It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I thank my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn for leading this important debate on the two petitions. I am so looking forward to attending his wedding to his partner Jed when it is possible to do so. It has been postponed once, but I was really hoping that it did not have to be postponed a second time.
Before I address the specific concerns highlighted in this debate, I want to talk about the two issues at hand. First, on wedding receptions, I want to put it on record that both myself and officials in BEIS have received a number of representations from the wedding industry over the summer. It is pleasing to see the dedication of my hon. Friend Simon Baynes who, as a number of people have done, has brought the industry together, listened to the sector, reflected on its views and been working tirelessly for those sectors that are so hard pressed and unable to open fully, or in some cases at all. When I saw the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) and for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) on the call list for this afternoon’s sitting, I knew that they would be here because they have been tireless in catching me every time they can in the Lobby to reflect the concerns of their constituents. That is absolutely right and shows their dedication to this important sector.
I have had representations from many people from the wedding industry and spoken to many of them in various roundtables, because it is so important to listen and reflect on the road map of the considerations that have been outlined today. It is important to consider the context of this issue. We are keenly aware of the importance of weddings for many people and how their plans have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Indeed, we heard from my right hon. Friend Esther McVey about her ceremony: numbers might have been curtailed, but I am sure the fun, the enjoyment and the love they have for each other was not curtailed in any way in their celebrations.
The situation also affects family, friends and guests, and, as we have also heard, the small businesses that that service and work with the venues and the planners to celebrate people’s weddings. That is pivotal to so many people’s lives, so we did publish guidance on how wedding celebrations could take place in England in a manner that was covid-19 secure and in line with social distance guidelines. The significance of those events was underscored by the fact that we enabled celebrations to take place initially with 30 people present, but regrettably that had to be lowered to 15. That included the couple, the witnesses and guests, but it did not include suppliers or venue staff working at the wedding venue. I know that is nowhere near enough for the viability of the sector.
I have had discussions about viability with Drew Hendry, and, come the day when we are learning to live with the virus and we have rapid testing—when we have the results of the good news today of one particular vaccine avenue—I cross my fingers that those businesses will be able to switch on almost overnight, because the dates are there and those businesses are viable when we get out of this situation.