Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Loder, the Conservative MP for West Dorset, in the House of Commons on 23 March 2020.
On Saturday, we had our first death from coronavirus in West Dorset at our county hospital. However, while a fellow citizen was dying from this awful virus in hospital, others were congregating all along the Jurassic coast, particularly in Lyme Regis and Bridport, sharing ice creams on the beach as if it were a summer Saturday afternoon, showing flagrant disregard for the Government’s advice. This country is not on holiday; it is time to wake up and take this seriously. We need to minimise the transmission of this highly contagious virus, because with 38% of the population in West Dorset older than 60, the risk is considerable. Whatever is asked of us, we must follow the Government’s advice
Right now, we in West Dorset urgently need two things. I appreciate very much indeed what the Chancellor has done so far to support people’s incomes, and I commend all the Ministers here today for their work, but 24% of those in work in West Dorset are self-employed, and at the moment we are not doing enough to help them. I urge Ministers to expedite measures to support our self-employed workforce.
On Friday, our local bus operator gave 48 hours’ notice that it was stopping vital bus links into our second town. Those buses have now stopped operating. They are connections that are desperately needed to get to Bridport Community Hospital. I urge colleagues and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to consider what help we can give local buses in rural parts of the country. This will be an issue not just for my constituency but for the entire country.
I support the Bill. It covers many of the measures that are necessary in this national emergency. This past weekend, people were still ignoring reasonable advice to observe social distancing, so the Bill has to contain measures that enable the Government to ban gatherings and to go still further if necessary, however uncomfortable that may be. It allows our recently retired healthcare heroes to return to the frontline, and it puts into law the Chancellor’s welcome statements on statutory sick pay. As the Member for one of the most at-risk areas in the country, with the eighth highest proportion of over 65s in the United Kingdom, I am pleased that the Government are taking this approach, but we must do more for the self-employed. They are the backbone of the economy, and while I welcome announcements regarding the minimum income floor, we need to sort that out.
The United Kingdom is facing a pandemic the like of which none of us has seen in our lifetime. We need only look at Spain and Italy for an insight into the challenges that we are going to face. I pay tribute to the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, both of whom are playing crucial roles in tackling this virus. I commend the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and other Ministers for their leadership at this incredibly difficult time. Our response to the coronavirus will prepare this country like never before. I have only this left to say: to those on the NHS frontline, thank you, and to the volunteers in West Dorset and across the country, thank you.