House of Lords
Monday 13 July 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber respecting social distancing and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Oral Questions will now commence. I ask that those asking supplementary questions keep them sensibly short and confined to two points, and I ask Ministers for their answers to be brief.
Covid-19: Performing Arts
My Lords, the Government recognise how severely the cultural sector has been hit by Covid-19. On 5 July, we announced a £1.57 billion support package for key cultural organisations, to help them through this pandemic. The funding will provide targeted support to organisations across a range of sectors including performing arts, theatres, museums and galleries, heritage sites, live music venues and independent cinema. It will protect cultural assets of international, national and regional importance, and prevent the loss of the valuable cultural fabric from our towns and regions.
My Lords, I of course acknowledge with gratitude the scale of last week’s announcement, but there is urgent need for further clarity about whether the new funds will do anything to address the plight of freelance workers, including performers, who make up 70% of the sector’s workforce. Many of them have been unable to access current income support schemes. Further, when will funds start being distributed, and when will there be a plan with dates and sufficient notice to allow theatres and other indoor spaces to reopen in an economically viable way? At this perilous time, speed really is of the essence.
I acknowledge that the Covid-19 crisis has presented a particular challenge for freelancers. The package will support cultural institutions, which means the physical and the human fabric of those institutions. The department is working with our arm’s-length bodies to get the funds out as quickly as possible, and the noble Baroness will be aware that stage 3 of the road map has now been reached, meaning that outdoor socially distanced live performances are now possible.
My Lords, having raised the plight of small music venues previously, I warmly commend the Government for the unprecedented package of support announced last week, which for many will be the difference between closure and survival. With venue owners now looking forward to planning schedules and reopening, particularly in time for the all-important Christmas period, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, in urging the Minister to do everything possible to ensure that the application process for funds can be expedited as quickly as possible so that support reaches those most in need.
My noble friend is right to highlight the importance of bringing back our live music venues as quickly as is safe to do so. We hope that the application process for funding will be open by the end of the month and that funds will start to flow from the autumn, but there is a small amount set aside for those in short-term distress, and obviously, a number of arm’s-length bodies have already been actively distributing funds over the last few months.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. Of course, the great flagships of our cultural fleet must be protected, but surrounding the main flotilla are many small craft employing freelancers, who, as we have heard, are currently in a perilous financial situation. These smaller vessels address many of the Government’s aspirations in terms of geographic reach, diversity, education and innovation, not least in their instigating vital new work from our composers and writers. Will the Minister push for these criteria to be at the forefront of DCMS and Arts Council deliberations?
The department has been very clear about where our priorities lie, in protecting both nationally and internationally recognised institutions and the role of local institutions, particularly in levelling up and economic growth. Hard choices will have to be made, but both those elements are seen as vital within this package.
My Lords, mention has already been made of the national institutions and their international reputations, as well as the spread of small-scale institutions and enterprises around the country and the importance of freelancers in that respect. Going forward, numerous small enterprises are still at risk, so may I suggest that the Government consider underwriting insurance for theatre productions in case they are forced to pause or close?
My Lords, I declare my interests as laid out in the register. Does the Minister accept that, despite the generous and much-appreciated cash injection for the sector announced last week, unless we get the EU-UK deal right post Brexit—and now, post the possibility of an extension—and in particular the right deal on movement of talent and skills, the creative industry faces another crisis and imminently? Are the Government working on a creative freelance visa to maintain access to EU talent and reduce red tape and costs for performers and creatives?
The noble Baroness is right that travel and working within the EU have been important for freelancers in many artistic disciplines. I remind her that we have been clear that we are not asking for anything special in relation to freelancers, but to replicate some of the deals that have been struck with other countries.
My Lords, following the Question asked by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the Minister implied that the funding package recently announced included funding for freelancers but how that is to be done is opaque. Will the Minister write to me setting out precisely the quantum of financial support expected to be available to freelancers in the creative industries and what the take-up has been to date? Will she also set out fully the plan for how freelancers will survive until the full opening of the sector?
I am always delighted to write to the noble Lord—I feel that I do so at regular intervals, which is entirely appropriate. It is hard to be precise about the specifics of take-up to date on a sector-by-sector basis to see exactly where particularly the self-employed income support scheme has been used, but I can give the noble Lord the data that we have. How it will work will be up to individual institutions to judge in their applications for funding.
