Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull) Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Vaizey of Didcot Lord Vaizey of Didcot Conservative 3:10 pm, 7th October 2020

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, with whom I share a birthday—I know this because every year I check the columns of the Times to see his name in lights and mine ignored.

At some point with coronavirus regulations, whether local or national, the penny will drop with the Government and they will see that the emperor is wearing no clothes. It has become quite apparent that we cannot eradicate this virus and it will not be over by Christmas. We must find a way to live our lives as normally as possible. As noble Lords have been saying from the beginning of this debate—and no doubt in the preceding debate—nobody can really work out how these regulations are meant to work or why they are being imposed in the way that they are; nobody can work out why a wedding can have 15 people but a funeral 30; and nobody can tell me what on earth a bubble is. If my noble friend the Minister can tell me, I will ask her also to solve Fermat’s last theorem for me.

Noble Lord after noble Lord has talked about the impact on Birmingham. I want to briefly concentrate on the cultural infrastructure of Birmingham, which I know a bit about and which is, to coin a phrase, world-beating. Today, I am delighted that Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is reopening after being closed for quite a time—and reopening with a fanfare and optimism that has been far too lacking for far too long. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is a pretty remarkable place. It is of course the home of the Pre-Raphaelites, but it also recently appointed Zak Mensah and Sara Wajid as the co-chief executives. Two people of colour heading an institution is sadly remarkable, as only one in 45 of our national museums is currently headed by a person of colour.

The Birmingham Opera Company is showing optimism by commissioning a production of Wagner next year, hoping that things will be over by then. Birmingham Rep is the largest commissioning repertory theatre outside of London, but has had to cancel 16 productions. The Birmingham Hippodrome is the largest theatre in the whole of the UK, home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, now headed by the remarkable Carlos Acosta. Sadly, the Birmingham Hippodrome has cancelled Christmas, but is planning new productions next year.

I am delighted that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has not yet had to make any staff redundant. In terms of adapting and innovating—as the Chancellor himself noted yesterday—it did a fantastic concert from a factory in Longbridge that has now been seen online 150,000 times. It was conducted by Simon Rattle and of course featured the world-famous cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Yesterday, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra did a performance of Holst’s “Planets” suite in Centenary Square—as happened in Parliament Square yesterday as well—but did only 20% of that performance, to highlight the fact that freelance musicians can secure only 20% of their income.

These organisations, like, we know, arts organisations all over the country, are being decimated. They need the help and support of government, but they also need a clear road map to get back to doing what they do best.

Birmingham is a vibrant, successful and prosperous city. It would have been even more prosperous if the Minister and I could have been there this week at the Tory party conference, which sadly had to be held virtually but would have introduced £16 million into the local economy. Can the Minister perhaps update us on the prospects for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022 and the impact of lockdown on that? I know, for example, that the preparations for HS2, the West Midlands Metro extension and the Paradise office development are all going ahead, which is cause for optimism.

I echo the comments of noble Lords who spoke before me: we need more local decision-makers and visionary leaders involved in determining how to impose appropriate health regulations during the pandemic. We need to keep the schools open, we need to remove the curfew and we need to give Birmingham as much support as possible, particularly since Birmingham is helping itself where it can, not least by Aston Villa beating Liverpool 7-2 at the weekend.