Huw Merriman debates involving the Department for Transport during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 8th July 2021
3 interactions (187 words)
Tue 29th June 2021
3 interactions (174 words)
Thu 24th June 2021
3 interactions (58 words)
Thu 20th May 2021
3 interactions (134 words)
Thu 29th April 2021
3 interactions (125 words)
Mon 15th March 2021
3 interactions (74 words)
Thu 11th March 2021
3 interactions (48 words)
Thu 28th January 2021
2 interactions (110 words)
Thu 3rd December 2020
3 interactions (117 words)
Wed 18th November 2020
3 interactions (560 words)
Thu 17th September 2020
3 interactions (38 words)
Thu 10th September 2020
25 interactions (1,882 words)
Mon 7th September 2020
3 interactions (193 words)
Thu 2nd July 2020
3 interactions (89 words)
Wed 3rd June 2020
4 interactions (379 words)
Tue 12th May 2020
3 interactions (100 words)
Thu 12th March 2020
3 interactions (62 words)
Thu 5th March 2020
3 interactions (80 words)
Mon 2nd March 2020
3 interactions (102 words)
Wed 5th February 2020
9 interactions (1,329 words)
Thu 30th January 2020
3 interactions (122 words)
Tue 14th January 2020
3 interactions (76 words)

International Travel

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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Rejoice, rejoice! This is a much-needed shot in the arm for those who have had two shots of the vaccine in their arm, and for an industry and workforce who have been laid low during the pandemic—perhaps more than others—but have always been confident and steadfast in their belief that we can all travel safely again.

In welcoming this announcement, may I ask the Secretary of State also to keep an eye on the testing regime? We know that only 0.4% of those who have come back from amber destinations over the past couple of months have tested positive for covid. Can we perhaps look at the testing costs, which are still a barrier for those travelling? It would be great if, rather than people having to take an expensive PCR test, lateral flow tests could be used instead, and those who do test positive could then take a PCR test. I will look to the Secretary of State to keep on championing those kinds of ideas. Will he also make sure that the Foreign Office advice and website is as up-to-date as he is on this matter?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

International Travel

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Tuesday 29th June 2021

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker, for giving us this opportunity to scrutinise. You have constituents who are impacted and they should know that you have given them a voice in this place.

I also thank the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) for giving us this opportunity. I disagree with his suggestion that we turn the amber list to red. I believe it should be turned to green, because we have a successful vaccination programme and our NHS app. We know that the Secretary of State is pushing for that to happen later in the summer, and therein lies my question. For the domestic restrictions being eased, we have a road map with data and dates. For international travel, can we have the equivalent—a flight path—so we know what is going to happen, when and by what measure? Perhaps I could ask him to give us a little more detail now, but also consider whether he would be willing to give a little more certainty to industry and passengers alike.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 24th June 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now go to the Chair of the Select Committee.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) [V]
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Is the Secretary of State hearing, as I am, that our airports and Border Force are getting people through arrivals more quickly and therefore more safely? Is he confident that we will be in a position to get more people who have been double-jabbed through arrivals with digitisation and the NHS app delivering proof of a double jab?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

Covid-19: Support for Aviation, Tourism and Travel Industries

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 24th June 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Transport
Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who has done so much to champion the plight of Gatwick and the wider Sussex community, and my friend the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), a fellow Transport Committee member, who speaks for me as well as himself. The remarkable point is that our calls are on all our Front Benches—we are all, cross-party, disappointed with all the Front-Bench positions. We do not feel that we are being led to a better place for our constituents and those who want to go abroad to see their loved ones and retain some life.

I have received emails not only from constituents but from people across the country who are crying out for some form of help to allow them to get back to their lives. I will read a few, if you do not mind, Dr Huq. Anna Wozniak is a cardiac physiologist at Doncaster Royal Infirmary. She has worked hard through the pandemic. She cannot afford to meet her boyfriend in America anywhere and meet the cost of testing, nor to take time off work to quarantine. Erin Cork from London has not seen her boyfriend, who lives in New York, for 467 days. Imagine that.

Missed life events have come through as well. Giulia Molteni is a dual UK-Italian national. She is 35 weeks pregnant with her first child. Her double-vaccinated Italian parents have not seen her while she has been pregnant, and she feels that she needs her mother’s support. Her parents want to come to the UK, but it is a huge financial commitment, and they are concerned that Italy could be added to the red list, as hotel quarantine costs are out of the question. One of our own in the travel sector, Louise Gardiner, works as a ground staff member at Heathrow. She had her son Rowan in May 2020 and he has met his Californian father only four times. He has never met his paternal grandparents. Louise was supposed to move to the US to be with her partner, but due to the pandemic her earnings have been lost, so she no longer qualifies as a sponsor.

