eNews for June 2020

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Dear Friends

Here is my eNews for June 2020. 

Yours sincerely
Valerie Vaz

Motion on proceedings during the pandemic
On Tuesday 2 June 2020 in the debate, I opposed the Government’s reckless decision to prematurely scrap semi-virtual proceedings and remote voting. This was a dangerous step and put MPs and House staff at unnecessary risk. I urged the Leader of the House to co-operate, discuss and agree a way forward which ensured fair and equal treatment of all MPs so they could represent their constituents.
Business Questions
Following the Leader of the House’s decision to end remote voting and semi-virtual parliamentary proceedings, I responded to the Business on Thursday 4 June 2020. MPs were forced to stand and wait in long queues and those who were unable to get to Parliament were unable to vote. That image of our Parliament is going to live with this Government forever—time wasting, shambolic, breaking the rules, putting people’s lives at risk. As schools began returning from lockdown, I also asked the Government to clarify their position on what schools should do in the event of an outbreak. A school recently had to close because seven teachers had contracted the virus – the Government must do more to support teachers, parents and pupils.
Early Day Motion: George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign
I signed the Early Day Motion (EDM) #564 in solidarity with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign. The death of George Floyd has shone a light on the racism and hatred experienced by many across the world, including in our own country. I stand in solidarity with the friends, family and community of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Racism is not solely an issue in the USA but also one that we experience here in the UK. We must challenge institutional racism and address the racial disparities in our criminal justice system.
Emergency Debate Standing Order 24
An emergency debate was held in Parliament on Monday 8 June 2020 under the rules of SO24 which is a rule where an MP asks the Speaker to allow time for an emergency debate.  The topic was House business during the pandemic, and I responded on behalf of the Opposition. I argued that the Leader of the House has created a two-class membership of Members and has driven away the right of everyone to take part. Parliament has a duty to keep people safe and going back to the hybrid system, with remote voting, would have been the right thing to do for MPs and their constituents.
Early Day Motion on Legal Aid and Advice
I signed EDM #559 which asks that the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 should be annulled. Legal aid is on its knees after a decade of austerity and the impact of COVID-19 on the justice system. Access to justice for the most vulnerable is undermined by this legislation. It changes the threshold at which firms can claim an hourly rate, all work up to the value of £1,881 will be paid at the fixed fee rate. It will no longer be financially viable for legal aid practitioners to represent clients in complex cases.
Business Questions 11 June 2020
I  responded to the Business Statement and urged the Government to take action to end racial inequality. The McGregor-Smith review found that helping Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people to progress in their careers could add £24 billion to the economy. This is not just an economic issue, it is a moral issue too. The report gave signposts for action, but the Government have failed to act on its recommendations.  The Government has failed to act on a number of reports into racial inequality: the Public Health England report, the Lammy report and the Windrush report. These reports are so numerous that I hope they are not becoming a footstool for the relevant Minister in the Race Disparity Unit. I asked the Prime Minister to make a statement setting out points of action and a timeframe to address racial inequality.
Network Rail abandon proposed plan for Bescot Sleeper Rail Factory
I am delighted that Network Rail has pulled out of this application. Having consulted with my constituents, it was clear that local opposition to the development was overwhelming. HGV vehicles carrying aggregate material from the site would have travelled through Walsall South twenty-four hours a day, along a route which passed homes, schools and care homes. I have opposed this development from the outset and first wrote to Network Rail urging them to abandon plans for the site in June 2018. We have campaigned against this scheme for over two years and that hard work has finally paid off.
Opposition Day Debate on Free School Meals (Holidays Without Hunger Campaign)
On Tuesday 16 June 2020 our Opposition Day Debate was held on free school meals. We called on the Government to continue funding the Free School Meal provision throughout the upcoming summer holidays so that children can have a #HolidayWithoutHunger. The campaign successfully forced a Government U-turn on free school meals. In Walsall South, 4,350 children were at risk of going hungry if the government did not offer support for the provision of free school meals. Marcus Rashford added to the pressure on the Government. In a letter to all MPs on Monday 15 June 2020, Marcus wrote: “Can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?” I responded to Marcus’ tweet acknowledging his letter and thanking him for his inspirational personal story. The House resolved that the Government must provide a summer food fund for struggling families, reversing its original position.
Business Questions 18 June 2020
At Business Questions I opposed Government plans to change Sunday Trading laws. Shop workers across the country have kept the shelves stacked and the country going during the coronavirus lockdown. But if the Government’s plans to deregulate Sunday trading go ahead, they will need to work longer weekend hours and miss out on valuable time with family and friends. This is a regressive step and an unfair way to treat those who have worked so hard in challenging circumstances. I also criticised the Government’s decision to get rid of the Department for International Development. We can look at international development, first as reparation for former colonialism. It goes to organisations on the ground to support education, health and economic development. This provides support to people in their own countries so that they do not feel that they must leave their countries to search for a better life somewhere else. Most importantly, this gives people hope and it was the right thing to do.
Landmark court ruling for Museums
A landmark ruling on the rateable valuation of Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) will change the way museums in England and Wales are valued for business rates purposes. I am delighted by this ruling, which could save local museums thousands of pounds. In Walsall we are fortunate to have several excellent local museums and I hope this can lead to some long-term financial relief. The Walsall New Art Gallery and Walsall Leather Museum are two internationally renowned museums which could stand to benefit from this Judgement.
Motion on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS)
On Tuesday 23 June 2020, I responded to a motion which handed complaints of harassment, bullying or sexual harassment against anyone who is or was in the parliamentary community to an independent process. This was a key recommendation of the report by Dame Laura Cox QC on The Bullying and Harassment of House of Commons Staff. I encouraged MPs to vote in support of the Bryant amendment which would prevent any motion related to the suspension or expulsion of an MP for bullying, harassment or sexual harassment from being debated in the Chamber. The amendment passed by 243 votes to 238.
Opposition Day Debate on Westferry Printworks Development
On Wednesday 24 June 2020 we used the first of two Opposition Day Debates to hold a vote requiring the Government to release all correspondence involving ministers and their special advisers concerning the Westferry Printworks Development in east London. The Westferry application and the role of the Housing Secretary has undermined confidence in the planning system. The public must be reassured that there is not one rule for the Tory Government and their wealthy donors and another rule for everyone else. Our vote to release all correspondence was successful and the Government must now answer key questions. Following the release of these documents, Labour have reported the Housing Secretary to the parliamentary watchdog after several discrepancies were revealed.
Opposition Day Debate on testing of NHS and Social Care Staff
Our second Opposition Day Debate was held on the testing of NHS and social care staff. In our motion we thanked the heroic work of frontline NHS staff who have saved lives throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. It is concerning that routine testing of NHS and Social Care staff is not currently in place. We called on the Government to implement a routine weekly testing programme for all NHS and Social Care staff to enable NHS services to safely resume and ensure the continuity of services throughout the winter. The Government voted against our proposal to provide routine weekly testing for NHS and social care staff; it was defeated by 344 votes to 198.
Business Questions 25 June 2020
I called on the Government to ensure local authorities receive the coronavirus data they need to combat the pandemic. This is not nice-to-know data, this is necessary for the public health response in an emergency, yet the Government are failing to share crucial testing data with councils and their public health directors. As lockdown eases, other countries are facing a second wave: this information will be vital to help save lives. I also urged the Government to improve their proposals for school funding. £1 billion has been allocated to help pupils to catch up, but this funding excludes 16 to 19-year-olds and pre-schoolers and will not be available until the 2020-2021 academic school year begins. I asked the Secretary of State for Education to come to the House and clarify this.

