The opening of non-essential shops this week has provided a new marker in the fight against Covid-19. While opinions are split on the gradual easing of lockdown, the Government continues to be led by scientific and medical advice and it is reassuring that the mortality and R rates are falling to new lows. Given that the lockdown strategy is entirely conditions based, the Government is right to balance the need to return to normality with the ongoing imperative to save life and I again pay tribute to the brilliant staff of the NHS and key workers. This has been an awful few months for so many and we continue to mourn those who are no longer with us. But if there is light at the end of the tunnel, it is that people are now starting to emerge more readily into the June sunshine and see their families again.
Whether or not we like it, Covid-19 will be a feature of all our daily lives until the point at which we find a vaccine or a cure. It is encouraging that clinical trials are underway but realistically, there will be no miracle for the foreseeable future. So, it is incumbent on all of us to learn to live with it, rather than simply hide away from it. While we must of course protect those who are vulnerable, shielding or who have underlying health conditions, we must also get back to work as soon as it is safe to do so, get our children back to school and get the economy breathing again. Nothing comes free so we do need to return to the wealth creation that allows us to pay for our public services. It was therefore particularly pleasing to visit the Lexicon Shopping Centre in Bracknell last Monday, where I saw busy shops, happy shoppers and dedicated staff keeping customers safe. I am also on record as supporting a further easing of social distancing below 2 metres at the first opportunity as this will give our retail, leisure, high street and hospitality sectors a much-needed boost.
In Westminster, the Government agenda continues at pace, notwithstanding that not all MPs are physically back in the House. I was pleased to see that virtual participation and proxy voting remain available for those who are shielding and this was the right thing to do. Recent activity here has been frenetic and I have personally visited the Metropolitan Police Control Centre in the wake of the recent protests. The current treatment of its staff by BA also remains a concern and I was pleased to see the Government agree to extend free school meals for eligible children over the Summer. Having lobbied for this in Westminster and declared my hand live on BBC Radio Berkshire on Tuesday morning, I am personally relieved that common sense has prevailed as no child in the UK should ever go hungry.
Lastly, in the wake of the recent unacceptable desecration of war memorials across the UK, I was pleased to be able to galvanise support across Westminster for new measures. Under the Criminal Damage Act of 1971, sentencing powers for judges are currently limited unless the damage exceeds £5000. After an internal campaign which led to a front-page article in the Sunday Telegraph, it is pleasing that both the Government and Opposition benches have agreed the need for new guidelines that allow judges to use judicial discretion with increased powers. Whilst I do not expect to see sentences of 10 years for these offences, the Government will be supporting a new bill that provides discrete protections in law for memorials and should deter offenders. After all, we owe our democratic freedoms today to those who paid the ultimate price and it is right that those who wilfully disrespect the fallen, commit criminal damage or outrage public decency should face the full force of the law.