Covid-19:International Travel

James Sunderland Excerpts
Monday 24th May 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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It is a real pleasure, Ms Fovargue, to serve with you as Chair, and I apologise for being chronologically challenged.

My contention today is that there is a real policy inconsistency between the success of our vaccination programme and the ongoing caution in our travel sector, and I will make three points, if I may. First, I would urge countries that are successful in their own vaccination roll-outs to open up and send people here, and a negative test result and/or a covid passport should be enough for travel to be fully resumed. Secondly, there is a need for clarity—something akin to the UK road map—around why each country is on which list and when they are likely to be moved between lists. Thirdly, as I said earlier, we need to support those who are employed by the travel sector. As we know, UK airlines have announced over 30,000 job cuts so far. That is devastating, and I suspect that more support is still needed for this important sector, along with support for hospitality and leisure.

To start with, the Government should be commended for the success of our vaccination roll-out programme, which is one of the best vaccination programmes in the world. To put it in statistical terms, as of yesterday there have been 37 million first doses and 22 million second doses—over 60 million in total, as one of my hon. Friends said. It is the best vaccination programme for any country with a population of more than 20 million people, with 89% of all adults having received one or two doses of the vaccine. We need to move as soon as possible to reconnect friends and family across the world who have been unable to spend time together throughout the pandemic.

The speed at which we open up our travel sector is paramount, and we must prioritise business travel to countries where the national vaccination programmes have proved successful, such as the United States, which will lift the burden on our travel sector to a certain degree. And we need one or other countries to be added at this point in time to the green list, too.

The reasons for travel are multifarious, as we have heard. Travel is about leisure, family, business, emergency travel and of course holidays—and why not? In the UK, 76% of people are deemed to have plans to fly abroad in the next 12 months. In 2019, over 21 million trips were made by air for the purpose of visiting friends and family overseas. Also, the figures of the Business Travel Association, whose member travel management companies account for more than 90% of all travel booked in the UK, equate to 6.4 million journeys and 32 million transactions, resulting in £220 billion of UK GDP in a typical year. And that is just by air. These figures are eye-watering and our economy depends upon travel. However, the resumption of business travel can only begin in earnest once the green list is updated. As I mentioned earlier and as I will say again now, it must also include major business hubs, such as New York, Singapore, Frankfurt and Dubai. And that is just a start.

What about Bracknell? My constituency is very important to me. I have 15 travel agency businesses that employ people in Bracknell; my constituents work at Heathrow, Gatwick and beyond; we have hundreds of jobs in the travel and tour operators sector in Bracknell; and there are literally thousands of people who want and need to get away, and that is not next month, but now. We need to open up comprehensively as quickly as possible. And, of course, our country is global; it is part of the international diasporas. It depends upon global trade and global movement, and it is movement that remains essential to getting our economy up and running once again.

To conclude, it is now time to get back to normal. Yes, new variants, such as the Indian mutation, are worrying, but mankind has lived under the spectre of new viruses for centuries and thankfully has mitigated this one with our fantastic vaccination programme. So it is now time to open up safely, and life, as we know it, has to go on.