I should point out that the change of pace is because we now have a situation in which the majority of adults in the UK are fully vaccinated. That was not the case a month ago, when we postponed step 4; it is the case now. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that I was in fact already discussing the changes with the previous Health Secretary.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that I omitted to mention masks; I should bring the House up to speed. We will still provide, in guidance, information about mask wearing. We know that it is sensible in more enclosed spaces, and personally I will wear a mask where it is appropriate to do so. The airlines have already said that mask wearing is a condition of carriage in, I think, all the cases that I have seen, and where it is a condition of carriage, I will of course always wear one. On the other hand, if we are talking about being in an empty carriage on a long-distance train for many hours, people will use their common sense, which is something that we on the Government Benches absolutely applaud and agree with. We are pleased to be able to get back to a guidance situation.
The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner for Glasgow airport and often challenges me on these matters; I have to say to him that he might want to look a little bit closer to home. It is only very recently—in June—that the Scottish Government banned Scots from travelling to Manchester. As a direct result, easyJet cancelled new routes that would have connected a whole bunch of Scottish airports. No wonder the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association has said that the Scottish Government’s approach to aviation is sacrificing the industry. I am afraid a lot of the answers the hon. Gentleman is looking for are closer to home. Meanwhile, the UK Government have provided £7 billion of support to the sector. I notice that the opening up announced today has so far yet to be reflected by Scottish Government announcements as well. If the hon. Gentleman really wants to help, he can help to move along the policy in Scotland.
I thank my hon. Friend, who does a superb job as the Chair of the Select Committee and has been very consistent in his support for the aviation sector. He will be interested to know, as will the whole House, that we will have a further review date on 31 July. That is a checkpoint for the rules themselves. Currently, the scientific evidence is that PCR tests, in addition to being a bit more accurate, are also the ones in respect of which the genomes can be quickly sequenced to look for variants. My hon. Friend’s point about the FCDO and ensuring that all the advice ties together is well understood; we will make sure we work closely on that.
First, it is worth saying that I keep hearing the hon. Gentleman calling for the data to be published. For his ease, I have been to the gov.uk website and checked it for him. The JCVI and Public Health England do indeed publish their methodology and the data behind it for each of these countries. It is already published. For the sake of the time of the House, I will not run through it, but it is there for him to see.
The hon. Gentleman calls for a passport that could be used for people who are double-vaccinated, yet at the same time his policy is to put every single country in the red list. That would mean that somebody who was able to visit a dying relative in an amber list country would now have the cost and expense of returning to Government quarantine in order to just go on that mercy mission. I think that what he is suggesting is quite cruel.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the progress on the US-UK working group. I can confirm that it took place for the first time last Thursday and progress is being made. That is an officials-level meeting and they will say more when they are ready to. There is a whole series of complexities to resolve. For example, the US does not currently recognise AstraZeneca because AstraZeneca has not applied for the licence. On the other side, we do not have any particular system to recognise vaccine status from the United States, because it does not have a digitised system, as we do with our NHS—it has 50 separate systems—so there are complexities.
India has been discussed many times, but I remind the hon. Gentleman again that it went on our red list a week before it became a variant of interest and two weeks before it became a variant of concern, so it is simply not the case that it was not already on the red list. Even when it was on the amber list, people had to take a test before they came here. They had to take a test when they got here, on day two and on day eight. They had to quarantine. It is worth looking at those facts.
The hon. Gentleman again calls for the red and green list. He wants to scrap the amber list. He wants to simplify it, no doubt before claiming that we should publish yet more detail, but it simply does not make sense. He cannot stand up and call for further support for airlines and the aviation sector while deliberately trying to ensure that pretty much every person who comes to this country has to go to Government quarantine hotels. It simply does not stack up.
The hon. Gentleman asks about support for the aviation and travel sectors. They have indeed been at the forefront of this pandemic and £7 billion of support is being provided. We are continuing to do our bit. But the best support of all that we can provide is to get international travel running again. That means not taking all the countries in the amber list and sticking them in the red list.
I will certainly be very pleased to return to this House with further details as soon as next month. I explained in my opening remarks that there are quite a number of complexities to do with how we treat children and younger people who have not yet had the opportunity to have two vaccinations. Although we will have everybody on a single vaccination, promised by 19 July, there will still be significant numbers who would not be able to travel under that system, so there are a lot of fairness issues to resolve too. However, like my hon. Friend, I share the absolute desire to return international travel as soon as we practically can to something as close as possible to normality, while recognising that it is important that we ensure that variants of concern are properly monitored and not brought into this country. One of the problems that we have is that no other country in the world sequences the genome at the rate that we do, which means that it is sometimes very difficult to tell what is happening in other countries, so we sometimes have to be cautious, but I will return to this House.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The last few weeks have seen a remarkable digital transformation in the background, which means that people coming in from green-list countries have been going to e-gates that have been updated, both physically and with software, or going to see a Border Force officer and having their passports scanned in one way or the other. That has been automatically linked back to the passenger locator form that they filled out before they left their country of departure, which tells Border Force whether they have had a pre-departure test and whether they have future tests booked. This links the whole machinery together, so yes, the automation is really starting to get into place now.
Thank you very much indeed, Dr Huq. Many of us here attended yesterday’s day of action for the travel industry. Fine people from all over Britain were there. They do not want a handout. They want to get back to work and they were united in one thing: a feeling of total abandonment by this Government and, I am afraid to say, by my party and all the Opposition parties in this House. In 26 years as a Member of Parliament, I cannot remember an instance like this, when the leadership of all the political parties have been more or less in the same position on a policy, and on one that has no basis in the evidence any more.
We hear the Government say constantly that their decisions are based on the data and public health is a priority, but, as the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) has already pointed out, that is now clearly belied by the facts. The seven-day covid rate in the UK is as of yesterday 97 per 100,000. In Greece, it is 31— much lower on the islands. In Italy, it is 13—one seventh of the UK rate. In Germany, it is eight—less than a tenth of the rate here in the UK. Yet people arriving from or coming back from those countries to here, all with a negative PCR test, still have to quarantine for 10 days. It makes more sense in health terms to quarantine someone travelling from Ealing to Exeter than someone travelling from Italy, Germany or Malta to the UK.
We had further proof this week when the Government published Public Health England’s findings on the testing of arrivals from amber list countries and all arrivals between 20 May and 9 June. Those results show that the proportion of positive tests on people arriving from amber list countries was 0.4%, compared with a level of 2.7% of the tests carried out on people living here in the same period. That means that someone coming from an amber list country is one seventh less likely to have covid than someone moving around the United Kingdom. Also, not a single variant of concern was found on any passenger returning from amber or green list countries.