I could go on and on with all the emails that I have received, but this is not just about holidays, as people sometimes say—although what is wrong with going on holiday? People’s lives are being ruined. Their mental health is being put at risk because of a ridiculous and restrictive policy that appears to have no basis when we look at the data. Let us look at what has happened with the traffic light system and travellers returning to the UK. Analysis of the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace found that only 89 of 23,465 passengers who travelled to the UK from amber list destinations between May and June tested positive for coronavirus—a rate of 0.4%. There are 167 countries on the amber list, and there were no positive cases from 151 of those.

If the Government look at the data, it surely demonstrates that going abroad is safe when we consider the amount of covid on these shores. It has positive benefits not just for people, but for our international trade and our economy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley has stated, it is worth billions to the economy. What will actually pay for our NHS and our vaccination programme? International travel and international trade.

I will be particularly interested to hear the Labour Front-Bench spokesman’s speech and whether he will talk about why the sector needs aid and a specific sector-based deal. He might be better placed to call for his own leader and shadow Home Secretary not to ditch the amber list and move all those countries to red, because that will just put more and more people on the scrapheap when it comes to their jobs.

Dr Huq, I have taken my four minutes, but I could go on for four hours. I am absolutely sick and tired on behalf of all the people who want to get their lives back safely and travel abroad, and the workforce I met yesterday, who care so passionately and are so positive about their sector and their customers. Let us give them their opportunities back, take a bit of a risk, cash in on the vaccine dividend, and allow people to travel internationally again.

Carla Lockhart Portrait Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann) (DUP) [V]
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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.

Aviation, Travel and Tourism Industries

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 10th June 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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I do not doubt for one moment that the Minister, the Secretary of State for Transport and the Department for Transport are pushing across Government to try to get aviation and the travel industry back to where it needs to be, but I feel that the Government as a whole are being far too cautious. As a result, today I have written on behalf of the Transport Committee to the Prime Minister asking him to give more clarity and certainty, and to really set out the rule base of the traffic light system—what it really is, and is not, supposed to be.

I did that because on Monday I asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to give a concrete milestone based on the data for when we can get the industry back on its feet. His response was:

“A variant that undermined the vaccine fundamentally would put us in a much more difficult place as a country, and that is why we are being as cautious as we are.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 676.]

Effectively, some form of unknown, unforeseen risk means that we cannot do anything right now. To me, that is an absolute tragedy, because our vaccine roll-out has been a tremendous success. By 21 June we hope to have vaccinated all those over the age of 50 and the clinically extremely vulnerable twice, accounting for 99% of the mortality risk. The vaccine is effective against all known variants. Indeed, of 12,383 delta variant cases 126 ended in hospital admissions. Of those, 28 had one dose and three both doses, so we know that when the most vulnerable are double-dosed we are safe. I have put it to the Prime Minister that that has to be the milestone for when we can unlock this great industry.

For those who say, “Well, there’s still risk,” indeed there is, but there are also risks for those people who cannot go and see their boyfriends or girlfriends and have not done so for over a year. What about their rights? What about their wellbeing and mental health? There is also the risk for those who have not seen their newborn grandchildren and may worry that they never will if this carries on. What about those people? There are also the people who work and rely on this industry to get by. Once delivering for global Britain, and for people to get worldwide global travel experiences, they are now lucky to be delivering for Amazon. Over 5,000 people per month have lost their jobs in this industry since February 2020, and that needs to be looked at as much as this unknown risk that is being talked about.

I have written to the Home Secretary as well—I have done a letter-writing campaign; we are doing our best to push everyone who has influence—because it is also vital that we have the Border Force resources to ensure that people can go through the airports safely and, again, give more confidence to all.

I will not take any more time, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I know you will not let me—but my goodness, this Government, and indeed all the other Front Benchers, need to wake up to this industry that is on its knees.

John Nicolson Portrait John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
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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.

Britain’s Railways

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 20th May 2021

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let us go to the Chair of the Transport Committee.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) [V]
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I welcome the statement, the White Paper and indeed the birth of Great British Railways. We look forward to the Secretary of State giving more detail to the Select Committee on Transport this Wednesday with Keith Williams. In the meantime, let me ask about page 56 of the White Paper, which deals with passenger service contracts, promising:

“Revenue incentives and risk sharing”.

