I have to say that I enjoy Mondays, but this has been a bad one. I do not like being tested.
Before I call the Transport Secretary to make a statement, I want to put on record my disappointment and frustration that, despite repeatedly making it clear that Ministers should make important statements to this House first, the media apparently knew the contents of the Transport Secretary’s policy announcement at the end of last week, before Members of this House. The Government’s own ministerial code says that that must not happen. It is not acceptable for statements to be made to the media before being made to elected Members of this House. It defies belief that the Government only decided the policy on Thursday night after the rise of the House. In other words, this statement should have been made last week before the media were told.
I have raised this before with the Government and with the Transport Secretary. I sincerely hope that I will not have to do so again. In any event, there should be no doubt that, if the media continue to hear about important policy announcements before this House, I will ensure that hon. and right hon. Members will have every opportunity to hold Ministers to account.
I do not want to have to do this, but if we have to grant an urgent question on the areas of those Departments that continue to make statements outside this House, I will have to come to a view that something must be coming before we are told. That is a silly position in which to get ourselves. The Government need to get their business through, but the Government also have to respect the Members who are elected here. This is the second time. It is not personal against the Transport Secretary. We need to get our act together. We need to show the due respect that Members deserve. They matter to me. They matter to the constituents. They should hear it first, not the media, and it should not be trailed elsewhere. In the end, constituents knock on the doors of Members, not the Secretary of State’s.
Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on international travel. I will start by apologising because I do share your frustration. It is the case that the meeting that decided this policy did not take place until Friday, and I put in immediately to make an oral statement off the back of that. I appreciate how frustrating it is to read speculation in the newspapers, much of which turns out to be incorrect, and I bring new information and the correct statement this afternoon.
The past 18 months has been hugely frustrating for everyone wishing to travel abroad and, of course, for the travel industry itself. In 2020, the only weapon that we had to fight the spread of covid was simply to keep people apart and prevent them from making all but the most urgent of journeys.
However, this year has seen very significant progress. In February, the Prime Minister asked me to reconvene the global travel taskforce to develop a plan for safe and sustainable travel—to return to international aviation. It is a framework that allows us to co-exist with endemic covid-19 and live with the virus on our travels while still protecting us from the most dangerous variants.
Through the work of the taskforce over recent months, we have instigated gradual reopening of international travel to allow families and friends to reunite, and businesses to get moving again. Over the summer, we implemented a number of improvements. We took advantage of the progress of the vaccine roll-out here and abroad by starting a pilot to allow passengers who had been fully vaccinated in the UK, Europe and the US to travel to the UK from amber list countries without the need to self-isolate or take a day 8 test. We also increased the number of countries and territories on the green list to 43 and allowed for the full restart of international cruises in line with the traffic light system.
At this final checkpoint, I am pleased to be able to ease restrictions further while still safeguarding public health and providing confidence to travellers. We are one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, with more than eight out of 10 people fully jabbed, and we must use that to our advantage to restore freedoms that were, by necessity, lost over the past 18 months. In August, we launched the pilot to exempt from quarantine those who had been fully vaccinated in the US and Europe. That pilot has been successful. I am delighted that it provided a much-needed boost to international travel during the summer.
Throughout the crisis, I have remained in regular contact with my opposite number, US Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. As the Prime Minister has arrived in the United States of America, I am delighted to announce to the House today that the Government there have agreed that vaccinated Brits will be able to travel into the US from early November, reciprocating the policy that we introduced this summer. This is testament to the hard work and progress made by the expert working group set up at the G7 to restart transatlantic travel—the flagship route of international aviation.
We will now expand the policy to an array of other countries, including Canada and Japan, from 4 October for those who can demonstrate their fully vaccinated status. That will bring the number of countries and territories in scope to 50.
The UK will now set out certification standards that it expects other countries to meet so that their citizens can benefit from this change. We will happily work with anyone who applies and can meet those standards, and will onboard them. I can tell the House that we are in the final stages of doing this with our friends in the United Arab Emirates. Recovery is the best way to support the aviation sector, and as one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, we can now use our advantage to liberalise travel further while protecting public health.
