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Clause 39 — Code of practice on local authority publicity

Part of Mental Health Outcomes (Measurement) – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 17th December 2013.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 3:45 pm, 17th December 2013

This is barmy. It is absolutely crackers that we are spending parliamentary time on this matter. I receive Hillingdon People from my Conservative-controlled local authority. On virtually every page, there is a picture of a smiling Conservative councillor pointing at something, standing on something or expressing some view. Interspersed with the smiling photographs is genuine information about what is happening in the local community. People tell me that the newspaper is an ideal size for lining a hamster cage, so it serves some useful purpose in the local area.

Today, the Government have announced the commission report on the expansion of aviation, which includes the threat to my constituency from the third runway. I have been assured that there will be cross-party opposition on my council to the Government’s proposals. We will use Hillingdon People to explain the proposals that have been introduced. We have used it in the past to explain the proposals of all political parties. Undoubtedly, views will be expressed by councillors on a cross-party basis condemning the commission’s proposals and, almost certainly, the Government’s approach. Does that mean that we will then be hauled before the Secretary of State to be advised on the words that we can use about this matter and on the way in which Hillingdon People will be used?

The one good thing about local newspapers is that they reflect local opinion. There might be an overbalance of photographs of a certain party, but for all that they are a useful tool in mobilising local opinion around a local issue, and they are campaigning tools for a local authority in genuinely reflecting the views of the local populace who elected them.

My local council has certainly consulted local people and supported local meetings to ensure that people can express their views on the extension of Heathrow. It has then reflected those views in Hillingdon People, and launched campaigns on the basis of what local people have said. At my last public meeting on this matter, a campaign called “Back Heathrow” was spuriously launched by the aviation industry to support Heathrow airport expansion. It was completely funded by Heathrow airport and run by its public relations agency. People then said to me that Hillingdon People should be used to put out accurate information, rather than the spurious propaganda that the airport was putting out. I am anxious that my local authority, which will go on the stomp on this issue, may be debarred from using Hillingdon People to explain what its views are and to campaign against the expansion of Heathrow airport.

I would be grateful to the Minister if we heard his views. By the looks of it, he will now be the editor-in-chief of Hillingdon People, so I would welcome his views now before we put a foot wrong. Is it in order, under this Bill, for Hillingdon council to use Hillingdon People to campaign against Heathrow expansion and to disseminate information that will be opposed to the commission’s views and what seems to be the emerging view about a third runway at Heathrow?