Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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The Government are allowing deathbed weddings during this period of second lockdown but, please, I make a plea to extend that provision for deathbed weddings to where parents or siblings of the bride or groom are terminally ill and not expected to live beyond 2 December.

My own mother was not able to come to my wedding, when I was married many years ago, because she was in hospital at the time, though she was able to watch it on video afterwards. For people not expected to live another two or three weeks, I please ask the Government to go back. Such weddings could be for the minimum legal number of five—the couple, the minister celebrant and two witnesses—but I think that would be a real kindness to that very small number of people. I please ask the Minister, who I know tries hard on this type of issue, to take it back to see if we can do something.

The wedding industry is a £10 billion business in this country, supporting an enormous amount of employment, and yet we have wedding venues—one in my constituency—that did not manage to receive the business support grant, the retail, hospitality and leisure grant or, at all, the discretionary grant. Some wedding venues, therefore, have fallen through the cracks. There has been great difficulty for couples whose insurance has excluded cancellation on the grounds of Government guidance alone, and some couples have been charged an 80% cancellation fee, which is entirely unreasonable. No one should be forced to effectively pay 180% of the cost of their wedding to get married the second time around. There are some big issues on the weddings front.

As far as the events and exhibition industry is concerned, one of my constituents, who runs an exhibition business, said: “I read, listen and watch leaders of industries bemoan the terrible impact that the second lockdown is having on their businesses, which I am very sympathetic to, and I see the Government provide substantial financial support to these industries. However, I look on with some incredulity that these industries have been able to trade in between lockdowns and have received support; yet the exhibition industry has neither been allowed to trade nor received any bespoke support. We have been locked down since March 2020 and will stay locked down until at least April 2021; yet we have received zero targeted support.” The events industry would echo those sentiments, and these are huge parts of our economy.

In relation to business rates, the Government gave discretionary grants to local authorities but there has been great variability in whether local authorities have granted rates relief to exhibitions and events businesses. I know of 40 local authorities that have, but other councils, for which I have sympathy, say that the Government have a proven track record in clawing back money that they believe has been paid out wrongly. There is therefore a postcode lottery on business rates. I ask the Minister to please give greater certainty to councils so that they can pay out business rates.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will happily look into any pilot scheme that has been happening. That may be something that we can feed into the taskforce with health officials, so as to look at how we might bring weddings on stream as and when the health advice allows. I am not an epidemiologist, but this is also about behavioural science, as well as the economics, which are very much part of my brief at the Department.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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Would the Minister consider allowing a five-person event if siblings or parents were terminally ill?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will cover that in a moment. On live events, in tandem with our discussions with the wedding industry, we are committed to continuing our work with the musical and cultural sectors to understand the difficulties that they face and help them to access support through these challenging times.

Ministers in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have been in discussion with stakeholders across the creative and cultural sector, including on the development of draft planning guidance for how music festivals might be able to take place in future. Significant funds have been allocated via the cultural recovery fund to protect cultural organisations across England—almost a fifth of the fund has gone to the music sector.

More generally, the Chancellor recently announced the continuation of the coronavirus job retention scheme—it is known as the furlough scheme—meaning that workers in any part of the UK can retain their job and be paid at least 80% of their salary up to £2,5000 a month, even if their employer cannot afford to pay them. The flexibility of that scheme will be retained to allow employees to continue to work where they can.