How will that work to ensure that the private sector continues to invest in a way that it has done over the past 20 or so years, when it doubled passenger numbers? Page 71 talks of “New flexible season tickets” allowing eight days’ travel in a 28-day period. Does that equate to 28% of the cost that passengers would expect to pay and therefore make it an incentive to travel in our new world?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 29th April 2021

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I very much hope that in 18 days’ time people in this country will be able to enjoy international travel once again. Could I just press the Secretary of State with regard to the need for a PCR test for those coming in from green list countries? Currently, those coming in from amber countries take the lateral flow test, yet those who come back from green countries will have to have a more expensive PCR test. I recognise the need to detect mutant strains, so may I suggest that we require green country travellers to take a lateral flow test and, if they are positive, then take a PCR test so that we could detect the strain? That may be a good balance to strike.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

National Bus Strategy: England

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Monday 15th March 2021

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

I warmly welcome the bus strategy, and thank the Secretary of State and the Buses Minister, Baroness Vere, for taking ideas in. The Secretary of State is right to look at best practice by local authorities; he mentioned Brighton. What can we do to ensure that best practice becomes normal practice, and what more investment can be given to local authorities to ensure that there is a buses champion in each local transport authority?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 11th March 2021

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) [V]
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The Secretary of State just mentioned 12 April for the global travel taskforce recommendations. Is that the date on which the public and the aviation industry will know what the rules will be, or is it just the date when the recommendations will be given to No. 10?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 28th January 2021

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - Excerpts

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
- Hansard -

I welcome the decision to have evidence-based enhancements to control covid at our international borders, as opposed to a blanket approach. Would the Secretary of State agree with me that a blanket approach could see essential goods and services failing to come into this country from countries where the covid risk is perhaps less than our own, because those delivering are currently enjoying a 10-day stay in the Holiday Inn? Can I ask him, in particular, to ensure that he publishes the criteria for countries that will go on to the red list or come off it, so that the aviation industry in particular has the chance to plan ahead?

DrAFT Airports Slot Allocation (AMENDMENT) (EU EXIT) REGULATIONS 2021

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Tuesday 12th January 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

General Committees

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Department for Transport
Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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My congratulations, Ms Eagle, on becoming Dame Angela. I want to use the opportunity to speak in this Committee because the Select Committee on Transport, of which I am Chair, has looked at the aviation industry and the huge difficulties it has faced arising from the pandemic. Slot allocation is one matter that we looked at with interest.

Focusing specifically on the confines of this Committee and this legislation, I support the legislative change. It is necessary to ensure that we have a smooth transition from EU to UK rule-making. I want to ask the Minister a series of questions that seek to ensure we get the balance right when we use the rules and he may well want to reflect on them and write to me.

In a situation where no passengers are flying, the financial situation with airlines is incredibly precarious and our carbon footprint is too large, it is right that it would be ludicrous to see empty flights going from one airport to another to preserve that slot allocation for an airline. “Use it or lose it” clearly makes no sense when passengers are not going to use it. On the other hand, we know that, prior to the pandemic, there were great issues with competition and new entrants to the market. I am particularly keen to ensure that the airlines cannot use the opportunity, in the event that the market bounces back, to not use their slots because they do not have to “use it or lose it”. That stops other entrants coming through to the market.

I provide the Minister with one example from some months previously. It was a tragedy at Gatwick that, at a time when the airport expected to be resuming daily flights over to New York using Virgin, instead of that occurring in May, Virgin announced it was going to move all its operations from Gatwick to Heathrow. However, Virgin did not relinquish its slots, despite making it clear it did not see itself being at Gatwick for some years to come. That gave Gatwick great cause for concern at a time when, for example, the Hungarian airline Wizz Air was looking to expand but there were no slots remaining at Gatwick. That is a good example of how the “use it or lose it” rule was helpful for competition, because it kept the airlines on their toes. If they were not going to use their slot, it would be taken away from them. With this rule set in the regulations, that does not occur. It is important that the Minister ensures the flexibility is there and that the rules are only put in place for a short period so we can assess the market and if it has returned and airlines are sitting on slots they could be using but are not because it is economically advantageous for them to use elsewhere, that they not be allowed to do so.

I have four questions for the Minister. First, to give the airlines and the airports the certainty they need as to when the powers are going to be utilised now that they will reside with the Secretary of State, when will the Minister look to utilise the new powers to determine the rule set beyond March 2021 when they expire? It is vital for the month of January that decisions can be made for the summer period. I hope the Secretary of State will look to utilise those powers this month.

Secondly, will the Government look at the new rule set devised by the International Air Transport Association, the Airport Council International and the Worldwide Airports Coordinators Group? Interestingly, those rules changed from the 80:20 split to a 50:50, therefore, fewer —but still some—flights required. There is also an additional caveat that, where there are national Government covid restrictions on the airlines, that can count towards the 50%. That strikes me as rather bureaucratic at a time when the flights clearly are not there. However, I say to the Minister that perhaps in time to come, rather than 80:20, we look at a 50:50 balancing act, which might give more flexibility and more of a nod to competition.

Thirdly, will the Government ensure that the rules balance the need to conserve money and carbon with the need to ensure airlines cannot sit on slots that other airlines could utilise in the event that the market bounces back? The example of Virgin at Gatwick is a good one as far as that is concerned. I should say to the Minister, having had conversations with his predecessor, that there was real commitment by this Government to ensure that we allow new entrants, remove the barriers and get more competition into the marketplace. It is certainly the case that BA has a dominant position at Heathrow; that cannot be healthy for competition, and the Conservative party has always stood absolutely for competition.