My Lords, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Dance Group, I am particularly interested in that sector of the performing arts. However, there has been a lack of clarity about how the welcome government package announced on 5 July applies to the world of dance. It has been suggested, for example, that only professional dancers and choreographers will be allowed to use dance studios. But according to the Prime Minister’s earlier statement on 23 June, they must remain closed. Will my noble friend clarify the extent to which the general rules apply to dance and whether any further guidance is due?
My Lords, even with the funding, this could yet be a disaster for the music sector where 90% of the workforce is self-employed. Will the Government extend the self-employed scheme at least until the end of the year? Otherwise, there is the danger that many talented musicians will leave the industry or go abroad.
My Lords, we remain deeply concerned by the conflict in Libya, which continues to threaten stability across the region. The UK is clear that all parties to the conflict and their external backers must de-escalate, commit to a lasting ceasefire and return to UN-led political talks. We welcome recent engagement by the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army in the UN-led ceasefire negotiations.
My Lords, in the civil war in Libya, Egypt, our friend the United Arab Emirates and France aligned with the rebel side along with Russia and even some support from Washington, but Turkey and Italy, which are NATO allies, supported the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. Will my noble friend indicate which side we are on, if any, and how we can mediate in this increasingly bloody conflict, given that the Geneva talks have failed to produce any results?
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are on the side of peace and political settlement. That is why it is important that both sides get together. My noble friend is right that there are proxies at work on both sides. Therefore, the outcome of the Berlin Conference is what we should focus on. It was held in January and of course the follow-up has been taken up at the UN Security Council. We need to get all sides, including external backers, around the table.
My Lords, I declare an interest as I have worked on a government-funded project in Libya over the past two years. To go further, what steps have the Government taken to work with civil society in Libya to try to bring about an end to the conflict? To take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, what conversations have the Government had with those countries which have shown an interest, often for their own gain, in the conflict in Libya?
My Lords, the role of civil society mentioned by the noble Lord is very important and we continue to emphasise its engagement and involvement. Until all sides are firmly around a table, we are some distance away from their effective involvement. Equally, the role of women and particularly women peace mediators is key. The noble Lord asked what we had done so far. We engaged as penholders on the UN Security Council after the Berlin Conference to ensure the passing of Resolution 2510. Most recently, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Middle East took part in the UN Security Council meeting, again emphasising the need for political discussions.
The UN Secretary-General has called for immediate international attention and described the situation as gloomy. I have been a member of the APPG on Libya for some years and visited Tripoli with the much respected interfaith advocate Dr Zaki Badawi to participate in a conference on African and Arab women. I met highly educated outstanding women leaders of Libya. Over the past decade we have heard nothing about their suffering and that of their families in the persistent battle over oil and resources to which we may have inadvertently contributed. What assessment have our Government made, alongside the international community, of the well-being of civil society and women and their fullest possible participation in the imminent dialogue and future settlement in Libya?
My Lords, it is an inevitable and tragic consequence of any conflict that the most vulnerable communities, including women, specifically suffer. We continue to make the case. I have already alluded to what I believe is the most appropriate form of resolution engaging women in every part of the peace process.
My Lords, I used to visit Libya regularly to help in the setting up of clinical medical schools in Benghazi and Tripoli, and it was much appreciated. When does the Minister think we should encourage a resumption of these activities? They are in desperate need all over the place.
In his report to the Security Council last week the UN Secretary-General decried what he termed as high-level direct foreign interference in the conflict which is contrary to the resolution to which the Minister referred. Over the weekend the US and the Libyan national oil corporation criticised foreign capitals for pressure which has led to the reinstatement of the blockade of oil exports. What actions are the Government taking to ensure the resilience of Libyan institutions such as the national bank, the oil corporation and the investment authority so that they can resist this kind of direct foreign interference and provide support for all people in all parts of Libya which is so desperately needed?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise the issue of central banks. Both sides need to get together on the two institutions to ensure equality of approach on that. We deeply regret that the oil blockade has been reimposed on oil facilities and we call on all parties, including those engaging in support of either side, to ensure that oil revenues can start flowing and bring some kind of economic rebuilding to the country.
My Lords, we continue to have strong alliances. Turkey is a NATO partner and, as has already been said, the UAE and Egypt continue to be constructive partners and allies to the UK. We will use our influence bilaterally and through multilateral fora.
My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of whether Egypt is about to enter the conflict directly and move, possibly with the acquiescence of Russia, in support of Khalifa Haftar? What is HMG’s evaluation of the proximity to UK interests, including NATO operations? What is their strategy and approach?
My Lords, the important thing is that all parties come together, irrespective of which side they appear to be on or have declared their backing for, because this requires support not just from the two parties in-country but from those supporting either side.
