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Business and Planning Bill

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2020

Consideration of Lords amendments

Clause 3

Determination of Applications

This Bill is an essential part of the Government’s response to the effects of covid-19 and the restrictions that have been keeping people safe. We know that these restrictions have come at a considerable cost to our economy and to people’s lives. We all have constituents who are desperate to get back to work— desperate to get back to their normal lives. This Bill will help to make that happen. This Bill will help the country get back on its feet.

The amendments that we are considering this evening do not disrupt the thrust of the Bill as it left this House. In fact, they improve it. It is worth remembering that when this Bill was last in this House we debated it over one afternoon—unusually fast, as several hon. and right hon. Members have said—to ensure that it would come into force before the summer recess and give the greatest possible benefit to the country.  The Bill has received more extensive consideration in the other place, and I hope that we can agree the amendments.

I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members for their constructive engagement with the Bill. I am particularly grateful to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and his colleagues in the Opposition for their collaboration. Members’ thoughtfulness and involvement have been a great help in improving this legislation, and I am pleased with the result of our deliberations. I should also like to recognise parliamentary counsel, the legal advisers and staff of the other place and of this House for marshalling this Bill through all its stages.

I shall briefly summarise the amendments that have been made in the other place. First, we have improved the pavement licensing measures in several ways. We have ensured that authorities must have regard to the needs of disabled people when considering whether to grant a pavement licence, and we have ensured that non-smoking areas will be provided by businesses that are granted pavement licences. We have also ensured that local authorities can delegate decisions about pavement licences to sub-committees or to officials, and that regulations issued by Government will be laid before Parliament. Those amendments are in keeping with the policy intention of the pavement licence provisions and improve them. I therefore hope that the House will support the amendments.

Secondly, we have amended the provisions about off-sales of alcohol to combat antisocial behaviour. I am especially grateful to hon. Members for their involvement in this issue—especially my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan); my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), who brought to bear her considerable experience as the leader of a London council; and the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who spoke eloquently when we last debated the matter in this House. I believe that collectively, they have improved the Bill. The Bill now limits off-sales to 11 pm at the latest, and any new permissions will not allow the sale of alcohol for consumption in outdoor areas of the premises that are already restricted by the premises licence. Making off-sales of alcohol easier will help the hospitality industry to recover more quickly, but in a way that does not encourage antisocial behaviour.

Thirdly, we have increased the extension of planning permission by one month. This is a modest extension, but it will provide further certainty and reassurance to developers and local authorities that planning permissions will not lapse unnecessarily as a result of the pandemic. Fourthly, in response to the report by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, any extension to the provisions can be made only when it is

“necessary or appropriate for a purpose linked to the coronavirus pandemic.”

That is an important clarification.

Finally, the Bill now amends section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 so that the Government can make regulations to enable specific authorities to conduct their meetings remotely. These authorities were omitted from the Coronavirus Act because of the speed with which that legislation was passed, and now is the appropriate time to include them. I hope the House will agree these Lords amendments.

I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members agree that businesses throughout our country need the benefit of these provisions this summer. As someone once put it, we need to help to fix the economy while the sun is shining. If we do not pass this Bill today, it will not take effect until the autumn, and the country will lose out on the valuable provisions over the summer months. The Bill has been much improved and scrutinised in the other place, and it is an example of how Parliament can work quickly and effectively in the national interest and set the United Kingdom on a path to recovery. I therefore trust that the House will support all the Lords amendments.

I rise to support Lords amendment 1 and the other Lords amendments that have been sent back to us from the other place. This is an important Bill, as the Minister said—particularly so for the hospitality industry. The Minister made reference to the speed with which it went through this place, and I agree that it has benefited from consideration in the Lords. I join him in thanking all the people who have worked on the Bill, including the civil servants who worked on it at speed to ensure that it can help the hospitality industry and other industries in this time of crisis.

I will briefly refer to some of the changes made by their lordships. I agree with the Minister that limiting off-sales to 11 pm is an important change. I pay tribute to Government Members for their work on this issue, and I pay particular tribute to the campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). It is hard to say no to her, but she made a very important and correct case. Although it applies particularly to her constituency, it also applies elsewhere, and I understand why she made that case. Their lordships accepted it, and we should too.

The Minister is right to draw attention to the important issue of pavement licences and disability, which needs to be taken into consideration when local councils make decisions. The needs of the hospitality industry are clearly very important, but we cannot ignore the needs of disabled people in our country.

