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Travel Companies: International Restrictions

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 9 September 2021

7. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to support travel companies that are affected by ongoing international travel restrictions as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. (903266)

Where eligible, travel companies have been able to draw on the unprecedented package of measures brought forward by the Chancellor last year, such as the coronavirus job retention scheme, as well as our work to safely restart international travel under the global travel taskforce.

In addition to being hampered by the international travel restrictions, many transport companies, such as long-distance coach companies, are struggling because of the lack of test provision for drivers. The Secretary of State spoke at length about what is happening for HGV drivers, but will the Minister confirm whether those changes will include PCV—passenger-carrying vehicle—drivers with more capacity for testing, and will the Government consider allowing tests to be taken in the delegated in-house facilities of larger companies such as Stagecoach?

I thank the hon. Member for that question, which I know is something that matters a great deal to her constituents. We are looking to address the problem she raises, and I will be able to give her some further detail on that shortly.

Eighty-one thousand people working in air transport are currently on furlough, including approximately 2,200 in my constituency, which covers Manchester airport. Even in non-airport seats such as that of the Secretary of State, just short of 300 souls face the axe in less than a month’s time. Furlough is due to end three weeks today, and if the Government continue to restrict the market in some sort of latter-day corn law way, they have to make a choice: either open up the market, or put in a sectoral deal. Which is it going to be?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of the air transport industry and the travel industry more generally, not just to his constituents but to all our constituents. That is certainly the case for my constituents, and I am acutely aware of it. The best way to support them all is to do what we in the Department for Transport are hard at work doing, which is to safely reopen international travel. Since we last spoke, on 2 August we expanded quarantine-free travel to passengers from the European Union and the United States. We are working to expand that further, and will continue to do so.

Earlier I mentioned the penny dropping with regard to HGV drivers, but the aviation and travel industries can only dream of the Government understanding the magnitude of the crisis they face. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of jobs have gone in the sector, including 3,000 in my constituency, and that is with a job retention scheme in place. If the scheme ends this month there will be further damage to the sector. Did the Minister make representation to the Treasury to extend the scheme for aviation and travel, and if not, why not?

As I said to the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), the importance of this industry is well understood by me and the entirety of Government. We are working hard to ensure that we get international travel up and running again safely and securely, because that is the best way to protect all our constituents. We will continue to do that.