Jim Shannon contributions to the Business and Planning Act 2020

Mon 29th June 2020 Business and Planning Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
11 interactions (1,569 words)
Mon 29th June 2020 Business and Planning Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
3 interactions (64 words)

Business and Planning Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 29th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

No, it will not. I will talk a bit about hybrid appeal proceedings, and I think my hon. Friend will find that helpful.

There are two further planning measures that relate to the new spatial development strategy for London and hybrid appeal proceedings. The Mayor of London will shortly publish the new spatial development strategy, setting out plans for new homes for London. The Bill temporarily removes, until 31 December, the requirement for the strategy to be available for physical inspection and to provide hard copies on request. That ask from the Mayor of London will help to address practical challenges from social distancing.

Social distancing has also constrained the Planning Inspectorate’s ability to conduct hearings and inquires, and a backlog has been growing. Through the Bill, we will enable the inspectorate to combine written representations, hearings and inquiries when dealing with appeals. That change was recommended by the independent Rosewell review. A recent pilot undertaken on the review measures reduced average decision-making time from 47 weeks to 23 weeks.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard

The Secretary of State mentioned 60,000 houses that big companies will be able to build, but does he recognise that small and medium-sized companies that do refurbishments, extensions and small works are critical to the core of the economy? Will he ensure that they can also progress their applications through councils for approval? They may be sitting on the line where that may not happen.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

As I said, these measures will not relate to residential applications that have been made. The whole point is to get the construction sector moving. I have talked about a range of measures that we have set out for the sector, and I hope that more SME builders will be able to take advantage of them.

The Bill will enable lenders to continue issuing bounce-back loans quickly and at scale. It will retrospectively disapply the unfair relationships provisions in the Consumer Credit Act 1974 for lending made under the scheme. Reflecting current circumstances, the bounce-back loan scheme allows lenders to rely on self-certification from the business that it meets the eligibility criteria for the scheme and can afford to pay back the loan. It also provides for simpler information disclosure requirements to the borrowers. That will ensure that small businesses can continue to access the financial support that they need without undue delay.

Break in Debate

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con) - Hansard

I will keep my remarks short, Mr Deputy Speaker. First, I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) and for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) on two remarkable maiden speeches.

There is no question but that we need to get the economy up and running again, and that we need to do so with a sense of urgency. There is also no question but that the hospitality and construction sectors have suffered, and that they need our help. I welcome a number of things in this Bill, such as allowing tables and chairs to be put on pavements on a temporary basis. However, I am concerned about one particular provision in the Bill, which has already been referenced by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), and that is off sales of alcohol. As I read it, off sales of alcohol will be allowed to run for the same time as on sales of alcohol. I have a central London constituency, so I have many premises with late licences. I am concerned that if these late licences are to run until 1 o’clock in the morning, bars will still be selling alcohol on the streets to big groups of people until 12.30. Like the hon. Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch and for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), I can say that central London has seen issues over the course of the past two to three weeks. I certainly had issues at the weekend in my constituency where the police were heavily involved. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to think about whether we could put a time limit on off sales—let us say to 11 pm.

My other point concerns construction work continuing on residential developments until 9 pm. I was delighted that my right hon. Friend said that this would not apply to single dwellings and that local authorities would have discretion even in major developments. Can I ask him to ensure that local authorities have that discretion, because many people in my constituency live in small terraced houses, bang on top of each other, and in mansion blocks? It is not like building a new estate outside a new town, where it does not affect anyone. Obviously, I spent a few weeks at home during the lockdown and I must say that a basement development going on next door until 9 pm would have been intolerable. I welcome what was said, but let us ensure that local authorities have that discretion.

In conclusion, I welcome the Bill, but ask my right hon. Friend to consider the time restriction on licensing for off sales.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard

Before I start, may I thank the hon. Members for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) and for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) for their maiden speeches? As I have said before, an abundance of talent has been shown by new Members from all parties, though I particularly enjoyed the two speeches today. I wish both Members well for the future in the House. I hope they will make many more contributions; if they are as good as they were today, we are in for a lot of good times. Their speeches were absolutely excellent.

