Lord Greenhalgh contributions to the Business and Planning Act 2020


Mon 20th July 2020 Business and Planning Bill (Lords Chamber)
Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
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Tue 14th July 2020 Business and Planning Bill (Lords Chamber)
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
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Mon 13th July 2020 Business and Planning Bill (Lords Chamber)
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
26 interactions (2,970 words)
Mon 6th July 2020 Business and Planning Bill (Lords Chamber)
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
3 interactions (1,641 words)

Business and Planning Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Business and Planning Bill

(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 20th July 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Home Office
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. It is right that the House is again afforded the opportunity to consider the implication of pavement licences. The various amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, highlight the need for inclusive design. I agree with him and am pleased that the Government have also tabled amendments on this theme. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raise similar concerns, and I am glad that the House has debated them today.

I hope that, in addition to the Government’s amendments, the Minister offers further non-statutory assurances to make certain that accessibility issues are resolved. As my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley noted, applications should not be granted if people are forced to cross a road; they should be able to pass by without incident. Pavement licences, when granted, can result in vibrant social spaces, but relevant stakeholder consultation is essential, as is the role of local authorities in ensuring compliance—as raised by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey. I agree with him that resources will need to be made available to local authorities for the extra work that this will entail.

My noble friend Lord Hain returned to the issue of trade union engagement, and he has the support of these Benches in so doing. As he said, consultation and co-operation have become the name of the game. I associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti in that respect. It should be the norm and statutorily implemented.

The House is aware from previous stages of the Bill that amendments in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, have been raised about the concerns of trade union members. This amendment would ensure that local authorities consult employees and their unions when determining pavement seating applications. In recent weeks, I have spoken to members of Wetherspoon staff represented by the BFAWU, and it is clear that they are often left in the dark on decisions that have enormous ramifications for their working conditions. I hope the Minister will assure the House that he has at least engaged with trade unions in drafting the legislation and that he continues to during its implementation.

The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, the pavement licensing clauses in the Bill will provide vital temporary flexibility to aid the recovery of the 158,000 hospitality businesses that employ almost 2 million people over the summer months. That is the importance of this legislation, as raised by my noble friends Lord Naseby and Lord Sheikh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

Noble Lords have voiced concerns over accessibility, which the Government agree is paramount. While the Government have sought to address accessibility from the outset, through robust conditions such as the no-obstruction condition, guidance and enforcement procedures, we have reflected on the strong feeling in this House and recognise that more needs to be done.

In response—and what has been described by “a huge step forward” by my noble friend Lord Holmes—the Government have tabled Amendments 6, 16, 21 and 87, in the name of my noble friend Lord Howe. First, the Government have tabled Amendment 6 to Clause 3, which would insert a new subsection after subsection (6). New subsection (6A) provides that, when local authorities are determining whether furniture put on the highway would be, or already is, an unacceptable obstruction, they must have specific regard to the needs of disabled people and to any recommended distances required for access by disabled people, as set out in guidance issued by the Secretary of State. This puts in the Bill a requirement that a local authority, when deciding whether to grant an application and to exercise its enforcement powers, must have in mind the needs of disabled people and for clear access, as set out in the Government’s guidance.

Secondly, as well as the amendment to the Bill, I appreciate that there has been some confusion over the application of inclusive mobility guidance, so we are going to sharpen the focus. Inclusive mobility draws on a wide range of stakeholder inputs and remains the key piece of design guidance for the pedestrian environment. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Low, work led by DfT is under way that will update inclusive mobility next year. However, we recognise that businesses applying for licences may need clearer direction.

That is why our guidance will make clear that, in most circumstances, 1,500 millimetres or 1.5 metres of clear space should be regarded as the minimum acceptable distance between the obstacle and the edge of the footway. We will also address other concerns raised—specifically, provision of clear barriers to demarcate seating, explicit reference to duties on local authorities under the Equality Act and style of furniture. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, that is the framework within which we are asking local authorities to operate.

We have also set out, in the House, the circumstances when local authorities can use their power to revoke, including where there is a breach of condition or there are risks to health and public safety, as well as highways obstruction. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, there are robust enforcement procedures and local authorities can revoke licences when they give rise to these risks. They will need to have regard to the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act, when devising and implementing the new licensing regime, to eliminate discrimination and harassment. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, disabled people can complain to the local authority, so authorities can act and revoke the licence for breach of a condition, which would be taken immediately. The idea of using markers, as raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, will also be considered in the guidance. That was a good point.

In drafting the guidance, we have consulted key stakeholders, including the RNIB and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, as well as the Local Government Association. These are the relevant stakeholders requested by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. Since these measures will come into effect immediately on Royal Assent, it is important that we publish final guidance now, so that local authorities and businesses have regard to these vital considerations of accessibility without delay, as soon as these measures are implemented. However, we have made clear that any new national conditions will be subject to the negative procedure, as I will turn to shortly.

Finally, as a third step, we will be communicating the publication of the guidance to local authorities to make sure that they have sight of it as soon as possible. In so doing, we will point to existing examples of best practice on accessibility, as suggested by the RNIB.

With these steps, the Bill now makes clear that authorities must take the needs of disabled people and recommended distances into account, while guidance will set out further detail on what this entails. This provides very clear direction to local authorities and leaves scope for them to respond to their own local circumstances, while complying with their existing duties under equalities legislation. That delivers the certainty referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, with a degree of local discretion. I have to say, I note that my noble friend Lord Blencathra reserves the right to bulldoze through any obstruction in his armoured wheelchair.

I hope, therefore, that my noble friends Lord Blencathra, Lord Holmes and Lord Cormack, the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will accept government Amendment 6, and not press their amendments on this matter.

As I set out at Second Reading, the Government have accepted the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and tabled an amendment to replace the Secretary of State’s power to publish national conditions on pavement licences with a power to specify any national conditions for pavement licences in regulations, subject to the negative resolution procedure. This should provide a robust level of scrutiny of any national conditions. I hope that noble Lords will accept government Amendments 16 and 87.

The Government have tabled Amendment 21, a minor and technical but important amendment, to ensure that pavement licence functions are discharged by the authority, rather than by the authority’s executive. This responds directly to an ask of the Local Government Association. It means that these functions can be delegated by the authority to a committee, sub-committee or an officer, or to any other local authority under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972. This is in keeping with other similar licensing regimes, such as the existing pavement licence regime. In short, this will provide a real practical benefit to local authorities on the ground; it means that decisions can be made more efficiently by an existing committee, reducing the burden on local government. This issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I trust that the House will see the benefit of this to local authorities and hope that Amendment 21 is accepted.

Break in Debate

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock [V] - Hansard

My Lords, we have heard, as we did in Committee, powerful arguments about taking this opportunity to exclude smoking from new pavement licensed areas. The case for ensuring that those of us who do not wish to inhale second-hand smoke are not excluded from that enjoyment is well made.

The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Northover is a vital step in making our country smoke-free. It had strong and detailed arguments in support of it from the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Grey-Thompson, the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Balfe, and many other noble Lords.

However, Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, lacks clarity for businesses and shies away from the paramount public health concern. It is a cop-out. When an argument relies on pointing to the drafting issues of a stronger amendment, as hers did, you know that it is very weak.

We have heard that the overwhelming majority of people do not smoke: a mere 14% do. Protecting the interests of a minority does not extend to a situation where, by doing so, harm is created for the majority, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has just explained. Smoking kills and second-hand smoking kills. Surely the Government should take every opportunity to restrict it.

The choice is clear: do we use this opportunity to keep the health needs of customers paramount or not? The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is supported by the Local Government Association. I hope the Minister will provide a full response to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to have further consideration on Amendment 15 prior to Third Reading, so that progress on this issue can be made.

Other amendments on this matter fudge these vital health concerns, and we on these Benches wholeheartedly support the cross-party amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Northover.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

My Lords, we would do well to remember that the pavement licensing clauses in the Bill provide vital temporary flexibility to aid the recovery of hospitality businesses over the summer months, and that we need to proceed quickly to achieve that. Noble Lords have voiced some concerns and requested clarity in relation to the position on outdoor smoking under these temporary fast-track licences. I am not going to go into the respective roles of the hard cop and the soft cop in achieving the Government’s amendments, as my noble friend Lord Young put it. However, in recognition of the mood across the House the Government have tabled Amendments 13, 14 and 25 to provide the clarity that local authorities, businesses and customers need.

It is important to recognise that we are winning the battle against smoking: Great Britain has one of the lowest rates of smoking in Europe, at 13.9% of adults. Fewer than one in six adults smoke today and, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, over 1 million people have given up during the lockdown, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bethell earlier today.

This Government have taken great strides in reducing the harms caused by smoking. We committed to doing so in the prevention Green Paper. We will publish the prevention guidance response in due course and set out our plans to achieve a smoke-free England by 2030 at a later date. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, supports that mission. I emphasise to her that there has been no stop in providing smoking cessation support. The Government continue to provide those programmes of work, which address smoking harms nationally and are delivered locally through the tobacco control plan for England and the NHS long-term plan’s commitment to provide smoking cessation support in hospital settings.

