Kerry McCarthy – 2020 Speech on Brexit and Civil Aviation

Below is the text of the speech made by Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East, in the House of Commons on 10 June 2020.

It has been some four years since I stood at this Dispatch Box, so it is a pleasure to be back. I took part in Transport orals a few weeks ago, but that was on one of the screens above us. I am very pleased to be here shadowing the Minister today. We have already established a constructive relationship. We debated our first statutory instrument together yesterday in Committee. As I said to her, I will be writing to her and scrutinising what she does, but in a spirit of constructive working. We have the decarbonisation of transport brief and the EU transition brief, both of which are incredibly important in the current circumstances.

The statutory instrument that we are discussing today is uncontroversial in that we accept that, now that Britain has left the European Union and the end of the transition period is in sight, we need to transfer relevant powers away from the European Commission and to the Secretary of State for Transport as smoothly as possible. I understand, a number of statutory instruments will be issuing forth from the Minister in the coming months, and that could be seen as a mechanistic process to ensure continuity. That does not mean to say, however, that we will not scrutinise and challenge if we have concerns about the way that the Government are doing things.​

As the Minister said, the function of the measure is to ensure that there are minimum insurance requirements for air carriers and aircraft operators in respect of passengers’ baggage, cargo and third parties. My understanding is that that stems from the 1999 Montreal convention, whereby airlines are responsible for compensation in the case of death and injury to passengers, and are required to be adequately insured to cover any liabilities. The EU civil aviation insurance regulation sets out the minimum level required.

I have one question, which the Minister may have answered in her opening remarks. Given that the statutory instrument transfers power from the European Commission to the Secretary of State to set those minimum requirements, and that he—or she in future—can do so by regulation, is there potentially a risk that the minimum insurance levels will not be the same as they would be if we were still part of the EU scheme? I think that is quite an important point to note.

The statutory instrument is one of many that the Government are having to rush through Parliament as a result of what I would say is an unnecessary focus on an arbitrary date in our exit from the transition period. Given the limitations on parliamentary scrutiny at the moment because of the need for social distancing and the fact that not as many Members can take part in proceedings, as well as the delay that we have had over the past few months, there is a danger that we could be rushing delegated legislation rather than giving it the proper attention that it deserves. Given the need for certainty for the people who will be affected by such legislation, we do not want a logjam towards the end of the year, giving rise to uncertainty about whether arrangements will be put in place or not.

The fact that we have now got started, and that we have dealt with two of the statutory instruments this week, is a good start. I do not think, however, that fixing in law the end date for the transition period has been beneficial to the legislative process, and I am uneasy about the apparent lack of progress in ongoing negotiations with the European Union. The concerns about a damaging exit at the end of the year are very real. That is particularly important for the aviation industry, given that we are in a time of unprecedented economic upheaval for the sector.

The aviation sector’s need for certainty has never been greater. Brexit will inevitably have an impact on a business that is, by its very nature, about crossing borders and relationships with other countries, and the global pandemic has hit aviation especially hard. There has been a devastating collapse in air traffic of approximately 90%, which is putting at risk an economically vital industry that supports 230,000 jobs.

We need clarity from the Government on three major policy areas. The first is the one that we are discussing today—the legislation related to the European Union and the transition period. We also need clarity on the financial support for the industry, and on the nature of the measures that the industry must implement to avoid further spread of covid-19.

I am pleased that today we are establishing a degree of clarity on one aspect, as it relates to the EU transition period, but confusion still reigns over the Government’s quarantine for new arrivals, and we continue to wait for a specific conditional support package for the aviation industry. I and my colleagues in the shadow Transport ​team are very happy to work with Ministers to try to ensure that the aviation industry is given the certainty, the clarity, the direction and the support that it needs.