The explanatory notes make it clear that the Bill includes a range of measures to help businesses adjust to new ways of working as the country recovers from disruption caused by covid-19. May I put on record my thanks to the Government and to Ministers for what they have done not only to hold fast against covid-19, but to ensure that businesses have an opportunity to go forward? The measures support the transition from the immediate crisis response to the recovery and getting the economy moving again. They support businesses in implementing safer ways of working to manage the ongoing risk of covid-19, in particular the need for social distancing.

I am probably not the only Member who has received a summary of information from SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers. It has asked a couple of questions that I want to put on the record with Hansard, and the Minister might be able to respond to them at the end of the debate. Some breweries do not have a premises licence and cannot offer takeaway and delivery directly to the public. The Bill will not help them during the covid-19 crisis. One in four breweries—about 500 out of 2,000 breweries in the UK—do not currently have any way to sell directly to the public, and the sales of small breweries have reduced by 65% to 82% because of covid-19. They have not received the same level of financial support as pubs and the hospitality sector, such as through the business rates holiday or the £25,000 grant.

Some 65% of small breweries have been mothballed since covid-19 and trade during the summer months will be vital for their survival. Some have been using temporary events notices to offer limited services, but they are by their very nature limited in time and number, and businesses must already be registered with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs under the alcohol wholesaler registration scheme and approved as a fit and proper person.

The small breweries ask the following questions. They call for an extension to the licensing relaxation to allow small independent breweries who cannot sell directly to the public to be able to do so on a temporary basis. That could be done by extending the authorisation of off sales to small breweries that do not hold a premises licence but are registered under the alcohol wholesaler registration scheme, and allowing small breweries that do not have a premises licence to apply quickly and more easily by treating the application as a minor variation—that might be a simpler way of doing this. Also, the number and time period for temporary events notices might be expanded to assist breweries, allowing for takeaways and deliveries. Will the Minister respond to those points at the end of the debate?

None of us in the Chamber could argue against the need for the Bill. With an estimated 25% of the people on furlough facing redundancy, there is a crystal-clear need for help for business, and not simply in the form of grants, but right through the economic period. Only this morning a business owner with two small convenience stores was on the phone asking for clarity on whether the new regulations will allow him to have more people in his shops, and therefore, it is to be hoped, fewer people having to queue who might then go elsewhere rather than wait. The current situation is unfair because the same problem applies to the big supermarket chains but the waiting time is less, and people can get most of their shopping in one place. All businesses apart from the major supermarkets are clearly facing a rough time ahead.

It is abundantly clear that we must enable businesses—especially small businesses, which are the backbone of the economy—to survive this time. We in Northern Ireland have a larger proportion of small and medium-sized businesses than the rest of the United Kingdom. The high street in Ards—Newtownards—which is my major town, won the Northern Ireland high street of the year 2019 award. We are doing, with others, all we can to secure grant funding and measures with the local council to help the boutique shops, which people travel to from the length of Northern Ireland, to survive. What a difference a few months makes!

The Bill also has measures to help haulage businesses and other commercial interests, and that is absolutely necessary. As I have said, I am supportive of this Bill, but a point was highlighted to me by an interested party, and it is of concern and must be addressed: the closure of the Bill powers. The Minister will have received correspondence from my office on the issue of licensing, and in particular HGV licensing. In simple terms, the Bill rightly gives the Secretary of State the power to issue exemptions from testing as he sees fit, and he can also withdraw that exemption at any time. However, there is a concern in that there is no obligation to set standards or rules, and the Secretary of State’s powers are constrained. In previous times, such power vested in a Minister would be resisted by Parliament, especially without a covering sunset clause to make the power temporary. I want to ask the Minister about this point; the Secretary of State mentioned it at the beginning of the debate, but unfortunately I did not get a chance to ask this question. The 12-month exemption can be granted so that haulage companies and operators can maintain their schedules for maintenance, so that they are not compromised and those schedules do not have to be rearranged twice. I just want to make sure that those companies are able to deliver and have their maintenance schedules in place, and will not be disadvantaged in any way.

There is also the issue of new vehicles and trailers. I welcome the information about a temporary reduction in duration of certain driving licences in Northern Ireland. That is a response to some of the things that I have written to the Minister about, so I am glad to see it in place. That tells me that we all have a role to play in the House to assure the Minister, or to change his mind—advise him—so that he comes forward with some ideas, which he clearly has. I thank him for that.