In the debate noble Lords expressed their support for the temporary, urgent and necessary reforms brought forward in the Bill to support the businesses hardest hit by this pandemic—our pubs, cafés and restaurants—and to protect jobs in those sectors. We recognise that the Covid restrictions mean that customers are encouraged or required to eat and drink outside, and that clarity is critical as we support businesses to recover. That is why the Government have tabled an amendment requiring proper provision for non-smoking seating via a smoke-free seating condition. This amendment does not prevent the portion of businesses which wish to cater for smokers from doing so. It requires proper provision for non-smoking seating. This means that customers who want to choose to sit in smoking or non-smoking al fresco dining areas will be able to do so.

The Government’s position means that all businesses eligible for pavement licences can share the benefits of this new fast-track licence, while ensuring provision for non-smoking seating. Of course, businesses can already make their own non-smoking policies for outside spaces to reflect customer wishes without the need for regulations, and the Government support that. I say to my noble friend Lord Balfe that a blanket ban can be imposed by businesses themselves. Our guidance will further reinforce this point, making it clear that the licence holder has to make reasonable provision for seating free of smoking.

The guidance is available on the GOV.UK website and was circulated to noble Lords and noble Baronesses before this debate. It includes clear no-smoking signage, displayed in accordance with the Smoke-free (Signs) Regulations 2012. No ashtrays or similar receptacles are to be provided or left on furniture where smoke-free seating is identified. Licence holders should aim for a minimum two-metre distance between non-smoking and smoking areas, wherever possible. That is the framework, so I do not see the confusion raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

It is also worth reiterating that businesses must continue to have regard to smoke-free legislation under the Health Act 2006, and the subsequent Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulations 2006. This is restated in our guidance, as it is absolutely right to stress it, and the Government are committed to working towards a smoke-free society by 2030, as I have said.

Now is not the time to prevent businesses catering to their customers, or to use a temporary provision on pavement licences to ban smoking outdoors. Now is the time to support our hospitality industry and ensure that all businesses eligible for pavement licences can share the benefits of this new fast-track licence. This point was made by my noble friend Lord Blencathra. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is to withdraw her Amendment 11 and I thank her for her support for our amendment, which seeks to achieve what she set out in her amendment.

However, I fear that Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is not the way to proceed and would be unfair to businesses. While undoubtedly not its intention, it would create confusion. The effect is to create an unfair playing field between businesses applying for these new licences, which need to abide by the condition, and those with existing licences, which do not. This point was made by several of my colleagues. Her amendment also cuts across the ability of business owners to make their own non-smoking policies for outside space, without the need for regulations. Of course, there are cases where the regulations are already clear. The existing power, set out in the Health Act 2006 and subsequent Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulations 2006, made it illegal to smoke in public in enclosed, or substantially enclosed, areas and workplaces. The Bill changes none of this.

On the other hand, the Government’s amendment has the proportionate approach advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. He said that we needed proportionality and this is what we deliver with this amendment. It rightly requires proper, fair provision for non-smoking seating, while not undermining business owners whose customers include smokers. It supports our hospitality sector in continuing to operate, while following the Covid restrictions necessary to protect public health. I thank my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe, Lord Sheikh, Lady McIntosh, Lord Lansley and Lord Young for supporting the government amendment, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. I therefore urge noble Lords to support government Amendments 13, 14 and 25, which will ensure that consumer choice remains. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, has already indicated that she will withdraw her Amendment 11, but I ask that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, does not move her Amendment 15 when called.

On a couple of points of clarification, the guidance being issued is joint guidance from the MHCLG and DHSC. It will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. In response to the noble Lord, Lord German, there will be no physical barrier between non-smokers and smoking areas but a two-metre gap. I hope that answers the questions raised in the debate.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport [V] - Hansard

My Lords—[Inaudible.]

Break in Debate

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, when I first spoke this evening, I should have mentioned that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, so I mention it now for the record. I will be very brief. If the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, are successful, I will be the first to congratulate him.

In respect of meetings of mayoral development corporations, I am pleased that the Government listened to the points that I and other noble Lords made, and I thank them. I have only one question: can the Minister confirm that, when we agree the government amendments tonight, they will come into effect on Royal Assent and the required regulations will be laid quickly so that we do not have to wait for weeks and weeks before they can take effect? With that, I am happy to give way to the Minister.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

My Lords, I rise to speak to government Amendments 84, 88 and 89—tabled by my noble friend Lord Howe—which are grouped with Amendments 85 and 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, and Amendments 61, 62, 64, 68, 69, 70, 72, 76 and 77, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley.

I turn to Amendments 84, 88 and 89, government amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Howe, and Amendments 85 and 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. The purpose of these amendments is to secure that mayoral development corporations, Transport for London, urban development corporations and parish meetings are subject to the power in Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which enables the making of regulations to allow these bodies to meet remotely until 7 May 2021.

They correct the omission of these bodies from the Coronavirus Act, which was an accidental oversight due to the pace at which the Act was drafted. It is wholly consistent with the current policy of the Government that bodies such as local authorities—in the broadest sense—should be able to meet remotely, carrying on their business while protecting the health and safety of members, officers and the public. The Government have received representation on this matter from, among others, the Mayor of London—particularly on behalf of the London Legacy Development Corporation—Transport for London and the National Association of Local Councils with regard to the inclusion of parish meetings.

I will answer both the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, by saying that the Government’s intention is to make the amended regulations with urgency following Royal Assent. In fact, Amendment 89 specifically allows early commencement of Amendment 84 and, in addition, we will move at pace to ensure that the regulations are in place in a matter of days, as opposed to the typical 21 days. This is a similar pace to the laying of regulations following the passing of the Coronavirus Act.

I note Amendment 85 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which would have put the change to Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act in the Bill in respect of mayoral development corporations, and Amendment 86, which seeks to include a specific reference to the highway authority for the Greater London Authority in the local authority remote meetings regulations. We support the spirit of these amendments but, in the light of the government amendments, we hope that noble Lords will not move those amendments. I hope that will also be the case for the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, for Amendment 56. We agree that local planning authorities should have sufficient information about the impact of extended construction hours on the community and environment to enable them to make a timely decision. We believe that the most appropriate way of ensuring that this happens is through guidance. There is likely to be a range of possible responses from the construction industry to this measure and variation in what will be requested—from an additional hour or so on some sites, so that workers can have staggered start and finish times, to longer evening extensions on others. Therefore, we need a flexible and proportionate approach that can be tailored to the circumstances.

However, we listened to noble Lords’ views during Committee and we hear their concerns. We recognise the need for balance and to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect amenity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, have asked for. We have strengthened the draft guidance so that it also lists an assessment of impacts of noise on sensitive uses nearby as something that local planning authorities may wish to encourage an applicant to provide to aid swift decision-making. This is in addition to providing a justification for extended hours and mitigations to aid swift decision-making, which were already covered in the guidance.

We have also taken the advice of the Institute of Acoustics, the Association of Noise Consultants and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and gone further still to make other changes to strengthen the guidance, including that applicants provide information on the primary construction activities expected to take place during the extended hours, including the plant and equipment expected to be used. Taking into account these changes, I beg noble Lords not to press their amendment. I also assure my noble friend Lord Balfe that the legislation is temporary and we will not see any diminution to the environmental gains that have been achieved by the planning system.

I turn to the nine amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, which relate to Clauses 17, 18 and 19, and the extension of planning permissions and listed building consents. These amendments would extend the time limit for relevant planning permissions and listed building consents to 1 May 2021, instead of 1 April as currently drafted. I note that he has tabled these amendments as a compromise given my concerns about accepting his amendments in Committee, which would have introduced an extension to 1 June 2021.

I agree with my noble friend that any extension of unimplemented planning permissions or listed building consents needs to be of sufficient length to aid the development industry, given the impact that Covid-19 has had on development. We certainly think that it will take time for many developers to commence new residential and commercial development. I thank him in particular for his insightful points during the debates on these measures, particularly on the potential impacts of the winter months on the productivity of the development industry.

I am pleased to say that the Government will accept my noble friend’s nine amendments. They will provide a modest extension into the more accommodating spring months. I also recognise that this additional time would be welcomed by developers and local planning authorities, given that the development industry is experiencing a slow and cautious return to full operating capacity. We accept that this is appropriate in the circumstances.

The amendments would, in effect, give any eligible planning permissions and listed building consents nine months, or three-quarters of a year, from now to take steps to implement the permission. We will, as previously mentioned, keep the use of powers to extend certain dates in the legislation under review if the impact of the coronavirus continues.