Let me now update the House on the next phase of reopening international travel more broadly. When we did not have a substantially vaccinated population, our focus was necessarily on considering countries and territories based on risk—hence the traffic light system. However, vaccines mean that the emphasis can now shift to an individual’s status instead. I am pleased to announce that we will introduce a new, longer-term framework for testing and health measures at the border that will remain in place until next year at the earliest.
First, from 4 October, we will replace the traffic light system with a single red list of countries and simplified travel measures for arrivals from the rest of the world, depending on vaccination status. Secondly, we will remove the requirement for fully vaccinated passengers to take a pre-departure test if not travelling from a red list country. Thirdly, by later in October, we will have moved away from day 2 PCR testing to a new system of lateral flow tests for fully vaccinated passengers arriving from non-red list countries. If passengers test positive, they will be required to take a confirmatory PCR test, which will be genomically sequenced to identify and mitigate the risk of variants entering the UK. That PCR test will be at no further cost to the traveller. Those changes will reduce the cost to passengers, simplify the process of international travel and remove a significant source of frustration.
I would like to take this opportunity to confirm that the policy on children remains as now: they are quite simply treated the same as vaccinated adults, regardless of their own vaccination status, whether they are resident in the UK, or from one of the 50 countries and territories whose vaccinations we recognise. Unvaccinated passengers and passengers with vaccines not authorised or certificates not yet recognised in the UK arriving from non-red list countries will still be required to take a pre-departure test, a day two and a day eight PCR test, and to self-isolate.
I can tell the House today of another significant easing of the rules for those who change flights or international trains as part of their journeys here. This change will ensure that passengers who remain in airports and in railway stations will only be required to follow the measures associated with their country of departure rather than any countries they have transited through as part of their journey. That will make a very substantial difference to travel by unlocking transit routes across the world. In advance of transitioning to our new international travel framework, I can also confirm that Kenya, Oman, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Egypt will be removed from the red list at 4 am on Wednesday 22 September.
The changes we are making mean a simpler, more straightforward system—one with less testing and lower costs, and allowing more people to travel, see loved ones and conduct business around the world. Our judgment is that these changes are the right ones for this moment, making travel significantly easier for people while retaining crucial protections against variants of concern, which remain the largest threat. They will provide a much-needed boost for the travel industry. However, it is certainly not the end of the story. We will further review these measures early in the new year, when we hope to be in a different context that will allow us to go that step further ahead of booking windows for the spring and the summer of 2022.
Above all, the changes I have announced today demonstrate that through vaccination there is a path back to normality after a torrid 18 months in which many of the things we take for granted have been put on hold. Now is the time for us to get our country moving once again. I commend this statement to this House.
I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on putting the historic county of Lancashire, and particularly Chorley, on the international map over the past week.
I thank the Transport Secretary for advance sight of his statement. Following the Government reshuffle, I look forward to continuing to work with him as he stays in post.
Labour called for this simplified international travel system back in May, but even after this announcement, no one should believe that the travel industry is back to normal, or that our borders are any safer from new variants coming into the country. Although we support scrapping the confused traffic-light system, we still have not seen the country-by-country assessment that would give us confidence that the decision to allow travel is based on sound science and not politics. It is disappointing, after making repeated representations at this Dispatch Box, that the Government have still only published assessments relating to 15 countries. Will the Secretary of State now finally publish the full list of every country, including a clear direction of travel, rather than just those that are changing from one category to another?