Finally, will the rules cover all airports, or just those within the congested airports, known as the co-ordinated airports? As the Minister stated, there is no such airport in Northern Ireland, and the rules are applicable to just a small number. I would certainly be keen for flexibility in terms of short haul versus long haul, with an expectation the latter will not bounce back as fast as the former. My main appeal to the Minister is to get the rule set used as soon as we can, ensure it is absolutely flexible so that the Government can pivot as the airline and aviation industry pivots as well, and strike a balance between not wasting carbon and money for the airlines and, at the same time, giving the airports a little more help to ensure that there is competition and business for their slot allocations.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(8 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
- Hansard - -

At the end of September, the Government put in place the second set of emergency contracts with the train operators to continue with train operations. It has now been two months and the Transport Committee has been trying desperately to get hold of copies of those contracts, but we still have not. May I urge the Minister to please ask his officials to get a shifty on? Will he also tell us when he will be able to give us an update from the Dispatch Box as to how the termination payment process is going, so that train operators that would have had to pay under the franchise system will have to pay back to the taxpayer?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Aviation Industry

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Wednesday 18th November 2020

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Transport
Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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18 Nov 2020, 12:02 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for securing the debate. The right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) is right: we have been here before. I remember my right hon. Friend saying, in a debate on, I think, the Minister’s second day in his job, that he had not intended to speak about areas of his old portfolio, but that he was driven to do it by the plight of the aviation sector. Yet here, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we still are.

It is right for us to recap the matter. Looking at aviation from the UK perspective, we have the largest aviation network in the Europe and the third largest in the world, contributing £22 billion to the UK economy. It employs—or employed—230,000 people with employment for an extra five people created off the back of each one of those workers. We have been a leader and a success story in aviation, but from there we have gone to being a laggard at opening up our skies again and getting passengers flying. That is what the aviation industry needs.

When the Transport Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, delivered a report on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector, we called for financial support measures for the aviation industry, but we can see that there is pent-up demand. When the air bridge was opened up to the Canaries, bookings went up by 112%. Unfortunately, that was a few weeks before the November restrictions, so they collapsed again, but it shows that the demand is there, if only we can find a testing mechanism to allow passengers to fly with confidence.

It is not as if that mechanism is not out there. I received a spreadsheet from an aviation company: I would call it a spreadsheet of shame for the Government. It showed 30 countries that have already delivered testing, either before the passenger reaches the airport that they are going to transfer to, or once they have arrived. If those other countries can demonstrate, with science, that that can be done safely, why on earth can the UK not do the same thing, when we have been the leaders and pioneers in aviation? That is absolutely what is required.

The Minister, for whom I have much respect, was a member of the Select Committee so I know that he is passionate about the issue and that he believes in what I am setting out. My big question is whether No. 10 and No. 11 are really listening. The combined Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Transport aviation taskforce was supposed to report to No. 10 by the end of October with a proposal for bringing in testing. I do not believe that it did so. We still have not heard anything and while we cannot do anything right now, during November, there is so much negativity that we need to show real signs of opening. Perhaps the Minister can pass on that I would like No. 10 to ensure we get early indications of what the testing mechanism would be. Let us unlock our skies again. The industry is a great one, and it needs to come back with Government policy and support.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Nov 2020, 12:05 a.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 17th September 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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As more people return to work using our great northern railway and the southern railway, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the railway network and public transport is safe for increased passenger numbers?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Aviation Sector

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 10th September 2020

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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10 Sep 2020, 12:04 a.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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10 Sep 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the aviation sector.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to open this debate, which I do on behalf of the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare). I thank the Backbench Business Committee, the Petitions Committee and my own Select Committee on Transport for making this debate happen.

To frame the debate, I will talk about the current aviation picture, the Government’s welcome interventions, what more the Government can and should do, the jobs at risk in the aviation sector, and passenger and consumer rights. I am happy to take interventions, as stated, but I ask right hon. and hon. Members to remember that they will be within my time limit, so perhaps they could make them snappy.

Let us talk about the current picture. The aviation network in the UK is the third largest in the world and the largest in Europe. It is a sector that we should all be proud of. As a nation—an island nation—we have travelled the world, explored the world, sent our entrepreneurs around the world and brought people to us. I say to the Government that the aviation sector is vital, not just from a business perspective but from a strategic angle. It is worth £28 billion to the UK economy. It employs 230,000 people directly, and for each one of those, 4.7 more jobs are created in the supply chain or the passenger experience.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Sep 2020, 1:25 p.m.

