This week, non-essential shops, department stores and shopping centres across the country will be able to reopen. Some will open this week, some next. Hairdressers, beauty salons and the hospitality sector will I hope will be opening in July. Shops and salons are getting ready in Newton Abbot, Teignmouth, Dawlish and more. I am really looking forward to Austins opening in Newton Abbot where I live - not just because I shop there a lot but because it has always been a beacon pulling shoppers into town!
But we need to do more. The two-metre distancing rule must change to the still safe, and more realistic, one-metre. Without that, for many of our small businesses it won’t be financially viable to open at all. Nobody likes queuing, and we all like a cup of coffee when we shop!
I was delighted to see zoos and other outdoor attractions being allowed to reopen – but the short notice makes it difficult to do quickly. I am lobbying for them to be able to open their enclosed exhibits, such as reptile houses in which numbers can still easily be controlled. This will give families more options to spend time outdoors during the summer months ahead, helping to restore our normal way of live whilst keeping the risk of further transmission down.
The government is slowly introducing a bubble concept, allowing over time, more people from more households to be together. But I would be the first to say the rules are complicated. The sooner we can all sensibly meet and see each other but using our common sense the better. Our infection rates are infinitesimally small in Teignbridge and we have had no deaths for some time. The biggest challenge is managing infection rates in hospitals and care homes, not the community at large.
I am very frustrated that we will not be seeing our primary schools, all years, back to school before the summer. Forget economics, this is about the life chances of these children. And it is those most deprived that will suffer most. I certainly hope many head teachers will be able on a voluntary basis to open up their schools as much as they can. A school right now is probably one of the safest environments to be in.
Parliament continues to sit and we will be trialling a new voting system this week. There is still plenty of work to be done. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill introduced last week will ensure the most dangerous offenders spend a minimum of fourteen years in prison, ending their prospect of early release and introducing tougher monitoring for up to 25 years after they have left prison. The Dissolution and Separation Bill also had its second reading in Parliament. When people do take the decision to divorce, our laws should be as supportive as possible. Most relationships have long broken down before divorce is contemplated. It’s a mechanism to recognise that reality and enable the parties to start new lives. The introduction of no-fault divorce is in my view long overdue. It is destructive for everybody, especially children, for one party to have to accuse the other of something they did wrong. The blame games must end.
Clearly there will be more tough legislation on sentencing after the protests across the country these past weeks led to statues and monuments marking our history being destroyed and defaced. Nobody and no generation are perfect. But history is of its time and what happens should be judged in its time. Clearly, we all must learn from the mistakes of previous generations - but that is about our generation not theirs. Racism and slavery have no place in a today’s society. There is still so much to do on the modern slavery agenda in particular – that is where we should be putting our energies.
My next phone-in surgery will be Friday 26th June at 2-3pm. Please call my office on 01626 368277 to arrange an appointment.