We all understand that unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. That is why I was pleased with the furlough scheme, and many people have taken advantage of it. To be honest, had the furlough scheme not been there, many businesses would not still be here. The scheme has done some excellent work to ensure that businesses can hold on, until they get the chance to reopen over the next period of time, which will happen.

We must also ensure that we secure the way forward, not having the Minister with absolute and unending power as the new norm. That is not how democracy works. I add this caution: I hold firmly to that belief in democracy, even if I do not always agree with its outcome, such as the imposition of abortion legislation in Northern Ireland—not an issue in the Bill, but an example of a recent decision that we think should have been for the devolved Assembly to determine. We are in grave danger of forgetting that we can never allow power to be abused, whatever form it takes. I ask the Minister to insert a sunset clause in order to bring the powers to an end, or to have further accountability in the process of decision making under the Bill.

I conclude with this comment: we need this Bill and I support it, but we also need accountability and limitation of power. I ask the Minister to come back to us on that matter. I thank the Government for all the help for businesses so far, but we need it for the future as well and to take us through to the last part of this year. I hope that with the reduction in the R rate across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, especially in Northern Ireland where it is reducing greatly, the future will be better—as Captain Moore always says, “Tomorrow will be a good day.”

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con) - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

Reducing and removing red tape is vital to enable businesses to bounce back rapidly as they reopen. In north Devon, we are blessed with vast areas of open space, so many of our pubs, cafés and restaurants will be able to open more effectively this summer if customers are able to spill on to pavements, car parks and beaches. I warmly welcome the Bill and the opportunities it presents to many of the local businesses that I love to visit, such as Johns of Instow, Lilico’s in Barnstaple, SQ in Braunton, The Rising Sun in Lynton and The Grove in Kings Nympton.

I recognise that consultation with stakeholders has been undertaken. However, with an elderly population in North Devon, I remain somewhat concerned. Clear access along pavements must be available to the disabled and partially sighted, who frequently find street furniture a hazard. I trust that that will be facilitated. I hope that the proposed amendments to the planning process will include measures to enable our town centres to revitalise themselves completely, giving speedy changes of use, and opportunities for new businesses or much needed housing to be rapidly developed in the unfortunately ever-growing number of vacant shops on our high streets.

All that will not be possible if our councils do not have the resource to deliver it. Multiple layers of councils in counties such as Devon do not always have that resource, despite their best attempts to deliver rapidly. Indeed, the interaction between different council tiers make such changes more challenging. Councils have made an unprecedented response to the pandemic, and I take this opportunity to thank the teams at North Devon District Council, the town councils and Devon County Council for their tireless commitment, despite the increased workload.

I fear, however, as we have already seen in North Devon, that some well-intentioned initiatives are hard to bring to fruition and take far too long to implement. Small district councils have small teams, some still working from home, with poor broadband that is already overloaded. Reducing red tape can only work if council teams are able to implement plans rapidly and have the necessary resources to deliver what our businesses and high streets so desperately need. That is not in any way to criticise the work of the officers and staff at my local councils, but more to recognise the structural difficulties that are endemic to multiple layers of local government. I would like to take this opportunity to urge everyone, in the coming weeks, to come and visit some of our fantastic pubs, cafés and restaurants in North Devon; to enjoy our great hotels, holiday parks and B&Bs; and to indulge in the new outdoor drinking and dining facilities that I hope will rapidly appear with the passing of this Bill.

Those of us who live in North Devon all year round know that people need to be robust to dine with us outside. It can be wet and windy, but that is part of the charm of a British seaside holiday. We have weathered many storms back home, and we will weather this economic one. The shops of Barnstaple, Ilfracombe, South Molton and Braunton will be more than happy to sell everyone additional waterproof and windproof layers as we seek innovative outfits in which to dine out in weather like we had this weekend—or people could take a leaf out of my book and wear a wetsuit more often.

