Valerie responds to the Business Statement

Responding to the Business Statement on Thursday 3 December 2020, I welcomed the approval of a Covid-19 vaccine and asked for an update on its implementation. You can read my speech below: 

“I thank the Leader of the House for the business, but it is dummy business, because this is a dummy Bill next week. It has not even been published. I checked in the Vote Office this morning, and I checked online and it has not even been published. So could the Leader of the House try again when he responds? It is not actually a real Bill.

There is a very important day on 16 December, when the EU votes on a final deal. It is also the day that we come out of tiers. I just wonder if 17 December is an appropriate day for the House to be pencilled in to rise. They are two important debates. Could the Leader of the House say exactly when the House is likely to rise? We would like to know because we need to plan. If we are going into the following week, it would be important for us to know.

We have had the dummy Bill, but we have also had fake news. The approval of the vaccine has got absolutely nothing to do with Brexit, so I hope the Leader of the House will take back his tweet. It is great that the vaccine has been authorised and will be rolled out next week, and I want to pay tribute to all the scientists, the lab technicians and the volunteers who stuck their arms out to keep us safe. It is a reminder that certain things know no boundaries and that people can work together for the common good of humanity. I always think that the Opposition are very constructive, so I am pleased that the Government have taken up the suggestion of a Minister for vaccines. What I am concerned about is that he is doing two jobs. We had a Minister for snow, although I do not think many people will remember that, and a Minister for floods, and they just did that one job. Will the vaccines tsar now be accountable to the Minister and will the Minister be accountable to us? Could the Minister make a statement next week, so we know exactly where we are on the roll-out of the vaccine?

Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations published its criteria. Care UK has asked that unpaid carers be vaccinated immediately, and I do not know what the process is for feeding that into the Committee. Black and minority ethnic communities have also been hard hit by the virus, and we should also look at that, as well as multi-generational households.

The Government seemed to be fighting the rebellion this week rather than the virus, and almost 3 million people, despite the spending review, have been excluded from Government support. People are confused. In Walsall, we were in tier 2, infection rates came down, hospital admissions came down, but now we are in tier 3 and in with Birmingham. I know that the Leader of the House has got special dispensation for parts of north Somerset to be taken out of tier 3. I think they were linked with Bristol. I think the Secretary of State for Health has said he is going to look at that on 16 December, so that Somerset is all in one group. How do we do that in Walsall?

Can the Government now release all the data modelling of the sectoral impacts and potential job losses as a result of the tier lockdowns? Even Ministers do not know the difference between tiers—I think it is the Scotch egg test. But surely it cannot be right that details of contracts given under the pandemic will not be allowed to be published. A Minister in the other place, I think, said that they are not going to do that. It is like telling us all not to eat the sweets while the Government raids the sweetie jar behind our backs.

I know that the Secretary of State for Education has already been here, but on Friday he announced special funding for schools for the short-term covid workforce. That was put on the website on Friday, when the House was not sitting. Then there was a written statement on Monday. Could the Secretary of State come back and explain exactly why schools have not been compensated for everything from the time they were allowed to open in September? They have had to pay for heating—they have to keep schools ventilated, as well as keep up with the heating costs—and PPE, and some of them are putting food bags together for their children. But the key thing is that insurers are not even paying out. This is force majeure: this is a pandemic. Could the Secretary of State come and make an announcement on how schools will be supported?

I know we had Transport questions earlier, but may I ask the Leader of the House, given that there is going to be a border in the Irish sea, if he will take up the Irish Government’s suggestion that Father Christmas gets a travel corridor and is an essential worker?

Finally, let us remember people with disabilities. It is the International Day of People with Disabilities, and every day should be a day of disabilities, as we make this world more accessible for everyone.”