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 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.

Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests in the register and apologise to the Committee for not having been able to speak at Second Reading.

I welcome and accept the Government’s objective of getting the hospitality sector moving, and we should not underestimate the wider impact on the economy if that sector does not revive. Speaking personally, despite the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, I would welcome a shift towards a café culture society and away from the focus on binge drinking and vertical drinking establishments. However, this move should be achieved with local consent and neighbourhood support, where the parameters can be properly policed and enforced. That is why Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, is so important. The views of local police must be sought on whether the proposed arrangements being considered in a locality are in practice workable and sustainable from a policing perspective. This raises a wider question: will the police be adequately resourced to manage what may be a more volatile street scene? What has the National Police Chiefs’ Council said about this? I observe that the extra officers the Government have promised will certainly not be available this summer.

An interesting and separate point is raised by Amendment 44, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, on digital age verification. It is extraordinary that the Government have been so slow in encouraging digital age verification. I declare that, for a year or two, I was associated with a company developing such a digital solution. The problem was, and remains, that licensees are required to inspect a physical document with holographic authentication. This means that teenagers routinely take their passports and driving licences with them on a night out, many of which are then lost. Digital age authentication, based on mobile phones, is not only possible but far more practical. When will the Government act on this?

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Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. My name is attached to Amendment 25. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, reminded us of the importance and the meaning of the words “guidance”, “may” and “consider”, while my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester reminded us that guidance can be unenforceable and that we need something much more explicit when we reach Report. I agree with them both.

The issue is the safety of pedestrians in two respects: the physical safety of pedestrians to prevent them risking an accident to themselves and the safety of pedestrians against the potential transmission of coronavirus by enabling two pedestrians to pass each other at least one metre distant. So will the Government review the Bill before Report to ensure that the powers really exist for local authorities to maintain public safety on pavements?

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 25 relating to the two requirements that have been stated. I reiterate what I said when I spoke on Amendment 11: I support the Bill, which will trigger the revitalisation of our businesses and help the well-being of the people. However, it is necessary for us to implement the changes with caution. My concern is safety of passage and accessibility by blind and disabled persons. In addition, of course, all pedestrians must be able to pass without hindrance where there is a gathering of customers outside a restaurant or pub.

Blind persons have felt less independent since the lockdown rules were implemented and, if there is an increase in street furniture, blind and partially sighted people may be forced to walk in the road, change their route, avoid travelling independently or even stay at home. Street furniture will present additional challenges and should be marked off with an accessible barrier. The idea of marking off the areas will ensure accessibility. Furthermore, if the appropriate distances are maintained, it will help pedestrians to walk without difficulty and prevent the spread of the virus. Adequate spacing will also enable disabled persons to go through without much difficulty.

As a Muslim, my other concern is the passage of Muslim ladies who may be subjected to harassment, particularly if they are wearing a hijab, niqab or burka. Most hate-crime incidents happen in the street and if the accessibility and passage of these ladies are blocked or hindered in any way, my concern is that they may be picked on by customers, especially if they have had a lot to drink. I have been informed by Fiyaz Mughal and Iman Atta of Tell MAMA that, since the lockdown was eased, there has been a spike in the number of cases where Muslim women have been abused and spat at in the street. In fact, I have been told by Tell MAMA that there has been a threefold increase in hate crimes against Muslims, and some of the incidents are unfortunately nasty and aggressive. I hope that the Minister will agree to Amendment 25.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, every speaker in this debate so far, from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, onwards, has emphasised the importance of safe arrangements on pavements both for pedestrians, particularly those who have impairments, and for those sitting outside under the new arrangements, with the new licences allowing tables and chairs to be set up outside places of refreshment.

I do not have anything to add to those points. I simply note that some noble Lords have said that we should be mindful of the fact that these are only temporary arrangements, but we do not know that. It is perfectly possible that they will go on for many months, because we just do not know what the course of the virus is going to be. So I absolutely do not think we should legislate less precisely for the arrangements because we think that they may apply for only a short time. It could well be that in a year’s time the arrangements and licences still apply.