The requirement to carry out pre-testing and testing on arrival to the UK for Brits returning has put a heavy financial burden on families, with the UK overseeing the most expensive testing regime in the whole of Europe. Over the summer it was estimated that tests had cost British travellers £1.1 billion. Yet about 300,000 people did not adhere to the quarantine rules, and only a fraction of those coming from green and amber list countries were actually checked on arrival, as border staff were clearly overwhelmed. We have a serious concern that of the 11,000 positive cases tested over the summer of international travellers returning, just 3,000 were sent for genomic sequencing, leaving us potentially open to new variants. Can the Transport Secretary confirm, as his statement seems to indicate, that now all positive PCR tests will be sent for that testing for new variants?
In addition, it appears that from the end of October travellers will have to pay for a lateral flow test when returning to the UK. How will that work in practice? How much will travellers be expected to pay for those tests, and, importantly, will they be in place for the October half term?
We have long called on the Government to work with international partners to introduce an international vaccine passport. Although we hear reports that progress is being made, as we have heard today too, the truth is that it has been very slow in coming and many plans still have not come to fruition. Can I ask why it has taken so long to make the progress set out so far?
Importantly, when Eurostar and the aviation and tourism sector needed financial support from Government, the promised sectoral deal never came. There was a stand-out omission from the statement: it beggars belief that there was no mention whatever for the 81,000 workers on furlough. They face a cliff edge in just 10 days’ time, but there was not a single mention of them in the statement. In the absence of a clear plan, clear communication and sustained industry support, jobs have been lost that could well have been saved. We now hear that the next review will not take place until the new year. Some of those people will be lucky if they have a job at the end of October. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that those jobs are safeguarded and that we give those workers the respect and dignity they deserve?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I was somewhat surprised not to hear him refer to the stand-out announcement in my statement, which is that the world’s busiest, most profitable and most important airline route—the transatlantic route—is about to be reopened. I would have thought he would welcome that from the Front Bench.
It is hard to know exactly what the Opposition think on this subject. Last year, they backed our self-isolation measures. By last summer, the hon. Gentleman was calling for quarantine to be lessened. Come February, they changed their mind again and wanted every single traveller to go into hotel quarantine. By March, they were back saying that it should be done on a case-by-case basis. Fast-forward to May, and the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), called for a complete pause on international travel—I am curious how that would help the aviation sector restart—only to be contradicted a month later by the hon. Gentleman, saying that more countries should go on to the green list. In June, he called for the amber list to be scrapped, and by August he was back to saying that there should be no loosening of international travel whatever. What he seems to be saying is basically what a stopped clock says. It is right at least twice a day—in his case, at least twice a year—but I am not clear how his approach would help in any way, shape or form.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Joint Biosecurity Centre assessments. They will be published in the normal way for the additional countries. He asked about the cost of testing. I thought he was calling for PCR tests for everyone—at least, he was at one of those points in the past year and a half. The cost of a lateral flow test will obviously be much less and provided by the private sector, with the PCR provided by the NHS.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the vaccine passport. Again, I reiterate that there are 50 countries where we will recognise their vaccination progress. I described in my statement how we are introducing a system so that we can onboard and add other countries who meet our level of requirements. As I say, the most important country of all in terms of international aviation, the USA, has confirmed today that we will be added to the vaccine passport approach as well. We are making progress. If we had listened to the Labour party—I do not know, perhaps we would have closed down the whole of aviation by now.
I welcome the milestones announced by the Secretary of State for Transport. I recognise his hard work as well as that of the aviation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in unlocking us further. I know you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will be as excited as me about the ability to visit the United States, for loved ones to reunite and for business to expand. This is more welcome news. With all this fantastic news, can I ask the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that we have the resilience, through border control, at arrivals to ensure that all this demand that is about to be unleashed can be delivered?
My hon. Friend is an excellent Chair of the Select Committee on Transport—always tough, but fair. He has rightly pointed out that there is likely to be a big expansion in the amount of transatlantic and other aviation. Things such as the pre-departure test form will be greatly simplified by not having to prove a pre-departure test at check-in. On the other side, coming back into the UK, it is Border Force that runs those services. It has spent a lot of time over the summer integrating pre-departure tests, vaccine status and other information into its e-gates. It is now trying to incorporate that. I will certainly be reflecting his comments in discussions with the Home Office, which runs Border Force and will want to make things as smooth as possible as the numbers pick up.