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?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

10 Sep 2020, 1:26 p.m.

My fellow member of the Transport Committee is absolutely right. We should bear in mind what has happened to passenger numbers. Numbers in April this year compared with April last year were down by 97%. To put that in focus, that means 5,800 flights whereas we previously had 201,000. It has been an absolute collapse. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight not just the impact on aviation but on communities that work in it or indeed support it from a retail perspective.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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10 Sep 2020, 1:27 p.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

10 Sep 2020, 1:29 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, as ever, for his contribution. He is absolutely right. Perhaps this is where I should put in my asks with the new Minister, who I absolutely welcome to the Dispatch Box. Yesterday was his first day in front of the Transport Committee and today is his first day at the Dispatch Box. It has been a busy week for him already, with more to come.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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10 Sep 2020, 1:27 p.m.

rose—

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

10 Sep 2020, 1:27 p.m.

Before I take any further interventions I will make a little more progress.

The airports have already lost £2 billion just in the first few months, and they expect to lose another £4 billion as well. I would like to put on record my thanks to this Government for the £330 billion injection into businesses to keep them going. That has meant that 9 million people have been able to stay in employment through the furlough scheme. But of course I am going to stand here and ask for more, as is always the annoying case for Ministers with Back Benchers.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Sep 2020, 1:28 p.m.

rose—

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

10 Sep 2020, 1:28 p.m.

I will take some more interventions in a moment.

I would like the Government to look at the aviation sector specifically. I say this because the Government—and I do understand this—have brought in quarantine to keep us healthy and safe in travelling to these countries. That is the right thing to do—a nuance-based approach to ensure that where it is safe to travel we can do so on air bridges and not quarantine for 14 days. None the less, that intervention does have an impact on aviation, and that justifies more Government support. In addition, testing is happening in other parts of the world. The Government have not yet brought testing forward. I very much hope that during the quarantine period we can allow people to take a test and then come off quarantine. That may well be later in the process, but I would like to see that measure.

Those interventions from Government, which the aviation sector would say intervene on its ability to keep going, justify a sector-specific deal. I would like an extension of the furlough scheme for aviation. I would like a complete cut of air passenger duty for a period, which EasyJet says would allow 60% of national flights to continue. I would like a business rate cessation to be brought forward as the Scottish Government have done. I would like to see those measures from the Government in return for our continued approach on quarantine and testing.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. As she and I know, Gatwick is the jewel in our crown in the south-east. Many of our constituents rely on it for good, well-paid jobs, but it is looking at staff reductions of 25%, which worries me greatly.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

I will, of course, take an intervention from my hon. Friend—the hon. Lady who is a previous Chair of the Transport Committee.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

I thank my predecessor for all the amazing work she did on the Transport Committee, as well as today with the climate change report. She is absolutely right. When the Government bring out their sector renewal programme for aviation—I hope we will hear more from the Minister on that—I hope we will see incentives for greening aviation. That must be the future.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

I will make a little more progress as I have only a few minutes left, and I might then take one or two more interventions. I wish, certainly from the Government Benches, to touch on the opportunity for more competition in the market. If airlines are not going to expand, and if they are to cut their workforce drastically, I would like the way that we allocate slots at our airports to be changed dramatically. If companies such as British Airways do not have the staff to continue to utilise the slots—hon. Members should bear in mind that from a legacy perspective BA has 51% of Heathrow slots—I would like those slots to be auctioned to new entrants to the market, so that we can make more money and see a bit more responsibility. Those are good free-market principles, and once we leave the European Union, we can start to make such changes. I know we are somewhat bound by IATA rules, but so is the US and it still makes its own rules. I urge the Government to look at the competition argument for slot reallocation.

Jobs and redundancies are a huge worry, and 30,000 jobs in the aviation sector have already been directly put at risk. Virgin and Ryanair have each suffered 3,500 job losses, and easyJet has lost 4,500. The Transport Committee report made clear that redundancies were inevitable with such a drop in passenger numbers, but I am afraid I must make a special mention of British Airways, our national flag carrier. Of its 42,000 staff, 12,000 jobs have been put at risk. Across the board, those members of staff were given the option of taking voluntary redundancy, and if they did not sign a settlement agreement they would lose their staff travel allowance, or they had effectively to reapply for their old jobs on terms that had not been set out. That was a big Russian roulette gamble for them and a big risk. If they did not agree to voluntary redundancy they could be looking at reductions in terms and conditions at more than 50%. For them not to even know those conditions when being given such a choice is, in my view, absolutely shoddy treatment, especially at a time when British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group, is looking to spend €1 billion on a new airliner, and 66% of its profits was put in by British Airways staff.

The reason there is so much suspicion about the behaviour of British Airways is because this restructuring has been tried before. This was dusted off, and there is a perception and a feeling, and I think the evidence, that the pandemic has provided the perfect backdrop for BA to start paying its staff on low-cost terms. If that is the case, why do I have pay premium for that to occur?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that premium brands are built on people, and it is incumbent on companies that aspire to be a premium brand to treat their people in a way consistent with that?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend is right. Across the House we expect the best from our premium brands if they are to be our flag carriers. If a company is saying to its staff, “You might be required to allow us to put you out of work for eight-weeks during the year without pay”—that is two months—“and at other times we might effectively put you on furlough without pay”, how on earth is a member of staff supposed to react?