If the Government were really basing their decisions on data and public health, there would already be more countries on the green list and there would be a significant expansion of that list today—and not only places such as Malta, Madeira or the Balearics, as briefed by someone in Government for today’s newspapers, but Italy, Germany, Finland, the Greek and several Caribbean islands, and many other countries currently on the amber list that all now enjoy a fraction of Britain’s covid rates. If the Government do not do this, we will know their decisions have nothing to do with the data or public health, and everything to do with politics and control.
We have seen that in the UEFA decision. It is completely outrageous for the Prime Minister to grant an exemption to our quarantine rules for thousands of bigwigs from European football when he is actively preventing ordinary British families from seeing loved ones abroad or from simply having a holiday, destroying thousands more jobs in an industry already on its knees in the process.
I am beginning to think that the Prime Minister does not want British people travelling abroad this summer because they will see how life in other countries got back to normal and that those countries are freer than us, despite our much-vaunted vaccine dividend. Many of our European neighbours have been free to travel since Easter, and now Americans can too. From next week, every EU citizen will be able to travel freely—with a vaccine, a negative test or proof of infection—using the green card system, and Americans are already flocking back to their favourite destinations in Europe, although of course not to here. Our Government are only just now talking about the possibility of a vaccine passport— allowing people to travel without quarantining if they have a vaccine. We are less free than our neighbours, we are less free than Americans and we are less free than we were last summer, in spite of being the most vaccinated country in Europe after Malta.
Even with this high level of vaccination and immunity, if we are to remain closed for fear of an as yet unknown new variant, we will never unlock. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), the shadow Defence Secretary, told Sky yesterday that we need to restart travel again as soon as possible, and he warned that Britain is getting left behind. He was absolutely right. I hope that signals a change in in my own party’s policy. Regardless of that, the Government, who are responsible for this, need to do the right thing, let the British people travel safely again and throw the thousands and thousands of fantastic people who work in our transport and travel sectors a desperately needed lifeline. Let them get back to work before it is too late.
Thank you for your leniency, Dr Huq, in permitting me to leave a little earlier. I commend the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for securing this debate on a very pressing matter facing many constituents and businesses across the United Kingdom.
Yesterday, I joined representatives of the Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents, local pilots, cabin crew, ferry workers and hoteliers at a protest at Stormont, as part of the national Unite day of action to highlight to the devolved institution at Stormont the need for support for the sector and to demand a restart to international travel. It has now been over a year of devastation for jobs, family incomes and the future of the sector. Many have already lost their jobs. In my constituency, just three weeks ago, Thompson Aero announced 180 job losses, one quarter of the workforce, in a devastating blow to the local economy. Each of those jobs is someone’s livelihood—the means to pay their mortgage, feed and clothe their family and to secure their future.
Although the support provided by the Government to the sector has been welcomed over the past year, I know from a conversation I had with the industry yesterday that what it really desires more than anything is an indicative date of hope—a date for when international travel will be allowed once more. That will be the kickstart that the industry requires for the businesses to make money, generate cash flow, and support the jobs of tens of thousands of people once again. We have to get to that point soon because businesses are at breaking point right now. With no clarity and constant knock-backs, their sustainability becomes more difficult day by day. We need to do this safely and sustainably, as stop-start will only cause more problems for the industry. I believe we can do this now, and I urge the Transport Secretary and the global travel taskforce to provide this pathway.
The vaccine roll-out is our passport to restart travel. It is proven that the vaccine is of huge benefit to people, and therefore we need to go forward and get travel opened up again. We also need clarity around travel. A lot of constituents are confused by the mixed messaging, and this is also inhibiting travel. Now is the time to act, before it is too late for jobs and much-valued local businesses.
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.
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 am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee and I look forward to coming before the Committee on Wednesday. I hope I will get a bit more chance to expand on some of these subjects. When Keith Williams and I were looking at the role of the private sector, we very much looked at what was happening in London with Transport for London: the way the buses, London Overground and the Docklands Light Railway are all run by private enterprises and how they bring something more than would have been available if the state was simply running all those services. The incentives for such enterprises will be to run good, efficient, trains, on time—clean trains, with wi-fi; these are things that passengers want—to carry on innovating and to bring their private ideas and capital, while allowing Great British Railways to set the overall picture. I do not want to disappoint him on the flexi tickets; the 28 days does not refer to 28%, but I can tell him that, fortunately, every ticket will be cheaper than buying a season ticket when people are travelling now, in a more flexible world, perhaps two or three days a week. These tickets will be warmly welcomed by the travelling public, as people start to go back to work.
I am somewhat confused. The hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the shadow Transport Secretary—the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon)—wants 100% mandatory quarantine for those coming from all countries everywhere in the world, which surely could only lead to even more problems and delays at airports. So which is it to be: 100% quarantine and therefore much longer queues, or a practical and rational approach that has red list countries but also recognises that there are people who can quarantine at home? As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), we are working with Border Force on electronic gates, but it is not quite as straight- forward as the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) makes out, not least because it requires both hardware and software in order to make those e-gates.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his Select Committee for the excellent work that they do on this subject and many others. Of course, like him, I look to the scientists to provide the evidence as to what should be the appropriate level of testing at any stage. Just to reassure him, while we will most likely need to start off with PCR tests, I have incorporated three separate checkpoints during this process, the first of which is on 28 June, when we will look at the rules guiding this in order to make them as low as they can possibly be while at the same time making sure that we maintain the hard-won gains of the British people in this lockdown.
Predictably, the hon. Gentleman is not entirely satisfied. He said that the investment should have been bigger and that we should have been investing more in zero carbon, and he criticised many other aspects of the strategy. In fact, we did not even need to wait for the bus strategy, because he issued his press release to tell us all this ahead of time—before the strategy was even out and before he could possibly have known what was in it. I hope that he has now had the opportunity to read it. If he has, he will have seen that it is an extremely ambitious plan. It is the most ambitious plan to change our buses from any Government right the way back to the 1980s.
