Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support

Esther McVey Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey (Tatton) (Con)
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Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (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.

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I see on my Twitter and Instagram feeds and elsewhere the pain and heartbreak of couples who were looking forward to that special day. We have also heard about the financial costs that people have faced, such as deposits and other difficulties. The initial moves and the conversations that we have had illustrate the importance that we attach to these life-affirming events.

Some hon. Members have talked about the contrast between the numbers of people allowed in restaurants and in wedding venues, but there is a fundamental difference: the very nature of weddings, which bring family and friends together from across the country, and potentially from around the world, means that they are particularly vulnerable to the spread of covid-19. Despite some media coverage to the contrary, the hospitality sector has worked so hard to become covid-19-secure that pubs and restaurants are some of the safest places in the country. I have spoken to venue owners and organisers in the wedding sector, and unlike visits to a public house or restaurant, where groups are more isolated, it becomes harder to resist breaking social distancing at weddings, where we spend extended periods among family.

We want to continue working with those professionals, together with Public Health England and other health professionals, to ensure that we can manage social distancing throughout the wedding process. Just today, I had a conversation with Richard Eagleton of McQueens Flowers and Sarah Haywood of Sarah Haywood Weddings & Celebrations. They are both seeking to build a taskforce of the kind that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury spoke about. I am happy to work closely, through a two-way dialogue, with them and their colleagues in the sector—the professionals who supply and service the sector, and the planners and venue owners—because that direct conversation will, I hope, lead to the kind of planning that hon. Members have suggested.

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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I asked specifically whether the Minister would look into the pilot scheme that one of my constituents has put in place. Will he look into that and have a Zoom meeting with my constituent?

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.