Valerie responds to Business Statement

On Wednesday 13 May 2020 I responded to the Business Statement, criticising the Government’s confused messaging on returning to work. You can read my full speech below: 

I thank the Leader of the House for next week’s business and you, Mr Speaker, for your statement. I must admit I was alarmed to hear the Leader of the House say yesterday that Parliament was going to return physically. He said yesterday that we could not ask people to return if we did not also return, but he fails to understand that we are working—we continue to work. Our casework has increased massively. We might not be in the Chamber but we are still dealing with our constituents, as we always are when we are not here.

The House must lead the way in protecting the health and wellbeing of everyone who works in Parliament by following public health advice to the letter. House staff have done an incredible job, as the Leader of the House knows, setting up a hybrid virtual Parliament that ensures scrutiny of the Government while limiting the number of staff and Members who have to be physically present on the estate. Can he please explain why Parliament would contradict the Government’s own health advice by returning to business as usual in early June and allowing only physical attendance, and contradict the Government’s advice that those who can work from home should do so?

Will the Leader of the House confirm what assessment has been done to ensure that Parliament’s move to physical-only attendance can be done in a way that fully complies with social distancing guidelines? What advice has he received from Public Health England? Will he share it with all the parties? Has it been discussed with you, Mr Speaker, the House authorities and the usual channels? Will he confirm that all the business next week will make use of the hybrid virtual Parliament?

Is this a preview of the Government’s future policy? If so, as a matter of urgency, can the Leader of the House arrange for the Government to make a full statement on Monday on their guidance for society as a whole for returning to work safely? He will know that probably one of the best things to do is to ask each workplace to undertake a risk assessment so that staff and employees come back in a phased return.

Let us remind ourselves that no one asked to stay at home. It is what the Government asked us to do in response to a pandemic, and everyone has listened and understood the message, which is why people must be kept safe. I am sorry to say that the Leader of the House has further confused the message: “stay at home”, “stay alert”—to what?—“work from home”, “come to work”, “come in on Monday”, “come in on Wednesday”. It’s like a Commons hokey-cokey. We can all pull together but only if the Government provide us with answers and do not contradict their own advice.

I am sure the Leader of the House will ensure there is a statement from the Health Secretary on testing in care homes, given that the number of deaths has now risen to over 40,000. It seems that no one knows whether the Department of Health and Social Care, the Care Quality Commission or Public Health England is in charge of testing. Who is in charge of testing? Test, trace and isolate—we need to get the first bit right. Some of my constituents have said they have not even got their test results after eight to nine weeks. Can we have an urgent statement on the crisis in testing and care homes?

Our councils have done what they have been asked to do to protect local communities, yet we hear from the Treasury that they may have to make further cuts—that the Treasury is not going to bail them out any more—but councils have been asked to keep their communities safe, so please can we have a statement to ensure they will not be financially penalised if they have done what they have been asked to do?

The Leader of the House has mentioned the Liaison Committee motion, which is up for debate next week. It seems that there is no compliance with equal opportunities. Are the Government really saying that only men we want can apply? Of the paid Committee Chairs, 26 are men, seven are women and none are from a black or ethnic minority background. Why do we not just let the Chairs of Committees decide, as they have always done?

At Foreign Office questions, there was no update on Nazanin, Anoush and Kylie—who is mentally in a difficult place. They need clemency, and it is International Day of Living Together in Peace on Saturday, so could we have an update?

Finally, I too want to thank our brilliant nurses—it was their day yesterday—many from around the world and some of whom have lost their lives looking after us. Some 70% of nurses who have died were from the BME community, as were 94% of doctors who have died. I hope the Government review will report soon. We send our heartfelt thanks to their families: they gave their lives for us.”