Mr Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op)
3 Jul 2017, 7:05 p.m.
I am extremely grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. May I begin by commending the new hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) on an erudite and passionate speech about the place that she represents? I am certain that if she finds a way to bring that passion to every issue that we debate in the House, while keeping in mind the constituents about whom she clearly cares a great deal, she will make an impressive impact on this Parliament. I noted the news about her predecessor, Karen Lumley. I have known Karen since she came to Parliament at the same time as me, and I am certain that the whole House sends her its best wishes. If the hon. Lady carries on in the vein of her immediate predecessor and her predecessor before that, Jacqui Smith, she will achieve great success in the House.
I served in the last Parliament as a member of the Women and Equalities Committee—a fantastic institution that we are rightly going to put on a statutory basis from tomorrow. The hon. Lady may wish to turn her attention to our most recent report, “Women in House of Commons after the 2020 election”. I hope that it is not entirely redundant, given the actions in 2017.
If it is in order, Madam Deputy Speaker—and I look forward to your guidance—may I welcome you to your position in the Chair? Opposition Members have benefited greatly from your wisdom, friendly arm around the shoulder and occasional quite straightforward direction in your previous role as Chief Whip. I note from those discussions that your leather whip has not made it to the Chamber, as it did to the Whips Office. I shall check the Chair to see if a new place has been installed to store it, but I wish you every success, Madam Deputy Speaker, in your new role.
We are here to debate the measures introduced by the Minister. The changes are welcome. Given the various models for selling flights and package holidays, the divergence created by the internet and innovations in the market, it is right that we seek to comply with those changes and bring about better consumer protections. The irony that we have debated this in the previous Parliament is not something on which I seek to reflect at length. However, as a Member of Parliament who represents two FTSE 100 companies with direct links to the travel and tourism industry, easyJet and TUI in my constituency, where I also represent Luton airport, there is a great irony at the heart of the Bill, which could be misunderstood as a piece of legislation that is linked to our future relationships under Brexit and is about giving Ministers greater flexibility to handle that. That is one aspect, but the genesis of the Bill is as a piece of legislation that seeks to comply with EU directives, including the package travel directive, which seeks to standardise and give greater consumer protection to the 500 million or so people in the single market. Compliance with that is a welcome measure, and it is right that we should make parliamentary time available for it.
The measure must be complied with by 1 January 2018, and it will apply by 1 July 2018. However, the key date that is not discussed in the Chamber and which is the most important is 31 March 2019, only 15 months later, as that is the day on which we will leave the European Union. Despite the best intentions of the Minister, the Department and the Government, they cannot yet tell us the framework for the measure after that date, so everything we debate today is essentially on a temporary footing.
I raised my concerns directly in the last Parliament, as I was fortunate enough to be granted the Adjournment debate that first put on record in Hansard the concerns of the whole industry in the past year about aviation and leaving the European Union. We need a comprehensive air services agreement that not only allows for consumer protections, but which is the most basic starting point for the industry in the first place, allowing us to take off in one place and land in another, not just in the European Union. Even our relationship with the United States is governed through the European Union. This is a significant piece of work.
Britain is leaving the EU and it is incumbent on the Government to bring forward a Brexit deal for approval by this House. But, however people voted, they did not vote to weaken consumer protections, to add cost and complexity to UK operators or to find themselves in a situation where they cannot get the flights that they wish for. The directive being enacted today has significant advantages for UK aviation and consumers, and I very much hope that we will take that spirit forward by seeking a comprehensive air services agreement that includes the measures in the package travel directive. Our membership of the European Union has had other advantages that I hope we will replicate as closely as possible and enact. For example, the most recent changes to the ability to roam with a mobile phone will make a significant difference to many travellers over the summer.
The alternative is that laid out for airlines and travel agents inside the single market, whereby businesses outside the EU will be required to comply with the different rules of each member state to which they sell. That is opposed to the situation issued by this directive and the Bill, whereby each member state recognises the jurisdiction of the others. That reduces risk, complexity and cost. Will the Minister lay out the Government’s intentions regarding the measures being enacted today? It would be a great disservice to UK operators if they were bound by the different regimes across 27 member states having spent only 15 months covered by the protections given by the provisions in the Bill.
In answer to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), the Minister said that it was inconceivable that we would not want to uphold these consumer guarantees. But, with respect, the reciprocal is not within our gift and, therefore, any negotiations must seek to include this newly enacted settlement.
One further issue raised in the meat of the Bill is that of consumer protection. Will we transpose and adopt the promises of EU regulation 261, which provides compensation when flights are significantly delayed or cancelled? I would appreciate it if the Minister could say a word about that. On the comprehensive air services agreement, does he agree that the most important thing is to try to change as little as possible, given that UK airlines are planning and blocking flights that will take off—or not take off, dependent on the deal—to other EU member states after 31 March 2019? We should seek to get as much stability in the industry as quickly as possible.