My Lords, at a recent Security Council meeting Stephanie Williams of the UN Support Mission in Libya warned of a massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries. Can the Minister assure the House that no UK company is indirectly linked to the supply of weaponry and that no UK citizen is involved in the sort of mercenary services provided?
My Lords, the Government now have some hundreds of British troops in other parts of the Sahel working closely with the French in combating tribal warfare and Islamic extremism. How far does the conflict in Libya, with the explosion in the number of weapons there, spill over to the rest of the Sahel? Do we share the view of the French and the UAE that the Muslim Brotherhood is promoting extremism which may also spill over into the rest of the Sahel?
My Lords, members of the ironically named Security Council are attracted to regional conflicts in oil-rich parts of the world, such as Libya, in the name of strategic interests and are selling arms that promote and sustain conflict and horrendous suffering. I know I am going to be told that the UK has one of the strictest arms control policies in the world, but will the Government give a lead to move to a new and less 19th-century view of strategic interest?
My Lords, for years the countries of the western Balkans have been major manufacturers of small arms used in Libya with weapons being purchased by foreign Governments, some of them our allies, and supplied to Libya’s warring factions. What steps have the Government taken or will take to stop that flow of arms to Libya? Will they seek to impose UN sanctions and travel bans on those who are in clear breach of the UN arms embargo under UN Security Council Resolution 2510?
My Lords, I assure my noble friend that as penholders on Libya we will continue to make that case. She is right that there have been abuses of the arms embargo in Libya, but I make it clear that all member states must respect international law and call on the Security Council to take seriously any reports of violations. We must act to ensure that those who are not adhering to the embargo do so and respect international law.
The Government have provided an unprecedented package of support to protect renters. We have provided income protection schemes and have boosted the welfare system by more than £6.5 billion to prevent people getting into financial hardship. These measures will ensure that those most in need will avoid the risk of homelessness once the stay on possession proceedings ends.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that encouraging sign. Do the Government know of the Big Issue’s ride out recession alliance, which is bringing players together to help the Government and local authorities so that they can keep people in their homes? If they slip into poverty and homelessness, it is very difficult to get them out of it. I also draw attention to the work of Shelter, which is calling for a change in the law so that magistrates will not authorise eviction if it is caused by Covid-19 poverty.
My Lords, ultimately the way to prevent an increase in homelessness is rent controls and the abolition of no-fault evictions. However, given that Shelter and Crisis have predicted thousands of possible evictions next month, the Government should enable emergency legal provisions to allow judges to prevent evictions where people have complied with reasonable and affordable repayment arrangements or are awaiting decisions on their benefit entitlement. Does the Minister agree? If not, why not?
The noble Baroness will be aware that I do not agree with the policy of rent controls. It is far more important to follow the guidance and find solutions other than eviction. Our guidance encourages landlords not to seek to repossess their properties during the period where their tenant may be sick or facing hardship due to Covid-19 and to work with their tenant to agree a plan that works for both parties. That is better than the kind of intervention that she suggests.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, according to the Resolution Foundation, private renters are twice as likely as home owners to have struggled with housing costs due to the pandemic? Why, then, in last week’s financial Statement were home owners awarded a stamp duty tax cut worth £1 billion, in addition to all the other previous measures, while the 20 million renters got nothing?
I do not agree that renters have received nothing. The noble Baroness will be aware that we have strengthened the welfare safety net with a boost to the welfare system of over £6.5 billion, and that we have increased the local housing allowance rates to cover the lowest 30% of market rents. In addition, a budget of £180 million has been made available for local authorities to distribute in discretionary housing payments.
My Lords, did the Minister see the headline in last Friday’s Times:
“City landlords fear for future of offices with trains still empty”?
Would not a practical solution be for people who will possibly be made homeless to have an opportunity to rent this type of office? It would have to be with government approval, but it would help to deal with the panic over what will happen to businesses in the future and it would also help homeless people, at least on an emergency basis.
I thank my noble friend. She will be aware that over £0.5 billion has been made available to support rough sleepers and get them into longer-term move-on accommodation. We expect local authorities and registered providers to bring forward units of accommodation from a variety of sources, and this could include repurposing buildings such as offices, where appropriate.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. Has the Minister had a chance to consider the arrangements introduced in Spain to prevent evictions? Tenants with rent arrears caused by Covid-19 are entitled to an interest-free government-guaranteed loan to pay the landlord and remove the grounds for eviction, with the loan being repaid over a six-year period.
