On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced that pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, and many other businesses will be given the green light to reopen from July 4th. Social distancing guidelines are also set to be cut from two metres to one plus, where two metres isn’t possible, to allow these businesses to be profitable when they reopen. While it’s easy to get carried away with the long-awaited good news of pubs and restaurants reopening, I have my concerns over whether this is completely safe, considering the track and trace app isn’t yet up and running. The Prime Minister needs to publish the medical advice behind this decision, which we will have to carefully scrutinise – public health must always come first, and we cannot risk any steps which may lead to a second wave. There are still many places which are prohibited from opening, such as nightclubs, gyms, and conference centres, to name a few. The Government needs to protect both these businesses and their employees’ livelihoods, to ensure they can survive the lockdown and reopen safely when the science allows them to do so.
Music venues are amongst the businesses hurt most by the lockdown. They will be amongst the last to reopen, and even when they are, venues that already operate on slim profit margins may not be able to turn a profit if social distancing has to be enforced. Some people may, understandably, be cautious about attending live performances while Covid-19 is still a threat, although many others can’t wait to see live music again.
If the Government doesn’t give music venues the support they need, there is a very real threat that many will have to close down permanently, and without grassroots music venues, we would not have the UK’s world-beating music scene. As many of you will know, I’m a patron of the Music Venue Trust, and have been supporting their ‘Save Our Venues’ campaign throughout lockdown. This week , the Trust have written an open letter to the Government calling for more support to see music venues through this extraordinarily difficult period. You can read the letter here.
There were two important votes on Wednesday. I was pleased to vote for the Labour Party’s opposition day motion which proposed a routine weekly Covid-19 testing programme for all NHS and social care staff, to help NHS services to safely resume and continue throughout the winter. Unbelievably, the Government chose not to back this motion, and provide weekly testing for the people who are most likely to be exposed. Moving to comprehensive weekly testing is one of the most effective ways to tackle the pandemic, and it makes no sense that the Government are dragging their feet on this.
I also voted for my colleague Rupa Huq’s Bill to stop protests outside abortion clinics and protect the professionals providing these services as well as the women and girls accessing them. Free speech should not include the right to harass women seeking healthcare, and I’m glad this Bill passed its first reading and will now go on for further consideration.
Ever since the UK voted for Brexit, I’ve been campaigning to ensure that the principal of animal sentience, as enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, will be put into UK law. It’s important for a host of policy reasons that we recognise that animals – and not just our pets – can feel pain and experience emotions. Back in 2017, the Government promised to take the necessary steps to do this when facing defeat in a Commons vote after a huge public campaign. In 2019 I introduced my own Animal Sentience Bill to try to speed things up, and then the Government pledged again, in the Queen’s Speech, that it would bring forward a Bill. Just before lockdown, in March, I led a Westminster Hall debate on a petition on animal sentience and, given the Minister’s rather lukewarm response, wrote to the Government to demand urgent clarity on when the proposals would be introduced. This week, I finally received a reply – but unfortunately it barely mentioned the issue of animal sentience, and gave me no confidence that the Government plans to keep its word. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Tories have no intention of bringing forward this law – and probably never had. They just wanted to save their skins in the 2017 debate. Time is now running out but you can take my word for it that I will be doing all I can to try to ensure that animals are properly protected in law before the end of the EU transition period on 31st December.
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