Valerie responds to Business Statement

On Wednesday 25 March 2020 I responded to the Business Statement before Parliament adjourned for Easter recess until 21 April 2020. You can read my full speech below: 

“I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Let me start by wishing Prince Charles a speedy recovery. I know that he has tested positive for coronavirus, and that our gracious sovereign is also in self-isolation. It was good that Prince Charles was able to have a test. Many of our front-line staff do not have that test. The Prime Minister said earlier that he wants to protect the NHS. The staff need protecting and they deserve our gratitude, so will the Leader of the House do all that he can to ensure that tests are available for them?

The Leader of the House will know that Labour Front Benchers and those of the other Opposition parties are working constructively together, and I hope that will continue when we go into recess. Many of the fiscal measures have come through because our constituents, some of whom are absolutely desperate, have contacted us to ensure that we put their cases forward. I am slightly concerned about the Leader of the House’s caveat on 21 April. I know he will do all that he can to ensure that Parliament returns on 21 April, and we know that we are able to operate, albeit with a skeleton staff.

May I ask him about voting, because that is another area that hon. Members have concerns about? I am sure that he would be the first to agree that we need to hold the Government to account. We found new ways of voting during the Brexit debate, and therefore I wonder whether negotiations could continue through the usual channels, because clearly voting arrangements must reflect the wishes of the House. I have raised with him the possibility of questions. We know that questions are not answered during recess—and in the light of your statement, Mr Speaker, there is no way that the civil service can cope with 60 questions at a time, and we do not ask for that—but given the unusual times, will the Leader of the House look at ways in which urgent questions can be answered, whether that is through questions or more MPs’ hotlines?

May I ask the Leader of the House about the Boundary Commission report, which was published as a written statement yesterday and is to be decided by Order in Council? We both know that it is not for the gracious sovereign to be involved in a political decision, so will he ensure that any oral statement comes back to the House so that the House can decide on that?

I am tempted to say that I have received an email from the Leader of the Opposition, but I want to pay tribute to him and thank him for all his work, and particularly his family and his staff. They have worked very hard. My right hon. Friend must have done something right, because he has seen off two Prime Ministers.

Finally, I want to thank everyone here—the reduced staff who have enabled us to carry on working here and to carry on business—and I want to wish every single hon. and right hon. Member and their families well. I hope that they will be healthy and safe.”