James Sunderland speaks in a debate on the public health restrictions and calls on the Government to review the rules on gyms and exercise, to provide more support for high street businesses competing against online giants and to maximise testing in schools and roll out vaccinations for teachers at the earliest opportunity.
The year 2020 has been grim for so many of us. Nobody wants the restrictions, but they are necessary and I welcome them, and I will therefore be voting with the Government this evening on all the motions.
The retrospective nature of this legislation has been difficult to stomach. Going on recess and then facing this on the Friday was difficult for me, as it was for all MPs and constituents, but this measure is not being imposed for any reason other than the public health imperative. At the back of our minds, we must always remember that.
I say all the time to constituents who write to me, “This is not personal. The fact that you can’t go and see family at Christmas, the fact that you are locked away for this awful winter—there is nothing personal there at all. It is simply the Government doing what they have to do to keep people safe.” I have had many letters from people in Bracknell and the wider constituency over the past few months. I understand their frustrations completely and I empathise with them. Having Christmas plans curtailed at the last minute was awful. Nobody takes any pleasure at all in restricting people from seeing their loved ones, but it is the duty of any responsible Government to take tough and unpopular decisions to protect lives. It is a sign of good leadership that the Government are making these decisions.
I again commend my constituents. The public have been resolute in the main in abiding by the rules, and the self-discipline we have seen across the UK this year has been phenomenal. We welcome today’s news of a second vaccine—it is fantastic—so there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we must look forward to a more positive 2021.
It has been a difficult few weeks in my constituency. Bracknell went from tier 2 to tier 4 in a matter of days, which was a bitter blow to the morale and mental health of so many. As of today, we are at a rate of 568 cases per 100,000. It is no exaggeration to say that it has septupled in the past month. Over a six-week period, that is a 1,000% increase in the rate in my constituency, and it is mirrored elsewhere locally. In Wokingham it is 413, in Reading it is 452, in Windsor and Maidenhead it is 509, and in Slough it is 646. The fact is that the virus is ripping through the constituency and beyond. This is the wave that we were fortunate not to have had so far.
Locally, our hospitals are really struggling. Wexham Park, Royal Berkshire and Frimley Park Hospitals are at max capacity, and today the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum was almost at the point of declaring a major incident in Berkshire because it has got that bad. When the stats are presented, it is irresponsible not to react to the exponential increase in cases, however tough it is to stomach. A decision not to act would have been a grave dereliction of duty.
To be a critical friend to the Government, there are three areas that I would like to concentrate on very quickly. First, on gyms, we need to make sure we do not curtail freedoms to the extent that people cannot exercise. We have known about the restrictions on the fitness and leisure industry for some time, so I ask the Government please to review the rules on gyms and all forms of exercise and sport so that life can continue as best it can for many.
Small businesses have also had it really bad and some are on their last legs. We have seen giant online corporations such as Amazon and Google dominating the market, continuing to sell goods with impunity and making it increasingly difficult for the high street to survive. There must please be more support for those businesses. We have also heard about the excluded, and we cannot ignore them. It is important that we do whatever we can, even at this stage, to help them.
I welcome the Government’s stance on keeping schools open. That is a necessity for our children and their parents, many of whom need to go back to work, but I implore the Government to maximise testing in schools and roll out vaccinations for teachers at the earliest opportunity.
Notwithstanding the grim nature of 2020, we have much to look forward to, and we must keep the faith. Last week, I visited the fantastic Bracknell vaccination centre, run by the East Berkshire clinical commissioning group, and what I saw there was simply amazing. I saw people in their 80s and 90s who had left home for the first time. I want to share with my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) the hope that I saw, which was quite staggering. What I saw there was magnificent, and I commend everyone in the NHS, key workers and other key staff across the UK for what they are doing. We will get through this.