I believe that the noble Lord has raised the Spanish initiative several times. Instead of following that model, our intervention strengthens the welfare safety net, increases the local housing allowance and provides discretionary housing payments to support renters.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as listed in the register. The Government deserve credit for quickly getting homeless people off the streets in response to the pandemic. Does the noble Lord agree that a return to a situation where people are sleeping rough on our streets would be tragic and unacceptable, that it must not be allowed to happen, and that it is for the Government to ensure that it does not happen?
I agree with the noble Lord that the mission should be to ensure that those whom we have taken off the streets and placed in emergency accommodation, of whom there are some 15,000, are moved into settled accommodation as soon as possible and do not return to the streets. That is the mission of the task force led by Dame Louise Casey and, as a Government, we will strain every sinew to achieve that.
I know that the Minister is fully supportive of local authorities. When Andy Burnham was made Mayor of Greater Manchester, his first pledge was to end homelessness there. What consideration has been given to providing an in-year increase in funding for the Government’s rough sleepers initiative? This would support our local authorities to boost outreach and get people more quickly into safer accommodation. Time and resources are needed to get this multiagency approach right for people with complex needs and to prevent homeless people being back on our streets.
The noble Lord is right to highlight the importance of multiagency working to tackle homelessness. However, I point to the fact that we have made several announcements in the last two months, including £105 million to support the ending of rough sleeping and, in the previous month, £433 million to provide thousands of additional long-term homes for vulnerable rough sleepers. This money can be used for that endeavour.
My Lords, no hero should be homeless. Of 343 local authorities, 252 do not include Armed Forces veterans in their housing strategies. One hundred and seventy-six local authorities fail to even consider the needs of these valiant veterans in their homeless strategy. Indeed, housing allocations for these homeless heroes have declined by nearly 11%. What steps will the Government take to remedy this unjust situation?
My Lords, given the current uncertainties, would it not make sense to extend the moratorium on evictions beyond September to allow three things to happen: first, for the consequences of the Government’s stimulus to the job market to be felt; secondly, for the amendment to the pre-action protocol overseen by the Master of the Rolls to be delivered and understood; and, finally, to give time to amend housing legislation to allow judges greater discretion with regard to eviction cases? Does my noble friend agree that this action is preferable to introducing measures against a rising tide of evictions in the autumn?
My noble friend will know that we are exploring a number of options to further protect tenants, including a pre-action protocol for claims for possession by private landlords. This might not be the way to achieve our objective, so our priority is to work with the judicial working group convened by the Master of the Rolls on arrangements, including new rules, that will mean that courts are better able to address the need for appropriate protection of all parties once the stay on possession proceedings ends in August.
My Lords, with many office spaces and other commercial buildings remaining empty as people work at home and no doubt continue to do so, at least partly, in the future, will the Government consider ways in which, working with local authorities, these spaces can be refurbished initially as temporary homeless shelters but later be converted into permanent homes for a wider range of people needing housing?
I refer the noble Baroness to my previous answer. Certainly these buildings could be repurposed where appropriate. We expect local authorities and registered providers to bring forward enough units to deal with the issue of finding longer-term accommodation for the homeless.
East Africa: Food Security
My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the food security situation in east Africa. In Sudan, we expect the number of people without access to sufficient food to increase this year by 35% to 9.6 million. In South Sudan, already 6.5 million people suffer acute food insecurity. The UK is working across east Africa to provide life-saving assistance, cash transfers where markets are still functioning, and tools and seeds to build a longer-term ability to respond to shocks.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer and I welcome the Government’s efforts over the desert locust storms and Covid-19 in east Africa and the Sudans. What UK aid programmes have been cut as a result of moving funding for these urgent projects? The FAO reports that some 19 million people were food insecure in the region last year, so situation is worse than it was 12 months previously. In South Sudan, close to 60% of the population are severely food insecure. Locust swarms present a double crisis for those battling the Covid pandemic, preventing the delivery of locust-control equipment and restricting access to response teams with essential advice and expertise. Will the UK Government commit to maintaining the central purpose of our 0.7% GNI aid programme as ODA compliant to support east Africans with meagre health infrastructure and to ensure access to affordable Covid vaccines, once available?
My Lords, as the noble Lord said, we are committed to 0.7% of our GNI. That commitment continues, and will continue, to work to end poverty. The noble Lord refers to a process that departments are going through at the moment, given the likely reduction in GNI this year. I am afraid I do not have further information about that process but it will be available in due course.
