Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:30 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton 6:30 pm, 9th November 2020

Unlike my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn, who delayed his wedding, I speak as someone who got married in September and experienced the nightmare of having to change plans and guests right up to the last minute. In fact, the only two things that, fortunately, did not change were the date and the groom, so I feel that I have some understanding of how the wedding industry has suffered this year through lockdown. It has been a particularly turbulent year—and one that was unnecessarily turbulent, as the rules brought in were not based on science and were arbitrary.

Let me introduce right hon. and hon. Members to David Irlam, a constituent of mine who understands those arbitrary rules only too well. He owns a restaurant, King Street Kitchen in Knutsford, and he also has wedding venues, Colshaw Hall and Merrydale Manor in Tatton. There are stark differences: his restaurant is much smaller, yet David could legally host up to 60 guests from 30 different households there. He could not do so in his wedding venues, which are much bigger and with outside space: they were capped at 15 guests.

My constituent also said that Government had not taken into account the measures that the wedding industry could put into place to be covid-compliant, or the changes and distress when rules were changed overnight. When the rules were changed overnight, Arley Hall—a massive Jacobean hall with outside space, hundreds of acres and beautiful gardens—was allowed to hold a wedding service, but then all the guests left and went to a pub up the road, where they were allowed to eat. That venue had all the food and all the staff, but could not have that take place.

Tatton, and Cheshire as a whole, is an area with a thriving wedding sector. The number of weddings held the year before was 4,500; that figure is now down to 800, and the ones taking place are much smaller. When I speak to constituents who have wedding businesses, they say that, on average, they use about 25 preferred local suppliers. None of those suppliers has the income from those weddings now, but it does not have to be that way. With some thought, some coherence, and a road map to allow weddings to take place—in a covid-compliant way, obviously—the sector could re-emerge and allow weddings to take place.

At the Oak Tree of Peover, Jacqui Mooney explained to me that she has had to postpone 90 weddings and cancel 30; her income is less than one sixth of what it was. Please note that her business interruption insurance, for which she paid a very high premium, has not been of assistance in any way; furthermore, Competition and Markets Authority guidance and insurance companies have pushed brides back to the wedding venue, saying, “Quote frustrated contracts and insist on full refunds.”

The Oak Tree of Peover has helped brides and grooms in any way it can: it has postponed once for people, it has postponed twice for them, but it has been a logistical nightmare. In Jacqui Mooney’s words, “I dread things now if things do not turn around, because I can’t sleep of a night. I’m not eating because of all the things I have got to do and the money I pay back.” That is true of the business at Styal Lodge Weddings, too.

I end on this note, which is what David Irlam—operator of Colshaw Hall and Merrydale Manor—says: “I would happily be a guinea pig for the Minister. I will do a business venue that is covid compliant. I will do track and trace. I will make sure people are served at the table. I will make sure we do absolutely everything that is covid compliant. Please look at the rules we have put in place.” Please have a Zoom meeting with this person, and the rest of the people in my patch, so we can go back to having weddings and true once-in-a-lifetime—for most people—celebrations.