It is not as if the 1980s were the start of the decline; I think I am right in saying that we saw a decline in bus ridership from the ’60s onwards, from about 15.5 billion down to 5.5 billion. We know that people have switched to cars in that period of time, which is why this bus strategy is so ambitious and is trying to hold no punches in saying, “We need to realign the way we operate. We need to ensure that buses are more convenient and therefore more reliable. When they are, people are much more likely to take them.” As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, that is a formula that has operated very well in London under successive Mayors—although, I must say, it was expanded under the previous one—and has ensured that buses are clean and reliable, and that people do not even need a timetable. He asked about the reliability and regularity of services; that is what we want to get to. We also would not be putting £3 billion in if we did not expect, as the bus strategy says, to make buses more affordable. It is central to our vision that they are not just practical, but the affordable means of transport.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman said about greening up the bus network. I am as enthusiastic as him; he knows that I am—I drive an electric car and I want to see our transport system decarbonised. He mentioned that we announced a year ago our ambition to have 4,000 electric buses. He is absolutely right that that is what we wrote in our manifesto. As he would expect, we are delivering on that. The £120 million mentioned in the bus strategy today will go towards the first 800 of those buses. That comes on top of money that has already been invested by the industry in creating more electric buses. We are starting to see those buses on the road, including—I think I am right in saying—a couple of thousand in London, as well as elsewhere in the country. It is starting to happen and we are going to ensure that we meet our manifesto commitment of delivering 4,000 by the end of this Parliament.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned municipal bus services. I am not living in some world where I think there is only one way to do this. That is why we are talking about bus franchising and enhanced partnerships. He will be interested to know that the service in my area, though not a municipal bus operation, is actually run by the local university, the University of Hertfordshire, which owns a bus company called Uno. That is the kind of creative idea that we want to see developed by the national bus strategy. The hon. Gentleman’s local authority, every other local authority and all Members in this House will have the opportunity to ensure that their local area is able to deliver against the bus strategy to improve services for everybody in a way of which he would approve.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s contribution to this debate, not just with the point he has just made in this Chamber, but in his work with the Transport Committee in pushing for a bus strategy, which we are proud to deliver today. He asked specifically about how he can shape that and about local authorities. We are giving £25 million to local authorities to come up with this plan by 31 October, and we expect every local authority in the country to be part of that. Not only that, but we want Members in this House to work with their local authorities, as I have done with the Beeching reversal plan, which has been very popular. MPs have helped to lead that, and I expect that my hon. Friend will want to do that in his area as well.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will recall that mark 1 of the global travel taskforce introduced test to release to assist with this. Mark 2 will introduce travel certification by using schemes such as IATA’s travel pass or the World Economic Forum’s CommonPass. He will be interested to know that I have been having conversations with my US counterpart and many others around the world to get that travel going again. The report will be on 12 April.
The Chair of the Transport Committee is absolutely right; 12 April is the date that we will report back, and we will make it public on the same day. Travel for leisure or other purposes will not resume or be allowed until 17 May at the earliest. It is important that people realise that that is the earliest date, but we are very keen to get the aviation sector that many Members across the House have talked about back in the air, and this is the route to get it there.
Mr Speaker, do not think that I did not hear that plea for a rail station.
I want to address the hon. Gentleman’s point about aviation. Again, without sounding like a stuck record, I must refer him to my World Economic Forum discussion and announcements on this just yesterday. Of course, we have COP26 coming up at the end of this year, where the whole world will come together to try to tackle some of these aviation emission problems, and the UK is taking an absolute leading role through the Jet Zero Council. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this subject, and indeed extend an offer to work with him to progress it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Eagle. I, too, congratulate you on your richly deserved honour in the new year’s honours list. I was a huge fan of yours long before I came to Parliament, and my time in Parliament has confirmed my opinion that, over many years in the House, you have exercised one of the most forensic minds, either in government or holding Government to account, so it is a real pleasure to congratulate you on your honour.
I concur with the Minister and share my regret on hearing the news of the plane crash in Indonesia at the weekend. My thoughts are with the families of those who lost loved ones. By its nature, aviation is a global industry; people from all over the world will be affected by the crash and we stand in solidarity with them.
I welcome the transposition of the EU regulation into UK law via the instrument before the Committee. It ensures that the current process can continue as it is today, giving certainty to the industry at such a critical time during the pandemic response. Ultimately, with the world slot allocation guidelines having recently been updated, and the UK Government’s intention to review slot allocation in the Green Paper on the aviation 2050 strategy, published in December 2018, a wider review of how slot allocation should work in the future will need to be undertaken. I look forward to working with the Minister as he undertakes that work and the review of the role the Government should play in future slot allocation changes.
Realistically, however, aviation is going to be grounded for much of the first quarter. The spring and summer will be truly vital. The industry cannot afford a lost summer, or the chances of failures will become very real. A real focus is needed on extra short-term support, which the Opposition have called for, and on making sure that we have the best possible testing regime in place for when bans are finally lifted.
I welcome the Treasury’s business rates relief for airports and ground services. However, that does not make a dent in the side; the entire sector continues to bleed cash—airports, ground handlers and airlines. The Government can and must do more, as promised last year, and announce a robust specific aviation financial deal. The Government must now set out a clear plan for how they expect restrictions can be lifted with the vaccine roll-out, so that the industry can have certainty to rebuild on. Frankly, if we need to come back here and extend the regulations, we will have failed. Hand in glove with that, I also look forward to working with the Minister on airspace modernisation, which will be a vital part of upgrading the analogue infrastructure to the digital age for our aviation industries and give a much-needed boost of confidence to our world-class sector here in the UK.
I thank hon. Members for their consideration of the draft regulations and for their helpful and constructive points. To respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle, further slot policy will be considered in the round with any future review of aviation policy.
The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East quite rightly spoke about aviation recovery and the bounce back; I entirely agree and will work with him to ensure we see that as soon as possible. The testing regime is a big part of that. We continue to work with the aviation sector to ensure it can bounce back as fast as possible. I refer to the work of the global travel taskforce and the recently announced test to release policy, which is a major step forward. I commit to bringing forward any further alleviation and assistance that we can as soon as possible, and will continue to work with him and the sector to ensure that happens. Likewise, I look forward to working with him on airspace modernisation, which is a vital part of restructuring the industry and the sector for the future. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those issues.
I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Transport Committee for his thoughtful and constructive points. I look forward to considering them in detail with him, but I will endeavour to give him some answers to his four questions at this stage. I hope he will forgive me if I do not give quite as much detail as he would like, but I will of course write to him if he requires some further detail.
My hon. Friend’s first question related to when the Government will look to utilise the new powers. A targeted consultation is taking place to inform the decisions. It will close on 20 January, with the decision to be made thereafter. On his second question about whether the Government will look at the new rule set devised by IATA and other colleagues with regard to the 80:20 to 50:50 split, we are aware of that change and at present we are consulting with all relevant partners as to the steps we will take for next summer.
On my hon. Friend’s third question about whether the Government will ensure that that the rules balance the need to conserve money and carbon with the need to ensure airlines cannot sit on slots, again, we continue to engage with airlines and airports to ensure that all views are captured and will be considered as we look to consider future aviation policy. My hon. Friend’s fourth question related to whether the rules will cover all airports or just those within the congested airports known as co-ordinated airports. The further relief will apply to those that are slot co-ordinated. He also asked about time limits; as he is aware, this is a time-limited SI, and I repeat my comments about future slot policy reform in due course. I hope that is helpful, and I can engage with any more detail if he would like.
