Valerie responds to Business Statement

I responded to the Business Statement on Thursday 11 June 2020 and urged the Government to take action to end racial inequality. You can read my full speech below:

“I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and for the unexpected treat of an Opposition day—we did not even have to ask for it—but could he also confirm the recess dates? He alluded to them being moved slightly over for the summer recess. It would be really helpful if he could, in his reply, give us those dates.

Mr Speaker, a belated happy birthday to you. It is a birthday you share with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) wants us all to join her in wishing Gabriella Zaghari-Radcliffe a very happy sixth birthday. How sad that an innocent child must suffer in this way. Clemency is all we ask for our British citizens: Nazanin; Anousheh, who is facing a covid-19 outbreak in prison; and Kylie. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) has consistently raised the case of Luke Symons, who is being held hostage by the Houthis in Yemen. Would it be possible for the Foreign Secretary to update the House next week on our British citizens? They belong here at home.

The other place is moving to a virtual Parliament and remote voting next week, while we are sort of moving backwards. However, I am pleased that the proxy voting system has been extended and I hope it is given the widest possible interpretation. Perhaps the Leader of the House will look again at the possibility of not excluding hon. Members from substantive proceedings, so that they can take part in legislative debates too.

I was quite surprised that, given the events of this week, the Prime Minister did not come to the House to make a statement on what the Government will do on the Black Lives Matter movement that is sweeping the world. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned inaction on a number of reports: the Public Health England report, the Lammy report and the Windrush report.

To that, I would add the McGregor-Smith review of race in the workplace. It was commissioned by the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), and found that helping black, Asian and minority ethnic people to progress in their careers could add £24 billion to the economy. This is not an economic issue; it is a moral issue, too. Its report gave signposts for action. The only action we have seen is that by the chief special adviser marching a young BAME woman out of her job and out of No. 10.

These reports are so numerous that I hope they are not becoming a footstool for the relevant Minister in the race disparity unit. I asked last week which Minister is responsible for taking all those reports forward. I hope the Leader of the House can write to me and place the letter in the House of Commons Library at to who is responsible, because there seems to be a crossover between two Ministers. Could the Prime Minister make a statement on this race tipping point? We need points of action and a timeframe.

I notice that the No. 10 Downing Street spokesperson said that the Cabinet did not observe the minute’s silence that you, Mr Speaker, had across the House for George Floyd on Tuesday. I suppose it is too much to ask that they would take the knee. We also had a minute’s silence for those who died in Grenfell Tower three years ago. Is it too much to ask for an urgent statement for an update on what is going on now?

Speaking of the Cabinet, we see that zoos are opening next week, but the Secretary of State for Education has no plan for the reopening of schools. Headteachers, teachers and the teaching unions—who, let us remember, continue to work to teach our children—said that the return could have been eased back safely. The Government always talk about Labour in Wales, but Labour in Wales consults, discusses and then announces, while the UK Government seem to be announcing first and then scrambling back. May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Education?

This is Carers Week, and the deputy leader of the Labour party has said that one in four adults now has a caring responsibility. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that covid-19 deaths account for 28% of all deaths in care homes and nursing homes. We have previously raised the delay in the Government response to the virus. We ask again what happened in January and February. The Prime Minister missed Cobra meetings because he did not clock that this was a pandemic sweeping the world. We were told that sporting events could not be cancelled because people would meet in the pub. Public Health England said that we were two weeks behind Italy, so there were many countries we could have learnt from. That is why we need an urgent explanation from the Secretary of State for Health, not just about his bunions but about the breach in patient confidentiality.

Finally, it is our gracious sovereign’s official birthday on Saturday. Trooping the colour will take place in Windsor. We thank her for all her public service.”