The other notable innovation of the Bill relates to smoke-free areas outside when additional licences are granted. That important change will enable people to enjoy the outside space—obviously, they are not able to take advantage of inside space in the old way—with the guarantee of a smoke-free environment. The Minister made reference to a number of other changes, which we support.

The one other point that I will make—I think the Minister and his colleagues will agree with this—is that although this is a necessary set of changes for the hospitality industry, it is not sufficient. We continue to have deep concerns about what we see as the premature ending of the furlough for that industry and other sectors that are in difficulty. With that said, I urge the House to support these Lords amendments.

I rise to support these amendments. On Second Reading, I called for a restriction on alcohol off-sales to 11 pm, so I am delighted that that amendment has been accepted. We need to strike the right balance between getting our economy up and running and the interests of residents, who in certain parts of London have been subject to a lot of anti-social behaviour—in particular, in Notting Hill in my constituency. These amendments strike the right balance, and I commend them to the House.

I can only echo what the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) said about anti-social behaviour, which has been an absolute plague on communities across London and, I am sure, elsewhere. In my community in Richmond Park, we have had behaviour the like of which we have not seen before. It has been an enormous burden for local people.

I welcome the Lords amendments. I am slightly disappointed that the amendment that my colleague Lord Paddick put forward about serving alcohol in open glass containers was not adopted, because that would have had a significant positive impact on the situation that many people are experiencing.

To add to what I said on Second Reading, I urge the Government to think again about the number of police officers in London. We in Richmond are certainly finding that, because police officers are always focused on violence reduction and that is a particular issue for some of the inner London boroughs, we are missing out on the increase that we need for neighbourhood policing in places such as Richmond, which would do much more to keep a lid on some of the antisocial behaviour we are seeing. We have heard about the extra officers that are coming, and I really hope that they are coming very soon, because we would like to see them in Richmond.

I echo what the Minister said about the passage of this Bill, its speed and the constructive nature in which everyone has engaged with it. This is going to be a great piece of legislation, and I support the amendments.

I want to put on record how proud I am of the entrepreneurs in Hackney who have contributed so much to developing our night-time economy—often quite young people who have come up with interesting ideas about how to develop their premises and contribute to our economy. However, it does cost Hackney Council £1.5 million a year in extra cleaning to manage the night-time economy that we have fostered. In its original form, the Bill would have contributed to some of the behaviour we have seen in recent weeks and months in my borough. I never like to stand up here and say bad things about the constituency I represent, but we have seen some appalling behaviour—I will not repeat what I said last time.

The Minister talked about the thoughtfulness and involvement of hon. Members that has greatly improved the Bill. I say to the Government that, even in a pandemic, a little more time could create even better legislation. Given that we were in the pandemic and businesses were thinking about this much earlier, a little more time—a week, even—would have been better than the three days we originally had to consider the Bill. We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble, because there was agreement that we needed to support the hospitality industry, but there is also agreement across the House today—happily, we have seen some important changes—that we should support the residents, who will suffer if we do not get the balance right. In fact, the businesses in my area that have been there for a long time, living in most cases pretty harmoniously with residents, want to have that long-term relationship, so they were not all in favour of the original proposals. That could have been ameliorated if hon. Members had been involved at an earlier stage.

I particularly welcome and pay tribute to my colleagues in the other place on the limit on off-sales to 11 pm—I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), who was the first to raise that issue in this House—and the limits on extensions to that. Off-sales cannot be a permanent free-for-all. Of course, if a local area decides that it works, it is at liberty to grant a licence in a particular area or a particular part of that area, but this freedom in licensing must not continue just because we have had it during a pandemic—it has to be down to local authorities that know their area, know their residents and know and support their businesses. The decision should never be taken away and made subject to a blanket permission from central Government. I welcome the intervention from their Lordships and I thank the Minister for accepting the amendments, so that we can move quickly on to support our businesses while ameliorating the impact on our residents.

I do not propose to detain the House any longer than simply to say thank you to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to right hon. and hon. Members across the House for their commitment to the Bill and their contributions to it. I wish it safe and swift passage to Royal Assent.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 42 agreed to.

Deferred Divisions

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 41A(3)),

That, at this day’s sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the Motions in the name of Secretary Matt Hancock relating to Public Health; the Motion in the name of Secretary Dominic Raab relating to Sanctions; and the Motion in the name of Christopher Pincher relating to Town and Country Planning.—(David Duguid.)