With regard to this SI, I conclude by reiterating its importance to ensuring that our statute book continues to function correctly after the end of the transition period, which is exactly what we will achieve today by passing it. The regulations will make the changes necessary to ensure that the airlines continue to have the relief from the impact of covid-19 by relaxing the 80:20 slot usage rule, and that that continues to function properly in the future. Without that, we would not have the flexibility on slot usage to deal with the impacts of covid-19 on slot co-ordinated airports, were that required. I am grateful to the Committee for considering the regulations today and I hope hon. Members will join me in supporting them.
Question put and agreed to.
The hon. Lady asks a very sensible question on a very important day, the United Nations-sponsored International Day of Persons with Disabilities. There is some good news, because 75% of all journeys—on what is a Victorian network that we are trying to upgrade—are now through step-free stations, compared with 50% only a few years ago.
I am not sure that my officials would ever do anything shifty whatever. I completely understand and appreciate that my hon. Friend’s Committee wishes to see the redacted emergency recovery measures agreements as soon as practicable, but in the second part of his question he outlined the reason why the redaction of the documents is so important: there are extremely sensitive commercial negotiations ongoing at this point. He has my commitment that as soon as practicable, as we did with the emergency measures agreements before them, we will publish these documents and give them to his Committee.
I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing the debate. It is surprising that we have to have a debate on this issue, so long after the problems in the aviation and the aerospace industry were apparent.
It was clear from the first day of this crisis that here was an industry that required specific attention to be given to it. We have had a strategy for the hospitality industry, but we are still struggling with a response for an industry that is important for regional connectivity, investment in regional economies, businesses in regional economies and trade, because a lot of trade is now carried in passenger planes.
In highlighting the problems with the aviation industry, it would be remiss if I were not to mention that some of the responses from the industry itself have been less than satisfactory, especially the way in which it has treated some of its employees through hire-and-fire schemes. It would be wrong if we did not mention the impact that has had on many loyal workers.
A number of issues have been mentioned today, but I want to highlight three things to the Minister. First, there is the need to give people the confidence to get back into planes, so that we do not have to keep giving bail-outs to airlines or airports. We have had a good discussion about the testing regime that is required and what is needed to put that in place. I hope the Government will look at that as a priority.
Secondly, I want to highlight how we encourage people not only to have the confidence, but to get moving back into the aviation industry. I know it is not the Minister’s remit, but, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) pointed out, a substantial piece of work has been done on the impact that a temporary reduction in air passenger duty would have on getting people flying again. The Government’s argument has always been that that is costly, but given the fall in numbers at present there is not a great deal of revenue coming from air passenger duty anyway. If we can get people flying again, get the country connected and get airlines moving, that is a bonus.
The last point I want to make is about duty-free shopping. It is surprising that at a time when airports have problems tax-free and duty-free shopping has been removed. It is a major revenue raiser and in Northern Ireland there will be nothing in those airports. I should like the Minister to address that.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for securing this important and timely debate. I also thank the Unite and GMB unions for campaigning so passionately and effectively on the issue, since the covid pandemic began, to safeguard the future of all those working in the aviation sector. As many colleagues have said, the livelihoods of 230,000 people employed in the sector—the third largest in the world and the biggest in Europe—are threatened. To challenge, slightly, something that was said by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who chairs the Transport Committee of which I am a member, the sector actually contributes £28 billion to the economy.
That is why it is astounding that eight months since the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box and promised a financial support package for the aviation sector, that has yet to be delivered in a substantive way. In that time we have had wave after wave of redundancies, despite the furlough scheme, and one airport operator even described that as little more than a drop in the ocean in relation to fixed costs. The Government’s failure to provide the rescue package has meant such disgraces as the 13,000 redundancies at British Airways, and the firing and rehiring—things that are totally out of step with British values and the way our companies should behave. That is why the Transport Committee report damningly branded British Airways a “national disgrace” for its behaviour. The Committee Chair spoke of standards falling “well below” those expected of an employer.
It is simply unacceptable that the Government have not stepped in to do more to drive this level of change. For the Government to stand by when companies take advantage of these situations is deeply frustrating, because we know that there are options on the table that could be taken, such as prioritising loans or taking stakes in companies. Businesses that receive such support should then be prohibited from paying dividends, undertaking share buybacks or making capital contributions—potentially, even executive pay could be capped. We need to show that the needs of ordinary British workers are the priority for this Government and our country.
There are many examples from around the world of Governments backing the aviation industry. The US injected $45 billion into the sector. Another good example is France, where Macron’s Government unveiled a series of historic rescue packages but also put in place important mechanisms to tie parts of those packages to very clear decisions that airline bosses had to make to bring forward plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, to transform the fleet and to treat their staff, including their long-term employees, far better. By the way, it is vital that such efforts to tackle climate change are not lost while all the focus is on retaining jobs.
Consideration should be given to publicly financing smaller airports—there are many near me, such as City airport—and air traffic control, as well as specific routes within the UK’s aviation sector. Time is running out, and the Government really must act now.
My hon. Friend is right to campaign for that. I am a great fan of the Hope Valley line. I cannot make an announcement about it today, but as he is aware, Ministers are investigating the possibilities to enhance capacity, and I do not think he will have to wait too long.
As my hon. Friend knows, we took over the running of Northern earlier in the year because we were so dissatisfied by the progress, and it was then hit by covid, but I can report to the House some numbers that might be helpful. Some 62% of workers across the country are now going back to work. That is the highest level since the crisis began. In particular, the figure for last week—the week commencing 7 September—was 42% back on our national rail services. Northern is doing a great deal of work to make its services ready for people coming back.
Before we come to the Backbench Business Committee debate on the aviation sector, as must be obvious to the House, 59 Back Benchers wish to speak and it will not be possible to get everyone in. Eventually, there will be a time limit of three minutes, but we will start on the Back Benches—not of course the hon. Gentleman, the mover of the motion—with a limit of five minutes. Very soon, that will reduce to three minutes. I give the warning now, so that people may edit their copious notes.
I thank the Chair of the Transport Committee for helping, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), to get this debate. Does he agree that the national picture that he describes of job losses and the impact on the supply chain also has an impact on local areas where airports are a major part of the local economy? Does he agree that it would be worth the Government considering not just sector-specific support but specific short-term area-based support for the aviation communities that have been very badly hit at this time?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this debate forward and for giving me the chance to ask a question as well. The sector is worth some £1.9 billion to the economy of Northern Ireland. It is also very important strategically for the jobs it creates, and equally relevant to the other regions. Does he agree that there must be a meaningful sector-specific programme for aerospace from 1 November this year that recognises not only the centrality of technology and development in terms of the upcoming comprehensive spending review, but the decades-long challenge we have in improving productivity and skills retention and development. All the areas—Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and parts of England—must work together and focus on the Minister to get the help that we need, for all those reasons.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. As well as asking for a greater financial package, does he believe that the Government need to work much more closely with our airports, particularly Gatwick and Heathrow? They are proposing testing and screening that will help our aviation sector to get to where it needs to be considering where we are with covid and the economy.
