Business and Planning Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 13th July 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Business and Planning Act 2020 View all Business and Planning Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 119-I Marshalled list for Committee - (8 Jul 2020)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I too shall be brief. I support what my noble friend Lord Balfe said about the House getting back to work. Indeed, I encourage my noble friend to come and join us in the Chamber, where he will find a warm welcome awaiting him.

I hope that he was wrong when he said that he was expecting Divisions on Report. We have to get this Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible. I hope we will not lose sight of the fact that these are temporary relaxations designed to help get the economy working again. Many of the issues raised are problems of normal times; we are not in normal times and we should not judge the relaxation proposals in the Bill by the issues we encounter in normal times. The important thing is to give the benefit of the doubt to premises that want to get going again. There are provisions in the Bill which allow licences to be revoked at a later stage if it does not work out. The most important thing is that we embrace the liberalisation encompassed in the Bill and do not hold it back by trying to make the application process more difficult or by putting more barriers in the way of our economy getting going again.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I need to explain at the outset that, although I am down to talk about this group of amendments, I should be addressing a later group. I hope your Lordships will forgive me; it is probably my fault—I am not sure—but I certainly should be speaking later on. I welcome the pavement licence provisions and have no problem with most of the clauses—apart from Clause 11, on which I should be speaking.

I shall speak to Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and to Amendments 27 and 29. All these amendments restrict off-sales of alcohol to a time limit of 11 pm—an amendment with a 10 pm limit would be even better. I fear that the off-sales provisions are a bit of a panic response by the Government which will cause more problems than they solve. The Government defend the move by pointing out that changes can be made through an expedited review process if there are problems of crime and disorder, public nuisance or public safety—and of course, we can be sure that there will be. They also point out that the police have the power under Section 76 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to issue a closure notice if needed. When eventually the correct group of amendments comes along, can the Minister tell the House what the police’s reaction has been to the proposal to extend the time limit for off-sales? Presumably, they anticipate a lot more trouble.

The other problem pointed out by local authorities is that the powers do not work at all where there are several premises together, as is the case in most towns and cities. However, the extraordinary point about Clause 11 is that it encourages the excessive use of one of the most dangerous of all recreational drugs: alcohol. As we know, alcohol kills 7,000 to 8,000 people each year; it is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the UK. Some 7.8 million people binge on alcohol on their favourite night out—or favourite night for drinking—no doubt causing problems for their liver. Is it really the Government’s job to encourage the consumption of this dangerous and addictive drug? I cannot help also pointing out the illogicality and cruelty of government policy—not just of this Government; I am making a non-party-political point—with respect to a drug which has none of the dangers associated with alcohol. How can the Government on the one hand tell people to take the alcohol drug late into the night—the more the better; yes, it is dangerous, highly addictive and kills people, but never mind—and at the same time criminalise those who are very sick and take an entirely safe drug, cannabis medicine, which is well-balanced and harms nobody?

I know that the Minister understands these issues extremely well and I do not like to ask an awkward question, but how can she possibly justify these contradictory approaches to alcohol and cannabis? It is high time that all political parties aligned their drug policies with a scientific assessment of the risks of individual drugs. Clause 11 of this Bill is just one more ill-judged drug policy.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 11 in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfe. Clause 3(2) states:

“Before making a determination in respect of the application”

for a pavement licence,

“the local authority must … take into account any representation made to it … consult the highway authority … and other persons as the local authority may consider appropriate.”

I support having input from the people and organisations stated, but I feel that it is necessary for the local police to be consulted in making a determination.

To reiterate what I said at Second Reading, I welcome the Bill, which will trigger the revitalisation of our businesses and help the well-being of the people. As a businessman, I would like the economy to pick up and create employment for all the people who have been idle for the last few months. However, my concern is the safety of staff and the nuisances and disturbances caused on pavements and streets and in neighbourhoods. Before the pandemic, we saw young men and women misbehaving and fighting in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. I used to see this happening when driving through towns at night. My concern is that people have been frustrated over the last few months and that the relaxation of the rules will lead to social problems.

When the problems of anti-social behaviour arise, they will be dealt with by the police on the spot. Local police know the hot spots in their areas where problems are likely to flare up. To alleviate the issues and possible problems, we need consultation and input from local police when an application is made for a pavement licence. I appreciate that the police have powers to issue closure notices, but this is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is therefore important that the police are consulted before the problems arise.