Valerie responds to the Business Statement

On Thursday 25 March 2021, I called for a clarification on the loss of green belt land in Walsall South and raised the case of my constituent who exports saddles to the European Union. You can read my full speech below: 

“I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business, and of course for the Opposition day. It is the 19th allotted day, so it would be useful to know when this Session is coming to an end and when we are going to prorogue and have a Queen’s Speech.

I note that there is a motion on the Order Paper, which I hope will be passed, allowing an extension of the procedures until 21 June. I think they have all been quite useful. The numbers of cases and deaths are now slightly rising; I noticed that they were going up as of yesterday.

I know the Leader of the House will join me in condemning the rise in hate crime against Asian people, particularly Asian people in America, and the deaths of the Asian women last week.

Yesterday, the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), spoke of the loss of a generation in his family—his parents-in-law and his mother—and he and the Leader of the Opposition called on the Prime Minister to set up an inquiry. The Leader of the House will know that nurse Mary Agyapong was sent home after collapsing and then died, so it is really important that we start looking at best practice, at where things are going wrong and at what is happening.

I will try this again. Arj Singh is the deputy political editor of HuffPost UK. He is not a “cheat”, he is not a “knave” and he is not a “fool”. There was no clipping—the shearing season has not started yet—and it was not poor-quality online journalism because it was in The Times. The headline was:

“Ignore human rights and strike trade deals”,

and the Foreign Secretary has admitted that it was verbatim: he said that that is exactly what he said. I note that the Leader of the House did not apologise in his podcast to the journalist in question; I wonder whether he could do so today. We want sanctions; we do not want trade deals. A seven-year-old was shot in her father’s arms in Myanmar.

I thank the Leader of the House for his assiduousness in dealing with everything that I raise in business questions. I got a response from the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, the right hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), who said that Mehran Raoof had not requested consular assistance, yet Amnesty International has labelled him a prisoner of conscience. Richard Ratcliffe has said that nothing has been decided on Nazanin, and there is nothing on Anousheh or on Luke Symons. They have still not been returned to their families. I do not know whether the Foreign Secretary is going to update us, or when they are likely to be coming home to their families.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) said that she had seen a newspaper exclusive that Dr Harries may be in line for a promotion. I am not sure that it is acceptable to announce that first as an exclusive to a newspaper and then as a written statement which was published yesterday. What is this new UK health security agency? Why have things been rearranged while we are in the middle of a pandemic? Why has the Secretary of State for Health not come to the House to explain what this agency is, so that we can ask questions? Worse still, 18 written statements have been published today, according to the Order Paper. That is not acceptable at all.

Could we have an urgent statement—there is still time before we rise for Easter—on the Department for Work and Pensions having been held to have an unlawful policy on regulations? It is charging people by taking fines from their universal credit.

I would also like a statement and clarification on whether turning the green belt into a car park is a new Government policy. The current Mayor of the West Midlands wants to turn a meadow off Walstead Road into a car park so that people can drive there and then get on the Sprint route. He thinks that Transport West Midlands is not under his jurisdiction, but it is. He also says that he does not want to build on green spaces, but he is building that right in the town centre. Could we have a statement on whether there are different Government policies for the west midlands on the green belt, housing, buses and cars?

I wonder whether the Leader of the House can help me with another matter. A constituent rang yesterday. He said that he exports saddles and that when he did so to a customer in the Netherlands, the customer was charged €200. He said that he thought that we had a free trade agreement with the EU that would protect his business. Can the Leader of the House please tell him what he can do? I presume that it will be Lord Frost who will answer that.

May I now wish some people a happy retirement? I have heard that Dido Harding might be leaving Test and Trace next month. No announcement has been made to the House. It would be useful to find out about that. More importantly, Dr Chris Handy from Accord Housing in the west midlands is to retire. He started there 50 years ago with 24 employees and a few hundred homes. Now he has 3,500 staff, 13,000 homes and a fantastic eco-home, which he has innovated. He has written books on the law of social landlords and “Housing Association Law and Practice”. He has given voice to some of the most vulnerable and has helped them to find homes after coming out of prison. He will be missed, so I say thank you to Dr Chris Handy for his innovation at Accord.

The Lord Speaker is also stepping down in April. I thank him for all his work over the past four years. He has made a great contribution, and I know that he will campaign on HIV and AIDS. Tomorrow is International Epilepsy Day, so I hope that everyone will be wearing purple.

Finally, 365 days ago on Tuesday the world shook, and it is still shaking now. We all know someone close who has died in the pandemic, and I wish everyone a very peaceful Easter.”