been incurred because of the pandemic.
In March last year, when we first locked down, the Government knew the impact that the pandemic would have on the aviation, tourism and travel industries, so why did they not act then? Why did they wait until the last minute to provide a measly and inadequate support package?
Workers in the aviation sector have disproportionately high levels of job losses in comparison with other sectors. We know that the aviation sector is unique and that its recovery does not wholly rely on the Government’s decisions, but that unique uncertainty is all the more reason for a sector-specific job protection scheme.
I am delighted to have got in at the end of this debate to make a plea for the cruise sector. We have heard much about aviation today, but rather less about our ships, which is rather bad for a maritime nation such as ourselves.
It has to be said that the impact of this pandemic on the cruise sector has been seismic: there has been a massive loss of capacity in the industry; operators have gone to the wall; and ships have been scrapped. We really need to get that industry, which is a great success story for this country, going again. Let me put some figures on that. We are talking about a £10 billion a year industry that supports nearly 90,000 jobs, and 2 million passengers a year enjoy going on a cruise. I am certainly anxious that we can all get back to normal, and we cannot be waiting for that for very much longer.
The fact is that all UK cruise traffic ground to a halt in March. I am delighted that, not so long ago, the Minister announced that domestic cruising could recommence, but the truth of the matter is that this sector is not sustainable until it can commence international sailing.
We have heard much about the traffic light system as regards international travel, whereby each country is given a traffic light class, but the problem is that the Foreign Office is currently treating cruising as it would a country and it is not allowing international cruising. We should really be thinking about cruise ships not as a destination, which is how the Foreign Office advice is currently working, but as a method of travel. Ships are very flexible methods of travel. If a country which is on an itinerary goes on the red list, that ship can simply go somewhere else.
I really must encourage the Government: let’s give these people a break. The cruise industry has done everything that has been asked of it by the health authorities during the pandemic. It has introduced incredibly sophisticated covid-secure measures, with testing of both staff and passengers. Equally, it can organise self-isolation and quarantine on the ships themselves.
This industry is a great British success story. It is led by a gentleman. They have been suffering in silence, actually, and doing what the Government have asked of them. They are very complimentary of the support they have been given by the Minister, but my message now is to the Foreign Office, the Department of Health and the chief medical officer particularly: give this sector a break and let us get our ships back sailing on the seas, where they belong.
As well as hospitality, leisure and tourism, the aviation sector has been one of the hardest hit industries—not just here, but across the entire globe. While we have clearly had to take tough measures on our international travel regime to stop the spread of the virus, it cannot be denied that businesses—both large and small—are being impacted as a consequence of these measures.
I thank colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Transport for the work that they have done to support the sector to date, but the ongoing uncertainty means that there is a need for this support to continue. As has often been the case when making decisions throughout the pandemic, a balance needs to be struck. I therefore call on the Minister to continue his engagement with the aviation industry. I have spoken to him many times, and am particularly grateful to him for his work with Manchester airport, to ensure that the decisions that are taken are in conjunction with airport operators and are a reflection of the work that supply chains do with those airport operators, which rely very heavily on the involvement of that sector.
We must remind ourselves that this industry contributes billions of pounds to our economy, supports thousands of jobs, strengthens the Union and develops skills nationally. In my constituency of Warrington South, Manchester airport alone provides 3,500 jobs to local residents, and Liverpool airport, which is equally close, provides around 300 further jobs. This really is an important sector to my local economy. The airport provides those jobs directly and, through its supply chains, many businesses rely on the airport as a means of income.
I recently heard from my constituent Gaynor Welsby-West, who owns her own travel agency. She hires a number of people locally and has indeed been able to take advantage of measures such as the self-employed income support grant, but her message to me was that she needs more certainty and clarity, which will help to rebuild confidence across the travel sector. Most of us in this place understand that things can change very quickly and that we must be led by the data, but this industry needs to have an element of forward planning.
Restarting the aviation sector is a vital part of the UK’s economic recovery. Aviation, the facilities that it supports and the travel industry are crucial to the economic growth of our region: to the north, to the northern powerhouse and to Warrington. I urge the Government to take full steps to ensure that we can help this sector to recover as much as possible.