These are modest amendments, but I agree that they will give additional certainty to developers in these exceptional times. I trust that they will be well received by your Lordships’ House, as well as by the industry. On this basis, I am happy to accept my noble friend’s amendments.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock [V] - Hansard

I thank all noble Lords who contributed on this group of amendments. I am pleased that the Government’s administrative oversight in connection to the mayoral development agency in London has been put right. I very much thank the Minister for his reply and the information that government guidance will be strengthened regarding applications to extend construction hours to protect communities and the environment. With those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Business and Planning Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Business and Planning Bill

(Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V] - Hansard

My Lords, the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, raise the matter of caravan sites, campsites and holiday accommodation operating during the winter months, as well as the related issue of combined holiday offers. The tourism industry has been hit more than most during recent months and the Government must explore all options to support it during these turbulent times.

I am pleased to inform the Committee that my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely has this responsibility as part of her ministerial portfolio in the Welsh Government. She is doing all she can to help support the reopening of the tourism industry, which is of course a vital component of the Welsh economy. The impact on the wider industry has enormous ramifications for local economies and wider supply chains. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government will support all involved.

The noble Baroness’s exact proposal for winter openings has merits, but we should also consider the unintended consequences. Perhaps the best means to do so, as with so much of this legislation, is through consultation with local authorities.

While on holiday parks and accommodation, it is important that we briefly recognise the consumer rights issues that have unfortunately arisen during this crisis. For example, the Minister may be aware that there have been disputes with Parkdean Resorts, which initially insisted on pitch fees during the months in which holidaymakers were unable to visit. On that issue, I would welcome an update from the Minister on whether the Government have taken any steps to support dispute resolution efforts between operators and accommodation owners.

The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con) - Hansard

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, for raising this important issue. Campsites, caravan parks and holiday cottages are places we all value. They are a mainstay of their local economies in many parts of the country, providing employment and supporting local services and businesses. I share her concern about the considerable impact that the coronavirus has had on the sector. In particular, we recognise that many campsite, caravan and holiday park owners now want to extend their season opening times, but planning conditions can limit this. I recognise the important role these businesses play in their local communities and economies.

On Amendments 74 and 75 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I am pleased to announce that my department will lay a Written Ministerial Statement that will encourage local planning authorities to take a sympathetic approach to applications to change the opening times on a temporary basis, allowing campsites and caravan and other holiday parks to open beyond the summer season. The Statement encourages them to use their discretion not to take enforcement action where this could lead to a breach of a planning condition.

I am less convinced that there should be any changes to provide flexibility for the owners of holiday cottages who want to let them out for wider uses on a temporary basis. As tourist accommodation could be lost, it may deprive areas reliant on tourism of visitors over the winter as we recover from the coronavirus. Individual owners can still apply for a variation of condition in the normal way if they wish. I hope that my response provides sufficient encouragement for the noble Baroness and that she will not move her amendments when they are reached.

Amendment 50, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, seeks to amend the package travel regulations with the admirable aim of boosting local tourism. The package travel rules are designed to be light touch where possible and provide protection and clarity for consumers. In her speech at Second Reading, she used the example of a bed and breakfast adding an evening meal at a local pub or restaurant to its customer offer. It is unlikely that this would invoke the package travel rules. For such an addition to come within the parameters of the package travel rules, the extra meal would need to be an essential feature of the trip, accounting for a significant proportion of the value of the package. That is normally taken as a cost in the order of 25% of the total package.

None the less, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the issue. The Government indicated last year that they would undertake a review of the package travel rules in future, but believe this is better conducted when the UK has left the EU and has the full freedoms to act independently. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept this amendment; I hope that she will therefore withdraw it.

I will write separately to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on the points she raised about disputes and the steps taken by government.

Lord Redesdale Portrait Lord Redesdale (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, it is rare that you get to speak on the same amendment almost 24 hours later. I congratulate the Minister on what is probably a first in this House in the 30 years I have been here; I have never known the House to rise before a Minister’s statement, but I quite understand the technical reasons for this.

The Minister’s response answered many of the questions I had, and I very much hope that the ministerial Statement will give a lot of comfort to those holiday businesses that will go forward to local authorities. I know that many local authorities have looked at this in a positive way, but it would be great for the holiday industry to show that the Government see this as a positive movement.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

I thank the noble Lord; he got a second chance to speak but had very little to say. The coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of firsts; it is good to share in that endeavour. I am pleased we were able to assuage a lot of his concerns.

Baroness Doocey Portrait Baroness Doocey (LD) [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, particularly in respect of caravan parks, which sounds good. I would obviously like to see the detail, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. I do not at all accept the points he made about the package not coming to 25%, but I do not honestly think this is the time to talk figures with him; I would much prefer to do it privately afterwards. I think that not taking the opportunity to help small local businesses work together is a mistake that has been allowed because of this anomaly in current legislation—but I hope to persuade him when we speak privately that the figures I put forward are right.

It is also deeply distressing that the holiday cottages will not be included after the vast amount of money they have lost during the coronavirus. The difficulty is that this sector has been hit so badly that it will definitely end up with thousands of people losing their jobs and livelihoods. I know the Government feel as strongly as I do that this should not happen, so I really hope they might be able to reconsider after we speak. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB) - Hansard

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 52. I remind the Committee that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate. The Minister wishes to speak before I call the mover of the amendment.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

For the convenience of the Committee, and perhaps to save some time, I intervene to notify the Committee that, with regard to Amendment 73, we will bring forward a government amendment on Report that seeks to include mayoral development corporations, Transport for London and parish meetings within the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Clause 16: Modification of conditions relating to construction working hours

Amendment 52

Moved by

Break in Debate

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport [V] - Hansard

My Lords, Amendment 58 in my name would explore how the changes to construction hours might impact on those employed in the industry. The changes are welcomed by Unite the Union, which represents construction workers in the UK, but I understand that there are concerns that any extension of hours does not simply lead to workers working extended hours. A better situation would result in staggered shifts, allowing more construction workers to be employed on the site while maintaining social distance. I am sure that it is not the Government’s intention that longer operating hours will adversely impact those on site, but I would be grateful for assurances on how that will be guaranteed.

On the broader planning amendments, as the former leader of Newport City Council and leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, I speak from personal experience on these issues. I am all too familiar with the need to be cautious of the adverse effects on the environment, wildlife and of course of the need to take into account the views of local residents. My noble friend Lord Hain spoke eloquently about the scandal of land banking when over 400,000 homes are waiting to be built across the UK. Indeed, it was and still is a constant source of tension in local authority planning departments as developers await a rise in land and home values and just sit on their given permissions. My noble friend’s idea of a forfeit of planning consent is an excellent one. It would gain much support in local government. Most importantly, it would allow for homes to be built again to try and assuage the great need that we have for homes across the UK.

I hope that the Minister will offer assurances that he will engage with local authorities to stress the importance of these factors. Furthermore, I am glad to support the comments of my noble friend Lord Kennedy in welcoming the changes announced by the Government to Amendment 73 ensuring that the mayoral development corporations, TfL and the London Legacy Development Corporation can hold virtual meetings, as they are also planning authorities.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

My Lords, these amendments relate to construction site hours and virtual committees. We welcome the intention behind Amendment 73 on virtual committees, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Valentine. It would amend Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Act was drafted at pace and the omission of the bodies listed was an accidental oversight, so I am pleased to tell the Committee that, as announced earlier, we are bringing forward an amendment on Report to deal with the matter. With regard to the length of construction hours— a point raised repeatedly by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem—this is all about the balance between getting Britain building safely again and amenity.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and my noble friends Lady McIntosh, Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall for amendments to Clause 16. My noble friend Lord Blencathra’s Amendment 53 deals with works in proximity to residential dwellings. I assure him that the planning authority will still have discretion to refuse applications that it considers would have an unacceptable impact. The draft guidance published alongside the Bill highlights that careful consideration will need to be given to whether to refuse applications made in relation to developments that are in close proximity to residential areas where the request is likely to have a significant impact on health. The guidance also flags up the need for the local planning authority to take into account its other legal duties to protect people in the locality from the effects of noise.

I will take Amendments 54, 55 and 57 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in order. First, in response to Amendment 54, I say that there should be no fee in the current circumstances. This is a temporary measure that deals with a specific issue and is accompanied by clear guidance. We do not believe that the average planning department is likely to receive a great number of applications through this route such that it would create a significant new burden.

On Amendment 55, the draft guidance encourages developers to work closely with their local community and the local planning authority to undertake any noisy works that may affect residents during normal working hours and to implement mitigation measures. The local authority has the option to enforce against any breach of such approved plans and can enforce against other unacceptable impacts through the statutory nuisance framework.

I turn next to the final amendment raised by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, about extending the decision period of 14 days if agreed by both parties. We are conscious that this is a short period, but it reflects a careful balance which allows time for fair consideration and required engagement by the local planning authority while ensuring that the developer gains a fast-track decision for this temporary measure, particularly so that they can make use of the additional daylight hours in the summer months. Local authorities also retain their discretion to refuse where there would be an unacceptable impact.

