Valerie responds to first Business Statement of the New Year

During the first week back in Parliament, I responded to the Business Statement on 9 January 2020. You can read my speech in full below:

“Can I start by wishing everyone a happy new year—and you, Mr Speaker. I am very pleased that you now have your full cohort of deputies in place. I thank the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for his sterling work in the House at business questions and welcome the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who has taken over his post.

I thank the Leader of the House for next week’s business; in fact, we have a week and a day. Will the Prime Minister be making a statement following his discussions with the EU President, as the previous Prime Minister always did? She always updated the House.

The Leader of the House has very helpfully set out the recess dates and sitting days right up until 13 October. It feels a bit mean to ask him for the Christmas dates as well, but it would be very helpful if he could say how long the Session will be and also give the dates of the sitting Fridays.

There are rumours about proposed machinery of government changes. They are just rumours at the minute, but I know that the business managers have been working hard to try to allocate Chairs of Committees. Will the Leader of the House make a commitment that if any changes affect the Opposition allocation, he will honour the commitment to renegotiate that? Please do not be the Leader of the House who does not commit to fairness and the convention.

One Committee that has not been set up yet is the Backbench Business Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) did a grand job as Chair, and I hope he will continue in that post. He and others are keen to get the Committee set up. In the meantime, he has helpfully given the Clerks some subjects for debate that can be rolled over. Could the Leader of the House have a discussion with him? I am sure that my hon. Friend will raise that later.

It is interesting that the Leader of the House has not announced the date of the Budget to the House, but it has been announced outside this place. That is quite concerning. He could have made a statement. He made lots of statements before the House rose, coming to the House practically twice or three times a day.

Another thing that the Government have announced outside the House but not to it is a review, to be concluded by mid-February, of the roll-out of the IR35 tax plan for the self-employed, which is due to take effect in April. May we have a statement on the exact terms of that review and the measures that will be put in place to support the self-employed? The Opposition called for a review during the general election. This is more chaos, and it is disgraceful—and so is the announcement on 23 December by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the takeover of Cobham.

“This is a deeply disappointing announcement and one cynically timed to avoid scrutiny on the weekend before Christmas. In one of its first major economic decisions, the Government is not taking back control so much as handing it away.”

They are not my words but those of Lady Nadine Cobham, the daughter-in-law of the founder of that brilliant British company. She said it would never have been done by the US, French or Japanese Governments. All Advent has to do is promise to call the Ministry of Defence if it plans to sell up. The takeover does not include a right to veto the disposal of these sensitive defence assets. This is Government asset-stripping Britain instead of protecting British interests. We need an urgent statement from the Business Secretary.

I want to mention our colleague Andrew Miller, who has sadly died. Being a new Member is quite disconcerting. Andrew was here when I was a new Member, and he was an assiduous Chair of the Science and Technology Committee. We must also mention the three British nationals who died in the Ukrainian plane crash. I am pleased that the Government have scheduled a statement on the Australian bushfires. Many people here have friends and family living there who are affected.

On a happier note, I want to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) on the birth of their babies during the election. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Wales is now a grandmother, and we welcome Jesse Thomas Francis Kearney. We wish them well for the future.

The Leader of the House will know, because he tweets, that Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now at school here—#pleasebringmymummyback. I hope the Leader of the House will do everything he can to do that.

Finally, I want to thank the staff of the House for staffing the super-hub. It was very effective for new Members and for old Members like me. I used it yesterday, and Members have one day left.”