It might be helpful for the House to know that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) will be the last speaker from the Back Benches, so anyone else who is waiting—which is not anybody in the Chamber—will, I am afraid, not be called. We now go by video link to Christine Jardine.
There are so many arguments and so many angles from which one can debate this issue: the airlines; the airports; the cruise industry, as we have heard; the travel industry; tourist-related businesses; and individual constituents for whom this issue has taken on huge significance. For many, it is about not just the thought of a holiday in the sun—even though we seem to have plenty of it in this country this summer—but the possibility of seeing family and friends, from whom they have now been separated for so long.
My constituency of Edinburgh West is very much economically linked to the future of the airline and travel and tourist industries. Not only do inbound visitors contribute so much to the economy of my city and region, but they contribute more than £1 billion to Scotland every year. The industries are important for the growth of Edinburgh airport, which now supports 28,000 jobs in the economy, including jobs in my constituency for individuals, families and small businesses.
Much has already been made of our status in the international travel industry, the need for us to re-establish our position, and the need for a safe, sustainable return to international travel. Perhaps the biggest thing for all those involved is clarity and an end to the confusion and chaos we have seen recently in respect of the traffic light system and vaccine passports. It helps no one. That is not to minimise the difficulty of the situation and the decisions to be made: to fail to reopen could deal a fatal blow to sectors that are already struggling; to reopen without taking into account the risk to public health and future safety would be irresponsible.
For me, there are three key issues. First, safety for the public and protection from the danger of new variants through clear testing and means of knowing where people are going and how safe it will be; secondly, support for our vital airline travel and tourism industry through the extension of furlough and the job-support schemes; thirdly, sustainability, particularly in respect of air travel, is a must, to which end I recommend to the Government the Liberal Democrat proposal for a graduated scale of air passenger duty that increases costs for those who take frequent business flights but does not tax those who take annual holidays or visit family.
We must think about our future and our economy. As the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) pointed out, the pandemic is going to have long-term implications that must be taken into account. We need to take them on board and look at how we can open up while protecting jobs and vital industries and ensuring the safest travel possible. I urge the Government to look at how we can do that as quickly as possible, with the maximum support, and remain safe.
In 1919, Sir John Alcock said:
“There is always satisfaction in being the first to do anything, whatever it may be”.
I am sure the Minister recognises that name, because it was Sir John, along with Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Brown, who flew a Vickers Vimy—built at Brooklands in my constituency—in the first non-stop Atlantic crossing. Aviation is in my constituency’s blood. We are five miles south of Heathrow and Gatwick is right next to us, and I speak on behalf of the thousands of my constituents who work in the sector, whose jobs are dependent on aviation. Those jobs include flying and refuelling the planes, working as ground staff and working in the hotels where people stay when they come to visit us. There are jobs in logistics, and SMEs set up in my constituency because of the aviation and infrastructure there. People also come to the tourist attractions, such as Magna Carta and Thorpe Park, and they stay over.
It is not just about jobs; people need to travel to see family. As many Members from all parties have said, that has been the cruellest part of the restrictions on international travel. People need to see their relatives—we are global Britain, an international family—and we need to get the vital routes back as soon as possible.
We have had a phenomenal, hugely successful vaccination programme. Will the Minister explain what needs to happen next so that we can start to evolve and change the restrictions and the process on international travel? Rather than wait, can we use that 1919 spirit again to be the first to drive things forward? We have always been at the forefront of aviation; can we use that aviation spirit to go forward and bring in international vaccination passports, or whatever is needed to get aviation and our international borders open again?
There were so many excellent speeches from the Back Benches in this debate that someone would think, if they did not know, that they all came from the same party. I am sure the Minister will reflect on that. It does feel like the House speaks with one voice on this issue. I reiterate that, even if the Government publish the tourism recovery plan this week, it is still too late for the spring season and we are playing catch-up.
I completely agree with the right hon. Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady). That might be the first—and possibly last—time that I will ever say that, but they were clear that the mixed messaging has created an existential threat to outbound tourism.