Break in Debate

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport [V] - Hansard

My Lords, the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, highlight questions in the Bill relating to the duration of planning provisions. Amendments 59, 62, 66 and 68 beg the question of what the consequences will be should the Bill be delayed. The other amendments in this group demonstrate the lost time and capacity available for development during 2020.

The United Kingdom is suffering from a lack of affordable housing. We must build to a scale which has not been seen in recent decades. The pausing of developments in recent months would make this even more difficult. We should also be alert to the knock-on effects on housing stock should developers be forced to cease construction altogether. As I noted in the previous debate in relation to the comments of my noble friend Lord Hain regarding land banking, we must allow houses again to be built without delay to provide homes for the people of this country. I hope the Minister can offer assurances regarding these issues.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for speaking to this group of amendments which relate to the extension of planning permissions and listed building consents. These amendments have been supported by my noble friend Lord Balfe. Let me begin by saying that this is a very unusual and challenging time for the development industry, and we recognise that many developers of residential and commercial buildings have had to pause projects.

First, I recognise my noble friend’s comment that the proposed extension for those permissions and consents due to lapse close to 31 December 2020 will represent an extension of only three months, and I take his point about the quality of those three months. However, where a planning permission is due to lapse earlier in the year, for example in September, it would benefit from an automatic extension of closer to seven months. This, we believe, is proportionate.

Secondly, we should be clear that these measures to extend planning permissions and listed building consents are intended to support developers to implement their permissions—that is, to make a start on site—as we know that many of them will have experienced disruptions or delays due to the pandemic. However, it need not take very extensive works to implement a planning permission, and we think it is reasonable to expect starts on site to take place by 1 April 2021. I note my noble friend’s points about the community infrastructure levy, but we have made provisions so that the payment can be deferred and I am sure we will see improvements with regard to the current delays in the discharge of pre-commencement planning conditions.

Finally, my noble friend will be aware that we have included powers to extend, by regulations, both the 31 December 2020 date and the 1 April 2021 date to allow more or longer extensions, should that become appropriate. I am happy once again to commit to my noble friend on the Floor of your Lordships’ House that I would be pleased to engage with him on this matter in the coming months as we better understand how the industry is recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.

My noble friend also spoke to Amendments 59, 62, 66 and 68 to Clauses 17 and 18 in relation to the scope of the additional environmental approval process. These amendments would shift the cut-off date for those permissions which require additional environmental approval in order to be extended to April 2021. This date is currently set at the date these provisions take effect, which is four weeks after Royal Assent. My noble friend’s amendment would shift this to 25 June 2020 to cover just planning permissions that have expired. He will understand that where planning permission has lapsed, an extension effectively reinstates the permission, thereby permitting something that otherwise would not be allowed to go ahead. So it is right in those circumstances, having regard to our environmental commitments and obligations, to check whether the existing environmental assessments are still up to date. However, it is important that these provisions capture not only permissions which have actually lapsed, but those which, while technically still extant as of now, in practice could not be implemented within their original time limit. That is why it is right that there is a short delay between this Bill achieving Royal Assent and the cut-off date when these provisions take effect.

Developers with a permission that has not yet expired, but which is due to do so before these provisions take effect, still have the option to implement their planning permissions now, if they can. This would avoid any need to apply for additional environmental approval. If they cannot, it is right that before an extension is granted, there should be a check on whether the requisite environmental assessments remain up to date. The process for doing so is not burdensome, is focused and would be free of charge for applicants.

I hope that with this assurance my noble friend will feel able to withdraw Amendment 59 and will not press the others in this group.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley - Hansard

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Wilcox, for their contributions to the debate and for their positive remarks. I am also grateful to the Minister for his response. He demonstrated that he is trying to work this through as a practical issue. There are powers in the Bill to change the dates for the extension later on by way of regulation. I will consider what he said in his reply before we think about this on Report. It seems to me that if we recognise the strength of the case we should perhaps reflect it in the Bill to some extent, but there may be other and better ways of achieving that than in my amendments to date. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Business and Planning Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Business and Planning Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 13th July 2020

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as noted in the register. Despite my deep and continuing roots in local government, I am afraid I am not able to say that I am a vice-president of the LGA. Who knows? Maybe one day.

We welcome the clauses in the Bill to allow pubs and restaurants to obtain pavement licences more easily. We have heard a wide range of views from noble Lords in this debate. The hospitality industry continues to suffer from restrictions in its capacity, and I am sure the whole Committee is keen to support steps to allow pubs and restaurants to serve a greater range of customers. However, it is imperative that with the increase of pavement licences, precautions are taken to minimise any adverse consequences. Safety and accessibility are paramount, and I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has tabled a series of amendments with this in mind. His point regarding inclusive design was extremely well made, as was his question regarding updated guidance in our post-Covid environment.

The noble Lord is not alone in raising these issues, and I note that the RNIB and Guide Dogs for the Blind have raised similar concerns. His expertise in this area is clearly invaluable, as is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who made the point that guidance is often ignored and legislators must think more positively to allow disabled people to move around safety. I take particular interest in Amendment 5, which stresses the importance of compliance with the Equality Act, and I would appreciate clarification from the Minister of how statute already provides for this.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised the interesting proposal of allowing outdoor seating outside unused premises. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts on this, but I hope that in doing so he considers the implications of this for the concerns raised elsewhere over safety.

I also take interest in Amendment 12, which raises the point that any changes must allow for social distancing. I am sure the Minister will agree that these issues must be considered together by businesses, local authorities and the Government to ensure that they are resolved. With each of these concerns, it is clear that legislation will not provide all the answers. It is incumbent upon local authorities, as was so clearly put by my noble friend Lord Harris, who has a laser-like focus on what town halls can and cannot do. He made an important point about a seven-day consultation period and the problems that residents have to deal with as a result of not knowing what has changed in their community.

As further premises gain pavement licences, it is crucial that the Government engage with local authorities to consider whether they can offer any support and do not merely issue a diktat from above. A main learning outcome from this dreadful pandemic is the clear dependence that central government has upon local government in carrying out the laws and regulations made by the Governments of the four nations. Without the practical support of local government, much of what happens here simply would not happen. Local authorities will no doubt work, as ever, in partnership with local businesses, disability groups and, as we have in Wales, public service boards, working jointly to improve our areas. As noted in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and the detailed elucidation by my noble friend Lord Adonis, Parliament must remain alert to any further issues which may arise, such as the inclusion of 1,500 millimetres apart guidance, thus changing an unworkable solution into a workable solution.

The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Neville-Rolfe for the important measures proposed to support the hospitality sector. It employs some 2 million people. However, this group of amendments relates to the need to maintain access on the highway for all users, especially those with a disability. The Government strongly agree that this is an issue of great importance. As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, put it, no one should be left behind and we need to proceed with appropriate caution.

My noble friend Lord Blencathra has done extensive research into the guidance on the different standards, which was noted by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned the Inclusive Mobility guidance of 2005 and the different standards included in that guidance. It is very important to retain local flexibilities so that local authorities can assess the distance needed for the location of the premises and the type of street involved. There needs to be that flexibility rather than having uniform guidance.

Amendment 21, tabled by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, would require pavement licence guidance requiring minimum distances as part of a national condition to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. My noble friend also raised concerns about inclusive mobility. I am happy to tell the Committee that we have accepted the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that national conditions should be contained in regulations subject to the negative resolution procedure. I hope that my noble friend is comforted that this will help address parliamentary scrutiny. Clause 5(6) gives the Secretary of State power to publish conditions for pavement licences. This is to be replaced with a power for the Secretary of State to make provision about national conditions by regulations subject to the negative resolution procedure. We will also accept the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendation in relation to the powers to extend measures in the Bill to ensure that the effects of coronavirus form part of that consideration.

We have listened to the concerns raised at Second Reading and today in Committee and have noted the strength of feeling in this Chamber that more must be done to address accessibility issues. We intend to table an amendment on Report to address those concerns. We believe that putting this into the legislation will provide an important safeguard to ensure that authorities act in accordance with their legal obligations to protect the interests of disabled people.

Amendments 2, 12 and 25 were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and were spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lord Naseby. Amendment 2 would require the inclusion of a barrier to separate furniture from the pavement to allow the safe passage of pedestrians. Introducing barriers to separate furniture may improve navigation for the visually impaired, but it can also cause further obstructions on the pavement which would inhibit others, including the mobility impaired. The Government are clear that access must be maintained for all users of the highway, including the visually impaired and the mobility impaired. All pavement licences will have an express or, in default, deemed no obstruction condition, along with a condition explicitly requiring clear routes of access, taking into account the needs of disabled persons.

Amendment 12 requires that where possible the minimum pavement width required must be increased to allow two pedestrians to pass each other while socially distancing. We fully support the intention, which is why the pavement licence guidance refers to the government guidance on Covid-19 safe public places. The measures for social distancing set out in the guidance will have to change over time depending on the circumstances. It is important that the legislation does not restrict businesses’ ability to align with it and therefore it is more appropriate to address this through guidance.

