Valerie responds to the Business Statement

During Business Questions on Thursday 12 November 2020, I highlighted the need for long-term funding for nurseries ahead of the Chancellor’s Spending Review later this month. You can read my speech below: 

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.

We have a result: there is a new chief of staff at No. 10. No, seriously, what I actually wanted to do was to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris. It was a historic victory, winning not only the popular vote but the electoral college. Despite the closing of mailboxes, I think democracy won, and I agree with the President-elect that the integrity of the peace agreement in Ireland is vital. He has also made a statement on Iran, which gives hope for Nazanin, Anoosheh and Kylie. It is interesting that Nasrin Sotoudeh, the human rights lawyer, has been released, and it gives hope to Luke Symons too.

I do not know whether you saw the strapline yesterday, Mr Speaker, but while there were squabbles behind the door at No. 10, we reached the terrible statistic of 50,000 deaths. We are the highest in Europe and the fifth highest in the world, and it is a terrible statistic because the other countries ahead of us have larger populations. Everyone in the Conservative party, from the Prime Minister to the bag carriers, was focused on the power struggle at No. 10 for jobs and influence. What this country needs is proper leadership and the Government to focus on the job at hand: saving lives and livelihoods.

The Leader of the House will have to come up with an answer—I asked him this last week—on when the Session is going to end. I hope he gives us the answer soon, because we would like another Opposition day.

Government Members will be interested to note that there was a U-turn on school meals—the Rashford turn—but they must be pretty annoyed because they were asked to vote for it, and then the announcement was made by the Prime Minister to the ether, not to the House. We could only glean what the details were from the press. It is no wonder that the Leader of the House does not want a return to remote voting, where Members actually have to vote themselves. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) was right, was he not, when he said that it is an affront to the House and everything that it stands for that there were 203 proxy votes cast by a Whip? More seriously, there are factions—the common sense group, the northern group, the covid recovery group. What the Opposition want to know—the Whips are asking us—is: do they all have their own Whips? Do we have to deal with each individual group? So I ask again, in the interests of democracy: can we have remote voting?

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport made a written statement on Tuesday on a new advisory panel for the UK system of public service broadcasting. The panel, interestingly, is this: the former Conservative Prime Minister’s director of communications, who has been helping GB News to challenge the BBC; a Conservative peer; and a former Conservative Prime Minister’s press secretary. After the claims from the Leader of the House about political impartiality earlier this week, can we have a statement on the recruitment process? We do not want this to be another assault on public broadcasting.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware of the interactive map, “My Little Crony”, which has been created by Sophie Hill. I raised last week all the contracts that have been handed out to those connected to the Tory party and I did not get an answer, but it is well worth a look. He will know that I think it might be time for a public inquiry, particularly on the £670,000 that has been allocated by the vaccine tsar for public relations. If you look at the My Little Crony interactive map, it links directly to the special special adviser’s relation. I do not know whether that is because they are essential workers, to enable them a visit to Barnard Castle, but it would be interesting to know what they do, because they are actually based in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where there are 100 comms staff. But if it is something about a vaccine, I would rather Dr Van-Tam told me about it, instead of a public relations so-called expert.

There are more concerns about the use of public money, so will the Leader of the House find time for a full debate on the Public Accounts Committee report into the towns fund? It concluded at page 5:

“The selection process was not impartial.”

He was fond of saying that word earlier this week and it is a cross-party Committee. Is it the kind of Committee that the Leader of the House does not actually like, given his comments earlier? The Committee said that it was

“not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others.”

We have a crowded programme coming up in the next six weeks. We have the comprehensive spending review on 25 November, and already nurseries have contacted me to say, “Can the Chancellor find long-term funding for us?” They will be part of the recovery after the pandemic, with parents going back and children being looked after. One of the heads apparently described the Secretary State for Education as “missing in action”, so can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education, particularly ahead of the comprehensive spending review?

Will the Prime Minister come to the House and update us on the trade talks that are going on with the EU? I think he made a statement to the press, but not to us.

Last week, the Leader of the House highlighted his love of heritage, and I ask him to join me in lying down in front of the bulldozers at Stonehenge. Professor Mike Parker Pearson said:

“When we’re looking at prehistory, the buried remains are the only evidence we have. It’s rather like burning ancient manuscripts…There will be almost total destruction of all archaeological remains within its path”,

referring to the road scheme. Will the Leader of the House help us to stop it?

Finally, I wish everyone a happy Diwali. It represents good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. I know that is a sentiment that the whole House agrees with.”