However, it is vital that the law is clear about what the licences are going to contain, and it is that which I want to speak on. When the noble Earl, Lord Howe, replied to the debate last week, he said, in response to concerns that were raised at Second Reading about arrangements for pavements, that a national condition would be imposed,

“taking account of … section 3.1 of the Department for Transport’s Inclusive Mobility guidance. This sets out the recommended minimum footway widths and distances required for access by mobility-impaired and visually impaired people.”—[Official Report, 6/7/20; col. 969.]

When the noble Earl said that, it rang alarm bells in my mind. I remember when I was Secretary of State for Transport having to deal with an extremely difficult case of an accident, which led to a very serious injury, that was caused by a lack of clarity in the department’s guidance as to what minimum footway widths should be. Indeed, I remember looking at the guidance and believing that it should be updated. Due to the passage of time, I cannot now remember why it was not.

I have been back to look at the guidance and it brought back all the details of the case itself, which of course could happen on many occasions if licences are granted under the Inclusive Mobility guidance. It looks to me as if the 2005 guidance has not been updated: perhaps the Minister could confirm that. I could not find any record of it being updated—but if it has, perhaps he could point us to the updating. If noble Lords will forgive me, I will read section 3.1 to the Committee, because it is so important to the point about what is going to be contained in these licences.

The guidance says under the heading “Widths”:

“A clear width of 2000mm allows two wheelchairs to pass one another comfortably. This should be regarded as the minimum under normal circumstances. Where this is not possible because of physical constraints 1500mm could be regarded as the minimum acceptable under most circumstances, giving sufficient space for a wheelchair user and a walker to pass one another.”

That already brings in an ambiguity, on which I would like the Minister to respond. Will local authorities regard 2,000 millimetres or 1,500 millimetres as the minimum? Under the guidance, it could be either. However, the confusion gets greater still. It continues:

“The absolute minimum, where there is an obstacle”—

although “an obstacle” is not defined under the guidance—

“should be 1000mm clear space … It is also recommended that there should be minimum widths of 3000mm at bus stops and 3500mm to 4500mm by shops though it is recognized that available space will not always be sufficient to achieve these dimensions.”

The guidance is as clear as mud. Five different widths are specified in it but none is given priority. We are told that anything from 1,000 millimetres to 4,500 millimetres might be regarded as appropriate. The Committee should take particular note of the fact that the widest width—4,500 millimetres—is given in respect of shops, which will indeed be the premises that we are talking about almost exclusively in the case of this guidance. To double the confusion, it also says:

“The maximum length of restricted width”—

which of course is also vital; the restrictions apply not just to the width but to the length—

“should be 6 metres”,

and that is given without qualification, but of course many of the premises that we are talking about might be longer than six metres.

Therefore, my question for the Minister is: which of the various potential stipulations in the 2005 guidance will apply in respect of these licences? The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that the national condition would take account of section 3.1: what exactly is it taking account of? It is now very clear to me that it could be taking account of any one of six different, and in many respects contradictory, aspects of the guidance. On Report, the Government should come forward with an amendment that specifies the precise widths that will apply, and it should be more precise than the guidance. We must remember that the guidance was intended for exceptional purposes, whereas we are now talking about what will become quite a common occurrence in respect of our high streets and side streets.

The guidance makes no reference whatever to physical barriers—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, in his Amendment 2. If we are talking about the widespread introduction of pavement facilities for customers in cafés, pubs and so on, I think that the case for segregation is very strong, not just to make things safer—although it will do so—but to delineate very clearly the limits of the seating area. If there is not a physical barrier, those will not be clear, and we all know that people will spill out beyond them.

The 2005 guidance makes no reference whatever to barriers. If there is to be a provision in respect of barriers—a point very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and others—that has to be a wholly new provision over and above the provisions of the Department for Transport’s existing guidance on inclusive mobility.

I have just asked the Minister a very precise set of questions, which I hope he can respond to when he sums up.