Break in Debate

Christopher Pincher Portrait The Minister for Housing (Christopher Pincher) - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

First, I am sure on behalf of the whole House, I want write into the record my appreciation of the maiden speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) and for Sedgefield (Paul Howell). My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble demonstrated some oratorical elasticity in the sense that she was able to draw together Tacitus, Cartimandua and Peter Kay. Historians among us recognise and honour that feat, although I suspect the Whips Office paid greater attention to the fact that she said she might occasionally prefer to be a rebel.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield paid full tribute to Phil Wilson, a strong and fine member of the Opposition Whips Office, and he also paid some tribute to the chap who preceded him; I forget his name. My hon. Friend spoke in prose and gave us some poetry, but whether he speaks in poetry or prose, he will always be welcome in this Chamber and, perhaps one day, even in Trimdon Labour club.

I also wish to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti), for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) and for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for their support for the measures we are introducing—I shall say some more words about those shortly. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and the entrepreneurial spirit of all at the Rockingham Arms, and look forward to her letter to me on nitrates. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Wantage (David Johnston), for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), whose support for the bounce-back loan I am grateful for—I shall pass his message on that to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I thank all Members from across the House for this lively, constructive and, I think, supportive debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) for his support for these measures. He is right to say that occasionally we fling some spice and some ginger across the Chamber in our debates, but when it really matters, when the chips are down, we all want the best for our country, which is why we are coming together to support this Bill tonight.

The Bill is good news for our businesses, for jobs and for everyone who is looking forward to enjoying a safe summer as we bounce back from an incredibly difficulty period. We need to tread carefully, but, thanks to the sacrifices and resolve of the British people, and the unprecedented support this Government have provided, we are turning a corner and on the road to recovery. This Bill is pivotal to that economic and social recovery, and I am pleased that the measures it contains to support hard-hit sectors and help businesses adjust to new, safer ways of working have, as I say, been largely welcomed. As my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary said earlier, we listened to and worked with a wide variety of stakeholders and experts, and we are delivering on what they told us through this Bill. So I welcome this opportunity to address important issues raised in this debate, to ensure that the Bill gets Britain back to work safely and that the power, prosperity and opportunities we all want to see are returned to our economic sector.

We know that the hospitality industry is raring to go. Our restaurants, pubs and bars want to make the most of summer trading and welcome back their customers, and it is vital we support them to do that safely. As my right hon. Friend said, this is the third largest employer in our economy, with the pandemic and social distancing measures having serious consequences for its ability to operate. That is why the Bill will temporarily make it easier for businesses, including restaurants, pubs and bars, to obtain a licence, to set up outdoor seating and to sell either food or alcohol, or both, with a fast track to get permission for furniture such as tables and chairs on pavements, thereby enabling them to maximise capacity, within social distancing guidelines. I understand that there may be concerns about potential obstruction of highways, so I wish to reassure the House that we are taking steps to mitigate that. Recommended minimum footway widths and distances required for those with impaired vision and mobility, for example, will be clearly set out using the Department for Transport’s inclusive mobility guidelines, thus striking a balance between the effective use of space and maintaining traffic and thoroughfare. In addition, we will provide councils with enforcement powers and the ability to revoke licences where conditions are breached.

I should emphasise that the changes to outdoor eating and drinking and off sales will be carefully implemented to minimise public nuisance and reduce any crime or disorder. The police already have powers to issue closure notices to a premises in such cases under section 76 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, but we are also building in safeguards to the Bill, such as an expedited review process for alcohol licences, which allows responsible authorities such as the police to quickly alter the licensing conditions granted to premises if necessary. They will be able to revoke permissions granted. I will work with my colleagues in the Home Office and the Local Government Association to ensure that those measures work.

Taken together, the temporary new measures will be a lifeline for our hospitality industry, as are those we propose for planning to restart the construction industry and deliver the homes this country still very much needs.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon - Hansard

In my contribution, I referred to the temporary events notices for breweries. Has the Minister had a chance to look at the provisions that they need to ensure that they can continue to prosper and do well after the covid crisis is over?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:08 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman mentions breweries. He knows that the Bill largely covers England and England and Wales. It does not cover other areas of our devolved community. However, I can tell him that by ensuring that breweries’ customers open up and can sell alcohol to their customers, we are helping breweries around the country and in Northern Ireland, whether they are big or small.

