Valerie responds to Business Statement

On Wednesday 6 March 2020, I responded to the Business Statement, urging the Government to do more to support care home staff on the frontline of the fight against Covid-19. You can read my full speech below:

“Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement, which takes us up until 18 May. I think we have all adapted to the new way of working. I am still having difficulty in muting and unmuting. Mr Speaker, I do not know if that is something you want to carry over after we come out of this, so that you can mute and unmute us.

I want to start by thanking the team, digital services and everybody from the House staff for working on the remote voting. I voted three times, and all three times I was successful. Joanna Dodd was very helpful to me and a great support, so I want to thank her for her help. All we need now is a way to lobby Ministers virtually, and then I suppose we are done with virtual proceedings. But we do await the Procedure Committee’s report on how the voting is taking place before we take it any further.

I think that Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions are on Monday. Nazanin is out, but she is not home, and Anoosheh and Kylie are still incarcerated. Could I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that we get a proper update on Monday? There is plenty of time to ring Tehran to ask if some clemency can be exercised for our dual nationals.

The public health advice at the start of covid-19 said that it affects our senior citizens, so it is quite surprising that our care homes are only now coming to the forefront. Actually, they have been at the brunt of most of the difficulties that are faced. Could I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that perhaps the mobile testing unit visits the care homes, because they are finding it difficult to get their tests? As care homes have said to me, they are almost forgotten, but they are there looking after people at the end of their life when their families cannot be there; they said they are the forgotten ones. Could he also guarantee that care home staff get their personal protective equipment, and that they will be recognised equally with NHS staff; I am sure he will agree that they should be?

Could I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that there is a statement on the total number of beds that are available in the Nightingale hospitals? It is important for us to know for the next step whether there is capacity so that the NHS can withstand any changes. If the Government had released the 2016 pandemic Exercise Cygnus report—or at least its conclusions—it might have helped with the next stage.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen the next stage from the Irish Government, but they have different sectors—community health; education and childcare; economic activity and work; cultural and social; transport and travel—and all that is going to be set out from 18 May until August. Each one of them has five stages, and it is all subject to the science advice.

It is a pity that the Prime Minister could not use the debate on Monday to come to the House to explain what the next stages are. The Leader of the House knows about the sovereignty of Parliament—he is constantly saying how important Parliament is—and, Mr Speaker, I am sure you will agree with me that that would have been more appropriate. In the meantime, could I ask that the Leader of the Opposition has sight, under Privy Council rules, of the strategy the Government are going to set out on Sunday?

Last week, I raised the fact—I know that it was difficult for people to hear me—that we are not getting responses from Secretaries of State. I wrote to the Secretary State for Education. Could we have an urgent statement on the support that schools are getting in terms of PPE and the school voucher system? I understand that Wonde has offered its help to the Government, but that has been refused. This is really difficult, with some teachers parcelling up food because children are not able to access vouchers.

I would like the Leader of the House to ask the Health Secretary to apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Rosena Allin-Khan), the shadow Minister for Mental Health. How many times have members of the black, Asian and minority ethnic community and women heard that remark? To compare her to a white male, almost telling her to behave the same way as a white male, is totally unacceptable. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could ask him to apologise. She is on the frontline of the covid crisis, and she deserves an apology.

We are in a unique situation, but the whole country has shown great spirit and resilience—the same sort of spirit and resilience that we will be celebrating on Friday, to mark 75 years since VE Day. Let us remember those who sacrificed their lives—their spirit and resilience—so that we can live in peace. We will always remember them.”