Giles Watling – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Giles Watling, the Conservative MP for Clacton, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

My contribution today will also be mostly one of thanks. I thank my constituents in Clacton, who on the whole have acted responsibly and stayed home. I thank the local police and the district commander, Lily Benbow. They have ​been out on patrol regularly to enforce the lockdown restrictions. They have found a receptive and understanding populace, and they have seldom needed to step in. They are aware that they police by consent, and they still have that consent. For their work, both now and in normal times, our police officers will always have my sincere thanks.

Of course, I thank those on the medical frontline who continue to make significant sacrifices for us all. Because of their hard work locally here in Clacton we have not exceeded NHS capacity, despite the scale of this crisis. Over the last two weeks I have been in touch with local care homes, which have reported that they are coping well. They have protected a significant part of our populace. The residents and the staff have been the difference here, and they have my thanks.

For those who do not know, my constituency has one of the largest populations of retired residents, many of whom live in care homes. We are, and I include myself in this, quite elderly. This makes the Clacton constituency, and many others like it, vulnerable. We face the threat of someone thoughtlessly bringing infection into our area, which could have a disproportionately devastating effect on our population, so I ask: “Please, don’t come rushing to our coast until we have determined that the danger to our vulnerable population has passed.” Believe me, I understand the desire to come to a place as beautiful as ours, and we will welcome all with open arms when the time is right.

I put on record my thanks to Essex County Council and Tendring District Council, who have done so much to support local businesses and provide support for the vulnerable population. Tendring District Council saw an absolute army of volunteers step forward, and residents should be proud of the way in which they have come together to support our community. Of course, there are many unsung heroes, from the people who go out to do their job to keep everything going, to the people who go out to help their neighbours do their shopping. We must not forget them when we come to commemorate those who have steered us through this outbreak.

Now that we are slowly and conditionally lifting the lockdown, we must be mindful of the support that certain sectors need. The tourism sector continues to struggle. It was one of the first sectors to be impacted, and it is vital to our economy in Clacton. Nationally, tourism supports 3.1 million jobs and contributes billions to the economy. We must do all we can to support this important industry. For the Clacton constituency, this is imperative. Our coastal districts have suffered decline over recent years, even without the malign influence of covid-19, so I ask Ministers not to oversee further decline now. The Government must step in to help the tourism industry get back on its feet.

Given my background in the performing arts and my role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for theatre, it is no surprise that I ask the Government properly to support theatre as we lift the lockdown. The very nature of the theatrical experience means that the sector will probably be one of the last to be released. Theatre has, since the time of Shakespeare, been one of the UK’s greatest offers to the world, with significant benefits to the wider economy, English being globally the most widely spoken language.​

The creative arts contribute so much to the UK economy, and I have written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Prime Minister, supported by colleagues from the all-party group, to make the case for better supporting theatres. A further letter will follow with evidence from theatres themselves, setting out in greater detail the support that they need. It is crucial that the Government take these recommendations into consideration, because two key industries—tourism and theatre— are now at risk.