I thank my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn for opening this debate with such a good speech. The debate deals with two issues that are important both nationally and for my constituency, where 105 of my constituents signed the e-petition calling for additional support for live events and 91 signed the one calling for an increase in the number of guests permitted at weddings, according to venue capacity.
Over the past few months, I have organised regular roundtable Zoom calls with representatives of the Clwyd South wedding industry, such as Phil Godsal of Iscoyd Park, Andrew Marshall of Tower Hill Barns and Tracey Owen of Tyn Dwr Hall, and with others from further afield in Wales. At different times, those meetings have been joined by Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Wales, the Wales Office Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and the Minister for Economy in the Welsh Government.
In a constituency such as mine or that of many other Members present, with many rural communities, those venues are of particular importance for the local economy and jobs. I appreciate that this is a devolved matter in Wales, but the key issues, as the Welsh venues have highlighted, are similar to those in England. They can be summarised in five brief points.
The limit on numbers, whether that be 15 or 30, is arbitrary and should be related to the size of the venue. The limit is out of kilter with European venues, where the figure is often significantly higher—up to 100. The venues I talked to say that in the majority of cases, 50 guests is an economic number, and that it is difficult to break even with lower numbers.
With all due respect to everyone in the health industry, weddings are not super spreaders of the virus. All the guests are known to the bride and groom and therefore easier to control in terms of track and trace by the venue. There is also a strong vested interest among the guests—to them, there are no random guests—to look after each other health-wise.
In practice, it has been much more difficult for wedding venues to access financial support than other hospitality businesses, partly because they have been able to stay open in Wales unless there has been a national lockdown. However, that goes back to the limit on guests, where staying open for 15 or 30 guests is simply not economic for a wedding venue.
People book weddings up to 18 months in advance. Therefore, the industry is particularly badly hit by the lack of visibility going forward. It is not an industry that can stop and start, like some other hospitality businesses. I fully appreciate that the Minister and the Governments in Westminster and in Cardiff, as I have seen in the roundtable discussions that I organised, are listening and take the matter seriously.
Plenty of economic support has come forward but, as many have said this afternoon, it is not targeted in the way that it needs to be. One suggestion of a practical solution, given that a lot of venues are suffering from the withdrawal of clients’ deposits—that is now getting to be a very serious problem—would be the underwriting or financial furloughing of those deposits. That would bring stability and a breathing space so that the wedding venues can plan with greater confidence for the future.