All 2 Baroness Noakes contributions to the Business and Planning Act 2020

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Mon 6th Jul 2020
Business and Planning Bill
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 13th Jul 2020
Business and Planning Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage

Business and Planning Bill Debate

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Business and Planning Bill

Baroness Noakes Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 6th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, this Bill has my complete support. The coronavirus pandemic started as a health crisis, but it is now primarily an economic one. Our GDP has contracted at an unprecedented rate this year, falling by over 20% in April alone. The policy priority has to be a return to economic growth. The furlough scheme, the guaranteed business loans and the other measures have been lifelines, but they were never going to completely offset the huge economic damage that has been inflicted by the lockdown. Indeed, as those schemes start to roll off, we can expect more business failures and higher unemployment that will in turn further impact GDP. The construction and hospitality sectors have been particularly hard hit, and this Bill, while it is no panacea, makes important contributions to their revival.

A number of noble Lords have expressed reservations about the licensing and planning relaxations in this Bill. I ask them to give these temporary measures the benefit of the doubt. We have to get our economy moving again. Once we have recouped this year’s loss of GDP, we can decide from a position of relative economic security what relaxations we can keep and what must be tightened or reversed.

It has been relatively easy to scare people into staying at home, and in broad terms the lockdown has been a great public policy success. The hard task now will be to get people out again, and attitude surveys still show considerable caution. The opening of shops last month and of pubs, restaurants and—praise be!—hairdressers last weekend shows that the public can be tempted out, but not yet in the kinds of numbers that will restore our economy. We need to go even further. We need people to return to normal life, and that means returning to work.

For an economy that has about two-thirds of GDP in household consumption and 80% in the service sector, extensive working from home as a norm will end up being an own goal. I believe your Lordships’ House has a role to play here. Our leaders have been frightened into a risk-averse form of upper Chamber that positively encourages noble Lords to take part from their armchairs at home. Sometimes noble Lords are even outside the UK. I believe we should set an example to the nation that life can and must return to as near normal as possible. The presumption should be that noble Lords are physically present in Parliament and vote in person; I stand with my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Balfe on this. Alternative participation mechanisms should be available but only for those who cannot be present for medical reasons.

We can do two things today to help our country return to economic health and prosperity. First, we can support the proposals in this Bill and speed its passage through the House and on to the statute book. Secondly, we can be a living example that working life can be very much like before, albeit modified by informed risk management and sensible risk mitigation. Noble Lords should remember that the Writ of Summons that each of us received requires us, “waiving all excuses”, to be “personally present”. Let us return to that in September, if not before.

Business and Planning Bill

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

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I shall be brief. I just want to pick up on a point made earlier by my noble friend Lady Bowles: that the opening up promoted by this Bill—which I support, particularly given some of the safeguards embedded in amendments —should not extend to supermarkets and convenience stores. When pubs reopened just over a week ago in Richmond, I and others observed that licensed premises managed their customers and alcohol very responsibly. The problems that occurred were caused by people buying discounted alcohol from supermarkets and reading the relaxation of the rules governing pubs as, in effect, a relaxation of the constraints they had been observing during lockdown; therefore, they were out on the streets, frequently exceedingly drunk. As the chair of the Police Federation noted, it is crystal clear that people who are drunk cannot socially distance.

I could not find a way to shoehorn a specific amendment into this Bill, but I hope the Government will take on board that discounted alcohol served or sold by supermarkets and convenience stores late at night is a fundamental cause of problems that, unfortunately, are frequently being attributed to licensed premises. Locally, we find that those with a licence are well embedded in the community, have a strong and well-established relationship with the police and manage their customers exceedingly well. Going out on Richmond Green in the middle of the night, it becomes clear that it is supermarkets providing very cheap alcohol that are fuelling highly risky behaviour.

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.

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Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey
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My lords, I have put my name to Amendments 15, 16 19, 22 and 23. The Bill allows applications for a pavement licence, and it says that they are deemed to have been approved if the local authority has not determined the matter within seven days. That approval then lasts until September 2021. This is not a temporary fix; it is quite a long-term fix. I think most local residents will find it pretty extraordinary that if, by default, something has not been considered or determined by the local authority, it will stand until September next year. These are the people who will be directly, and potentially, very adversely, affected by the outcome.

Clause 2(7) says that the clock starts from the day on which the application is “sent” to the local authority. I am not sure that many people will send such applications by post, but the difference between the date sent and the date received is potentially significant. Why does the Bill not specify that the time limit runs from the receipt of application?

Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, limits such an automatic approval of a licence to September of this year. That would no doubt meet the requirements in the remarks that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is about to make, and it would allow something to happen now. However, it would also mean that the matter could be reviewed in due time, and I would have thought this was a modest amendment that must make sense.

In my view, Amendment 16 goes to the heart of these issues. These determinations should—and, in my view, must—take account of the consultation with those who are going to be affected by them. Like me, the Minister has been a council leader. I doubt whether, in his time in this role, he would have been very happy not to consider or take account of the views of local residents affected by a proposal. I know that, sometimes, matters of high politics might mean that you wish to override them, but most of the time you will want to listen to local residents and to those who are going to be directly inconvenienced by the changes that you are agreeing. You will want to listen to those who are going to be adversely affected by noise or any rowdyism and anti-social behaviour, and to those who are going to be affected because people are—and I will use the phrase that I used in a previous group of amendments—urinating and defecating on their property. Let us not pretend it will not happen; that is what will happen, particularly in the absence of proper policing resources and local authority enforcement resources.

