It is an honour and a privilege to follow my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend James Daly. While I would have wished to give this speech last week during the recall, when we discussed going into lockdown, we are where we are, and I hope to touch on some of those points now.
Although I have not always been a supporter—though not necessarily a sceptic—of the Government measures regarding coronavirus, I was going to back the lockdown last week, mainly because there is no other alternative when we look at the spread of the new variant. In my own borough, figures have more than doubled in a matter of weeks. I also speak to my twin brother, who is a nurse in a covid ward, and hear of the pressures that he has, day in, day out, just keeping people alive. Although it was with a heavy heart, and was certainly not something that I ever wanted to do, I went through that lobby, to ensure that the people of this country and of my borough are safe.
When we look at moving forward from where we are now, the vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Mr Wragg, in that we need to look at setting benchmarking thresholds for how we come out of this lockdown, whether that is the number of vaccines that have been delivered or certain groups having been vaccinated. We need a route out of lockdown, and a route to reopen our economy and our businesses.
Many businesses have struggled. We have spoken many times in this Chamber about the 3 million excluded. The Government have gone some way in trying to address that, with millions of pounds given to local authorities in the way of discretionary grants. Unfortunately, some councils have had a very wide remit for where they give the grants to, and others have been much more narrow. In my borough, we are now on the third tranche of funding, and still those home-based businesses have been unable to receive the support that they drastically need.
With the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, we are hopeful that changes will be made in the imminent future so that businesses, families and individuals who have struggled for all these months will get the support that they need, and I echo his comments. The Chancellor has my thanks for everything that he has done, but we need to do a bit more—anything we can do to reopen businesses and the economy and, more importantly, to allow care home visits to resume in a meaningful way so that families can finally be reunited, hug, hold hands and kiss their loved ones. That, unfortunately, has been one of the biggest tragedies of this entire pandemic. Anything my hon. Friend on the Front Bench can advise with regard to that would be greatly appreciated.