John McDonnell MP
With Heathrow in my constituency, naturally I am worried about what is happening in both aviation and tourism. The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in my constituency has risen by more than 220% in the first year of the pandemic, so there is an urgent need for action.
I will make four brief points. First, I agree with the criticisms of the Government’s list system made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). The system is confusing and ineffective, and it needs reform based on the data we now have, but whatever system we use, it needs to be properly resourced. Also, there has been a lack of sufficient staffing support for border control at Heathrow. That has put existing staff under intense pressure, and even put their health at risk.
My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) raised the issue of the quarantine system resulting at times in the abysmal treatment of families who have been forced to quarantine at great expense. On arrival at Heathrow, they have been crowded on to buses, often unsafely, and they often find that the booking for their original accommodation has been cancelled. When placed in accommodation, they are provided, exactly as my hon. Friend said, with inedible, inadequate or unsuitable food.
Secondly, my constituents—the workers in those sectors—want to get back to work and to get back to earning a decent living, but they know that doing so safely will take time. They are not unrealistic about that, so it is critical that the Government recognise the fact that some sectors will need continuing support. As my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) said, precipitously ending the furlough scheme and the financial support being provided now will force many of my constituents into either losing their job or having their wages cut even further. The Government need to provide some certainty and reassurance to the companies and the workers in those sectors that there will be continuing support to get them through the remainder of the pandemic.
My third point, regrettably, is that the appalling practice of fire and rehire, which has taken hold in our economy, started initially on any scale at Heathrow. Thanks to Unite, we fought off the worst aspects of the first wave of that attack on my constituents, but that does not mean that the threat has gone away. Other companies are persisting in what is effectively workplace bullying. That is why we need urgent legislation to ban the practice, not the mealy-mouthed, broken-promise approach that we have seen from the Government so far.
My fourth point is that, as we come through the current crisis brought on by the pandemic, we need to recognise that we must face up to the next crisis, which is the existential threat of climate change. The Climate Change Committee today criticised the Government for setting wonderful targets with no means to deliver them, and that is exactly the situation in aviation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) said, we need a sustainable aviation strategy, and we need it fast. It should be based on a clear, just transition programme so that communities such as mine are given resources to develop a local economic strategy that will ensure we benefit from the environmentally sustainable aviation sector and have access to skilled and well-paid jobs in other developing sectors of the economy. We need that urgently, if not tomorrow.
Finally, as a west London MP, I want to say this: let us end the ludicrous nonsense that building a third runway will in any way comply with our climate change duties.