For months, the sector, airlines, airports, unions and politicians from all parts of the House have called for an extension of furlough, which ends in just 10 days’ time, having essentially given up on the sector-specific support deal promised by the Secretary of State and the Chancellor. The Government again refused to listen, but, miraculously and coincidentally, the scientific evidence arrived to allow the UK Government to relax the rules just four days later. Will the Secretary of State outline what clinical advice he has received on removing pre-departure PCR tests and on the change to lateral flow testing from PCR testing on day two?
Testing international travellers before and after travel is an important part of Scotland’s border health surveillance to minimise the risk of importing variants of concern. The Scottish Government, and indeed the Welsh Government, want to maintain a four-nations approach to international travel restrictions, but they will need to consider carefully the risks associated with the proposed changes to testing before aligning with the UK Government. The First Minister will provide a further covid update to the Scottish Parliament later this week.
The Scottish Government’s changes, with sensible safeguards built in, recognise the success of the vaccination programme and will provide a welcome boost to Scottish tourism. A four-nations approach is obviously preferable, not least because Scottish travellers, as we have seen, will travel down to English airports to fly, and that may affect routes and could further job losses at airports such as Glasgow airport in my constituency. However, the Scottish Government are absolutely right to look at the evidence in detail before making such an important decision.
Moreover, the last time that there was a divergence in policy, the UK Government went against the scientific advice that the Scottish Government followed, and the result was the importation of the delta variant with huge numbers of passengers arriving in England from India. In many cases, they went on to Scotland. If there is to be a divergence, however temporary, will the Secretary of State work with airports in England and the Scottish Government to ensure that the correct checks are carried out on passenger arrival paperwork, so that passengers cannot arrive in England to travel on to Scotland to circumvent the different rules?
I think it would be wrong not at least to acknowledge that the delta variant has got to every single country in the world—including Australia, which does not allow its own citizens to come back freely into the country, even with quarantine. By throwing that in, the hon. Gentleman rather weakened the rest of his argument. The Joint Biosecurity Centre is so called because it works with the devolved Administrations. The chief medical officers work together as part of that set up and, as he surely must know, provide us with the same advice to consider.
The hon. Gentleman’s first point was on the furlough scheme, which has been of enormous assistance to aviation everywhere, including in Scotland. The very best help we could give to Scottish aviation workers and others would be to stop curtailing aviation and travel industries in the recovery. Those are not my words. Edinburgh airport said that the Scottish Government’s
“decision to diverge yet again…further”
“Scotland’s aviation and travel industries in their recovery”.
It leaves travel agents in Scotland, led by LAH Travel’s Linda Hill Miller, saying that it will be a “very bleak winter” in Scotland if the policy does not shift.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s confirmation that Kenya will come off the red list on Wednesday. Does he agree that we must continue to make travel between the UK and Kenya even easier, such as through fewer restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated, to increase trade and boost business between the UK and Kenya?
I pay tribute to the excellent work that my hon. Friend does as trade envoy to Kenya. I am delighted that Kenya has come off the red list. As I mentioned, we will provide details for how countries can onboard themselves to meet our requirements, and I look forward to adding to the list of 50 countries where people who are fully vaccinated will be able to come and go very much more easily. I look forward to working with her on that plan.
We all hope that our vaccines will prove effective against any new variants so that we can all get back fully to normal, but we also have to be incredibly vigilant against any possible new variant that develops and that is resistant to our vaccines. The Secretary of State will know that in previous waves—at the beginning or with the delta variant—we have not had either sufficient surveillance or a fast enough response from Government to prevent those variants from spreading. What can he say about his new surveillance regime, both in terms of testing and response, that will prevent those problems from happening again, especially when it looks as though the testing and genomic sequencing is being downgraded?
