I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) and for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) for their maiden speeches. They truly demonstrated the depth of talent in the party and why I believe that this side of the House will be a formidable force for many years to come. I congratulate them.
Covid-19 has posed not only one of the most significant public health crises that many of us will ever experience, but significant challenges to our economy, the way we do business and our life as we knew it. Social distancing, self-isolating and the new normal are all terms that I would never have guessed I would use regularly when I first entered the House in December ’19. Indeed, we do not yet know what the new normal will look like, but we can all agree that it will be different from the old one. It has been a long, hard slog and as we find that new normal, it is vital that we pass legislation such as the Bill that allows us, our businesses and our economy to emerge from this economic slumber.
I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor took decisive steps to protect the livelihoods of as many people as he could. The decision to put our economy on life support was supported by Members of all parties and hopefully means that we have been able to soften the blow of covid-19, as I hope the Bill will also do. When I spoke to business owners in my constituency, everyone relayed to me their relief at having the business support packages, including the bounce back loan scheme, the job retention scheme—the original and the revamped flexible one—the rates reliefs and the grants. In Meriden, 14,900 people have been furloughed, representing 22% of our resident population. Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council has distributed more than £25.4 million of grants to almost 94% of the eligible businesses. I thank Solihull MBC, the leader, Councillor Ian Courts, and the chief executive, Nick Page, for their hard work in ensuring the money got to where it needed to be, and the Chancellor for taking the decisive steps that needed to be taken at the time.
I welcome this Bill, particularly the opening up of outdoor spaces, which could mean the difference between a business surviving and failing completely. I wholeheartedly welcome the reduction of the fees to permit the opening up of new spaces and the reduction of red tape. Of course, I encourage everyone to behave responsibly as they enjoy this new al fresco Britain, as these are new hard-earned rights, earned by the whole nation.
Finally, the bounce-back loans scheme is a timely intervention and, once again, the Chancellor’s proactive approach has provided businesses with a lifeline. Banks were struggling to lend as they had to do so in accordance with the Consumer Credit Act 2006, so it is right that we agree to clause 12 to stop the BBLs being subject to the unfair relationship provisions. We needed our banks to step up and they needed this to do so. Not to have done this would have had the result of delaying vital funds for businesses and would have posed onerous requirements for checks, which would have inhibited the very purpose of the BBLs and irreparably damaged our economy.
This virus has meant that we continue to adapt to an ever-changing landscape, and this Bill is part of the responsive and responsible way that we have dealt with one of the most testing periods of our time.