Tim Farron contributions to the Business and Planning Act 2020

Mon 29th June 2020 Business and Planning Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
5 interactions (1,789 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 (208 words)

Business and Planning Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 29th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 6:46 p.m.

I am really glad that the hon. Lady has made that point. I have had lots of conversations with both the local council and the local police. It is clear that for suburban boroughs such as mine in London, where the Met police have, quite rightly, violence reduction as their priority when it comes to targeting their resources, the resources are simply not there to pay for the neighbourhood policing that we need to be able to keep on top of this kind of menace to our local residents. It is a really important point. I take this opportunity to press once more for further funding for neighbourhood officers in the outer boroughs in London, because that is a really urgent priority.

From my conversations locally, it appears that, by and large, our licensed premises are behaving responsibly in their provision of off sales and that a lot of the problem is coming from supermarkets promoting the purchase of alcohol in large quantities. There is a debate to be had about whether this is ever a good idea, but during a pandemic when people are being instructed not to gather in large groups, it is completely irresponsible. Supermarkets were quick to introduce limits on a number of toilet rolls or bags of pasta that customers could buy at the beginning of the lockdown, and they ought to do the same for alcohol now. If they do not act reasonably in this regard, councils ought to be able to take action, in the face of threats of large gatherings and antisocial behaviour, to require shops to restrict their alcohol sales. These increased powers to councils, while welcome, will come at a cost, as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch pointed out, and there should be greater financial assistance to councils to enable them to administer, review and enforce the new licensing regime.

We cautiously welcome the extension to hours that can be worked on a construction site, but support the discretion granted to local councils to restrict those hours in residential areas. Building work is one of the chief sources of nuisance in residential areas, and that nuisance is compounded when people are spending many more hours at home. We also welcome the extension of planning consents already granted. It will save local authorities a great deal of time and money not to have to review planning consents already granted that may have expired during the lockdown. However, in acknowledging that construction has been delayed for many developments, the Government also need to consider that local authority housing targets will also have been put at risk, and they should look again at any proposed sanctions against local authorities in this regard.

In summary, we support this Bill principally because it recognises the important role of local authorities in supporting our local businesses and safeguarding our local communities. This Government place too much faith in technological solutions, whether for their doomed contact-tracing app or as a way to make the Irish border magically disappear, so it is reassuring to see that they still recognise the value of local leadership and decision making in meeting the health and economic challenges of this pandemic.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 6:48 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), and indeed to speak in the same debate as two excellent maiden speakers. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) made an excellent speech. It reminded me that we are next-door-but-one neighbours, because I am also a neighbour of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—they are big seats up north, some of them. I would be delighted to work alongside the hon. Gentleman in making sure that we get the right investment for the north of England.

Once upon a time, in 1997, when Sedgefield was on the map for a different reason, I was a candidate for South Ribble and got annihilated, just about holding my deposit, so I very much congratulate the hon. Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) on an excellent and very entertaining speech. However, she has the biggest and most formidable task ahead of her, because she is now my dad’s MP. That will make life difficult for her. I note that she was very on the fence, shall we say, on which team she supports. Just to be clear, her predecessor supported the right team. Anyway, it was a marvellous speech and I thank her ever so much.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.


Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Not North End? Fair enough. Anyway, all the best. Both maiden speeches were wonderful. On to even more serious matters, Mr Deputy Speaker. You must really have to sit on the fence where you are—good golly. Burnley? Blackburn? My goodness me. Stick with Clitheroe—that is my advice.

The Liberal Democrats support the provisions in the Bill and recognise how necessary they are. We recognise the colossal sacrifice that so many people have made in the last three and a bit months. Many did so before there was any guarantee of any kind of financial support, which might have made it a little easier for them. My constituency has an average age 10 years above the national average, and we were one of the infection hotspots right at the beginning. The number of deaths was tragically high in our community in south Cumbria. Many people running businesses of all sorts closed down or restricted their economic activity right at the beginning, before any compensation was available to them, because they put the interests of their neighbours and people they had never met before their own financial interests. I pay tribute to my constituents and indeed folk around the country for doing that.