For reasons that I have set out, I am not able to accept Amendments 2, 12 and 25. I hope that my noble friend Lord Holmes will withdraw Amendment 2 and that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, will chose not to move their amendments when they are called.

Amendment 20, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, seeks to establish a specific requirement that the Secretary of State should have to take into account the needs of the disabled, including the blind and the partially sighted, when setting any national conditions. Related to this, my noble friend Lord Holmes, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has tabled Amendment 5. The intention of this amendment is to require that when applying for a pavement licence, applicants must ensure that the application is compliant with the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and any relevant regulations or guidance under that Act.

My noble friend Lord Holmes also tabled Amendment 17, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, to place duties on the authority to investigate concerns over accessibility where a licence is granted, revoking the licence if necessary. I assure noble Lords that businesses that provide services to the public must comply with their duties under the Equality Act 2010, as must local authorities because they are public authorities. As these parties are already under specific legal duties, it is not necessary to include a specific reference to the Equality Act in the Bill or specifically reference taking into account the needs of disabled people in the setting of any national condition. A local authority will need to have regard to these duties if concerns are raised over the accessibility of a pavement. The legislation already includes powers for local authorities to revoke if a licence holder has breached any conditions of the licence. This includes no-obstruction and clear-access conditions. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept these amendments, and I hope that noble Lords will therefore choose not to move them when they are called.

I turn to Amendments 6, 7 and 8—tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Holmes—regarding the consultation process. These amendments would require local authorities to publish details of applications online in an accessible format and specify that the consultation period should not start until they have done so. The Government agree that the consultation should be accessible, which is why the Bill requires authorities to publish both the application and the fact that representations can be made. In doing so, they will need to meet the requirements set out in the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, which are already in force. A public authority will be bound to act fairly and in the public interest, and so publish as soon as possible. Our draft guidance makes it clear that appropriate methods of publication include online methods and that authorities should consider the needs of those who may find it more difficult to access online publications. We are working with the RNIB and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association to refine the guidance. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, about the importance of linguistic requirements and the use of Braille and audio. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept these amendments, and I hope that noble Lords will therefore choose not to move them when they are called.

Break in Debate

Lord Blencathra [V] - Hansard

My Lords, it would be churlish of me not to intervene at this stage and thank my noble friend the Minister most sincerely for his excellent concession in saying that these national guidelines will now be subject to parliamentary scrutiny via the negative resolution procedure. I chair the Delegated Powers Committee. This is an excellent and very welcome concession.

We make laws in two ways in this country, or we should do—Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments—but in the past few years we have seen a worrying trend of guidance having legal force and a new invention, which we will come to in a Bill very shortly, of something called “protocols”, which are legally enforceable. These are just clever euphemisms for what should be regulations. I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister will put these on a statutory basis. I also look forward to his amendment next week in time to set minimum guidelines for access on pavements.

In the meantime, I thank my noble friend most sincerely for this excellent change of heart today.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

I thank my noble friend for his comments. Of course, I noted the points about the need for a minimum access requirement.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond [V] - Hansard

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting debate. First, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his change of heart on the footing of the guidance and his commitment to bringing forward an amendment on Report; all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate will certainly wait so see the nature and extent of it.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for his excellent speech. He made his point perfectly clearly: we should make Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments that are clear and to the point. His setting out of how guidance can get into trouble with a whole series of different lengths and distances made the point clearly, to the extent that, if at any stage the noble Lord cared to make that film, I would be happy to take part in it with him; there could be no greater way of demonstrating how not to go about things.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Thomas of Winchester, for their interventions. It has been made clear in the debate that, at their heart, these amendments essentially have nothing to do with disability and disabled people. They have pertinence to disabled people only because we are the individuals on whom this stuff bites if it is not got right. It is no more significant for a disabled person seeking access than for a man pushing a double buggy or a woman from a store down the road pushing a trolley full of goods to get to the other branch around the corner.

I am sure that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe did not intend to make this point, but there is no sense whatever that economic activity, economic growth and economic motoring are any sense diametrically opposed to inclusive design and accessibility. Inclusive design is the bedrock for the best economy and society that we can build. Inclusion is in no sense a clog at the heel of economic activity; it is the basis on which a better, more prosperous economy and a more integrated and prosperous society is built.

To the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, I say this: my noble friend made perfectly clearly the point as to how inclusive design and economic activity go hand in hand in the specific case of the situation in Berlin. We really need to see from my noble friend the Minister amendments on Report that can have us all saying when it comes to pavement dining and pavement socialising, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

On the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, his forensic analysis is spot on. With modern techniques, there is absolutely no reason why consultation should be seen and characterised as a laborious process. Things can be done in real time by connecting to the people who are in the vicinity and have particular expertise to bring to bear on the consultation on a specific issue. Similarly, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was spot on with his laser focus on exactly the point at hand: ensuring that the guidance is not only fit for purpose but takes into account the current context.

It is interesting that most of the arguments about the need to get on with this seem to fit very well with the previous group, in terms of enabling small, independent breweries to have licences, with an aim to get on with it and drive economy activity in that way. But I will leave that to one side and come back to it on Report.

In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. In essence, none of these amendments asks for anything other than for every policy practice, procedure and area to be predicated on inclusive design—not because of Covid but because that should have always been the case in every situation. Either we build back together or we do not build back anything that is worth while and sustainable and that optimises social activity and economic growth. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 19 in my name, and I will also refer to other amendments in this group. We can all recognise that the granting of pavement licences can have consequences for local communities, and through the application process we can best mitigate any unintended repercussions. A consultation in itself will not suffice—it must be open, accessible, and not merely a tick-box exercise.

The amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, highlight the question of the time limit for pavement licences. The department has been keen to stress during the passage of this Bill that most measures are temporary; but can the same be said for the licences themselves? The intention behind Amendment 19 is to highlight the importance of the UK Government and local authorities working in tandem throughout the process. The Secretary of State must engage with councils while establishing the conditions for pavement licences and be receptive to any feedback received. As my noble friend Lord Harris remarked, local authorities must take account of the residents affected by any changes. Indeed, as a former council leader myself, I agree that if we fail to listen to and act upon the views of our residents, political demise will soon follow.

The enforcement role of local authorities is a similarly important point. Many teams in licensing and trading standards have been decimated by a decade of cuts to public services, and there may be simply not enough boots on the ground to facilitate this effectively. On the same theme, I also ask the Minister to consider how the Government intend to work with the devolved Administrations on these initiatives. While many of the provisions in this Bill do not relate to the whole of the UK, we can all accept that the borders between our nations are permeated by people visiting licensed premises, be it Chepstow in the south or Chirk in the north. Indeed, before the pandemic, more people moved daily between Cardiff, Newport and Bristol for work and leisure than between Liverpool and Manchester. Hence, the idea of the Western Gateway was initiated, and cross-border working for economic gains was developed by Welsh and English local government.

I also refer to the comments made by noble Lords about the time taken by some areas of local government to respond to matters. After dealing with a cut of almost 30% of my total budget, yet maintaining the level of services delivered by my council, I think it nothing short of miraculous that councils are still delivering to such high standards across the UK.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

First, I thank my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Hayward for asking us to get a move on—or, as my noble friend Lord Naseby put it, “Get on with it”—and my noble friend Lady Stowell for her vociferous eating out to help out over the weekend; it is much appreciated.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, made several points concerning the importance of listening to residents; as a fellow former council leader, I know that that is of course absolutely critical and key to any consultation. I should point out that any additional costs and burdens which fall upon local authorities are covered by the new burdens doctrine as they arise. As someone who has more recently been a council leader, I know that these days, almost all applications are sent electronically, so the dates sent and received are identical in almost all cases. I also highlight that the Local Government Association is fully supportive of the measures proposed for the issuing of pavement licences.

Let me turn to the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris. This group of amendments addresses a range of issues relating to pavement licences. Amendment 19 seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State consults authorities if he chooses to publish a national condition. As I said to the House when discussing the previous group of amendments, we have already accepted the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that national conditions should be contained within regulations subject to the negative resolution procedure. I hope this addresses the issues raised by both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.

I now turn Amendments 9 and 10, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Low, which deal with the consultation process. They would extend the public consultation period to 14 days rather than seven and provide that the period starts after the application has been published by the authority. The Government welcome the intent behind the amendments, which is that local communities have appropriate opportunity to comment on applications, and this is an important part of the process. Under the Bill, the seven-day consultation period starts the day after the application is made. The Bill requires the applicant, by posting a notice on the premises, and the authority, in such a manner as it deems appropriate, to publicise the fact that representations can be made during that period.

Authorities can choose to publish the application electronically, and this should make it easier to publish the application speedily. Extending the consultation period for more than seven days, however, would undermine a key benefit of this process, which is its speed. This temporary fast-track process strikes a balance between supporting businesses and responding to community interests by equipping authorities with local conditions and robust enforcement powers. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept these amendments, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Low, will withdraw Amendment 9 and choose not to move Amendment 10 when it is called.

