Andy McDonald – 2020 Speech on Flybe

Below is the text of the speech made by Andy McDonald, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, in the House of Commons on 14 January 2020.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing this important urgent question. It is agreed on both sides of the House that Flybe, a great British brand, is a hugely important regional airline that provides a vital lifeline and connectivity for many of our communities. News of its difficulties will worry workers and passengers alike.

There is clearly a case for Government intervention, and I trust the Government will learn the lessons from their inept response to the Thomas Cook collapse, which saw other nation states being prepared to step in while this Government sat on their hands and contacted the company only after it was too late. We cannot have a repeat of that debacle. Flybe’s workers and passengers deserve better.

What restructuring plan has been agreed as part of the Government’s support, and what discussions is the Secretary of State having with the trade unions Unite and the British Airline Pilots Association? Will the Minister and the Secretary of State commit to ensuring those unions are fully engaged in the process?

The Government must avoid simply feathering the nests of the new consortium, including Virgin Atlantic and the Stobart group. Surely they knew the scale of the financial challenges facing them when they acquired the business. What was known to the new owners at the time of their acquisition? Prior to the acquisition, did they seek assurances on Government assistance and an indication of the Government’s intentions for APD? What discussions is the Minister having with the industry about transitioning to greater sustainability, including electric flights, and about whether current plans are compatible with reducing emissions?

Slashing air passenger duty across the board would make a mockery of the Government’s supposed commitment to climate emissions. It would also benefit a wealthy minority. Some 70% of UK flights are made by a wealthy 15% of the population, with the great majority of people not flying at all. Aviation is set to be the biggest source of emissions by 2050, with Ministers planning for demand to double.

The Government’s own advisory body on climate change has said that the UK is “way off track” to meet its climate change targets. Rather than proposing to slash aviation tax, will the Minister not listen to the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change for a frequent flyer levy that would remove people who fly just once a year from taxation while making wealthy frequent flyers pay more?

I encourage the Minister to do all he can to support Flybe and its workforce, and to protect passengers, but can he assure the House that his Government will simultaneously and fully accept their responsibility to protect the planet?