At the head of the movement to try to get people to restrict their economic activity right at the beginning, even telling people not to visit the Lake district—Britain’s biggest tourist destination after London—was Cumbria Tourism itself, our tourism board. It led the calls for people to visit us, but just not now, not yet, in order to keep people safe. We need to remember that sacrifice. I am very moved by and proud of it.

Of course, the Government package did come weeks later and it is very welcome. It is important in this process—in this crisis—that we find ways of working together and being collectively responsible for the mission to get Britain through the covid crisis as much as possible. It is right for those on the Opposition Benches, and indeed on the Back Benches, to hold the Government to account, and to do so constructively. I take my role as Cumbria’s only Opposition MP seriously. I have a responsibility, which must not be abused, to speak out, but I recognise that my job would be undermined, and I would be undermining my constituents and folks across Cumbria, if I was oppositionist for opposition’s sake. So it is important to congratulate the Government and work with them, when they have done the right thing. The furlough scheme, the grant schemes and so on undoubtedly saved, at least for the time being, millions of jobs around the country and thousands of jobs in my constituency.

There are, however, some gaps, and I want to spend a moment or two talking about them. It is still beyond me that the Government have still not been able to find a package to support people who make their living by being directors of very small limited companies. I can think of a person I know well in my constituency who is a photographer. He is a one-person band, effectively; he is not the director of some large corporation. His income has been completely stopped these past three months. The Government surely could still find ways of ensuring that directors of small limited companies are able to get support.

I also think, in relation to this package of measures, of the plight of people in the mobile catering industry, whose interests have been represented incredibly well, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). It is important that they are explicitly referenced in the Bill so that they are supported to be able to make a living, and supported for the shortfalls in their incomes over the last few months.

I am bound, though, to focus on the gap in provision for those who have been self-employed for not so long. One in four people who work in my constituency work for themselves; they are self-employed. Our community is hugely entrepreneurial and we are very proud of that. New business start-ups are one of the council’s most important focuses. Many small business do not make a profit in their first, or even their second, year; it just does not happen. People put their effort, money and capital into getting going, and they maybe turn a profit in year three. Those innovative, risk-taking people, who have perhaps made a lifestyle choice to earn a bit less money, but to live in a nice part of the world, put their kids through the local school and add to our community, are falling through the gaps. When Westmorland and Lonsdale had the largest single increase in umemployment in the United Kingdom—of 312%—we know that many of those were those hard-working, innovative people who were starting off, and the Government did not find a way to be able to support them.

The Government said that they were not able to support them because there was not 12 months’ worth of evidence of them operating. I would argue strongly against that, but even if that is an argument, why, when we came to the second iteration of support—when some of the people who were denied the first time round would have then done 12 months—were those people not included? It is so important that those people are not forgotten and that we as a country invest now in supporting them.

In my constituency, 37% of the entire workforce is on furlough. That is the biggest number anywhere in the north of England and the biggest number of anybody outside London. It is important to remember that a large part of that will be down to the significance of the hospitality and tourism sector, with 60,000 people working in it throughout Cumbria, the bulk of whom are in my constituency, the Lake district, the Yorkshire dales and other parts of south Cumbria. While we look forward nervously and cautiously, but with a level of excitement, to 4 July and the comeback of much of the hospitality and tourism industry, we recognise that many, many businesses will not be able to fully function. I am thinking of, for example, the survey that Cumbria Tourism did of its members just last week, when they discovered that 69% of those businesses will not be able to open fully even after 4 July. We must not assume that everything is back to normal in just a week or two’s time.

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, in Committee, I will want to talk about our new clause 1 and hospitality and tourism in a bit more detail, so I will not go further at this point, save to say that I recognise many of the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) about antisocial behaviour sometimes coming with the immediate upsurge in visitor numbers. That is not just in urban areas. The road on the east side of Coniston water had to be closed down in the last couple of weeks because of the antisocial behaviour we have seen there, and many of the florid descriptions from my hon. Friends can be repeated about the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales. I could say many things about that. One is that the countryside code is very good. It does not need amending. It needs publicising and embedding in our schools and to be promoted by the Government. I hope that they will do just that.