Continuing the theme of consultation, Amendment 16 —in the names of my noble friends Lord Holmes and Lady McIntosh, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson—would allow local authorities to include conditions which incorporate concerns expressed in the consultation. As I have previously said, the ability to respond to local issues is important, which is why the Bill allows pavement licences to be granted by a local authority, subject to such conditions as it considers reasonable. Local authorities can already do what the amendment is seeking, and for this reason I cannot accept it.

I turn to Amendment 13, tabled by my noble friend Lord Holmes, which seeks to implement a right of appeal. It is right that authorities have the ability to control the effects of licences, whether deemed or granted. That is why deemed licences are subject to conditions published by authorities. Authorities can require licence holders to immediately remedy breaches of conditions and have the power to revoke licences where needed. For these reasons, I cannot accept this amendment.

Amendment 14, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, seeks to reduce the duration of deemed licences to three months. I believe the intent is to allow greater flexibility to local authorities to manage public spaces and review the suitability of these licences. It is important to allow for local authority discretion, while providing certainty for businesses. This is why the Bill provides that a deemed licence has a duration of a year and robust enforcement powers where there are breaches. Licences can also be revoked if all or any part of the area of the relevant highway has become unsuitable for any purpose for which the licence was granted. We need to provide certainty to businesses, which is why three months is not long enough as a default position. For the reasons I have set out, I cannot accept the amendment.

The same is pertinent to Amendment 15—tabled by my noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Lord, Lord Harris—to change the expiry date of these licences to the end of September 2020. For the same reason I gave for Amendment 14, I cannot accept this amendment.

I respond finally to Amendments 22 and 23, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Harris. These would provide authorities with duties and powers to make pavement trading safer, and the authority to facilitate successful implementation of a pavement licence. The Government take public safety seriously, which is why there is a range of provisions in the Bill to ensure highways safety. By virtue of the conditions imposed on all licences, licence holders must not do anything that prevents pedestrians passing along the highway. If conditions are breached or public safety risks arise, authorities can revoke licences.

The Government have published guidance on reallocating road space in response to Covid-19, which points to measures that can be taken to reduce speed limits and create pedestrianised zones. The pavement licence guidance makes it clear that, when determining applications, authorities will want to consider whether any such temporary measures are in place. There is already a requirement for the local authority to consult the highways authority. In combination, the requirements I have outlined clearly tackle the issues of road safety. For these reasons, I cannot accept this amendment.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB) - Hansard

My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Balfe.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply, but I did not gather how he expects the county authority to respond to a request from the district that a particular road should be closed to traffic to enable restaurants to spread on to the pavements and streets. We are looking to do things quickly. As others have remarked, timescales in such requests can stretch into years. We have been asking for permission to put a pedestrian crossing opposite the new conference centre we built. This opened a year and a half ago, but nothing has happened yet. We want these things to happen quickly. What in the Bill will make superior authorities react speedily?

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

There is nothing specific in the Bill on communication between lower-tier authorities and county councils, other than that the intention of it is to move speedily to support the hospitality industry. That is the underlying purpose of the measures we propose.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe [V] - Hansard

In my contribution, and in the previous one, I asked first about the position of unused shops and whether there is a need for the applicant to have and submit the permission of the owner or lessee of the shop, if they propose to put tables and chairs outside it. I did not hear an answer; I might have missed it. Secondly, I asked whether it would be legitimate for an application to be rejected on the grounds that the seven days provided was not enough time for the consultation with local people that is provided under the Bill. I did not hear an answer to that but, again, I might have missed it.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

For clarification, the definition of adjacent does not necessarily refer to premises. We will write to the noble Lord on his second specific point.

Lord Low of Dalston Portrait Lord Low of Dalston [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Break in Debate

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport [V] - Hansard

My Lords, the sole amendment in this group seeks to prevent customers from smoking in areas covered by the new pavement licences. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is right to alert the House to the dangers of second-hand smoke. This is a pertinent issue, considering that respiratory health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

The House will be aware that for some time there has been a wider campaign for smoking in beer gardens to be banned, and that any proposals for further restrictions should be considered only in consultation with the hospitality industry, especially at a time when businesses are struggling to survive. On a similar note, I would welcome the Minister clarifying the guidance to pubs on the exact regulations relating to smoking in outdoor areas. The Minister may be aware that a bar in Belfast was fined earlier this year because its beer garden, which allowed smokers, was too enclosed.

Also on the dangers of smoking, can the Minister explain why the Government are still planning to cut smoking cessation services across England by £4.9 million in 2019-20? The noble Lord, Lord Young, reminded the House of the Health Act 2006, which helped employees in the hospitality industry deal with the perils of passive smoking, since they are entitled to work in a smoke-free atmosphere. My noble friend Lord Faulkner alerted the House to the Government’s intention to make pubs and clubs smoke-free by 2030—the most significant contribution to public health since the Clean Air Act of the 1950s.

I pay tribute to local government colleagues in Manchester who, through consultation, have found that an overwhelming majority of Mancunians support the creation of permanent smoke-free zones in the city and wider region, to “make smoking history”. Perhaps the Minister should look instead to Wales, where the Labour-led Welsh Government have made enormous achievements in de-normalising smoking and protecting non-smokers from exposure to second-hand smoke. Last summer, Wales was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in outdoor school spaces, playgrounds and hospital grounds, and—as noted by the noble Lord, Lord German, who was an Assembly Minister at that time—we were ahead of the curve when we banned smoking in indoor public places in Wales in April 2007, ahead of England.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

My Lords, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, seeks to ensure that pavement licences may only be granted by local authorities subject to the condition that smoking is prohibited. The Government recognise the vital importance of health and safety concerns but we do not believe that imposing a condition to prohibit outdoor smoking would be proportionate. I shall explain why.

We are helping our pubs, cafes and restaurants to safely reopen, and we are securing jobs by making it quicker, easier and cheaper to operate outside. The Government’s priority is protecting public health against the transmission of the coronavirus while ensuring that venues can remain open and economically sustainable. The Government have no plan to ban outdoor smoking. Excessive regulation would lead to pub closures and job losses. Smokers should exercise social responsibility and be considerate, and premises are able to set their own rules to reflect customer wishes.

The Bill allows local authorities to set their own conditions on licences and makes it clear that those authorities will want to consider public health and public safety in doing so. Therefore, local authorities can exercise their condition-making powers to impose no-smoking conditions. Where there is a breach of the condition, the local authority can serve a notice to remedy the breach and even remove the licence, so local authorities have the power to revoke licences where they give rise to genuine health and safety concerns.

Businesses can make their own non-smoking policies for outside space, which can include restrictions on smoking near food. There is a need for social responsibility, as I have already said, and smokers should be considerate to others. The amendment would have unintended consequences, pushing drinkers on to pavements and roads away from licensed trading areas. It would also cause confusion with existing outdoor areas that would still permit smoking.

I have to say that it is great to see the reformation of the dream team of my noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, given what they have achieved in public health terms—the display ban, the ban on vending machines—and to hear of the work between my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Young in cooking up a free vote on banning smoking in public places. However, I reiterate that this is a temporary emergency form of legislation and it should not be a backdoor route to try to ban smoking in public places, as pointed out by my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe, Lady Noakes and Lord Naseby.

As the son of a surgeon, I appreciate the contribution of my noble friend Lord Ribeiro and the points made by the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Carlile of Berriew, and my noble friends Lord Shrewsbury and Lord Sheikh. The case is now incontrovertible that there are dangers from second-hand and passive smoking. I can say that as the son of a vascular surgeon who has published extensively on the impact of smoking on arterial disease. The Government are committed, as has already been stated, to achieving a smoke-free England by 2030. We are already taking steps to get there, as was referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. England’s smoking levels continue to fall and are currently at 13.9%, the lowest rate on record. We will publish the prevention Green Paper consultation response in due course and set out our plans at a later date to achieve a smoke-free England. So we support the implementation and evaluation of smoke-free policies in line with the evidence as it emerges.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, made the important point that any changes of this nature should be made in consultation with the hospitality industry, so amending this Bill is not the way to implement such changes. I note her points about specific places and I will write to her on those matters. For the reasons that I have set out I am not able to accept the amendment, and I hope the noble Baroness will therefore withdraw it.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con) [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I was moved to speak on this amendment because it seems to negate the purpose of this part of the emergency Bill, which is to allow people out on to the pavements to smoke and drink. I have not smoked a cigarette since I was about 11. I had a reputation at school as a prefect and in the Army of being virulently anti-smoking, which I am. I welcome the fact that I can go to pubs and come out without my jersey stinking of cigarettes.

I am delighted to say that neither of my children, who are in their early 20s, have taken up smoking. I would be very upset if they had. We all know how unwise it is. It is a foolish habit, but it is legal and lots of people smoke. Furthermore, many people only smoke with a drink because they like smoking with a drink.