I thank the right hon. Lady, who approaches this from a very wise perspective. The first thing I would say is that of course everybody will appreciate that we now have over nine out of 10 adults with at least one jab and over eight out of 10—83%, I think—of adults fully vaccinated. Of course, as that picture has been replicated around the world, that makes it easier to allow and open up international travel, and it is part of the balance.
The second thing to say is that using lateral flow tests, which provide virtually instant results, means that people may not be out and about for an extra day or perhaps more before they get their results. That of course has to be factored against the fact that a lateral flow test is known to be less observant—with different specificity and sensitivity rates—than a PCR test. The scientists have taken all of that into account in providing ideas for this regime. Of course, it is critically important that a lateral flow test is then backed up by a PCR. It will be, and we will also be talking more about requirements for ensuring that the lateral flow test has been properly taken.
I very much welcome this statement, with a pragmatic approach to covid-19 testing for international travel and recognition of vaccines, and also, on the day that the Prime Minister is in New York, the news that the US Administration—this has taken a lot of work from the US-UK taskforce to achieve—are opening up to fully vaccinated passengers. Can my right hon. Friend say when slot allocations will be reviewed, particularly with a view to the spring and summer season next year?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on the future of aviation all-party parliamentary group, which has not gone unnoticed by Ministers throughout the difficult 18 months. He is right about the sensitivities of things such as slot allocations. It is quite a technical issue to do both with the way that allocations at busy airports are granted and—I suspect he is getting at this—with something called the 80:20 and 50:50 rules, which are about the amount of usage on allocations. He will know, because he has a major airport in his constituency, that there is a difference of opinion, quite rightly, between the airport operators and the aviation companies—the airlines themselves—about where the correct balance should lie. The aviation Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), who is sitting right next to me, is keeping these matters under constant review and is doing an excellent job with it, and I invite the two of them to have a meet-up.
It took half a dozen letters, two ministerial meetings, bilateral talks and endless questions, but as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Britain-Pakistan trade and tourism, I am pleased that the Government finally listened to calls to remove Pakistan from the red list.
Last year, Virgin Atlantic began running direct flights from Manchester airport to Islamabad, much to the delight of my constituents. However, this route has now been suspended for months. Given that Ministers in this Government are always so keen to highlight their pursuit of levelling up, what support is being given to regional airports such as Manchester to reopen important routes for the benefit of local people?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and he is absolutely right. Like me, he was very keen to get Pakistan back on to the list. After the previous review, when it was not successful, we did indeed set up an officials level working group intergovernmentally, and it has come to fruition, as I think we are all delighted to know.
The hon. Gentleman asked about support for airports. Obviously, we have effectively provided the rates free for most airports in this country over the period, except that this will not have covered the full costs of the very largest airports. We are also doing work through the future of aviation all-party parliamentary group, which my hon. Friend the Member for Witney is working on. I apologise to my hon. Friend for setting up a lot of meetings, but again, the hon. Gentleman may like to meet the aviation Minister to progress his ideas on that further.
A few moments ago the Scottish National party spokesperson said while explaining the Scottish Government position that that was a welcome boost to tourism. That is the exact opposite to what we are hearing from tourism bodies today. The Scottish Tourism Alliance has said that the SNP plans to diverge from the UK plans just announced
“could destroy any hopes of recovery in 2022”,
and earlier today 40 tourism organisations, including the Scottish chambers of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, wrote to the First Minister saying:
“Scotland has now become one of the most uncompetitive destinations globally.”
The decisions taken by the SNP in Holyrood are having a huge impact on our tourism industry and airports; what can the Secretary of State do to convince the Scottish Government to follow the lead of the UK Government and ensure these industries are not put at risk?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to express concerns. The SNP spokesman has set out its opening position—or maybe a couple of different positions. I encourage all parts of the UK to come together on this. It is incredibly confusing for passengers, who could now travel to Newcastle or Manchester according to an Edinburgh spokesman, and, as has been pointed out, that takes money out of the Scottish economy; it threatens jobs in Scotland and threatens airline capacity, and the faster we can get this resolved, the better.