I hope that we are also hon. Friends. The hon. Gentleman is speaking about the intervention and support required from the Government. A few moments ago we heard about the report from Climate Assembly UK that was launched today, which includes bold recommendations about the future of aviation and our route to net zero 2050. Does he agree that taxpayer support for the sector should be conditional on action to both protect workers and to cut emissions, as we transition to a more sustainable future for the aviation sector?
I am so sorry, but I am short of time; I would give way if I could.
The Government do understand the scale of adjustment that the aviation sector has had to make and the tough commercial decisions that companies have faced, including redundancies. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield, for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Winchester and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) on this issue. The impact of redundancies on employees and their families is serious. As Aviation Minister, I expect companies to approach these matters sensitively, remembering the dedication and professionalism that their employees have shown over many years, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) has quite rightly made clear; we have all met such employees in our constituencies. I commit to working openly with all sectors, as I hope companies will commit to working openly with their workforces to resolve these matters. I encourage companies to go beyond the minimum legal obligations at this time, and will be offering my support.
There are a number of things that I would like to speak about but cannot because I am out of time, including border health measures, travel corridors and testing. I apologise for not having given way to Members due to the amount that I have had to speak. I will conclude briefly by simply saying that the Government remain committed to working with the sector to ensure that this country remains the aviation nation.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not getting the statement to him. I do not know why that happened, and I will make inquiries. As he mentions, I did call in advance, unrelated to the statement itself.
This is not a virus that any of us control, beyond the way in which we all behave individually and the extent to which we all have contact that we perhaps should not be having. It is easy to come to the Dispatch Box and be a professor of hindsight, saying, “You should have done this. You shouldn’t have done that.” If the hon. Gentleman could explain to me how he can find out that one week Jamaica will have three or five cases per 100,000 and the next week be breaching 20 cases per 100,000, even though the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and all the other experts were unable to predict it, I would be the first to welcome that kind of detailed information and knowledge. It does not exist. I believe that no country in the world has combined as much information as has been pulled together here in order to work on a detailed island policy. In fact, it is difficult to think of another country in Europe that is doing more testing than the UK now, with testing capacity of a third of a million tests per day, going up to half a million today. I was speaking to my opposite number from France, who told me that there they would reach 400,000 tests a week—in this country, we can do that in a day and a half.
Our NHS test and trace system, combined with the passenger locator form, has enabled us to extract very specific data to know where infections are coming back from, and that has been extraordinarily useful. I reiterate—I cannot say it any more clearly, and I am grateful for the opportunity to say it again—that in these times when we travel we must accept that we have to go with our eyes open. I gave the example of Jamaica, but, unfortunately, the same thing exists everywhere else. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Is he saying that we should not have travel corridors at all and we should prevent everybody from travelling? That cannot be the case, because he tells us that he wants to support the aviation sector. In which case, some kind of corridors must be open, otherwise we would not be supporting it.
That is why we have pumped an enormous amount of money, via the British taxpayer, into supporting the aviation sector. Off the top of my head, 56,400 members of staff are using the furlough scheme, which will add up to well over £1 billion. There is a £1.8 billion fund, the Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility, which has supported aviation-specific companies and there have been all manner of other funds, including the coronavirus job retention scheme, from which £283 million has gone to the aviation sector.
Of course we want the aviation sector to get going again. As I mentioned towards the end of my statement—I will come back to the House on this— testing is a part of that, but I also explained the complexity of testing on day zero. I did not hear whether that is what the Opposition Front-Bench team are calling for, but there are significant issues with testing on day zero in a manner that will not necessarily find those who are carrying the virus but that will convince lots of people that they are not. That approach is not the answer. We are working on all those things, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to work with us, rather than score points from us, when everybody is trying to the right thing, nationwide, to beat this virus.
I pay tribute to the Chair of the Select Committee for his boundless work during this crisis in following up on all manner of transport issues, and aviation issues in particular. He is absolutely right that testing in all its senses is a large part of the solution to everything related, or at least it is an aid to everything related, to coronavirus, and it is extremely important that we get it right. We know that there is pressure on the testing system. Schools are going back and entire classes and years require testing, and the same goes for universities—Dido spoke about this last week. It means we need to ensure that we are prioritising that. We also know that it can be helpful for returning holidaymakers and other travellers. Day zero does not work at the airport, but testing later can work. That capacity will be an issue for the reasons NHS Test and Trace mentioned, and I can reassure my hon. Friend that I will return to the House with proposals, which are currently being worked on with the industry, for something that is both practical and workable and that people can rely on as much as the NHS test and trace system itself.
The hon. Gentleman will be familiar, I am sure, with the £2 billion announcement I made at a Downing Street press conference for cycling and walking, of which £250 million was made available immediately in England. Through the Barnett consequentials, that will allow for a massive expansion of cycling across the whole United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is right: the e-scooters brought forward due to the pandemic will be an excellent and eco-friendly way of getting around—I can see that many Members across the House are looking forward to getting on their e-scooters. They will, I am afraid, in the first place be available to those with driving or provisional licences. That is not through desire, but because of a quirk in the law—we are tackling a law from, I think, 1880, which, with great foresight, banned e-scooters long before they were invented. That was one way to allow trials to go ahead right now.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has asked me to respond on his behalf.
The covid-19 crisis has affected every person in the country and every sector of the UK economy, and aviation is essential to that economy. It connects the regions together and it plays a huge part in the UK’s future as a global trading nation. That is why the Government have responded to the crisis with an unprecedented package of measures. On 24 March, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote to the aviation sector setting out the schemes being made available, including the deferral of VAT payments, the covid commercial finance facility and the coronavirus job retention scheme. The Civil Aviation Authority is also working with airlines, airports and ground handlers to provide appropriate flexibility within the regulatory framework. If airlines, airports or other aviation organisations find themselves in trouble because of coronavirus and have exhausted the measures already available to them, the Government have been clear that they are prepared to enter into discussions with individual companies seeking bespoke support.
We recognise that there remain serious challenges for the aviation sector, despite the measures that have been put in place. It will take time for passenger numbers to recover, and the impact will be felt first and foremost by the sector’s employees. The recent announcements about redundancies from companies such as British Airways, Virgin and easyJet will be very distressing news for employees and their families. These are commercial decisions that I regret, particularly from companies that benefit from the job retention scheme, which was not designed for taxpayers to fund the wages of employees only for those companies to put the same staff on notice of redundancy during the furlough period.
The Government stand ready to support anyone affected, with the Department for Work and Pensions available to help employees identify and access the support that is available. My Department has set up a restart, recovery and engagement unit to work with the aviation industry on the immediate issues affecting the restart of the sector and its longer-term growth and recovery. As part of that, we have established an aviation restart and recovery expert steering group, which is formed of representatives across the sector, including airports, airlines and ground handlers, industry bodies and unions.