We are talking about being outside. If, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said, it is safer to be outside because of the threat of the virus, it is also safe to be outside when it comes to passive smoking. Of course, we will also have social distancing, which makes it that much more difficult to breathe in someone else’s smoke. As it happens, I would support this amendment if it referred only to restaurants and places where people were eating, but it is illogical because if people are just having a drink it is rather like the outdoor smoking areas that were much talked about during the passage of the Bill that banned smoking in pubs.

We are trying to encourage people to visit bars, but this would deter some people from going to bars. I see it as a somewhat illiberal amendment, which is why I am not surprised to see so many Liberal Democrats supporting it. It seems to be driven by a personal dislike of smoking—a dislike which I share. I will welcome the time when everyone gives up and we have a smoke-free England but, at the moment, if people are allowed to smoke they should be allowed to smoke with a drink outside if they are not harming anyone else. I am delighted to hear that the Government are likely to resist the amendment.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Robathan has a smoke-free family and to hear about his ill-spent youth as an 11 year-old smoker. But as I said previously, this is emergency and temporary legislation and should not be a backdoor route to ban smoking in public places.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response and especially for grouping me with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, as part of this dream team. There is no reason why the Minister would know this, but when the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was the Secretary of State, I was a mere Whip in the coalition, and deputising for part of that dream team—the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I understand why the noble Earl might have felt it difficult to give the speech that the Minister was given by his department this evening. It would have been immensely difficult for part of that real dream team to do that.

I am very thankful to noble Lords for their contributions. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for their comments about moving fast, but they did not seem to get the point that I was making which is that we need to get this sector up and running. Given that almost 90% of us do not smoke, the amendment would make establishments more rather than less attractive, more viable rather than less so, as well as tackling the public health challenge that everyone has laid out. The fact that so many cities have expressed support to me in the space of a few days shows that people can move fast on this. I trust that, in fact, while we have been speaking, the Government are sending the write rounds on the concession that I think is needed on this amendment. I know that the Department of Health and Social Care has been in touch with ASH today and we are very happy to work with the Government on this.

I am, as the Minister will see, disappointed in his response. I realise that he is constrained and that he will be perhaps less familiar with the history of this House and the cross-party involvement in this issue, although I think that he has probably gathered that from the range of people who have spoken. At this stage, I will withdraw the amendment, although we will return to it next week.

The ideal situation is that the Government come forward with their own amendment so that we do not have to have a vote on it next week. I hope very much that the discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care—I am looking at the Box at the moment—will bear fruit. I also look at that part of the dream team sitting on the Bishops’ Benches. I hope that next week we can come to a resolution that we are all happy with.

Break in Debate

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport [V] - Hansard

My Lords, the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, highlights the need for outdoor space licences to be easily granted for areas such as courtyards and car parks. The noble Baroness is right that many premises will not benefit from pavement licences but have space elsewhere for which they may wish to explore the addition of seating. She asked an important question: where is the general new provision? Is the licence needed at all?

The knock-on impact for residents may be lessened should these options be considered rather than pavements. I assume they will also lessen the consequences for those with disabilities who may struggle on pavements blocked by seating. I hope the Minister will consider whether it is possible and desirable to allow more outdoor spaces to be utilised. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, noted what my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley said at Second Reading about the licensing laws needing real revision.

Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

My Lords, the new clause proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, would introduce a fast-track procedure to provide outdoor space licences for areas within the curtilage of premises not already covered by the existing licence—for example, car parks or courtyards. Given that indoor space will be limited while social distancing measures apply, we want to provide a temporary process that helps us support as many businesses to reopen as possible by allowing them to use outdoor space to serve customers, which I believe is the intention of the noble Baroness’s amendment.

This amendment would allow premises to apply for a licence to use outdoor spaces such as car parks or courtyards; however, the pavement licence process already allows premises to do this to the extent that adjacent highways can be used. Where it does not, we have put in place temporary permitted development rights that could be used. The Government accepted an amendment in the Commons to allow any businesses whose premises are adjacent to areas pedestrianised through a coronavirus-related temporary traffic restriction order to apply to place furniture on those areas, bringing more businesses within the scope of the pavement licence provisions.

Business and Planning Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House

Business and Planning Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 6th July 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Leader of the House
Earl Howe Portrait Lord Greenhalgh - Hansard

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Howe, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

It is a great privilege to open Second Reading on the Bill in your Lordships’ House. This is my first Second Reading speech since I took my seat in this House in April, and I am honoured to speak on this Bill, which is so critical for our economic recovery.

Noble Lords may have seen the Prime Minister’s speech of 30 June, when the Government announced that we would launch a planning policy paper this month setting out our plan for comprehensive reform of the planning system. I make clear that the Bill is not part of those ambitions for planning reform and should not be taken as a signal for what that will entail. This Bill is about implementing urgent and mostly temporary measures to provide much-needed support to businesses across our economy. We have within this House some of the country’s finest experts on planning and local government, so I look forward to constructive and positive discussions on planning reform once the paper has been launched.

For now, I beg noble Lords to focus on the merits of this urgent Bill, which will provide a much-needed boost to key sectors of our economy at this extraordinary time. The measures in the Bill have been developed in collaboration with industry and key stakeholders. The Bill directly responds to asks from businesses to help them to overcome the challenges that they face. It is right and important that we now support businesses in overcoming the disruption that has resulted from the pandemic and to implement new, safer ways of working. The Bill will support businesses in four key areas of the economy: hospitality, SMEs, transport, and construction. I will take each in turn.

First, the Bill will provide critical support for the hospitality sector. Food and beverage service activity has fallen by nearly 90% in the last quarter. From last Saturday, pubs, restaurants and cafes were able to reopen while following Covid-secure guidelines. The Government want to support those businesses to make the most of summer trade and to operate in a safe way. The Bill will therefore make it easier for businesses that sell or serve food or drink to obtain a licence on a temporary basis to set up outdoor seating and stalls. It will do this by introducing a temporary fast-track process for obtaining a licence from the local council to place tables and chairs on the pavement outside their premises. This new process will cut the time to receive approval for a licence and will cap the application fee at £100.

We recognise that public safety and access for disabled people using pavements is of unquestionably great importance. That is why the Government have published a national condition. When that condition applies, licence holders will be required to take into account recommended minimum requirements for footway widths and distances required for access by disabled people. In addition, local authorities will be able to refuse or revoke licences where they assess that it is necessary.

The Bill also makes it easier for licensed premises to sell alcohol to customers for consumption off the premises. It temporarily and automatically extends the terms of on-sales alcohol licences to allow the sale of alcohol for consumption off the premises as well. It also suspends any relevant conditions on existing off-sales licences, including conditions that require off-sales of alcohol in sealed containers and restrictions on sales for delivery.

We recognise the need to strike a balance between supporting businesses and ensuring safety and amenity for our communities. If in a particular location these alcohol licensing arrangements were to cause problems then any responsible authority, including the police or an environmental health officer, could apply for a new off-sales expedited review. This expedited review process will allow responsible authorities to quickly alter the alcohol licensing conditions, suspend it for up to three months or remove the permission for sales of alcohol for consumption off the premises. On receipt of an application, the licensing authority must consider whether it is necessary to take interim steps to the permission granted by the Bill within 48 hours of receiving that application, and must hold a hearing within 28 days of receipt. These temporary measures to support the hospitality sector will be in force only until the end of September 2021. This will enable businesses to make the most of outdoor seating opportunities in the summer months this year and next.

Secondly, to support small businesses, the Bill introduces measures to enable lenders to continue to issue bounce-back loans quickly and at scale. The Bounce Back Loan Scheme is designed to provide loans at speed to small businesses adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. So far £29 billion has been lent to small businesses under the scheme, providing a vital lifeline to many.

The effect of the Bill is to retrospectively disapply the “unfair relationships” provisions in the Consumer Credit Act 1974 for lending made under the scheme. This is necessary to remove some of the checks and processes that lenders would otherwise need to run, and which would prevent them from providing loans to small businesses at the scale and speed necessary in this crisis.

Thirdly, to support our transport sector, this Bill makes changes to driver licensing and enables changes to roadworthiness testing for commercial vehicles. It will reduce the backlog of checks and tests that grew over the lockdown. It will help us to get goods, and indeed people, moving across the country.

The Bill introduces a temporary—and, in Great Britain, retrospective—power to issue one-year lorry or bus driving licences, rather than the standard five-year licences. This flexibility will allow a licence to be extended for a year if an applicant is unable to obtain the medical report required for a full five-year licence. This helps to alleviate pressures on doctors and the NHS.

The Bill also reforms the powers to temporarily exempt goods vehicles, buses and coaches from roadworthiness-testing requirements. This will be a permanent change but our intention is to use the reformed power only temporarily in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. This will allow for the high demand for heavy vehicle testing, which was reintroduced after lockdown only on 4 July, to be managed so that the most important vehicles are tested first.