What I would say before I take one more intervention—[Interruption.] I will not take another intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker. I see an opportunity for British Airways here. It is fair to say that the new chief executive, Luis Gallego, is a thoughtful and reasonable man who is two days into his job. I do not believe he will have the same scorched earth approach to industrial relations as his predecessor. There is still time, because these terms have not yet come out, for British Airways to do the right thing. Perhaps it will do what Ryanair has done and said, “There is a 20% pay cut across the board, for everybody. That pay will be returned when better times come.” We know that our aviation sector has better times to come. I say to IAG’s chief executive: it is not too late, you still have time to do the right thing and protect your workforce and your brand. On that note, Madam Deputy Speaker, I give way completely and allow the debate to continue.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy and for understanding that a great many people wish to speak this afternoon. We will therefore begin with a time limit of five minutes, and I call Abena Oppong-Asare.

--- Later in debate ---
Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Sep 2020, 3:16 p.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

10 Sep 2020, 3:18 p.m.

On behalf of myself and the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken with such passion and determination for the aviation sector. I particularly thank all those who have waited so patiently after putting in to speak but have not been able to. It is incredibly frustrating that an aviation sector worth £28 billion to our economy that employs 230,000 people directly and over 1 million through the supply chain does not get more than two hours of debate in which we can show our concern, but I do hope that those voices have been heard.

I welcome the views, determination and commitment of the Minister and the Government to stand by the aviation sector. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead and I want to ensure that there is a collaborative approach, where we work with the Government to truly see better times ahead for the aviation sector.

I also thank all the amazing workforce who have got in touch with the Transport Committee. They are the kindest, most loyal people and workforce that I have ever come across, and they are well represented by their unions.

I want to send a message not just to the Government but to employers. We have used BA as the poster child here, and it is not too late to turn back. There is a new chief executive of BA’s parent group and I say to them: please change your mind and stand by your workforce; stand up for that great badge on your airliner, which is supposed to demonstrate the best of Britain; and do the best for your workforce.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the aviation sector.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are now going to suspend very briefly. Once both Dispatch Boxes have been sanitised and the main players are here, we will commence the next debate, and there will be a three-minute limit after the introduction.

International Travel

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Monday 7th September 2020

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

7 Sep 2020, 12:02 a.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to look at islands separately from certain mainland territories. May I also ask him to give a little more detail on his thought processes with regards to testing? He is absolutely right that this has to be all about proportionality. On the one hand, there are many in this country who have forgone their holiday abroad, and it is right that they are not put at more risk of getting the virus than those who have gone abroad. Equally, there may well be the testing capability, not at day one, which we know does not work with any reliability, but perhaps a certain number of days afterwards, which could allow quarantine to be ended and the aviation industry to get much needed support. So on the scale of zero to 14 days, is he looking at about the day eight period for where there will be that proportionality on safety? Also, he mentioned that the House would know more in the coming weeks; may I push him to be a little more specific about when the House is likely to see a different approach come in?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 2nd July 2020

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Given the restrictions on public transport at the moment, it is vital that we look for alternative forms of transport to boost our economic activity. I welcome the news that e-scooters will be rolled out. The Transport Committee began its inquiry on that yesterday, so the timing is appreciated. There was some confusion as to whether driving licences will be required for e-scooters, which I believe may be due to a technicality. It would be a great shame if e-scooters were available only to those who drive a car.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Covid-19: Aviation

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd June 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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3 Jun 2020, 11:30 a.m.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on covid-19 and the economic impact on aviation.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Kelly Tolhurst)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3 Jun 2020, 12:43 p.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving aviation workers in your constituency and across the nation the chance to have their voice heard. I am grateful to the Minister for being a tireless champion for the sector.

This is a hugely challenging time for the aviation economy. Job losses are inevitable, but many of us are concerned that companies are using the pandemic as a justification to slash jobs and employment terms—step forward British Airways, the only airline that is effectively sacking its entire 42,000 workforce and replacing it with 30,000 jobs on inferior terms. BA has tried that before, but its workforce resisted. It is ethically outrageous that our national flag carrier is doing that when the nation is at its weakest and when we expect the country to do its bit.

May I ask the Government to use their full weight to stop unscrupulous employers using the pandemic as a chance to slash terms and conditions? Will the Department ask the Civil Aviation Authority to undertake an urgent review of reallocating lucrative landing slots at Heathrow to companies such as British Airways that indicate that they are downsizing, and perhaps handing them to companies that wish to expand and take on workers? BA has 51% of Heathrow landing slots, including the most profitable to John F. Kennedy airport. Will the Government change the job retention scheme to stop employers using it while simultaneously putting employees on redundancy notice?

