My Lords, the obligation of the hospitality ruling is causing many in the restaurant and hospitality industry a mountain of needless pain. The perception of the unexplained 10 pm curfew is that it is utterly arbitrary. Many voices have now been raised to challenge this in the hope that it will be reconsidered in a more logical and common-sense way.
This restriction on already fragile businesses is deterring people from going to restaurants and providing much-needed revenue to support the employment of staff. All these burdens seem to have no logic. I have heard it asked: is the virus more potent after 10 pm? I think that maybe the answer is yes, if thousands of people are milling around in close proximity in streets, trains and buses just after 10 pm. Perhaps a curfew could apply to drinking places that are more prone to mingling, but nowadays the restaurant setting is remarkably safe in the way it is being managed because businesses have spent precious funds on adapting their premises to comply with social distancing.
The number of cases traceable to restaurant settings is very low indeed, with the data suggesting something like 2% to 3%. It feels like the whole sector is being punished for no apparent reason. Perhaps the Minister could explain why the Government have come to this conclusion and tell the House what evidence was used to make this decision. Did the scientists recommend this ruling? The public deserve to know to gain confidence.
Another serious blow to this industry is the plan to end VAT-free shopping for international visitors. This will severely impact the number of overseas visitors and tourists who are potential restaurant customers. These tourists will be more likely to visit other European countries, taking away much-valued trade. Will the Government reconsider these plans—otherwise they could be the final nail in the coffin for what used to be a thriving hospitality industry? It is time to press the reset button.