Valerie responds to Business Statement

I responded to the Government’s Business Statement on Thursday 5 March 2020, asking the Government to put in place all necessary measures to ensure the public is safe during the Covid-19 outbreak. I also paid tribute to my predecessor, Bruce George, who sadly passed away last week. You can read my full speech below: 

“I thank the Leader of the House for the business. Is there any update on the list of ministerial responsibilities? He has given the business for the week of 16 March, but no departmental questions have been allocated. Will he say why that has not been forthcoming?

When will the Windrush lessons learned review and the report on Russian interference in UK democracy be published? The Leader of the House frequently says that the Prime Minister has seen it, but we are in a democracy—the last time I looked—and we would all like to have a look at that.

There is a debate in Westminster Hall today on Horizon. While this is an important topic, it will also be the subject of a Backbench Business Committee debate. I wonder whether there could be more co-ordination so that Members can contribute in the appropriate way.

We are all thinking about those who are suffering from the virus, covid-19. Can I ask for clarification through the Leader of the House from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care? Last week, he said that people must self-isolate on medical advice and that they will be entitled to sick pay. This week, he said that people have to self-certify for seven days, yet the incubation period is 14 days. I know that the Prime Minister said that everyone who is entitled to sick pay can get it from day one, but what is the position of those who we, as a country, are asking to self-isolate—those on zero-hours contracts and those, for example, who are not entitled to statutory sick pay? We know that the virus does not distinguish between who is on what sort of contract, so will the Leader of the House ensure that there is an urgent statement that whoever self-certifies in relation to the disease can get statutory sick pay from day one? Universal credit is not payable for five weeks.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that covid-19 is now a notifiable disease? I know that many small businesses have been affected by this and we need to know that that is also retrospective. The Secretary of State for Health has said that there is no additional funding and that there is no ring-fenced funding for local authorities. Tory-controlled councils such as Walsall council are using £10 million for consultants to try to show councillors how to build resilient communities. Is that a proper use of public money, where councillors are asked to build these communities with Lego? That is all the more reason why the money for this disease should be ring-fenced. The way to build a resilient community is, of course, to restore Pleck library, which cost only £800,000, to restore Palfrey Sure Start, to ensure that youth centres are open and, of course, to fund social care, which is a very important part of keeping people safe. So could we have a reassurance from the Chancellor that the money is emergency money to mitigate covid-19?

The Leader of the House will know that the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 contains all the powers that a Government need for emergency regulations, including under section 27, which allows parliamentary scrutiny of those regulations. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the shadow Secretary of State have worked very closely together. Are there any plans for further emergency legislation? Will he ensure that the Opposition parties are consulted? After all, we want to do things in the best interests of our country.

Twenty-three Members of Parliament in Iran have got covid-19. The Leader of the House will know that the UK Government, France and Germany have shown good faith and given money through the UN to Iran to help support its health system. Our British citizens Nazanin, Anousheh and Kylie need to come back so that we can look after our own citizens. Will the Leader of the House reassure us that that is put to the Iranian Government, given that we have supported their health system?

I am sure, Mr Speaker, that the House will not mind if I pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Bruce George, who sadly passed away last week. Bruce was born in 1942 in Mountain Ash, Glamorgan. He had a 36-year career here, and he made an important contribution to life in Walsall and this place. He was chair of the Defence Select Committee and played an important part in securing money from the previous Labour Government to rebuild the Manor Hospital. In recognition of his dedication to Walsall South, Bruce was made an honorary freeman of the borough. He was a keen football fan. Bruce was the founder, captain and goalkeeper of the parliamentary football team, the Westminster Wobblers. Bruce’s wife, Lisa, showed him tremendous support throughout the time that he was here and beyond, and I hope that the House will join me in sending our condolences to Lisa at this very difficult time. Bruce’s funeral will be on 20 March at Saint Matthew’s church at 1 o’clock. May he rest in peace.

We are celebrating International Women’s Day. We know that unpaid work that women do is worth £140 billion to the economy; the financial sector is worth £132 billion. Let us lead the way in unlocking women’s potential. Equal pay for equal work is just one area that we need to look at. Those high-profile cases are easy to see, but those other women down below also need to be encouraged. We need to support any claims for equal pay for equal work.

Finally, I wish everyone a happy World Book Day. We know that every child will get a £1 book token, but £1 books are available for adults as well. I pay tribute to our Library for the fantastic service that they provide us.”