Will the Secretary of State explain why my constituents suffered immeasurably from the punitive measures imposed by his Government? Many of them were unable to be with family members at their time of greatest need or to attend the funerals of their loved ones, and many could not afford the hotel quarantine rates and furthermore that was then increased. The criteria for keeping Pakistan and Bangladesh on the red list were made up on a daily basis, and the facilities in the hotels that many of my constituents returned to were abysmal. There was no justification for punishing the British Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, who lent their votes to the Conservative party at the last election. Will the Secretary of State now apologise to them for the punitive measures imposed on them unjustifiably?
I am really sorry the hon. Gentleman has gone down this route. I was following him at first, particularly when he talked about the sadness of not being able to see friends and close family in Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere on the red list, but to come here and claim that the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s work is somehow based on politics dishonours his argument and I encourage him to consider whether that is appropriate. I know there has been a push to politicise this, but the JBC has to look at all the numbers; it has to look at the level of infection, the amount of vaccines administrated and the capacity of different countries to carry out sequencing of the genome, and I have to say that is a disappointing argument to hear.
I thank my right hon. Friend for everything he has done through this positive statement and his hard work, but I would ask him to clarify two points. Are the lateral flow tests to be taken now instead from day two to be administered at home or at the airport? I wasn’t quite clear on that. Also, now that people can either go to another country or it is on the red list, what will be the lead time in turning a country into a red list country? That is important for the tourist industry.
On lateral flow tests, the Department of Health and Social Care will set out more details on what exactly will be required, how they will be taken and so forth. On red lists, I must repeat the general warning that we have always had to live with in terms of coronavirus that one never quite knows what is going to happen with the virus, but 18 months in we are now in a world where we know that vaccinations make a very big and sustained difference, and I hope we move away from a world in which instant changes are required. I cannot absolutely guarantee that, but I think we can see by the direction of movement that things are coming on to a more sustainable footing at the moment notwithstanding whatever the virus decides to do.
A deterrent to international travel is the cost and conditions of the quarantine hotels. My constituents have talked about poor food, being held with poor mental health and being in grief from losing loved ones. My constituent who had rats in his room not just once but twice is still being charged the full cost for quarantine. Will the Secretary of State ensure that my constituent does not have to pay for that experience of sharing his room with rats?
I should say to the hon. Lady that the quarantine hotels are the same hotels that people would be staying in if they were on holiday, on business or anything else. There should never be rats in a room, regardless of anyone’s reason to travel to that hotel. The local environmental health would certainly be interested, as would my colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care, who run the managed quarantine scheme. That is never acceptable under any circumstances. I should just point out to the House and to the hon. Lady that people should not be travelling from red-list countries without very good reason indeed. I am pleased that we have just taken eight more countries off the red list and I hope that that number will be able to continue to reduce, but people should try to avoid travelling from those countries at all.
Will the Transport Secretary help me with two cases? The first concerns a family living in Kettering who were fully vaccinated in South Africa with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The second concerns a gentleman in Kettering who is a fully vaccinated participant in the Novavax vaccine trial. Will the people in these two cases be able to travel from the UK and if they do will they have to self-isolate on their return?
That is an excellent question from my hon. Friend. First, on other countries, South Africa being one, coming into the programme that 50 are already in, we will publish the criteria and are working with other countries to be able to recognise their vaccinations. On the trials, we are absolutely clear that people who have volunteered for trials should not be in any way, shape or form disadvantaged by this policy. While I am mentioning them I want to mention people who cannot medically be vaccinated, who will not be disadvantaged by this policy. In both cases, they will be treated as if they are fully vaccinated travellers. I know that my hon. Friend the aviation Minister would welcome a meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) to discuss the specifics of those cases.