On quarantine, that is the wrong policy at the worst possible time for the aviation sector and the economy. It gives companies such as BA justification for shedding staff and worsening terms and conditions. Thirteen of our 15 most popular international destinations have a lower R rate than we do. Will the Government commit to reviewing quarantine, bringing in air bridges from safer destinations, and developing an immediate exit strategy to allow the aviation sector to plan ahead? The situation is grave, but there is still time to save the aviation sector with further Government support and action to ensure that companies such as British Airways do their patriotic duty and stand by their hard-working and loyal staff, rather than deserting them.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Covid-19: Transport

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Tuesday 12th May 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and all the work that he and his team have done. He seems to be saying that self-distancing on public transport is best practice but not an absolute requirement and that PPE should be the fallback. In that regard, does he think we will have enough PPE supplies to protect our key workers and travellers? Also, seeing as we are a stoic bunch and perhaps not used to wearing face coverings, will he consider giving them away free at terminal stations and places where people use transport to ensure people use them?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 May 2020, 12:04 a.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 12th March 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 Mar 2020, 10:30 a.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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12 Mar 2020, 10:30 a.m.

May I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s decision, in principle at least, that something needs to be done about the rules of pavement parking outside of London? Will he join me in urging people to commit to the consultation and, if there is a case for change, ensure time in this place to deliver it for vulnerable people in this country?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Flybe

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 5th March 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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5 Mar 2020, 11:25 a.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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On behalf of the Transport Committee, I want to express sympathy for the passengers inconvenienced and, in particular, the staff, who will be devastated and to whom I hope better things will come. Airline insolvency reform was in the Queen’s Speech. I know that the Minister works hard for business, but I want to press her: when will there be an opportunity to introduce legislation, so that we can help airlines as they either unwind or are able to recover?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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5 Mar 2020, 11:29 a.m.

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.

Airport Expansion

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Monday 2nd March 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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2 Mar 2020, 4:24 p.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 4:28 p.m.

There are many who take the view that big-ticket infrastructure projects such as Heathrow expansion will provide both the funding and the challenge to allow our scientists, engineers and innovators to deliver not only that project but similar infrastructure projects and market them around the world in places where they really do leave a big carbon footprint. The Minister has rightly said that this issue is a legal matter for the determination of the courts and a commercial matter for Heathrow; will she confirm that, if Heathrow is successful at the Supreme Court, the Government will not intervene to stop expansion occurring?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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2 Mar 2020, 4:28 p.m.

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.

Transport

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Wednesday 5th February 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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5 Feb 2020, 5:06 p.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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5 Feb 2020, 3:54 p.m.

I thank all the colleagues who supported me—or told me they did—in the election for the Transport Committee, which it is a great privilege to chair. I have not done much for diversity, because I think I am the first male to chair it. There is a serious issue with diversity in the transport sector, and I recognise that I am not exactly waving the flag for that. I also want to thank the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who chaired the Committee previously with such rigour. She was an incredibly popular Chair, and it is a delight to see her back on the Committee. She has promised not to be a backseat driver, but another formidable female politician once said the same thing in this place. I am happy to be driven from the back.

It is a delight to speak on such a wide-ranging motion tabled by the Opposition. I do not agree with many parts of it, but I welcome the fact that we are debating them, and none more so than the need to decarbonise our transport sector. We have had great success in reducing emissions by 40% since the 1990s. Pretty much every sector except transport has reduced emissions over the past few years. It has remained stubbornly difficult to reduce transport’s footprint. Surface transport accounts for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and transport as a whole accounts for 33%. In fact, between 2014 and 2016, emissions from transport went up, so it is clearly the sector that needs the most focus, and I welcome the fact that it is getting that focus today.

I want to talk about some of the exciting innovations in the transport sector that we need to harness and encourage in order to meet our net zero carbon commitment.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is it not interesting that the Secretary of State is the only person in the debate so far to mention hydrogen, the true zero-emission product that can help us to achieve the goals set out by the Government?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. In fact, I was just about to talk about hydrogen, so that is a brilliant segue.

The Transport Committee visited the engineer who first retrofitted a conventional train with hydrogen technology. We talk about the need to electrify and move away from diesel, but 2% of the national grid is taken up by electrified rail, and if only 40% of energy is coming from renewables, that means that 60% is still unpleasant. We need to invest in hydrogen, and it is very exciting that we have the engineer in this country who will enable us to do just that.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I will take one more intervention, as I am conscious that others wish to speak.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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5 Feb 2020, 5:14 p.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - -

5 Feb 2020, 5:15 p.m.

The hon. Member is absolutely right. If we are to call it completely green technology, it needs to be as he describes. Perhaps we should have in mind a trip to Yorkshire.