The sustainable recovery of the aviation sector is a core part of our commitment to global connectivity and growing the UK economy. With airports, airlines and other parts of the aviation sector, we are putting in place the building blocks for recovery. The House will be updated as soon as possible on the next steps.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work as Chair of the Select Committee on Transport and the fair but firm way in which he is standing up for the aviation sector.
My hon. Friend asked about the Government’s ability to stop employers making poor use of the pandemic to slash terms and conditions. I certainly would not expect employers to use the pandemic as a chance to do so. I think most people would agree that terms and conditions are usually a matter for employees and employers, but employees have recourse to a number of options for support in cases in which that is happening. I highlight the fact that in crises such as this we would hope that all organisations that are taking such measures treat their employees with the social responsibility that one would expect. I will do everything in my power to make sure that that is understood by those organisations.
My hon. Friend asked about the ability to reorganise the slots process. He is right to raise that. The Government are currently legally prevented from intervening in the slots allocation process. However, we want airport landing and take-off slots to be used as effectively as possible for UK consumers. As the UK aviation market recovers from the impacts of this terrible disease, I want to ensure that the slots allocation process encourages competition and provides connectivity, so that is something I will be looking at.
The Prime Minister has been clear, and I will be clear again today, that the job retention scheme was not designed for this purpose. It will be for Treasury to review the specifics of the scheme, and I am sure that colleagues will be taking note of today’s proceedings.
The Home Secretary will be making a statement on the quarantine measures immediately after this, and I do not want to pre-empt her, but I can confirm that the measures will be subject to regular review. My Department, through the aviation restart and recovery unit, is working non-stop with the sector and Government partners to plan for the future of aviation, enabling it to recover. No option is off the table, and we are looking closely at air bridges, which are also known as international corridors. I will be working tirelessly, as I have done over the last 10 weeks, to do whatever I can to mitigate the impacts that have been felt by the aviation sector.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman and congratulate him on his new post. He is right to raise a number of those issues, in particular the extraordinary work being done by our transport workers. I thought it might be worth updating the House on the latest information I have about the number of those who have sadly died with covid-19, although that was not necessarily through their jobs—we do not know. The latest number I have from Transport for London is 42 people, and on Network Rail, including train operating companies, the latest number I have is 10. Our thoughts are with all their friends and families at this difficult time.
The hon. Gentleman is right to mention concerns about overcrowding, and I contacted the office of the Mayor of London regarding Transport for London. We are working closely with him to try to ensure that the number of services is ramped up quickly. As I said in my opening comments, however, we can have 100% of services, but that will not prevent overcrowding because social distancing now requires much more space. I am working proactively with the Mayor to try to bring in as much marshalling as possible by TfL, and elsewhere, including on Network Rail. We have been working with the British Transport Police who even yesterday deployed several hundred people. Most of all, I appeal to the public to listen to our message, and to please avoid public transport unless they absolutely need to take it as a key worker. People should look for alternative means of travel, either active, or by using their car if they have one available.
The hon. Gentleman said that the advice is not specific enough, and I hope he has had a chance to read it. Other commentators have said that it is surprisingly specific and detailed across all the different sectors, including the two pieces of advice that have been provided today. I do try to provide the balance. His wider point seems to be that the advice is not specific enough, for example on what bus operators should do. Buses look and feel different throughout different parts of the country, depending on the make and model, and on the systems run by local bus operators. It is not possible to provide that level of advice company by company, operator by operator, because TfL will be very different to a Metro tram operator. We have provided very good overall advice. Our officials are working closely with the operators, unions, and others, and much of the advice is very similar. We all know about social distancing, washing hands, and the basics.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the evidence base, and I would be happy to organise a briefing for him on that. Public Health England, and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, have been very clear that there is no case for the use of medical level PPE in transportation. It depends, of course, on what someone is doing. Sitting in a cab driving a train is a fairly solitary activity, so there is no requirement in such a situation, but if someone has more contact with the public, things will vary. I extend to him, as I have done to others, the offer of a briefing on these matters. In fact, either tomorrow or Thursday we are giving a joint briefing to which I have invited unions and operators of buses and other forms of transport.
The hon. Gentleman also queried the £2 billion for cycling. I made this point clear when I announced the money. He will recall from before his time in this role that we announced £5 billion for bikes and buses. Some of this money—£1.7 billion—is part of that funding, as I said when I made the announcement. We have brought it forward so that we can get on with it, particularly given the emergency situation and the need to widen pavements and provide thoroughfares for cycling.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the airlines. I welcome the shift in tone from that of his predecessor, who never once encouraged me to support aviation. I agree about jobs, but he is wrong to say there has not been the support there. Almost uniquely, the aviation sector has enjoyed something that has not been widely advertised, but I will let him into it: not only can the industry access the very generous support provided by our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of Exchequer, which he extended further an hour or so ago from this Dispatch Box, but, in addition to all the other Government support, aviation can enter into a process of discussion if the existing types of support are not sufficient. Without breaching commercial confidentiality, I can tell him that a number of such discussions between the Department and aviation organisations, be they airlines, airports or ground support companies, are taking place.
Similarly, on P&O, perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not spot it, but we have supported a range of maritime freight—in some cases, that has included P&O—to provide connectivity, not just from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but between Great Britain and 26 other ports in Europe.
The policy of quarantining for 14 days is a Home Office lead. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but I can tell him quite straightforwardly that, going into this crisis, the advice was not to instigate quarantining, mainly because we had millions of Brits to bring home, but also because, according to the scientists—I had this very conversation with the chief medical officer before the lockdown began and he explained it to me—it would at best have delayed things by three, four or five days; sadly, it would not have prevented us from experiencing the epidemic. Again, he is very welcome to see that advice.
As we come out of this, as we control the virus in this country, with the facilities now in place to track and trace and the number of tests that can be carried out, of course we very much need to stop it continuing. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that as well.
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for giving me an opportunity to clarify two things. First, we are not advising that medical-level PPE be used—that would go completely against Public Health England advice; rather we are advising that people make their own PPE at home, using the information on the gov.uk website, which shows how to make it from an old T-shirt or to sew one. The reason for that is that it is critical, from a medical point of view, that we do not compete with medical applications for PPE. People should make their own PPE, which in this case means a face covering rather than a mask.
Secondly, on social distancing, it is of course true that there will be times when people cannot maintain 2 metres, such as when walking past somebody. The Government are doing a number of different things. The advice we are publishing today explains that if people are not face to face but are instead side by side, the risk factors are different. We are working with app companies—including Google, Microsoft and the British companies Citymapper and Trainline—to work on crush data, which would be published to enable people to see where the busiest parts of the network are and to actively try to avoid that. All those steps are in train.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and this is something we are really passionate about. My hon. Friend the Minister in the Lords recently made an announcement on talking buses. In addition, just a couple of weeks ago I launched a new Access for All campaign for stations in London to extend it right across our network. There are so many things that we can do to make our rather antiquated, old-fashioned railways and transport systems much more access-friendly.