The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) was absolutely right that we are still waiting for the sector-specific support that was promised right at the start of this crisis. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) is right that outbound tour operators, especially small specialists, have been disproportionately hit and need the tourism recovery plan now. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) was right about the need to retain workers and skills—something that the tourism recovery plan should do. I also wholly support his call, echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) and others, for the Government to legislate to outlaw fire and rehire, an absolute scandal. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) was right that we need grants as well as loan finance, as loan finance just defers the pain, and that we need to beef up consumer protection.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) was right that business travel, especially for events and conferences, has been hugely hit and I look forward to seeing them included in the tourism recovery plan. The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) rightly recognised the importance of domestic tourism and I look forward to visiting Blackpool this summer—a great British holiday. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) is right that the sector has been let down by late and poor communication. She is absolutely right about consumer refunds, which many airlines have sadly been lacking in making. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) made excellent points and I support his call for more resources for the sector and related services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) was right that France and other countries have put climate conditions on support for the aviation industry. We need more support, but conditional support, for net zero, and our Government did not make those conditions. They talk loudly on net zero but are failing to deliver. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) is a doughty defender of her constituents’ health, especially on noise and air quality, and she is right that we need to look again at flight paths over cities, including hers and mine. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) called for support for shipping and cruising. She is right that the multi-nation aspect of cruises going from country to country means that the chaotic handling of the traffic light system makes it impossible for them to restart. The Minister needs to take her points on board.
I thank all who have contributed to this excellent debate and look forward to the Minister’s response.
This has been a very thought-provoking and wide-ranging debate, in which many excellent points have been made. The importance to the whole country of aviation and travel was perhaps most beautifully expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), but we have heard all sorts of other points, from the importance of the supply chain, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), through to the beauty of our constituencies, as stated by so many hon. Members that I dare not recount them all, although I do perhaps lean towards the points made by my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), for fairly obvious reasons. We in this House are united, however, on the critical importance of tourism, travel and aviation, for all sorts of reasons: because of the jobs they support in our constituencies; because of the economic support they bring; because of culture; because of the businesses that operate; but above all because of people’s lives: because of the families, because of what this means to people on a real, everyday personal basis.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for his tireless advocacy for Gatwick airport and the sector and for his expertise. Similar points were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine). My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said that this is not just about two weeks in the sun, and I agree. Leisure is vital and travel broadens the mind of course—it increases understanding and culture—but it is also about jobs and people’s livelihoods and families. I agree with him that a safe reopening of aviation should very much be, and is, our aim.
A number of other points were made. I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) for his points. I had to disagree with him when he said that the Government’s response has been “lacklustre and patchy” given that Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund said it has been extensive and “unprecedented” and
“one of the best examples of coordinated action globally”.
So, as he would expect, I do not agree with him about that. The tourism recovery plan is due soon, and we will be able to update him more on that when we get to that stage.
I am hugely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for her great expertise. She mentioned international standards and we continue to work with international partners such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation and the World Health Organisation, as well as with bilateral partners. Of course, the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport of the US-UK travel taskforce is hot off the press. My right hon. Friend asks why we are in the position that we are today as compared with where we were last year. Of course, there has been a change through the variants of concern and the huge success of the vaccine rollout, which we must protect. She says that we will not eradicate covid and she will remember that I referred to its being an endemic disease in my opening speech. As my right hon. Friend and others talk about the freedom that will be brought by vaccines, I can confirm that we are working to see what more we can do to open up international travel with the aid of vaccines.
I am conscious that I am very short of time, and that you are worried about the next debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise in advance to all right hon. and hon. Members. I have a detailed note of all the points they made and will write to them if there are any specific points that they wanted me to make. If I may trouble the House for 30 seconds more, I would like to say thank you to the Chairman of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who made a number of great points, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). They talked about the vaccines and how they are the way out and our hope for the future.
Let me close by referring the House to my understanding and that of the Government of how difficult things are for the sector at the moment. We have a plan in place to restart tourism and aviation recovery in the short and long term. We are seeing the relaxation of restrictions as we are building out from covid. I shall end by quoting my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands. She says that life is about more than just eating and sleeping; it is about experiences and people. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), quoting Hans Christian Andersen, said:
“To travel is to live”.
Of course, I entirely agree with that. The tourism recovery plan, due to be published shortly, in conjunction with the forthcoming aviation strategy, will set out and reinforce the Government’s commitment to both sectors and help us to reconnect and see the world with the help of our world-beating vaccination programme.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the aviation, travel and tourism industries.