Oliver Dowden defends workers being allowed to meet for business lunches in areas with Tier 2 restrictions

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Credit: Peston, ITV

The public "understand why" the government is allowing people to have business lunches with other workers while banning people from different households in high risk coronavirus areas from eating together at restaurants, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said.

People living under Tier 2 restrictions in England are not allowed to meet indoors those they do not live with.

However, workers from different firms can meet for a business lunch.

Mr Dowden told ITV's Peston: "We've made a conscious choice through this crisis to prioritise people's jobs and livelihoods, and that means allowing people to go to work or as normally as we can in this crisis…"

Peston asked: "But hang on, a slap-up business lunch is not business as normal, going to the office is one thing but why is lunch or dinner with business people work as normal?"

Mr Dowden replied: "Work includes business functions and that's why the definition has been extended to cover this.”

Peston responded: "But people are driving a coach and horses through this, aren't they? They want to go out with their mates and they'll just classify it as a business lunch..."

Mr Dowden said: "Well actually I think to the contrary, my experience has been that by and large the British people have shown a good deal of common sense, they understand why we're doing this.”

In the same interview, Mr Dowden added the government is “not ignoring Marcus Rashford” over free school meals.

MPs voted 322 to 261 against the Labour motion which would have extended free school meal provision over the Christmas and Easter.

After the vote, the Manchester United player said people needed to put aside politics and realise "a significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter."

He added: "This is not about politics this is about humanity."

Asked why he was ignoring Marcus Rashford's request for free school meals for children over Christmas, Mr Dowden told Peston: “Well we're certainly not ignoring Marcus Rashford and I pay tribute to the work he's done, it's a fantastic example, as a minister for culture and sport, seeing sports people play such a leading role in the national debate.

“And we're committed to free school meals, after all it was this government who introduced free school meals for the under sevens.”

Peston, however, said: "He worries that poor kids will not be able to eat during the Christmas holidays and he's right, that's a real risk, isn't it?"

Mr Dowden replied: "That is why we've put the additional support in, so if you look at what we've done during this crisis, we've put in an extra £1,000 for each person in as part of Universal Credit, so that's extra support going in.

“That goes alongside the other support we're providing."

Meanwhile Rupert Soames, chief executive of Serco - the outsourcing company that runs part of the NHS Test and Trace service in England - defended his company amid test and trace criticism.

He told Peston: “Our test and trace system in the UK now is the largest by a country mile in Europe, we’re doing 1.2 million tests a week, generating 220,000 contacts a week.”

He also warned that the Labour party’s strong criticism of the system could put off people from self-isolating.

Labour MP Dr Rosen Allin-Khan responded by accusing Mr Soames of “spin” and said her party calls for the system to be in the hands of local communities and public health authorities.