My Lords, in the previous debate I supported my noble friend Lord Robathan’s amendment because of the lack of scientific underpinning for the Government’s Covid restrictions. I should like to say a little more about that in the context of the hospitality sector.
Many businesses have been hard hit by the lockdown but the hospitality sector has been particularly badly affected. In my village in Kent, we used to have four pub-restaurants and two cafés. Half have closed for good since March. Those of us who spend time in London are well aware of the number of venues that are boarded up.
At some stage, an inquiry will reveal whether the decision to lock the whole economy down was right and whether the harms it caused were justified by the gains in dealing with the virus, but I am not concerned with that today. What concerns me is that the hospitality industry remains a target for government interventions and that those interventions are evidence-free.
We know that the Government’s aim is to reduce the rate of transmission of the virus. Public Health England issues a weekly coronavirus report. In its latest update, to the end of September, contact tracing shows that households and household visitors are by a country mile the biggest source of exposure to the virus, as the Minister said. Leisure and community are the next largest source of exposure but the sector accounts for only around 5% or 6% of the total—a massive category that covers everything from restaurants to playgroups. The data in the report on where acute respiratory infection incidents take place shows that food outlets and restaurants represent only around 5% of the total and pubs do not show up at all. It is much more dangerous to go to work than to go out to socialise.
Yet, the Government have piled restrictions onto this sector. Social distancing means that it is hard to make money. There are fierce rules on record-keeping, which we should have considered today, but for some reason that debate was cancelled. More importantly, the 10 pm curfew was announced last month with no evidence to support it. It was not even supported by SAGE. The puritans are having a field day with prissy remarks about alcohol and social distancing not mixing, but whoever dreamed up the 10 pm rule clearly had no understanding of human behaviour. It simply created a perfect storm for social distancing, with huge numbers exiting pubs and restaurants at the same time.
The best that can be said for these regulations is that they are less punitive on the hospitality sector than those applied to “very high” alert areas—but that is not saying much.