Valerie responds to the Business Statement

I responded to the Business Statement on Thursday 3 September 2020, criticising the Government’s shambolic handling of A-level and GCSE results. You can read my full speech below: 

“I thank the Leader of the House for the business for next week, and for the Opposition day. May I correct him on the title of the second debate on our Opposition day? The official title will be “The personal role and involvement of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Education in this summer’s exams fiasco.”

I welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who is standing in for the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard).

One small plea, Mr Speaker, in terms of voting: that we separate the queues. I know that you, too, are quite keen to separate the Ayes and the Noes. If we could do that, that might be safer.

On an extremely serious note, yesterday the Prime Minister, in response to the Leader of the Opposition, said that he would not meet the families of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK because they were in litigation. They have said they are not in litigation, so I think the Prime Minister has to come to the House—maybe he will do that on Wednesday—to correct the record. Could he then meet the families?

Could the Leader of the House find time to introduce urgent legislation on the rotection of renters? I think the current protection runs out on 20 September and we need that urgent legislation for further protection.

We have prayed against the town and country planning permitted development regulations—I think there are three sets of them. The shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), has written to the Secretary of State. I hope that the Leader of the House will find time for that debate.

During August Parliament was not sitting, but extremely important announcements were being made. I cannot understand why the Government, who say consistently that Parliament is sovereign, do not come to the House to explain changes in policy. Apparently, algorithms will now be used in planning decisions. That takes away the very nature of making planning decisions—whether relevant considerations are taken into account or whether irrelevant considerations are taken into account—and it undermines administrative law. When you make a decision, you must give reasons.

The Town and Country Planning Association says that 90% of planning applications are approved and there are 1 million unbuilt commissions. It is time for the shires to rise up and oppose these new policies. Will the Leader of the House ask the current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to come to the House to explain why he is using algorithms to stomp on our green and pleasant land?

As though that was not enough, the Secretary of State for Education must come to Parliament—not just on our Opposition day, but next week, given the written and oral evidence of the chair of Ofqual. On Tuesday, the Education Secretary did not apologise for the debacle; all he said was that he was

“deeply sorry that those who have borne the brunt…have been students”.—[Official Report, 1 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 42.]

There was nothing about the mistake—no mention that students had to demonstrate to be heard. There were three in the marriage: the Department of Education, Public First, which was appointed in June, and Ofqual. We need an urgent statement and a proper response, and the current Secretary of State for Education must explain who knew what and when, and that includes the Prime Minister. They are using algorithms to stomp on the dreams of our young people.

It is very sad that the great educationist, Sir Ken Robinson, passed away; he made a great contribution to education and his TED talks were absolutely amazing—they have the most views, and I urge people to watch them.

May I write to the Leader of the House about a constituent whose two sons had their grades downgraded and cannot take the A-levels and GCSEs that they want? He has been very responsive whenever I have written to him.

Of course, we all mourn the passing of John Hume, that great peacemaker. Talking of Ireland, may we have a debate on the £355 million package and the £200 million that goes to the trader support service, which will help with paperwork for the Northern Ireland border? We are slightly confused by the remarks of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: he says that although the

“protocol doesn’t change the economic or the constitutional position”,

it does give Northern Ireland

“privileged access into the European single market.”

Well, we would like that for the rest of the United Kingdom. So there is in fact a border in the Irish sea.

Why is the Department of Health and Social Care not answering written questions? Hon. Members are getting answers back saying that it is not possible to answer the question in the usual time. Why?

In answer to a question at column 6 of Tuesday’s Official Report from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) about the remaining functions of Public Health England, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said that the new functions would be “embedded” in the NHS, but did not say how. Will the right hon. Gentleman come to the House to explain what is going to happen with all those functions of PHE, instead of randomly closing A&Es around the country?

May we also have an urgent statement on the recruitment process at No. 10? Yet another person who has applied to the adverts for “weirdos and misfits” has now had to resign because of their extreme views, and a Minister has had to relinquish shares in a company because his company was given a contract under these emergency schemes. That goes to the heart of No. 10—there is something rotten at the heart of No. 10. It is like Palmyra: they are destroying accountable structures on the ground of false ideology. Here is the “Ministerial Code”:

“Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions”

of Government Departments and agencies. They are not.

Of course I am going to raise Nazanin and Anoosheh, but let me take a different tack: will the Leader of the House ask the Defence Secretary to kindly look at Richard Ratcliffe’s letter? There is also Luke Symons in Yemen; my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is supporting the family.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) is on the mend, but I just want to finally mention Julia Clifford, who works in the Tea Room and who is, sadly, very ill. I know she has the love and support of all hon. Members throughout the House; we wish her a speedy recovery—it will be a long one, but we want to see her back in the Tea Room.”