Valerie responds to Business Statement

I responded to the Business Statement on Tuesday 21 April 2020, as Parliament returned from an extended Easter recess due to the coronavirus lockdown. You can read my full speech below:

Thank you, Mr Speaker—I am still here, virtually and physically. I thank the Leader of the House for the emergency business statement. I start, because we have not had the opportunity before now, by remembering the dead, and the grieving families whose lives are utterly changed and will never be the same again. I also want to mention, because we live in extraordinary times, that we have had a Prime Minister who has been in intensive care and that other Members of this House have been extremely ill. I want to wish them all a speedy recovery and remember them.

I also thank all the front-line staff, the NHS and all those involved in public service, and everyone from the House authorities for getting us to this point. The Leader of the House did say that we would return on 21 April, and, despite this extraordinary circumstance, we are here debating in the House of Commons Chamber on 21 April. We have returned to do the democratic process and to hold the Government to account, which of course we want to do.

The Opposition have come out of lockdown. There was red smoke and I am pleased to congratulate the new Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). We have a new Front-Bench team, who are working incredibly hard, and we want to work in a constructive way to protect people and the economy.

It is right that we learn from other countries and that we start looking at an exit strategy to plan in advance, so that options can be explored and strategies tested for when we come out on the other side and make sure that all our folks do not suffer. I appreciate that this is not static—it is going to change. I also pay tribute to my Chief Whip and the Government Chief Whip, because I know how hard they have worked in ensuring that we get to this place. We know that the usual channels will have to work continually to ensure that business comes before this House. Things will not be static and I had understood, although the Leader of the House has not announced this, that there will be a statement on coronavirus tomorrow. I hope he can confirm that. We are looking for answers—proper answers. Just as we get the graphs at the press conferences, we want to know how many ventilators there are and whether there is personal protective equipment. We already know that there has been difficulty in pinning down when exactly the PPE is coming from Turkey, and that should not be the case. We need to know that it is going to arrive and when the shipment will be here.

We want to work in a constructive way. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) said, some of our constituents who were stranded tell us that Heathrow airport is acting in a completely different way from other airports: there are no checks, no hand sanitisers, no masks—nothing—and people just walk straight through, so it is right that we raise these issues and we will continue to raise them.

I want to place on record my thanks to the acting high commissioner in India, Jan Thompson, who has been absolutely fantastic in getting our constituents back.

The Leader of the House knows I am going to raise our British citizens—Nazanin, Anousheh and Kylie—whom we want to be responsible for. They need to be back home at this difficult time.

With another death of a BAME consultant, Manjeet Singh Riyat, who was 52 years old and who died in his own hospital, may I ask the Leader of the House to provide a written statement on the terms of reference of the inquiry that the Government have announced into the over-representation of deaths—not only of health care professionals, but ordinary citizens—among the BAME community?

Finally, I want to wish our gracious sovereign a very happy birthday.