I turn to planning and the easing of planning restrictions being seen as underpinning the revival of our economy. That is absolutely right—at times, that will be worth pursuing. However, I point out to the Minister that in some cases, the revitalisation of a local community can be helped by restrictions or new changes in planning law. In particular, I am thinking of absentee ownership, or second home ownership, in places such as the Lake district, the Trough of Bowland, Yorkshire dales and other places of natural beauty.

In my constituency, 7,000 of our properties are not holiday lets, but second homes—they are boltholes that are not lived in for nineteen twentieths of the year. That means it is a home owned by somebody who sends no children to the local school and who rarely contributes to the local post office, the bus service and so on. It is possible to make planning laws that would enable places such as the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales to have a lid on the number of empty homes in our communities. Therefore, a community that has been built and shown to be vibrant during the covid crisis can have the opportunity to grow still and not peter out due to a lack of full-time homes.

I am intrigued by the speech the other night about Roosevelt—we will wait to see whether there is anything behind that. Undoubtedly, the only answer as we build back better from all this is to take that Keynesian, investment-based approach and do so in a thoroughly green way, with renewables, recycling, making sure that we have retrofitted insulation and moving forward with public transport. This is an opportunity not only for us to build back better and demonstrate our ambition for a different kind of country, but to do so in a way that our children and our grandchildren will thank us for, because we did so sustainably, renewably and in a thoroughly green way.

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.

Business and Planning Bill

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

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, midnight

I rise to discuss new clause 6, which stands in my name. The Bill has been very rushed. It was announced on Thursday in the business of the House. We had to lay amendments by Friday, and I thank you, Dame Eleanor, for allowing a manuscript amendment today in order to get the new clause put forward.

As the Government rush into this legislation—I think there are questions about why that is—it is important that we make sure there are points of review and reflection about how well it is working. To put it more charitably, I am trying to save the Government from themselves. I think there is a lot of support across the House for the new clause, but in the very short time between Thursday and now, it has been hard to marshal all that and enable people to come and express their views.

The Minister may be able to answer this, but why has the Bill been quite so rushed, given that we have been in lockdown since 23 March and we knew that was coming for some time before then and given that we knew these sectors would be among the hardest hit? One would have thought that somebody in the Government would have been working up a Bill and stress-testing it before now, so that it was not such a surprise to Members of this House and sectors out there.

Local government has been caught rather by surprise. Of course it has been involved. I am not saying to the Minister that the Government have not spoken to local government. It would be extraordinary if he had come to the House from his Department and not done that. But there has not been enough detailed discussion about the impacts. We have heard, and I will not go into the detail again, about some of the impacts in constituencies such as mine and other urban constituencies with a high density of licensed premises, where antisocial behaviour has already been happening as a result.

We are already seeing problems, so there is a warning sign for the Government. The reality is that once off sales are allowed, as the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan said, at the same hours as on licensed premises—almost with a sweep of a pen, with a very short period for councils to object—we will see an awful lot more sales off the premises at all hours of the day and night. We also have the big issue about the resources involved from the police and local councils to police it.

It is easy to say, as the Minister did, that the police have certain powers and there are powers for local authorities, but the issue is the resourcing. We cannot just do all of that in one go. A lot of licences are being applied for. There are more than 1,300 licensed premises across my borough as a whole. How many licensing officers are needed to do that work? The police have other things to do with their time—certainly that is the case in my constituency, where they are dealing with serious crime issues, as well as antisocial behaviour and managing and policing social distancing and covid-19 regulations. There is a lot on everyone’s plate. We want to support businesses, but a three-month review after this has been in place would give the Government the chance to come back and either reassure us that it is all fine everywhere, or, if there are problems, look at ways of addressing that. The Minister has heard today from the Labour Front Benchers that there is strong support to get the economy going, and backing to make sure that businesses can survive the next period, as we still live in the pandemic. That is really important, certainly in a constituency such as mine with so many licensed premises, but we have to get that balance so that residents do not lose out.

