Chris Grayling – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Grayling, the Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

I will hit a different tone to start. I want to congratulate the Chancellor on his rapid actions to underpin employment across our economy and to support the worst-affected businesses. It was a huge package delivered very quickly and very necessarily.

It is also true, however, that there are a number of businesses that are not formally required to close but which have been unable to continue trading because of social distancing guidelines set out by their professional bodies or regulators. This is despite the fact that they are formally listed by the core Government rules as being able to continue to trade. Dentists, vets, physiotherapists and many similar professions have seen all their income disappear. I ask the Government to ensure that local authorities have complete discretion over the remaining allocated funds for business support to target such individual businesses that may not fit the textbook but have been particularly badly affected. In addition, there are self-employed groups, including the directors of small companies and those on short-term PAYE contracts, for example, in the media and entertainment industries, for whom the impact of the virus will be long-lasting. Will the Government therefore consider whether there are any other ways of easing the impact on them?

I am concerned that many of the professional bodies and agencies putting the overall principles of the lockdown into guidance for businesses have erred heavily—and, to be honest, sometimes unnecessarily—on the side of caution in drawing up those guidelines. That has an impact on business, the income of professionals and employment. For example, why can local vets not carry on working as normal, with PPE, as long as pet owners socially distance while they wait for their pets? If emergency ​physiotherapy and dentistry is allowed with appropriate protections, why can routine work not start again? One example I came across in the past few days is that dog walking businesses are having to stop their work because for safety reasons the guidance does not allow dogs from different households to be mixed; the dogs in the park on a Saturday have not quite worked out the need for social distance between households. People are losing their livelihoods because of that. We need common sense, not excessive risk aversion.

From an international perspective, we already know the possible link between the virus and the trade in wildlife. We also know that much of that trade is illegal, shipping animals such as pangolins from other parts of the world to wet markets in Asia. This is not the first time that a virus is suspected to have made the jump between animals and human beings in the environment of wet markets. This really has to be the moment in which there is a concerted international effort to bring to an end that illegal trade, and to bring to an end the practice of wet markets, which have potentially such significant impacts on the health of the humans who use those markets and, as we now see, around the world.

There is another issue. With tourism around the world on lockdown, this is also a time when conservation in Africa and the battle against that illegal wildlife trade faces an existential crisis, leaving a gaping hole for poachers and illegal traders. I urge the Government to channel more of our international aid budget to support vital conservation projects, in particular projects that protect species from poaching, and defend the species that are most at risk from the collapse of local economies in Africa.

These are momentous times. I pay a huge tribute to the key workers in my constituency, particularly at Epsom Hospital, who have done such an incredible job in the past few weeks. I think the Government should take credit for much of what they have done. There are challenges, there are things we will not get right and there is more to do, but we have to win through, get our economy back on the road and defeat the virus.