I want to talk about the development of batteries in trains. On the Southern network, for example, there are still two diesel services, even though there is usually a third rail, because part of it does not have the third rail and the services therefore need diesel all the way through. The idea with batteries is that we charge and then use them for the part where there is no third rail. As I have mentioned, that incredibly exciting technology will allow us to move away from diesel.

I want to touch on parts of the motion that involve a more wide-ranging set of issues. There is the desire to cut rail and bus fares, and I absolutely agree that we should be looking to lessen increases in rail fares. It is very frustrating that we still use RPI rather than CPI to calculate rail fare increases; in the past year, fares would have gone up by 2.5% instead of 3.1%. The challenge is that a third of all the train operators’ costs go on employing staff, and if the staff continue to be paid on an RPI basis it will be very difficult to move that over.

I am excited by the ideas on fare reform that have been put forward mostly under the guise of the Williams review. It is absolutely ludicrous that those travelling to work for three days of the week, perhaps working from home during the rest of the week, are still unable to get a three-day-week ticket. That can make it too expensive for people to commute, so I would welcome such a reform.

I would dearly love to see automatic rail compensation. The train operators take the money they receive from Network Rail when there are delays, but two thirds of passengers who experience a delay do not claim compensation, so the rest is banked by the train operators. I would like them to have to ring-fence that money in a fund, and to invest in technology that allows us to tap on and tap off the train, so that if the train is delayed by more than 15 or 30 minutes, we would get compensation into our bank account without even needing to know that we had been delayed. We must get the train operators to deliver that technology, so that commuters and passengers feel that they are getting value for money, or at least that they are getting compensated when they have not had value for money.

I will not mention HS2, because I fear that will come up in many other debates, but I certainly envisage the Committee looking at it. However, I do want to talk about buses. Three out of five of all public transport journeys are undertaken by bus, yet it just does not receive the attention it should. I am looking at my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), and he and I may be about to disagree, but when he was the Buses Minister, we had the Bus Services Act 2017. I really felt it should be a case of franchising for all authorities that wanted it, followed by partnerships and then followed by municipals in situations where partnerships and franchises did not work. I know the view was to stop further municipals, but if we now say to local authorities, “If developers aren’t building out, then you build council houses and compete with them”, why can we not do the same thing when the bus service disappears?

On the buses strategy, may we examine more closely whether deregulation is working? With train operators, the trains are paid for by the passengers who use them, so there is no subsidy as far as that is concerned, yet we tell the train operators when the trains stop and how often. However, when it comes to buses, which receive a £2 billion public sector subsidy, we do not impose the same conditions, so bus services may disappear, or get rerouted so that they no longer pass the GP’s surgery.

The buses strategy, which I absolutely welcome, needs to set out some teeth in terms of what bus service providers provide to our constituents. I say that very much looking at my new parliamentary party, with colleagues from parts of the north that we have not represented before, where the bus is even more of an essential service than in other parts we have previously reached. I very much hope that we will have the power, on the Conservative Benches, to ensure that bus services are properly restored. I also ask why young people cannot get to places of Saturday or part-time work because the bus service is too expensive or does not exist, yet we allow millionaire pensioners to receive free bus travel. It is essential that we ask these very searching questions.

We have talked about aviation; it is going to be incredibly difficult to green, but I disagree with the Liberal Democrats’ amendment that we should not proceed with Heathrow. We need to demonstrate that we can still build big.

I do not have time to talk about motor vehicles, but 70% of the footprint is motor vehicles, and a third of all journeys taken by e-scooters would have been by car. We must legalise e-scooters.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5 Feb 2020, 5:24 p.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Thursday 30th January 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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30 Jan 2020, 9:37 a.m.

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.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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30 Jan 2020, 9:37 a.m.

I should like to join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for the way in which she has chaired the Transport Committee over the past two years. She has done so with great fairness, and she probed with great diligence as well. I want to give her my thanks for that, and she is also a wonderful friend.

When it comes to road safety, there is great concern that school safety is at risk. Would it be possible to set up a programme of investment so that the most dangerous schools can get the necessary technology and 20 mph speed limits put in place? That would also encourage the use of walking buses.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2020, 9:38 a.m.

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.

Flybe

Huw Merriman Excerpts
Tuesday 14th January 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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14 Jan 2020, 12:49 p.m.

I am certain that the Treasury has heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments loud and clear.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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14 Jan 2020, 12:49 p.m.

Many airlines that face these types of difficulties would get more certainty and would be more able to get through them if they were allowed to continue to operate while in administration. Airlines in the States have done just that, and have returned and are now succeeding. Will the Government look into that type of reform when they press on with the insolvency review, which I hope will happen in the early part of this Parliament?

Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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14 Jan 2020, 12:49 p.m.

I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome the airline insolvency Bill and the work going on, in the light of the Green Paper, to improve consumer protection across the airline sector as a whole.