Fourthly, the Bill will support our construction sector to get building again. It will introduce a fast-track route through the planning system to apply for a temporary extension of construction hours so that firms can plan for the safe reopening of sites. Temporarily allowing longer working hours—for example, during the evening and at weekends—will help to facilitate safe working by spreading out the working day. Importantly, local councils will have discretion to refuse requests where they consider that longer hours would have an unacceptable impact. I make it clear that this measure will not apply to construction works to an existing house, which affords a measure of protection to neighbours from disturbance. This measure will expire on 1 April 2021.

In addition, the Bill responds to calls from both the development industry and local authorities to extend planning permissions and listed building consents that lapsed during lockdown or will lapse before the end of this year. As a result of the pandemic, almost 1,200 unimplemented planning permissions for major residential development have lapsed or are at an increased risk of lapsing by the end of this year. These account for 60,000 new homes. The Bill enables the extension of these planning permissions and listed building consents to 1 April 2021, subject to any necessary environmental approvals.

There are two further planning measures included in this Bill. The first supports the Planning Inspectorate to conduct hearings and inquiries while adhering to social distancing. It enables the inspectorate to combine written representation, hearing and inquiry procedures when dealing with town and country planning appeals. This change was recommended by the independent Rosewell review, following which a pilot reduced average decision-making time from 47 weeks to 23 weeks. This measure will apply permanently to support the improved efficiency of the Planning Inspectorate.

The second responds to a request from the Mayor of London. It temporarily removes the requirement for the Mayor’s spatial development strategy to be available for public inspection and for hard copies to be available on request. In a time of social distancing, that is not practical. This requirement is replaced with a duty to make the current version of the strategy available for inspection free of charge by appropriate electronic means. Nevertheless, the Government appreciate that not everybody will have electronic access. As a result, the Bill also requires the Mayor to take into account any guidance the Government publish on appropriate mitigation measures. This measure will expire on 31 December this year. Taken together, all these planning measures will support the recovery of our construction sector and help to get Britain building again.

Finally, the Bill contains a provision to enable the time-limited powers to be extended by secondary legislation, subject to Parliament’s approval. This provides necessary flexibility, given the uncertainties around the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic and the nature of future social distancing requirements.

The package of measures in this Bill has been widely welcomed by businesses and local government at this critical and extraordinary time. The Local Government Association is supportive of the Bill, which it says will help ensure that a consistent approach can be taken so businesses can reopen as soon as possible. The Federation of Small Businesses also welcomes the Bill, which it says will help small businesses in the hospitality sector to resume trading with confidence.

These measures are necessary to alleviate some of the current challenges that businesses face and help the economy bounce back as we emerge from this pandemic. I look forward to our debate today and I commend the Bill to the House.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comprehensive introduction to the Bill. A large number of Members of your Lordships’ House wish to speak in this debate, and we look forward to their contributions.

When a crisis hits, effective Governments do two things: first, they deal with the immediate challenge and, secondly, they anticipate the fallout and begin working out how to tackle the consequences in the months and years ahead. It is anticipated that the UK has spent over £200 billion on a first-stage economic rescue operation but there is, as yet, no plan for economic recovery. Millions of jobs are now at risk and even a VAT cut, which is widely anticipated and would be welcome, will not of itself return our economy to pre-crisis levels of activity. The reannouncement of major infrastructure projects remains just that; most are nowhere near shovel-ready and will take many years to come on stream.

The £29 billion in Covid-19 loans to 640,000 businesses has been a significant boost to liquidity but as loans, these are not earned income. They will leave even fundamentally sound companies with huge debts, which will restrict their ability to reinvest for the future while opening them up to predatory takeovers. The current trickle of bankruptcies may turn into a flood.

I say all this because I want to make the point that while the Government have acted to protect us from the supply shock caused by the pandemic, the resolve that delivered the furlough schemes, which currently maintain 9 million people who might otherwise be out of work, needs to be shown again as we start the recovery to stimulate demand and save jobs. It will be a long haul. The Government urgently need to come forward with a comprehensive, flexible and imaginative plan for the support and recapitalisation of viable British businesses, and the prevention of mass unemployment. But this Bill, welcome though it is, is not that plan.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the constructive conversations that he and my colleagues have had on the Bill. It is a short Bill and there is a large degree of agreement on it. The headline provisions, as has been said, are to enable the hospitality industry to reopen quickly and serve a greater number of customers in a safe environment. My noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lady Wilcox will be leading for us on these sections.

We welcome the temporary loosening of licensing and planning regulations to enable bars, restaurants and cafés to serve customers outside their premises. Having said that, we will question why the opportunity has not also been taken to include street-food vendors and small breweries in this legislation. In these essentially local issues, it is important that local authorities continue to have discretion in these matters because they are best placed to make the judgments about local impacts. However, we have received requests to amend Clause 11 so as to prevent increases in anti-social behaviour in town centres late at night and in the early mornings. It is also right that we raise the concerns of USDAW about the safety of staff. The government guidance is clear about the mitigation and reduction of risk that is needed if one metre-plus social distancing is in place. It is also very important that the Health and Safety Executive has the resources and powers to enforce the safety of those extended workplaces. Can the Minister confirm that that will be the case?

The introduction of more flexible planning appeals is also welcome in speeding up the processes, but we want reassurances that no legitimate voice will be excluded from being heard. Local government is worried about the cost implications of these new rules, so we urge the Government to publish a report detailing the extra costs that councils will face in processing increased volumes of planning applications at the new, reduced fee levels.

We also welcome the measures in enabling construction sites to get back to work more easily, through extended working hours. It is important, however, that communities do not feel that their interests are being ignored in this. We would like to see councils being given the discretion they need to restrict hours of operation, where there is a compelling and overriding local reason to do so. But as well as discretion, local authorities need certainty about resourcing. As was said in the other place, £10 billion-worth of costs have been loaded on to local authorities during this crisis but only £3.2 billion has so far been provided by the Government. When he comes to respond to this debate can the noble Earl, Lord Howe, explain how and when the Government are going to honour their commitment to stand behind councils and give them the funding they need, now and in the future? It is important that the Government also offer cast-iron guarantees that none of the measures in the Bill will place additional costs on councils that have to be financed by further cuts in their services elsewhere. I challenge the Minister to put this on the record.

We also welcome the changes to transport and vehicle licensing, an issue which will be handled by my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. I will be in the lead on the proposal to remove the “unfair relationship” provision from the Consumer Credit Act 1974. There have been many calls over the years for reform of the CCA 1974, as the safeguards are cumbersome and often inconsistent with bona fide attempts to provide flexible solutions to customers who experience temporary financial problems. That pressure has clearly been increased by the pandemic and it is right to take action now on this issue, even though it is to be hoped that the wider issues are also under review.

Bounce-back loans have been very successful in getting money out to small firms which can use them. This compares with the CBILS, where only half of the applications have been approved. We still do not know why, or how many have been rejected and how many are still in the queue. One thing that we will be asking for is that in the interests of transparency, the Government should publish data on the number of rejections and applications, and list the banks concerned. After all, if moneysavingexpert.com can do it, why cannot the Government?

I press the Government to think again about the way in which they are restarting the economy. In particular, I call for a more nuanced approach to the ending of the current support schemes. Many sections of our economy, employing hundreds of thousands of people, have opened this weekend with important social distancing restrictions in place. The hospitality industry has restarted, which is good, but at much reduced levels of revenue; these are not sustainable and may translate into a risk to hundreds and thousands of jobs. Live performances, including concerts and the theatre sector, are still forbidden and many of our most important arts organisations are on the point of closure. The announcement today of additional funding for our arts and cultural bodies is very welcome, but we urgently need the long-promised road map to the reopening of live music and theatre venues. While the buildings may be saved, what will be performed? Many directors of small limited companies—often freelancers in the creative industries—have been denied support and are really struggling as a result. The Government are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to the furlough, when it is increasingly clear that we need a differential approach. Some sectors, such as tourism and the creative industries, are more affected by the public health measures than others, so surely the economic support measures have to match that.

The Government have been talking up a new deal in recent days, and we will presumably know more after the Budget later this week. From recent debates in this House and from polling data, it is clear that the idea of a green recovery is shared widely across the nation. People want jobs to be secured and new quality jobs to be created, but they do not want the economy to return to where it was. They want tangible action on retrofitting insulation in our housing stock, manufacturing low-carbon engines, adapting our towns and cities to walking and cycling, creating green spaces, and reforesting and rewilding.

To conclude, we welcome the Bill, but its measures are modest. The Government have shown that they are willing to take action to relieve the worst impacts of the pandemic, but we face the deepest and sharpest recession, possibly for hundreds of years, and government power has to continue to be used. The decisions taken by the Government in the coming weeks will determine how many jobs are saved and how many businesses survive. The commitment to do “whatever it takes” cannot be a hollow promise. In short, we need this Bill, but we also need an extension to the furlough scheme for specific sectors, an urgent job-creation programme with a green recovery at its heart, and real action on infrastructure, not just words. I urge the Government not to step back when our economy, businesses and workers desperately need their support.