Virtual Business Questions

I responded to the Government’s Business Statement virtually on Wednesday 29 April 2020, the first time a Shadow Leader of the House has done so in Parliament’s history. You can read my full speech below:

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. This is my first opportunity to speak in Parliament virtually. It is good to see that Parliament is functioning as it is and has risen to the challenge.

I thank the Leader of the House’s office for arranging a walkthrough of remote voting, which I will be doing tomorrow. I, too, send my congratulations to the Prime Minister and Ms Symonds on the birth of their baby. We had a baby born today, and, tomorrow, Captain Tom will be 100. We wish them both well on their life journeys.

The Chancellor said earlier this week that we were all in this together. I was wondering if there was a new definition of “together”. Does it include offshore? As the Leader of the House will know, some countries are not providing support to those companies that cannot be bothered to support the country by paying their taxes while they are using its services. May we have an updated statement to set out that the emergency measures will not apply to those companies that are paying dividends or that are offshore? Can that loophole be tightened, because some businesses are collapsing? That phrase has been used by dentists in my constituency. I know that the Minister sent out a helpful letter for emergencies, but businesses will no longer be there. One of my local dentists said that he is sick of giving antibiotics and self-administered fillings. I know a dentist who—[Inaudible]—a PPE kit that allows him to tend to his patients. Whom should he contact? We know that our teachers are doing a fantastic job in keeping schools open, as they are doing in Darlaston and Walsall South. They have contacted me to say that they are running out of PPE. Whom should I contact on their behalf to get them that vital PPE?

I have been contacted by a number of road haulage businesses requesting urgent Government support. Some 85% of the transport market in the UK is made up by small and medium-sized businesses—they keep the UK’s economy moving. They need a cash injection—a grant—to literally stay on the road and move our food, goods and medical supplies. May we therefore have a statement on what support road haulage firms will get? I emailed the Treasury, via the covid-19 email address, on 9 April, but I have not received a response, so I have nothing to say to those companies, which are literally at the end. Will the Leader of the House assure me as to what I can say to them?

May I ask for the Leader of the House’s help on another matter? He will know that I have been waiting on responses from various Departments—all on the covid-19 helplines that I use—since as early as 4 April. I am waiting for three from the Treasury, two from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and one from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport. Interestingly, the Department of Health and Social Care, the DFT and the Treasury circulated an incorrect email address to MPs in a “Dear colleague” letter sent on 26 April. Will he look into circulating an updated list?

When are we likely to have a statement on Brexit negotiations, which the Leader of the House did not mention in relation to next week’s business? Yesterday, the whole country stood for our frontline workers who have died looking after us during this pandemic. It is International Workers’ Day and Labour Day on Friday. Let us remember the dead but continue to fight for the living.”