Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 14th December 2020.

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Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset 8:30 pm, 14th December 2020

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate.

Today’s actions from the Government are clearly well needed and well understood, particularly in those areas where the pandemic and covid is on the rise, but I rise to make the case for those at the other end of the spectrum—for areas such as rural Dorset, and indeed my constituency of West Dorset, where the number of cases has considerably reduced. I make the case and I make the plea to the Government that we look at more local tiering. At its western extremity, West Dorset is 55 miles from the main commercial centre of Bournemouth, which is influencing the tier that we are in. I am not sure that that is quite right. Indeed, I make the case for Dorset itself to be put into tier 1 at the Government’s review coming this week.

I have stood in this House on several previous occasions to make the case for a more local-tier approach. Earlier today, during the Secretary of State’s statement, my hon. Friend Felicity Buchan made very good and useful mention of counties such as Hertfordshire and Essex where the Government have been able to take that approach. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Jacob Young, who rightly said that for those constituents who work hard and take self-responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities, and where is a clear output of success, those constituencies and communities should be rewarded through proper scrutiny of the tiers to make sure that, wherever possible, the impact on civil liberties and the restrictions on our families getting together can be reduced.

Today in Dorset, we have 43.1 cases per 100,000, which is a considerable reduction on previous weeks. That figure is lower than that in Cornwall and the Isle of Wight when the decision was made to place those two areas into tier 1; they were at 58.5 and 56.4 respectively. On 12 December, one case of covid was reported in rural Dorset, while on 9 November, 85 cases were reported, so it is clear for all to see that there has been a considerable reduction in cases. On Friday, we had one patient with covid in Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester in my constituency. It is clear to me that Dorset has a very, very strong case for its tier to be reviewed, and I could not encourage the Minister strongly enough to consider that.

The good people of rural Dorset and, indeed, of West Dorset have been diligent. They have been self-responsible and respectful not only of themselves and their families, but of others in the community. I am particularly pleased that the Government have made huge strides with a vaccine. We in Dorset are blessed by Dorset County Hospital having a hub for the new vaccine. Indeed, to the north of our constituency, just over the border in Somerset, so does Yeovil District Hospital. West Dorset, I am certain, will be served well.

We also need to recognise the effect on wider business and our economy. Shops, pubs and breweries have very, very diligently taken that responsibility of being covid-secure. They have invested a lot of money. In many cases, it is safer for constituents in the community to be in those places than to be at home. We have 6,525 businesses in West Dorset, 97% of which are micro or small-sized businesses. It means that they face the most difficult of circumstances and, I am afraid, are the most affected by the situation, so it is incumbent on me as their MP to make sure that their voice is heard in this place.

On Friday evening, I went to Cerne Abbas—Members who heard my maiden speech will recall that I talked about the Cerne Abbas giant. There are many wonderful things about Cerne Abbas, and one of them is the small brewery there. When I went to meet the owner of the brewery, he told me very clearly that the business was in difficulty. There is no reason why it should be: our rates are very low, so we should be doing much, much more. In West Dorset, we have the independent Bridport Leisure Centre. We also have a number of pubs, but I am afraid that they have already started to close. Justifying to constituents the difference between pubs and the coffee shops that are open is incredibly difficult.

On Wednesday, we have a considerable opportunity—the Government have a considerable opportunity—not just to reduce the tier in rural Dorset, but to allow West Dorset to play its part in supporting the wider United Kingdom’s economy when it needs it most. There is no reason why our economy should be constrained. We are more than happy to support the rest of the UK in its period of need. I cannot urge the Government enough to reduce Dorset to tier 1 in the forthcoming review this week, and I urge the Minister, if she needs any further information, to refer to the letter I sent to the Department on 10 November outlining a number of points and asking a number of questions. I am hoping that that will help her and her colleagues to make that decision.