This is a very mild amendment. Earlier, the Secretary of State rejected it because I had discussed a rolling amendment—I just say to the Minister that I had very little time to draft it and get advice about how to make it fit. I did not have time to discuss it in detail with the Government, otherwise I would have, and I know that other Members around the House agree with it.

I will not push the amendment to a vote today, but I am hoping that in the other place, they will have more time to think about, listen and reflect upon it, and that, in the meantime, the Government will also have time to reflect on it. Perhaps the Minister can give me some indication of whether this is something that the Government are willing to reflect on—to build in, simply, a three-month review point, so that three months after the Bill becomes an Act, the issue would come to the House again. A Minister would come to explain what is happening and we would have a debate about how this is working in our constituencies up and down the country, in the four nations of the UK, and we can make sure that we are getting it right. If there are problems then, the Government would have my backing to bring in certain powers to ensure that the antisocial behaviour that I fear this may herald is tackled, and I am sure that the Government would have the backing of other Members.

It would be helpful to hear from the Government about their thinking on this very mild amendment. We pushed for a review of the covid-19 legislation, which was pretty draconian. That was accepted by the Government and I propose this review in a similar spirit. I do not think that this will provide uncertainty for businesses. A review, when there has been such cross-party support in general for a proposal that supports businesses, is unlikely to completely reverse it, but it may allow for amelioration of some of the worst impacts if they materialise, as I fear they may in my constituency, or it may allow for different approaches to how the measures are applied in different nations of the UK, different regions or different cities.

They key thing is that if we have the review, it would give the Government and the House an option to look at this again. I think that something as draconian as this—the biggest change in licensing rules for decades—warrants a review. Some of these licences will be granted for a year if they pass through on the nod. A lot of them will go through very fast because of a lack of resources in local authorities. I urge the Minister to take my suggestion for this amendment constructively. I will not push it to a vote today because I recognise that, although the Bill is rushed, the amendment is also rushed. I hope, however, that the other place will consider it, that the Government will approach it thoughtfully and that when the Bill returns to this place, we can consider having a three-month review.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 6:59 p.m.

I shall speak to new clause 1, which I will not push to a Division because, for reasons mentioned by others—not least the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier)—I accept the premise of the Bill. It is about boosting the economy and creating flexibility so that people can begin to make a living again within the confines of the important safety restrictions that there are. However, I am very much looking to the Minister and the Government to be very clear that they will accept the terms and the general approach of my amendment, which seeks Government support for the hospitality and tourism industry beyond the current date set, which is the end of October, when the Government’s financial support schemes currently run out.

We welcome this Bill, rushed though it is, and understanding the necessity of that. We also welcome the support that the Government have given to the sector and the economy more widely. Undoubtedly the furlough scheme, the grant schemes and, more recently, after a lot of lobbying by myself and plenty of others, the discretionary schemes delivered through local authorities have helped to save thousands of companies from bankruptcy and protected millions of jobs. I am grateful to the Government for that.

But tourism and hospitality is a special case. It is a special case because, for many parts of the country, and especially the Lake district, the Yorkshire dales and the rest of south Cumbria in my constituency, it operates on a seasonal basis—on a feast and famine basis. The reality is that covid-19 kicked in at the end of the winter, so there was famine and then the feast was cancelled. October—the month when the Government support for this industry and others will end—is the beginning of the next famine. We have to be very clear about this: if we say to the hospitality and tourism industry that, having missed out on its feast, it has to survive on its own two feet after October, we will simply be signing the death warrant of an entire industry right across this country. As I say, the industry operates on feast and famine. The other way of looking at this is that our hospitality and tourism industry across the UK will be expected to live on the basis of three consecutive winters, and there is no way it can absorb that—there is no way that many of these businesses will be able to survive it.