Summer Adjournment

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 4:07 pm on 22nd July 2008.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 4:07 pm, 22nd July 2008

I cannot match the exotic invitations to Devon, Mongolia or the A11, but I wish to raise a couple of matters of concern to my constituents. I start, inevitably, with Heathrow.

Last night, Members may have seen the "Panorama" exposé of the Government's decision-making process on the development of Heathrow airport and the information about it obtained by various freedom of information requests. It confirmed that the decision to allow the expansion of Heathrow was made on the basis of information that was "doctored"—it is the only way to describe it—by BAA. That doctoring included the invention of an aeroplane that does not exist yet and is not likely to exist because no manufacturer is willing to create it. That was included in the modelling for the air pollution and noise estimates.

Allegations were also made in the programme about collusion between Government officials and BAA. It is now time, as I have said in an early-day motion that I have tabled today, for a full public inquiry into the decision-making about Heathrow by this Government. It is clear that the Government must now reject all further expansion at Heathrow, because the undoctored evidence demonstrates that if the Government allow it, they will not be able to meet European directive restrictions on air and noise pollution.

I hope that hon. Members will find time today and when we return to sign that early-day motion and that the Government will reject further expansion at Heathrow. I hope that at the same time we can have that inquiry into how a Government can make a policy decision that is based on information doctored by a private company.

The next matter that I want to raise is the BBC resources section. I have constituents who work there, including Mr. Mark Cody, to whom I pay tribute. He has soldiered on, exposing what is happening in that section of the BBC. Some hon. Members will remember that we had a debate earlier in the year in which we drew out some of the information about what is happening with the BBC and its licence. We were then told that the BBC resources section, which includes studio production, post-production and outside broadcasting, was to be sold off. The target was £150 million of income. We now know that £3.4 million has been spent on consultants and advisers to sell off BBC resources, yet only one division—the outside broadcasting division—has been sold, for £19.3 million. The rest of the negotiations have collapsed.

All that money has been spent, and the worst thing for my constituents—in particular for Mr. Mark Cody, who has explained this to me and to others through his union, the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union, is that members of staff have been left virtually in the dark. They have been offered various commitments about protection through TUPE—the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006—if their division is sold off, yet that protection amounts to very little, particularly when it comes to the threat to their pensions, their future wages and their working conditions.

I urge the BBC to start to consult the union properly, to ensure that there is openness and transparency and to ensure that people like Mark Cody are kept fully informed. At the moment, if he is transferred at some future stage, there will be a pension shortfall and he will lose part of his pension, his conditions of service will be undermined and his employment will be threatened. That problem affects loyal staff in a profitable area of the BBC.

Events in another section of the BBC will affect my constituents, too. The BBC is not only outsourcing but offshoring. The latest scheme is to offshore the World Service—the BBC proposes to move major parts of the World Service abroad. The service is directly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so there must have been some consultation with the Government. For example, the south Asian broadcasting service in Urdu, Hindi and Nepali will be transferred offshore to India, Pakistan and Nepal. That section represents a third of the World Service's audience, attracted, of course, by a superb and excellent independent service.

The problem of offshoring the services to those states is that they come within the ambit of local laws. Already, the BBC has been threatened with censorship by the Pakistani authorities as a result of some of the stories that it wanted to produce and broadcast. In addition, staff are being told that they can transfer abroad on lower pay and short-term contracts and to often unstable and unsafe locations, or they can face redundancy. That is a take-it-or-leave-it offer for those staff, many of whom built up the service over the years. It has a standing and credibility across the world that is second to none. None of the issues with the BBC's performance is acceptable. I urge the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to review those matters and to report back to the House.

The final area of concern that has been raised by my constituents is what has been happening at Shelter, the housing charity. Some Members might know, because they have been written to by Shelter's staff, that Shelter's senior management team has been forcing through changes in staff conditions and contracts against the wishes of the majority of staff, 60 per cent. of whom are unionised and represented by the Transport and General Workers Union, now called Unite the Union. That situation has led to industrial action for the first time in the 41 year history of Shelter. Shelter staff report to me that there is demoralisation and key expert staff are leaving as a result of the imposition by management of cuts in wages and working conditions.

That must be a concern to us all. Many Members on both sides of the House have worked with Shelter over the years; it has provided us with an excellent service in briefings and other materials, as well as campaigning on issues such as homelessness. At a time when we have a housing crisis, especially in terms of affordability, and when repossessions are rising, to undermine Shelter is to undermine an organisation that provides us and the homeless with a service.

Interestingly, before the management sought to impose pay and condition cuts on their staff, they gave themselves a significant wage rise. In fact, the chief executive, whom I met, gave himself an 18 per cent. wage rise just before he started sacking his own staff. The staff themselves have had an average pay cut of £2,300. There have been cuts in wages of £800 per annum, and increased hours. We are told that some staff are now having to work three weeks extra for no additional pay, yet the headquarters has been cosmetically refurbished for £750,000, and £500,000 has been spent on consultants to advise the management on how to cut the wages and conditions of the staff.

I urge the Shelter board to intervene. I have met the chief executive of Shelter, who says that this is actually to do with the way in which contracts are awarded by the Government. If that is the case, I urge the Government to meet the Shelter board to resolve the problem before this essential organisation is undermined. We must not undermine Shelter's status and the services that it provides to Members of this House and to homeless people as a result of its campaigning. It would be a tragedy, in this year when we need the organisation so much, if it were undermined by the way in which its brutal management are dealing with its dedicated staff.

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