NEW Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne has defended attacking a new rule that will force the wearing of face masks in UK shops as a “monstrous imposition”.
Sir Desmond made the comment during an exchange with health secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons, attracting criticism from constituents and politicians.
Sir Desmond told MPs: “Nothing would make me less likely to go shopping than the thought of having to mask up.”
He questioned whether the government had consulted police before making the decision which officers would have to enforce “against myself and a number of outraged constituents”.
Local opposition politicians were critical of Sir Desmond’s remarks, including Labour’s Cllr Peter Kelleher, who sits on Ringwood Town Council.
He said: “Following the new law on wearing masks in public places and continuing to shop in our variety of New Forest shops are together the best way to defend against coronavirus while getting our local economy back on its feet.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Jack Davies called for the Tory whip to be removed from Sir Desmond, adding: “Mr Swayne’s comments are a kick in the teeth to every local person who has lost a loved one to Covid-19.”
But speaking to the A&T, Sir Desmond said he had received 100 emails overnight on Tuesday with “five to one in support of what I said”.
He said: “Personally, I have no objection to people being strongly encouraged to wear masks, but clearly many people object to being forced to do so.
“It is important that they be given a voice in parliament. Of the 40 or so questions put to the secretary of state yesterday, mine was the only voice of dissent on masks.
“I should add that I possess a mask, and that I have been wearing it.”
The government’s announcement stated that from 24th July face masks will be mandatory for customers in shops and supermarkets. Those who fail to comply will face fines of up to £100. Children under 11 and those with medical conditions are exempt. Retail staff are also not bound by the new rule.
Masks have been compulsory on public transport and at NHS sites since 15th June.
Asked how the rule would be enforced, Dorset and Hampshire police forces pointed the A&T to a statement by Martin Hewitt, National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman, who said police involvement would be “a last resort”.
He added: “Experience shows compliance with the regulations to manage the spread of coronavirus is high and this must continue to be a joint effort between the retail sector, customers, government and police.”