|Mon 20th July 2020||
Business and Planning Bill
Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
|11 interactions (3,236 words)|
|Tue 14th July 2020||
Business and Planning Bill
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
|17 interactions (1,729 words)|
|Mon 13th July 2020||
Business and Planning Bill
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
|26 interactions (2,970 words)|
|Mon 6th July 2020||
Business and Planning Bill
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
|3 interactions (1,641 words)|
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 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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Balfe.
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?
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
Lord GreenhalghMain Page: Lord Greenhalgh (Conservative)
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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.