A Question Time audience member said it is “insulting” that the government is helping struggling airline Flybe instead of concentrating on tackling the climate crisis.
The woman said the futures of the younger generation “are being put behind the priorities of bailing out big plane companies” after Boris Johnson’s Conservative government agreed to keep Flybe afloat.
This comes after a compelling interview with Sir David Attenborough in which the celebrated conservationist and presenter told the BBC “the moment of crisis has come” and climate change can no longer be avoided.
The 93-year-old Blue Planet filmmaker criticised the progress that governments had made and said that people, especially young people, can see the problem so governments need to act.
The topic was brought up on Question Time on Thursday evening when an audience member asked: ‘Will reducing passenger duty only lead to more domestic flights and worsen the climate crisis?’
The government is under mounting pressure to explain the deal it struck with Flybe, as rivals have demanded answers and threatened court action.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary threatened action against the government if it did not offer a “tax holiday” to all airlines, after it was widely reported that Flybe had been allowed by HM Revenue and Customs to defer its monthly Air Passenger Duty (APD) payments.
QT presenter Fiona Bruce, turning to Helen Whately, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, and said: “It’s not entirely clear what the government is doing to help the ailing regional airline Flybe.
“What are you doing? Are you going to be reducing passenger duty in order to help them out?”
Ms Whately, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, said Flybe operates a third of the domestic flights in the UK and “connects parts of the UK that are really hard to get to by any other means”.
However, she added: “I can’t go into the detail of what may or may not have been agreed with Flybe.”
Pushed by Ms Bruce if there would be a reduction, Ms Whately said a review of passenger duty is underway but that she “can’t speculate on the outcome”.
She went on to emphasise that the Conservative “commitment to go zero carbon in 2050” must “happen hand in hand with people being able to get around in the UK”.
Fellow guest, Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s Shadow Attorney General of England and Wales, said: “It seems to me it is often too cheap to fly within this relatively small country but too expensive to get the train.”
Ms Bruce backed this up by quoting an example on a given day where going via Flybe from Exeter to Manchester cost £68 but by rail was £141.
Ms Chakrabarti said: “I understand it must be very difficult in government when people are going to be losing their jobs and no doubt your review will involve consulting the trade unions and the people who actually stand to lose their jobs, but in the end as David Attenborough said in his compelling interview, this is an emergency and this is now.
“We need to take urgent action. That means not cutting air passenger duty, that means investing and yes…people need jobs and people need to travel but we need to invest in jobs in a green revolution and the travel should be by train and not flying short distances within these islands.”
Ms Whately specified she was referring to places like the Scilly Isles which can’t be reached by train and take a long time via boat when referring to more isolated areas.
She said: “Absolutely we want to be investing in other forms of transport and rail is a very high priority.”
An audience member said: “I find it quite insulting as a member of the younger generation that our futures are being put behind the priorities of bailing out big plane companies when our government can’t even put climate change as a priority.
“They can’t even fund any steps towards it so why are we letting plane companies just [get bailed out],” she added.
Ms Bruce asked her: “Do you think you’d feel like that if you worked for that plane company?”
She responded: “It’s a difficult issue with employment but we need to put in steps to have some kind of other employment that relies on more renewable sources and we need to stop relying on fossil fuels as much for employment.”