Many people continue to feel that the decision to keep Pakistan and Bangladesh on the red list for longer was based on politics not science. If the Secretary of State denies that, let him bring forward the evidence.
The Secretary of State referred to quarantine hotels. Many of my constituents, including one with kidney failure, another who had suffered a heart attack and another who was at risk of miscarrying, along with others suffering from serious health issues, were denied exemptions against the medical evidence and professional opinion of their doctors. Will the Secretary of State therefore launch an urgent inquiry as to why those appalling decisions, which put many of my constituents lives at risk, were allowed to happen?
The hon. Gentleman is effectively accusing the Joint Biosecurity Centre of politicising decisions over countries. It just isn’t on. Fortunately, we live in a society in a country where these organisations are able to make decisions and recommendations based on the facts. Those facts were presented to Ministers, and Ministers acted on those facts. To do anything else would have been absolutely wrong, and although I do not suppose that he is going to, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the accusations that these institutions, made up of professionals, medical people and scientists, are somehow politically biased.
The high costs of PCR tests have meant that many families in Wolverhampton North East will not have felt able to book a family holiday, so I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced today. Can he give those families an indication that the measures will be in place in time for the half-term holidays and any indication of how much lateral flow testing will cost for a family?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the crippling cost of a whole family going away during coronavirus, particularly before we had the protection of large-scale vaccinations at a high level throughout communities and countries. It really has been very punishing for families, and I recognise that. The cost of lateral flow tests is clearly much lower, and I believe that a competitive market will make them lower still. I know that our colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care will have heard what she had to say and I am sure that they will have had half-term in mind.
The aviation sector has significant concerns about its ability to survive the winter, particularly with furlough ending. In the August Eurocontrol figures, Gatwick, Manchester and Heathrow found themselves at the bottom of the league, with the biggest percentage declines versus 2019 in Europe. British Airways is flying fewer flights as a percentage of that year than its German or French competitors, and easyJet fewer than its Irish or eastern European competitors. What steps is the Department considering to help the industry and its specialist workforce to take advantage of the winter to upskill and retrain, to ensure that the UK is ready to reclaim its place as a great trading nation served by a world-beating, environmentally leading and economy-serving aviation industry?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for the aviation sector, which was genuinely world-beating prior to the pandemic. That is exactly where we want to get it back to. That is why I am delighted by what has happened with the US route, which will reopen later this year, and the announcements that we have been able to make to simplify and reduce the cost of travel. I know that the hon. Lady is no longer part of the governing party in Scotland, but it would be very helpful if she could assist in bringing pressure to ensure that, throughout the UK, aviation companies are able to benefit from the massive advantage of the huge vaccination programme that Her Majesty’s Government have managed to progress across the whole UK, and that the aviation sector is opened and allowed to get not just back on its feet but back in the air.
Many Aylesbury constituents were distressed about Pakistan’s being on the red list for many months because of the delays that meant for their precious family reunions, but they welcomed the detailed scientific explanations that were provided for that, even if those brought unwelcome news. On their behalf, I thank my right hon. Friend for removing Pakistan from the red list. Does he agree that that reflects the efforts of Governments in both countries, working together to enable safe travel, which represents another important step in our return to normality?
That’s how to do it, Mr Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend appreciates the science, he appreciates that when we were not able to move Pakistan on to the amber list, the level of vaccination was, from memory, about 20%, and he appreciates that we deliberately set up an intergovernmental working group so that officials could work together to overcome those issues. I would have thought that the whole House wants to welcome Pakistan’s coming off the red list, as my hon. Friend has done.
As international travel resumes, a growing number of constituents who live or work abroad in places such as Australia and Zambia, to name just a couple, are having difficulty with travel if they received their vaccinations in those other countries. Obviously, that impacts not just their travel here but their ability to get on with their life when they are in the UK. I heard what the Secretary of State said earlier, but will he give more detail on the progress that the Government are making on recognising vaccines of a similar standard, strength and efficacy so that we can have more reciprocal agreements with other countries?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that sensible question. There are already 50 countries using vaccines that we recognise through the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. From this point forward, we will both assist other countries on the regulatory requirements to come on to our list—our requirements to on-board them—and look at how we can potentially recognise vaccines that we do not yet recognise. The MHRA is looking at that process the whole time, and I am sure it will have more to say about that type of thing in due course.
