Sarah Olney – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, in the House of Commons on 12 May 2020.

It is a pleasure to be beaming into the Chamber this afternoon. Like every other MP, I want to pay tribute to my community in Richmond Park and the way that they have stepped up to the challenge of coronavirus. On International Nurses Day, I want to talk in particular about the nurses at Kingston Hospital and those nurses and midwives who are taking time out from their training at the hospital to serve on the frontline. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything that you are doing.

I also want to take this opportunity to highlight our transport sector and, in particular, the extraordinary contribution that our transport workers have made throughout this crisis. They have kept our buses and trains moving to get our frontline workers to their places of work, and they have had to face the same dangers. I pay tribute to the 29 Transport for London workers who have died during this crisis, including 23 bus drivers, and I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Belly Mujinga, a ticket checker at Victoria station who died after contracting coronavirus from a traveller who spat at her.

We are asking a huge amount of our transport workers. We are now asking them to keep us safe as we return to work. We can all appreciate how enormously difficult it will be to maintain social distancing on public transport, ​and I acknowledge the efforts of all those who will be charged with keeping us safe. With the support of MPs from across the House, I wrote to both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Mayor of London last week to call for PPE for transport workers to protect them as they go about their essential work. When we think of the families of those who have already died, we know that this is the very least we can do.

The Government need to think now about the future of our transport network. We have the opportunity that we have been waiting for to drive through real change to achieve a greener transport network and to meet the challenge of climate change. The massive drop of cars on our roads has led to massively increased air quality, and I know that this is a benefit that my constituents and those elsewhere will want to maintain. It was extremely encouraging to hear from the Secretary of State for Transport about his support and game-changing investment in cycling and walking solutions, not just for our cities, but for communities elsewhere. It is beyond time that the Government threw their support behind active travel for all the environmental, financial, mental, social and physical benefits that it offers to every traveller. It will be not just a crucial part of getting people back to work, but part of a long-term solution for our cities and towns as we adjust to the challenge of the climate emergency, because as long as we understand that we need to avoid public transport, our bus and train companies will continue to see a catastrophic loss of revenue. The Government need to start thinking now about how public transport networks can be maintained so that they are ready to support our workforce as they make a full return to work, as we all hope one day to do.

We also need to think long term about essential economic infrastructure and how we move freight around our country and internationally. Hauliers and the aviation industry are also facing disaster. They make an essential contribution to our critical supply lines, such as food and medicine, and we need to think long term about how we support those supply lines. I have been calling on the Government to address this; if they feel that it is necessary to support those industries with a Government bail-out, this is the opportunity we have been waiting for to force the pace on meeting the challenge of climate change and to ask those industries to really start embedding greener forms of fuel and movement into their industries.