I must admit that when I was elected back in December, I did not anticipate standing here among the green Benches to talk about it being an offence for two households to meet, but the impact of the pandemic is such that that is precisely what we are here to discuss. That is where we find ourselves.
In the early stages of the pandemic, when little was known about the virus, it was right that all steps were taken to stop the spread. Since then, we know that it has not spread evenly around the country, and we have seen a rapid rise of cases across the north-east. The Government are exactly right to take a localised approach, rather than subjecting those in local areas to overly restrictive national measures but, on that note, since north-east restrictions were announced, I have had emails from constituents in Middleton-in-Teesdale, Bowes and Hamsterley, confused and angry as to why they must be put through more serious restrictions, despite cases in their immediate local vicinity remaining low.
If localised measures are to become the norm, will it be possible to have data analysed on a more localised level, allowing areas with minimal cases, where local residents are working hard to follow the guidance, to enjoy more freedom? After all, we are the party of freedom. Also, if we are to have restrictions on businesses to reduce the spread of the virus, I believe that we must have greater protections for the sectors that are hit hardest by the inability to socialise.
One of my constituents is John Harper-Wilkes, who runs Lartington Hall, an incredible wedding venue just outside Barnard Castle. Couples who had booked to get married at Lartington Hall this year are choosing to postpone their weddings until next year, rather than getting married in front of socially distanced crowds of 15. John has done nothing to make customers postpone their bookings but, through no fault of his own, he has lost almost all his custom. He will now have to make all his staff redundant. The impact of such job losses be overstated, and the long-term mental health impact of unemployment or lost incomes can be devastating.
Another constituent, publican Christian Burns, has done everything that the Government have asked him to do to make his venues covid-secure and ensure that customers are safe to return to his pub. Last weekend, he told me, rather than his usual Saturday take of £5,000 to £6,000, he took only £128 all day, not even enough to cover his entire staffing bill. Given the 10 o’clock curfew and with households being unable to meet, I am really concerned that these restrictions may, without additional financial support, have the overall impact of closing pubs, and not just for lockdown but for good. We must make sure that our pubs, the social hubs of our communities, remain viable for the long term for the mental health of all those people who rely on them for social contact.
We have to balance reducing transmission of the virus with allowing business to carry on as usual. To stem the rising number of cases, I will support the statutory instrument today but may I please urge my right hon. Friends in the Government to look closely at how we can provide new tangible support for our hospitality and events sector? That is for people like Christian, John, Cheryl Jeffrey and Chris Robinson. We cannot let them down.