Valerie responds to the Business Statement

On Thursday 11 February 2021, I responded to the business statement by urging the Government to provide adequate financial support for those who need to self isolate. I also asked for a debate on the petition signed by over 100,000 of our constituents, about Indian farmers, whose families have taken part in a peaceful and dignified protest to protect their livelihoods. You can read my full speech below: 

“I thank the Leader of the House for the business and for the recess dates, which I think I had not known previously. He did not mention Westminster Hall and the important debates listed there. I know the Chair of the Petitions Committee has quite a few petitions, and we will later hear the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee say that he too has a number of debates. I pay tribute to Matthew Hamlyn and his team for saying to the Procedure Committee that they are ready to go as soon as the Leader of the House brings forward the motion, so may we have a motion on 22 February to enable the House to return to Westminster Hall on 8 March? This is the only way for the House to return to Westminster Hall safely. It is quite interesting that we have a Government stuffed full of journalists, yet they want to gag Members of Parliament and our constituents.

If the Leader of the House cannot do that, will he please find time for the Petitions Committee debates, including one arising from a petition signed by over 100,000 of our constituents, about Indian farmers, whose families have taken part in a peaceful and dignified protest to protect their livelihoods? Satyagraha is the Gandhian peaceful protest that is in the Indian DNA, but we have seen scenes of terrible violence against those who are protecting their livelihoods. I have had no response to my letter to the Foreign Secretary yet.

Last week, I raised figures showing that three quarters of applications for the £500 test and trace support payment have been rejected, and it is not clear why. On Tuesday, a report that was to go to the Department of Health and Social Care entered the public domain; it suggested that areas with stubbornly high rates of covid had more test and trace support payments rejected than were successful. It also cited factors including socioeconomic deprivation and multigenerational occupation—structural reasons why areas of enduring high transmission persist. Those areas also have higher proportions of black, Asian and minority ethnic and young people. I know the Government prefer to spend £1.9 billion on their friends with links to the Conservative party—oh, there goes another one: the Health Secretary gave a £14.4 million contract to his friend yesterday—but please will the Leader of the House raise the point in Cabinet that when people are asked to self-isolate, they should be given the support as of right?

The Equalities Minister was wrong when she said there is no evidence to suggest structural or institutional racism. That contradicts the report in The Lancet on 12 November. She said yesterday that her next report will be published in two weeks’ time—that is still late—but could we have a statement telling us what recommendations in the first report were implemented, and a statement on the second report as well?

Hon. Members will know that this is the year of the ox and cow. An unelected body set up by the Secretary of State, the Trade and Agriculture Commission, said it would produce its report in six months. It started on 28 July and six months takes us to 28 January, so that report is late as well. When can we have that report published, and could we have a statement in the House? The Government can add fish to the Trade and Agricultural Commission report, too; that would be very helpful.

My constituent Andy Brown, a support officer for the Black Country Multiple Sclerosis Society, has said he is alarmed that benefits payments are to be made to bank accounts, rather than to Post Office accounts. Age UK says that 4 million over-65s have never used the internet. May we have a statement on the evidence behind that policy? The Government say they want to protect the high street, but they are actually stopping people going to the high street and using their post offices.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) for the urgent question on Yemen, but there was no update on Luke Symons. Richard and Gabriella are waiting for Nazanin, and Sherry, Elika and Arriane are waiting for Anoosheh, both of whom who are held in Iran. The UK has the presidency of the United Nations Security Council this month, and President Biden has issued a raft of sanctions against Burma as a result of the coup. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we use the presidency properly to ensure that a Government democratically elected in what the Carter Center said were free and fair elections is restored in a proper way?

It is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and we pay tribute to all those women and girls who take science subjects. Mr Speaker, I think your daughter is a science teacher. We thank them all for their hard work and remember them today. Finally, I wish everyone a happy lunar and Chinese new year tomorrow.”