Reception Baseline Assessment
I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned about the Government’s plans to introduce the reception baseline assessment for four-year-olds. I have written to Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for School Standards, to raise these concerns and during Business Questions on Thursday 25 June 2020 I called on the Government to abandon these proposals. In the current circumstances, testing 4-year olds in English and Maths is the last thing schools need. These measures will increase teacher workload and is a poor use of their time. Some children will have gone through difficulties with lockdown. Teachers need to support children to settle into school.
Newquay Close
The Planning Inspectorate has refused an application on non determination of the application to fence off public green space adjacent to 14 Newquay Close. I wrote to Walsall Council and the Treasury Solicitor opposing this  application last year and consulted with residents who were opposed to it as they use this land as open green space. There was a lack of clarity over ownership of the land as it was ‘Bona Vacantia’ and passed to the Crown. I welcome the Planning Inspectorate’s decision and I am glad the  residents keep their open space.  The application was refused as the development would have adversely impacted “the character and appearance of the locality, and, the value and function of public open space with particular regard to promoting healthy lifestyles.”
BBC cuts to local political and current affairs reporting
The BBC looks set to end two local current affairs and politics programmes, Inside Out West Midlands and Sunday Politics West Midlands. With over 100 elected representatives of communities across the West Midlands, I have written a joint letter to regional BBC chiefs urging them to protect these important local programmes. Local and regional BBC reporting keeps communities connected and informed. These programmes cover matters beyond the Westminster bubble, issues that directly affect my constituents. They allow politicians to discuss local issues and to be held to account by the communities they serve. I am asking the BBC to protect these important programmes and reaffirm their commitment to local news.
Stay Safe – Stay 2m apart