May I pay tribute to the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport, and indeed the former Chair, for promoting this subject so much? We are pleased to respond today to “Pavement parking” and will certainly wish to join him in taking forward those steps, exactly as he has described.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman in the sadness that he expressed about the loss of jobs for people working for Flybe. When any organisation collapses in this way, it is a sad day for the individuals and communities it affects. I personally am extremely committed to making sure that we, as a Government, are working with colleagues to ensure that those individuals—those staff members—are given the advice and support that they require. In particular, we are very lucky in that we have been engaging with the industry, which is pulling together, and some airlines have said that they are going to prioritise staff from Flybe within their recruitment process. So that is good, and I am hoping to see movement on it as time goes on.
Turning to next steps, with regard to the passengers, obviously everybody is concerned about individuals travelling and how they will get back and move around the country. I reiterate that the majority of Flybe passengers are travelling domestically. As I have outlined, we are working with the airlines on fares and on making sure that the capacity is there. We are also making sure that people can travel on the railways. Of course, those conversations will continue. I am having a meeting later today, so if any MP would like to ask specific questions or get an update on where we are with that information, I would be very grateful if they attended.
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, because we have had many debates and discussions on a number of things over the years, but I disagree with his statement that we have sat on our hands. We, as a Government, have absolutely been working hard on this. We have been determined to be able to work with shareholders and work with the company in order to secure Flybe for the future. I must be really clear: we are in this situation today because Flybe shareholders and directors took the decision to place the business in insolvency. This is not where I, as the aviation Minister, wanted to be with regard to Flybe.
I am acutely aware of the impact that this will have on regional airports. The hon. Gentleman is right: we have spoken a lot about regional connectivity. However, we are determined to deliver on our promises to the country—that is, making sure that we are levelling up, and that regional connectivity via those airports remains viable. My Department and officials are working really hard with the airlines and the airports. We have been speaking to them today. I personally have had conversations with the airlines and the airports today. We will be maintaining that work in order to establish replacements and the ability of the industry to pick up some of the routes that are affected. We will look at and discuss some of the ongoing challenges relating to those specific airports.
The 80/20 rule, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is controlled by Airport Coordination Ltd and the European Commission. The European Commission is central to that, as he will understand.
My Department and I, specifically, have been having these conversations. I am in connection with the industry to understand the challenges, and I am taking that forward to do what I can, in my role as a Minister, to ease this burden. I stand here willing to speak to anyone this afternoon and to give people updates as and when I can. I hope that has given some comfort.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and note his particular interest as Chair of the Select Committee. He is right that we announced in the Queen’s Speech that we would legislate to enhance the Civil Aviation Authority’s oversight of airlines and its ability to mitigate the impact of failure. I am keen to move that legislation forward as soon as possible, and I am happy to give him further updates.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about last week’s judgment, but I should point out that the Government were clear in our manifesto that the Heathrow expansion project was a private sector project and needed to meet the strict criteria on air quality, noise and climate change and to be privately financed in the best interests of consumers. Airport expansion is a core part of the Government’s commitment to global connectivity and investing in our infrastructure. We welcome the efforts of airports throughout the UK to come forward with ambitious proposals to invest in their infrastructure, under our wider policy of encouraging them to make the best use of their assets.
We want the UK to be the best place in the world and we are forming new trading relationships with the European Union and negotiating free trade deals around the world. Last week’s judgment is an important step in the process. Heathrow Ltd is obviously able to apply to the courts to appeal, but we take our environmental commitments seriously and they are important to how we reach our objective of net zero by 2050.
I highlight for the hon. Gentleman the fact that we are committed to the decarbonisation of aviation, as that is an important part of our efforts on climate change. That is why we are maintaining momentum by investing in aviation research and technology. We are investing £1.95 billion in aviation research and development between 2013 and 2026. In August last year we announced a joint £300 million fund, with industry involvement, for the Future Flight Challenge. We will introduce a Bill that will modernise the country’s airspace, reduce noise around airports and combat CO2 omissions.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the advice given to the Secretary of State. I understand that that advice may form part of one of the grounds of appeal of another party in the Supreme Court, so I am unable to comment while the proceedings are ongoing, but I will not take lectures from the Labour party when even Labour-supporting unions such as the GMB have called Labour’s plans “utterly unachievable”. As I have already outlined, airport expansion is a core part of the Government’s commitment to global connectivity and levelling up.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we do lead the way in technology and innovation in this country, which is why we are investing in aviation research and development. I assure him that the outcome of any Supreme Court ruling will be respected.
I absolutely agree, but I am hardly surprised by the response to my hon. Friend’s written question. It is not unusual for this Government to double- count money and re-announce the same figures.
I do welcome the new openings, if they occur. My concern is that they simply do not go far enough in creating an integrated network of the type that Beeching was happy to destroy. In 20 years of devolution, successive Scottish Governments—both SNP and Labour-led, to be fair—have understood the importance of bold action to reverse the cuts made in a previous era. Airdrie to Bathgate, Larkhall, the Borders railway, Stirling to Alloa and the extension of the Maryhill line are all reinstatements of Beeching closures. We have the biggest programme of electrification and decarbonisation of the rail network in 40 years, with all services between our two biggest cities running under the wires, as well as Stirling, Alloa, Falkirk, Paisley Canal and Whifflet, with much more in the pipeline as part of the rolling programme of electrification. The result of all this—and much more—will be a carbon-free rail system that helps Scotland to achieve net zero. I hope that the UK Transport Secretary will visit the Cabinet Secretary for Transport in Edinburgh during his tenure to hear how it is done, and see the real investment going into Scotland’s railways day in, day out. These are not magic fixes or changes beyond our economic capacity. They are realistic, achievable solutions to the challenges that we all face.
Many of our roads are at—or, in some cases, over—capacity, which brings increased congestion and the resultant increased emissions. There are those who say we should stop building roads altogether. I say, tell that to the residents of Aberdeenshire, who have seen their travel transformed by the western peripheral route, or those crossing the Forth on the replacement crossing, which has seen not one day of closure due to high winds—a bridge built in the face of opposition from many who are now curiously quiet about their lack of support. Tell it to the residents of Dalry, who, thanks to the newly opened bypass, which was completed seven months ahead of schedule, have seen traffic and pollution in their town plummet.
