It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Gray. The emphasis on business grants for those businesses with premises is probably one of the factors that led to many people in the sectors we are debating today being denied financial support; the fact that a lot of them are also freelancers or self-employed is another factor. However, many of the people who were excluded from support the first time around are being excluded once again. Given the speed at which events happened, the Government could perhaps have been given a little latitude the first time for not covering everyone; eight months on and with the benefit of that experience, however, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone being left behind this time.
We need a commitment from the Government that this issue will be looked into urgently, because by the time the current scheme comes to an end, some people will have been trading for nearly two years and will not have been entitled to a penny. How can that be allowed to happen? I hope the Government will listen and offer a roadmap for the wedding and live events industries, with sector-specific support for the intervening period until we get back to some sense of normality. Frankly, telling those people to find another job is a cop-out.
Like other Members, I will talk about weddings because I have been contacted by many constituents who have had to cancel or rearrange their wedding days. The wedding industry has seen numbers restricted and then restricted some more: the limit of 30 at a wedding lasted for just two weeks before it was reduced to 15. That means either that there was a specific piece of evidence that suggested the limit needed to be reduced for weddings but not for the funerals that took place during that fortnight, or that the limit should never have been 30 in the first place. Neither of those alternatives engenders much confidence that the Government are on top of things.
How can a judgment have been formed to change the limit back to 15 in just a fortnight? Given the restrictions to 30 or 15 guests at weddings, many people consider the wedding industry to be closed in all but name. By including outside suppliers in that number, couples have been placed in the invidious position of having to choose whether their photographer or granny attends. I do not think that is right at all.
The wedding industry did not get any benefit over the summer from the “eat out to help out” scheme, despite many venues being able to hold significantly more guests in a covid-secure way than restaurants can. Instead, we saw the sector largely ignored, despite how much it is worth to the economy and how much it benefits people in other, associated industries such as hair, beauty and photography. An important question that I have received from my constituents who have seen their wedding days restricted or cancelled is why they could go and sit in a restaurant with over 100 people socially distanced at separate tables, yet they could have only 15 people attend a wedding venue that can safely hold ten times the amount. I have to agree with them: on the face of it, it seems illogical. Given the massive financial impact that such decisions have had, I hope there is strong evidence behind that distinction being made.
I look forward to the Minister’s response. He will know how vital it is to keep public support for these measures and to ensure that they are evidence-based, logical and clearly explained.