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Earl of Shrewsbury Portrait The Earl of Shrewsbury (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on tabling this excellent amendment and for articulating it so well. I happen to be a former smoker. I now have COPD and the best thing I have ever done in my life was to give up smoking. I am extremely pleased to support the amendment. I cannot add to what noble Lords have already said so powerfully, except that second-hand smoke is dangerous to the health of all, obnoxious to the majority of those who have to suffer and inhale it and, socially, totally unacceptable. The smoking litter left behind is a health hazard. I urge the Government to accept this sensible amendment.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh [V]
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My Lords, I will speak in favour of this amendment, which I wholeheartedly support.

I remind noble Lords that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and other illnesses. Smoking causes harm to smokers as well as being a danger to others. When a person smokes, most of the smoke does not go in his or her lungs but is in the air, meaning that anyone can breathe it, with dire consequences. It was therefore decided not to allow people to smoke indoors, but this rule should now be followed by customers who are outside the premises.

If smoking is allowed on the pavement outside the premises, there will be a danger, not only to smokers but to other customers and pedestrians passing by. There will also be a danger to the staff who are serving the customers, as they will be affected by second-hand smoke. Over 85% of the British population are non-smokers. They do not like others to smoke near them, as they feel that they will be subjected to passive smoking. I hope that this amendment is accepted.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes
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My Lords, I have not smoked for nearly 40 years and I loathe cigarette smoking, so I gently say to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that he has misremembered my involvement in earlier anti-smoking legislation.

Nevertheless, like my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, I do not think that the Bill is the right place for this amendment. The amendment would affect the granting only of new licences and would therefore discriminate against any premises granted a temporary licence under the Bill. Echoing what my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said, I think that there is a massive danger to our economy of not getting it going again. It is not an overall concept of the economy; these are individual businesses that will go under if they cannot find a way of becoming viable. We should not lumber them with a competitive burden not borne by other businesses that already have pavement licences.

I do not know whether this is a real problem. The Health Survey for England 2017 had only around one-quarter of people self-reporting exposure to second-hand smoke, and only around 15% saying that it was smoke from outdoor areas outside pubs and restaurants. The majority appear not to be bothered. Be that as it may, we should cover that in a consultation and an evidence base that is sought on the normal basis before taking primary legislation to deal with this, if indeed it is an issue, rather than trying to squeeze it into the Bill, which is about trying to make things easier for some businesses to get going again.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes
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My Lords, I am happy to wait to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh [V]
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My Lords, I was going to speak in favour of Amendment 27 but, in the light of what my noble friend the Minister said earlier, I will speak in favour of Amendments 30, 32 and 35. The issue that worries me is how alcohol is sold to be taken away. It should be sold in sealed containers. If it is sold in glasses, these should be plastic, not beer or wine glasses. I am worried that glass can be used to cause injury to others.

We have seen how people behaved in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights before the lockdown. There were fights at night which police, ambulance staff and hospitals had to deal with. It is not only men; women also misbehave when they have too much to drink. I used to go to the City of London, as I had an office there. I used to see business and professional people who were sober and well-behaved during the day but who behaved badly after consuming alcohol. I therefore support the amendments which I referred to.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, has given the Committee an assurance that the Government will bring forward an amendment about restricting the time at which off-sales can be made to a limit of 11 pm. This is most welcome and deals with some, but not all, the issues raised in the amendments in this group. However, we need to see the detail of such an amendment, including the start time of off-sales under the Bill.

Noble Lords have heard the wise words of an experienced professional. My noble friend Lord Paddick knows what he is talking about. He knows at first hand the horrible injuries that can come from mixing too much drink with broken glass. He knows that this has to be curtailed. The arguments are powerful. All noble Lords who have previous or current experience in local government know how vitally important it is that these concerns are dealt with. I added my name to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Paddick and look forward to them having a positive response from the Government.

My noble friend Lord Shipley asked about reducing the late-night levy for businesses whose premises were closed under the coronavirus restrictions. This is eminently sensible, and I hope that the Government can agree to the content of the amendment.