Targeted investments in our road network, combined with the massive expansion in electric charge points and projects such as the electric highway along the A9 are all part of the mix in reducing emissions. Private transport must be available to as wide a cohort of society as possible. That is why Scottish households can now access grant funding that will, on average, pay for 80% of the cost of installing a home charge point—30% more than the rest of the UK. There are more public charging points per head in Scotland than anywhere else outside London. We are rolling out support for e-bikes, social landlords who want to develop zero-emissions infrastructure and car clubs. The low carbon transport loan means that more households than ever are in a position to make the switch now, rather than later. With used electric cars now becoming eligible, the choice available is getting wider all the time.
Scotland is doing well, but Norway is soaring ahead in electric car deployment. By the end of 2020, half of all new cars sold there will be electric—the result of bold policies and a determination by Government to tackle a societal and environmental challenge. Those bold policies are only possible because Norway has the resources and the power of an independent state to make those changes. If the UK does not want to use the powers it has to make those changes, it should ensure that Scotland does.
Scotland has shown global leadership by being the first country to include international aviation and shipping emissions in its statutory climate targets. Aviation is undoubtedly the most difficult sector to decarbonise, although I welcome the industry’s recently announced commitment to do so by 2050. The SNP has already committed to decarbonise flights within Scotland by 2040 and aims to have the world’s first zero-emission aviation region, in partnership with Highlands and Islands Airports.
Too often, transport policy appears to be a contradiction in terms. In the short time since taking up my position as the SNP’s transport spokesperson, I have been genuinely surprised at the lack of joined-up thinking that pervades so much of what is sketched out for the future. Putting the zero-emission society at the heart of transport planning and wider Government policy means joining up some of that thinking towards a common goal and a common strategy. That is exactly what the Scottish Government have been doing and continue to do, and it is what the Cabinet Secretary for Finance will be doing tomorrow when he unveils the Scottish budget. It is what the Cabinet Secretary for Transport did earlier this afternoon at Holyrood, and I hope it is what the UK Transport Secretary will begin to do as he reflects on this debate in the weeks and months ahead.
I congratulate the hon. Member on his election. On hydrogen production for trains and transport in general, we need to think about how it is produced. ITM Power in Yorkshire produces its hydrogen using electrolysis, which actually means it is a zero carbon fuel. We need to take this in the round, because sometimes decarbonisation does not mean decarbonisation if the fuel still needs carbon and fossil fuels for its manufacture.
This is the first time that I have spoken on transport in this Parliament, but it is far from the first time that I have spoken on these issues over the past decade in this House. Indeed, the fact that I shall repeat many of the points that I have previously raised with other Ministers shows just how little progress there has been in delivering a reliable, affordable and integrated public transport system for people throughout the north-east, including my constituents.
We are a region with incredible potential, but our inadequate transport links hold us back. An expanded, integrated network would address so many of the challenges we face, from the economy to the environment. It would unlock job opportunities by allowing people without a car to access areas they would have struggled to get to before. It would help ward off loneliness and isolation. And it would tackle the poor air quality that is present in so many communities across our country.
Making sure that areas such as mine can benefit from a well-run, integrated system that puts passengers first should not be beyond us, but in my constituency it has been decades since we were last served by any form of passenger rail service. That means that buses are the only option for those wishing to use public transport, but those services are often unreliable and costly, and are too often run for the benefit of shareholders, not the taxpayer. In the last decade alone, several routes have been cut or altered, often on spurious grounds, usually connected to profit, with little warning for local people, leaving residents cut off from GPs, hospitals and schools.
The demand for good public transport in the north-east is there; we are the region that, outside London, has the lowest rate of car ownership in the country. We also have great economic potential; we are the only UK region to consistently deliver a trade surplus and the leading exporting region in the UK.
For years now, we have heard great rhetoric about the Government’s commitment to the north, and we have heard even more in recent months, but that has not been matched by action. For too long our region has suffered from a major imbalance in transport spending per head when compared with other English regions.
There are a number of credible and viable ways in which access to public transport could be opened up. Houghton and Sunderland South is home to a section of the Leamside line, a mothballed rail corridor running between Newcastle and Durham, passing through Fence Houses and Penshaw and then over the incredible Victoria viaduct. Nexus has identified the long-term strategic benefits of reopening the Leamside line. It would add capacity for both freight and passenger services operating at local, regional and national level. That would relieve pressure on the east coast main line, which is already at capacity and is set to face greater demands in years to come. I invite the Minister to come and see the Leamside line, to appreciate what could be achieved if we were able to reopen that important line. I would also urge the Secretary of State to look favourably on funding if any business case is put before him, in the context of the strategic outline business case.
Another long-term prospect would be the extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro to Doxford international business park in my constituency, where thousands of workers are based. There is a real desire among my constituents to make that a reality—a point I made when responding to the Government’s consultation on light rail. Ministers had hoped to respond to the consultation by the end of last year. I take the opportunity to ask the Minister when he expects the Government response to be forthcoming.
Reopening the Leamside line and extending the Metro are just two examples of how investment in rail and light rail could benefit my constituency. Doubtless we shall hear many similar cases made by Members across the House. I appreciate that what I have set out represents longer-term projects that will take time and capital investment to deliver, but there is one straightforward way that the Government could immediately address the quality of public transport in my constituency—by sorting out our failed bus network.
We have seen bus routes cut on a whim, with the absolute minimum of notice, and with no requirement to release the data on profitability that leads to those decisions. It is unsurprising, therefore, that in the north-east bus patronage among adults has continued to fall substantially in recent years. These are the consequences of deregulation in the ’80s, which, as I have argued before, has been an unmitigated disaster for constituencies like mine. There is no reason why local bus services in the north-east cannot operate on the basis of an integrated transport system with genuine smart ticketing that allows people greater flexibility in travelling.
Ministers should give us the powers we need to franchise bus services, so that local people have a greater say, and ensure that passengers and taxpayers are put ahead of the interests of bus company shareholders. Making such a change in legislation need not be difficult if the political will exists, and it would provide a much quicker solution to tackling the inadequate public transport network that we see throughout the north-east.
If all this talk of so-called levelling up is to mean anything, we need to see much more action and fewer platitudes from Ministers, and a clear demonstration that they will work with us—communities, businesses and politicians, right across the north-east—to unlock our potential and invest in our transport network.
As I pointed out a moment ago—perhaps after the hon. Gentleman’s question was written—it is important that we gather all the facts. Sadly, 1,700-plus people died on all our roads in 2018. Motorways of the safest of those roads, but the question is: are smart motorways less safe than the rest of the motorway network? For me, we must make them at least as safe, if not safer, otherwise they cannot continue. But we have to do this as a fact-based process. I am interested, rightly, in speaking to the families of the victims as well as to organisations such as the AA and the RAC and to Members of this House. Forgive me, it does take time to do this correctly, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed with the results.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as Chair of the Select Committee. Yes, I agree with him about working with schools. One point that is often forgotten is that local authorities already have the power to reduce speed limits, for example to 20 mph. I look forward to working with him as Chair of the Committee.