As hon. Members have heard, activity is picking up in the construction industry, another sector that is an engine of our economy and that is keen to get Britain building again. I pay particular tribute to construction workers up and down our country who worked through the pandemic and the businesses that got their sites back up and running in these difficult circumstances. I am pleased to support their efforts through the safe working charter, which my Department developed with the Home Builders Federation.

However, we know that there is more to do. Home starts and completions are well down on last year, with planning permissions for at least 60,000 homes hanging in the balance. That is why we are speeding up the planning system through the temporary measures in the Bill as part of a wider reform to ensure that it is fit for the 21st century. That means greater flexibility for builders to seek extensions to site working hours to facilitate social distancing, which will support the sector’s safe economic recovery. We want work on construction sites to resume swiftly and safely, but I recognise the potential effect of the change on residents when we are all spending more time at home. Several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, raised that point.

I encourage builders to work constructively with local communities and councils to minimise disruption. I want to be clear that councils will retain local discretion over the decision-making process. They also have legal duties regarding statutory nuisance, which continue. They know their areas best and that is why they will continue to have discretion in their local decision-making processes. They are well placed to judge the effect on local businesses and residents, and where there will be an unacceptable impact, they retain the discretion to refuse extended hours.

We are also enabling the extension of planning permissions that have expired since the lockdown began or are about to expire, saving literally hundreds of projects. This is at the request of local authorities and the construction sector. I recognise that there is a risk of schemes being delayed further if existing permissions are extended too long, which is why this will be only a temporary measure. Our extension date of 1 April 2021 strikes the right balance between giving certainty to the sector and ensuring that there are no further undue delays to new developments.

Another significant measure, which will help us double the pace of appeals while maintaining fair decision making, is the proposal to enable the Planning Inspectorate to advance appeals using more than one type of procedure. When we tested this hybrid approach last year, we more than halved the appeal time. This change, backed by all parties in the planning system, will be introduced on a permanent basis. In making these changes, it is important that we bring communities with us, and I am satisfied that, by agreeing through the Bill to temporarily remove the requirement for copies of the London plan to be made available for inspection at premises and on request, and instead enabling inspection free of charge by electronic means, the interests of transparency and accountability will be served.

Business and Planning Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 29th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 8:19 p.m.

The hon. Lady makes a good point. A lot of these issues would have been circumnavigated if small breweries had been entitled to some of the support measures that were made available to other businesses in the hospitality sector.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 8:19 p.m.

Not only do the breweries have an issue with how to sell their products; they also had a lot of their product in storage, which then went off and had to be disposed of in whatever way that is done. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the breweries had a double whammy in not being able to make sales and having their stock destroyed?

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It is particularly the smaller independent breweries, where storage is perhaps even more of an issue, that will have had to dispose of a lot of their stock at considerable cost. Then there is the relative uncertainty as to when they might reopen and, indeed, how much beer to brew again. That is another problem that small breweries in my constituency have tried to tackle. I still think that might be a discussion to have. It is at least worth keeping the matter under review. I would welcome the Government being willing to do that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned temporary events notices and licences. Another proposal would be to consider extending the authorisation of off sales to small breweries that do not hold a premises licence, but that are registered under the alcohol wholesaler registration scheme. That would be temporary and quite exceptional, but in these exceptional times there might be a case for it.

New clause 1 was tabled by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), and he may well speak to that at greater length in a moment, but I put on record my support for it. The Government need to recognise the need for sectoral flexibility as they review how to withdraw some of the support schemes and take stock of whether these measures, exceptional as they are, are working. Given the nature of the crisis we face, our focus must continue to be on protecting otherwise viable businesses and supporting employment, so I welcome new clause 1.

Finally, I turn to the provisions in the first part of the Bill relating to the consumption of food and drink outdoors. A few Members have referred to those provisions as ushering in an al fresco age, which I am sure we are all excited to see, weather permitting. That part of the Bill extends to Wales as well as England, but the wording of clause 1 has caused some confusion as to whether it will apply directly to Wales. In concluding my remarks, I ask the Minister to clarify in his summing up whether the provisions will apply to Wales directly. If not, is he content that the Welsh Senedd is empowered to introduce similar provisions to support bars and restaurants in Wales, so that we may also see an al fresco culture in Wales over the summer?