Valerie responds to the Business Statement

Responding to the Business Statement on Thursday 28 January 2021, I urged the Government to reconsider amendments to the Environment Bill that ban bee-killing pesticides and asked for a statement on the current condition of our flood defences. You can read my full speech below: 

The question is, did the Leader of the House know before the Prime Minister announced it? But I thank him for that. He did not really give clarity on the end of the Session—I wonder whether he could do that.

This week, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) raised the issue of Anoosheh Ashoori in an Adjournment debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) wrote an article in The Telegraph, which was a timely reminder that Nazanin has less than 40 days before her sentence comes to an end. Both Nazanin and Anoosheh have been punished for visiting their parents in Iran. Now that President Biden has lifted sanctions in Yemen, Luke Symons must not be forgotten either. I do not think the Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East a very helpful response.

The motion to carry over the Environment Bill was agreed. Talk about flip-flopping—on 13 December 2019, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to make Britain the “cleanest, greenest” country “on Earth”, yet the Government did not accept our Opposition amendment enshrining in the Bill the World Health Organisation air pollution guidelines that needed to be done by 2020. As for lifting the ban on bee-killing pesticides, we have just got our bees back—they are important pollinators. Will the Leader of the House look at whether, when the Bill comes back, the Government will accept this, given that President Biden has said that there is an “existential” climate emergency?

Unless we all tackle the climate emergency—-the scientists say that winters are becoming wetter and wetter—we will have more floods. Can we have clarity on what the Prime Minister meant when he said last year that he will “get Bewdley done”? Bewdley did not get done. It got flooded. When Labour was in power, we increased flood defences by 33%, and that was then cut by the Conservative party, but it was never restored back to the 33% higher level. Can we have a statement on this, or better still, can the Leader of the House publish the data from the Environment Agency that said that one in 20 of our flood defences are in disrepair and that more than 3,000 of those, which pose risk to life and property, are “almost useless”?

I know that the Leader of the House has announced the Adjournment of a week. He will remember that the bailiff-enforced evictions ban will expire on 21 February, so will he look at having a debate on the affirmative regulations, as they will run out then?

I know that the Government have a difficulty with having women spokespeople, but International Women’s Day is coming up, so could we have a debate on that in Government time?

People think of the recess as half-term, but many parents, teachers and teaching assistants will not have one. A headteacher wrote to me to say that

“the way we are working is unsustainable and at some point we will have to put our own health and the welfare of our own families first.”

He asked for clarity before the Prime Minister had made his announcement about 8 March. He wanted to know the conditions for schools to reopen after lockdown; how a return to schools would operate and whether it would be phased or by rota or bubbles; and what the role of lateral flow testing would be. He also wanted honesty over whether education staff would be prioritised for the vaccine, and to know the timetable for the consultation following cancelled exams. And he pleaded with me—he said, “I beg of you”—to ask the Government to establish the guidelines before they make an announcement. Could the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Education comes to the House to make a statement before we run into difficulties with the Budget announcements?

Why did the Conservative party want to know the ethnic background of 10 million voters? Why has it acted illegally? It says that it is the party of law and order, but on Tuesday the Information Commissioner told a Select Committee that the Conservative party had acted illegally. Could we have a statement to say that all the data that was harvested has been destroyed?

On flip-flopping again, apparently businesses have been told that they need to set up in the EU if they want to get anything done. Ministers actually said that they had to go to Ireland so that they could be part of the single market. Could we have clarity on that position and whether or not it is better for them to be in the EU?

In another flip-flop, it has been announced that there is not going to be a bonfire of employment rights. I think that announcement was made to the media, so could we have a statement in the House?

I did not attribute it to him, but it was Clive Myrie’s moving film on our NHS workers that showed how difficult it is. Although the rates are going down, we have lost 100,000 people. People need to realise that they need to abide by all the rules.

Finally, I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day yesterday, and thank your staff for setting up the lighting of the candle. There will be an important debate later, but that represented, on the day itself, light over darkness.”