I welcome the decision to remove Pakistan from the red list on Wednesday. As the Secretary of State will know, I wrote to him about this issue. Many of my constituents have family links in Pakistan, and I know that he is well aware of how important those links are. It is shocking that Opposition Members have made this into some sort of political issue. I know that many of my constituents will see right through that. Will my right hon. Friend agree to work hard with the industry to restore those important links to Pakistan by restoring flights as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One feature of the coronavirus pandemic has been how this country and many others have been led by scientists and the evidence—chief medical officers and scientific officers—to do the right thing throughout. That has been the consensus on both sides of the House, more or less, so it is extremely disappointing to hear politics thrown in. No one—no one—wanted to see Pakistan added to the safe list of countries more than I did. That is why we set up inter-ministerial groups and why we brought it on board the moment the Joint Biosecurity Centre said it was safe to do so. The idea that we should have ignored all the science and done it some other way is, I am afraid, for the clouds.
I thank the Secretary of State for his very welcome statement. Opening up the United States of America is particularly good news for my constituents. Some grandparents have not been able to see their grandchildren for over year, so it is good news. It could well provide the boost needed by the tourism sector. Will he confirm that vaccinated travellers will not have to go to the expense of a PCR test, and that if a test is needed, a lateral flow test will be sufficient?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and he is absolutely right about the USA route. I have had many conversations and a lot of communication with my opposite number, Pete Buttigieg, the US Secretary of Transportation, in the US Cabinet. We have all wanted to work towards this point. It makes a very big and notable difference to the entire aviation sector, because so many routes are dependent on the US transatlantic route. To answer his question about the non-PCR, this will reduce the cost of a confirmatory PCR. I should mention that it is a devolved matter, so it will depend on the Northern Ireland Administration, but I have every reason to believe that we will all move in line, more or less, on this issue.
As I said a few moments ago, we have learnt so much in this last year and a half. We have vaccinated so much in this last year and a half. Even in the last week or so, we have seen new therapeutics become available to people in hospital. We know how things like dexamethasone, which my father was given when he was in hospital—it probably saved his life—have made such a big contribution. These were all things that we did not know 18 months ago when we went into this crisis. I very much hope that my hon. Friend is right that we are on an upwards path to a higher trajectory and that we will not be going back.
I listened to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) talk about the difference between the Scottish rules and our rules. My constituency is served by two nice north-eastern airports. I do not know whether to thank the Scottish for leaving things as they are, helping demand in our airports, or to complain because I do not want opportunities for our residents to be frustrated. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is so important that we remove any confusion where we can, and that the sooner the Scottish Government allow their residents to fly at the same time, the sooner we will all be in a better place?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Tempting as it would be, I am sure, for him to welcome all the extra business, in the end we are all better when we are together. As Edinburgh Airport said, the decision to diverge yet again and further curtail the recovery of Scotland’s aviation and travel industries is incredibly regrettable.
I thank my right hon. Friend and welcome this great news today: great news for people living in Runnymede and Weybridge; great news for businesses; great news for people who need to see their families; and great news on the reciprocal arrangements with the US. Of course, it is all about those reciprocal arrangements. I welcome his laying out a standard to go to other countries and say, “This is how we should do things.” Will he be promoting that with his Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office colleagues as the best way, so that we can truly usher in international safety standards?
Yes, we absolutely will. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that what we need is international standards through the International Civil Aviation Organisation, so that we are all working off roughly the same playbook. That is part of what we have been doing, and the House will be interested to hear that I will chair a further meeting of G7 Ministers later in the autumn to try to ensure that we spread an international approach to launching international travel.