I ask the Minister again: what are the estimated extra costs that local authorities will face in their enforcement role to manage these changes and what will be the cost of extra policing? That is why my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport’s amendment is so important. Clause 5(6) gives the Secretary of State the power to publish conditions for pavement licences. Will local authorities and their associations be consulted about those conditions? Will they be given the enforcement resources they need? Again, what guarantees are there that the police will have the officers to ensure that suitable order is maintained as a result of the licences?

Finally, I have signed Amendments 22 and 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which acknowledge that, as a result of these licences, people will spill over into the highway or be forced to do so to get around those availing themselves of what is provided. Public safety may require that parking and speed limits be adjusted. That would require the highway authority, which may well not be the same as the local authority, to make adjustments. Similarly, transport operators—those running the bus services—may have to alter their schedules or make minor adjustments to routes to ensure that people are safe. The amendments would require that such discussions took place. Again, they seem modest, and I hope that the Minister can accept them.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes
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My Lords, I hesitate to be predictable; the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has partly predicted what I will say. I am concerned that some of the amendments will make the process of applying for a licence more difficult and the process of getting one unattractive. In particular, if an automatic licence is granted for a very short time, it is of no real use to a hospitality business, which will probably have to invest in further tables and chairs and so on to operate outside, because not all can move outside the tables that they have inside. The amendments work against the spirit of the Bill, which is to try to get the economy going again.

We should not embellish the Bill with lots of extra things that have to be taken into account. There are already significant powers for local authorities to deal with these applications. Local authorities may have to get a bit more agile and deal with applications a bit more quickly than they have in the past. My impression of local government, never having been closely involved in it, is that it is not very agile. I will probably get into trouble with my husband when I get home because he chairs a planning committee, sits on a licensing committee and probably would not recognise my characterisation of lack of agility, but in these difficult times local authorities should be prepared to get a move on and do whatever they need to do to protect their local residents. They do not need any changes to this Bill to do so.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering [V]
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My Lords, I have sympathy with what my noble friend Lady Noakes has just said, but I have lent my support to Amendment 16 in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes. It is appropriate that a local authority should be able to include conditions when granting pavement licences in line with any concerns expressed in the public consultation—with the proviso that the consultation takes only seven days, so I am afraid that I do not support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Low. However, my noble friend Lady Noakes had a point when she said that such conditions should not be so restrictive as to make a nonsense of what is requested in the licence being applied for. I hope that common sense in this regard will prevail.

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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.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on bringing forward this amendment and I support it. If I may presume to say so, we were together as part of the health team in the coalition Government. I am very proud of the fact that we implemented the display ban on tobacco in shops and brought in the ban on vending machines, which was particularly important in restricting the access to tobacco and cigarettes for young people. I also initiated the consultation that led subsequently to standardised packaging.

Between 2011 and 2018, the proportion of adults in this country who were smoking went down, as the noble Baroness suggested. It has gone down from nearly 20% to below 15%. Most encouragingly, among 18 to 24 year-olds the reduction has been largest: from 25.8% down to 16.7%. There has been a reduction of more than one-third in the number of young people smoking—the 18 to 24 year-olds. That is one of the reasons why the impact of this issue in relation to pubs, clubs, restaurants and the like is particularly important for young people who are out and about.

I want to make three points. First, we are in the midst of a health crisis. In a health crisis, which is probably demonstrating to us that one of the underlying factors that has not helped us is the poor underlying health of many people in this country, we must do everything we can to try to improve population health in this country. We have not done enough and need to do more. We must prioritise public health and, by extension, if this amendment were taken on board this measure—modest as it may be in the overall scheme of things—would move us in the right direction.

My second point comes to the point made just now by my noble friend Lady Noakes. It is an important one. This is a temporary measure and would be specific in relation to new licences, but the essence of this Bill is that it will give an opportunity for premises which have previously been licensed for indoors to move outdoors; it gives an opportunity for licensed premises to operate on pavements and the like. In effect, what it says is, “We are extending the public space.” In my view, as we extend the public space, so we should extend the protections for the public that go with it. That means a ban on second-hand, passive smoking for those people who are enjoying that opportunity.

I shall make a third point. I am reminded of when my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and I worked together on a little conspiracy of our own when we were in the other place: the ban on smoking in public places. I was the shadow health Secretary at the time. The nature of our conspiracy was that we secured the agreement of the whips that there would be a free vote. So I very much hope that neither my noble friend nor I will have to vote against a government whip on this matter. The Government could adopt exactly the same approach and give noble Lords in this place a free vote on the amendment. They might also do the same in the other place, and we shall see where we end up on the basis of the arguments. We implemented a ban on smoking in public places on a free vote and, in these circumstances, I think that we might well extend that ban on the same basis for this measure.

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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.