With the economy of Sudan collapsing and inflation rocketing, the Anglican Archbishop of Khartoum said recently that people would rather die of Covid-19 than of hunger. In South Sudan the Anglican Archbishop of Juba said that mortality rates were already high and, in response to the virus, hygiene and social isolation are difficult—indeed, almost impossible. The diocese of Salisbury has a long-standing partnership with the Anglican churches in those countries and we have launched an emergency appeal this month for at least £50,000 for hygiene and food. What are the British Government doing to support the improvement of hygiene and food in those countries? What does the Minister think we are learning about the motivation for our giving aid to these countries?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate for his fundraising efforts. I talked earlier about 0.7%; while it is wonderful that we spend that much money overseas, given Covid, locusts and flooding, those needs are very great so people need further help. The UK Government will continue to support countries across east Africa, including Sudan and South Sudan. We will ensure that we are providing healthcare, clean water and nutrition where possible.
My Lords, given that the UK is a signatory to the Agenda for Humanity’s Grand Bargain initiative, which encourages the use of local and regional NGOs in the delivery of aid, what steps are the Government taking to use local and regional NGOs to deliver food aid in Sudan and South Sudan?
We continue to work to improve the effectiveness of the international humanitarian system. In the time of Covid-19, that is more important than ever. The UK is the largest donor to the UN’s Sudan humanitarian pooled fund, which aims to advance the Grand Bargain commitments that my noble friend referred to. That works by providing direct funding to national NGOs, as well as building the capacity of local partners to strengthen programmes and deliver results.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Disasters Emergency Committee. That committee is launching a coronavirus appeal tomorrow to protect refugees and displaced people in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, including South Sudan, Yemen and Syria. Given the devastating consequences of the virus for those already desperately vulnerable people, will the Government encourage the public to give generously to that appeal by doing so themselves in the form of aid matching?
I thank the noble Baroness for highlighting the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. We will be supporting that appeal; I think we will be making an announcement on it tomorrow. The noble Baroness also referred to support for refugees and internally displaced people. Today we are making an announcement that we are supporting 5,500 teachers to ensure that refugees, over half of whom are young people, will be able to continue their education throughout the crisis.
My Lords, the situation in Sudan is so awful that one can hardly imagine it. Women play a crucial role with vulnerable people in the global food system as producers and workers and at processing plants. In the present situation, it is almost impossible to buy food. We have to think about how the right and proper nutritional food is available and can be bought and consumed or given as aid. We know the importance of the right nutrition from gestation for the mother and for the child during the growth of the brain, the lungs and the body, and none of this can wait until later. It is important that there is a proper diet. I want to know how we can ensure that food is getting directly to mothers and children on the ground. We must look at the metrics through a gender lens.
The noble Baroness refers to the situation of women in Sudan. We welcome some of the recent reforms that will support women in Sudan. Gender inequality of course plays a significant role in food security and the nutrition status of individuals. Entrenched sociocultural norms and practices are placing women and girls at greater risk. We are working with the World Food Programme and others to ensure that we are targeting vulnerable groups, including women and girls, as the response continues and as we help to increase food productivity and the diversification of crops and livestock for women farmers.
Does the Minister agree that growing food insecurity in Ethiopia, compounded by Covid-19 and the ongoing locust infestation, is placing further strain on an already fragile political situation? What support are the Government providing to relieve these added pressures and to help ensure that Prime Minister Abiy’s reform process is successful?
I agree with the noble Lord that the humanitarian context in Ethiopia is increasingly complex and of concern. The UK supports a safety-net programme to deliver food and small cash transfers to 8 million people in Ethiopia, and we continue to support the welcome reforms, which include supporting the independent electoral board, organised free and fair elections, and the consultations with civil society and media. We are reviewing the impact of the recent political insecurity on these reforms.
My Lords, the pandemic will have multiplied the challenges that the poorest are facing in the least developed countries. Reducing or cancelling debt is only part of the solution. Will my noble friend ensure that the processes for businesses that wish to go and operate in those developing nations are streamlined by the Government, which would benefit not just those countries but our country as well?
My noble friend referred to debt relief. Of course, the UK—together with other G20 countries—suspended debt service payments, making up to £12 billion of additional fiscal space. I agree with my noble friend that we must support UK businesses in investing in developing countries, and we are doing that through our work with UK Export Finance and the CDC, our development finance institution. I agree that we must do more to streamline the process.
My Lords, the United Nations World Food Programme acute food insecurity and malnutrition forecast for this year confirms the terrible figures that the Minister gave in her Answer. Sudan alone will have up to 9 million people facing food insecurity this year as that insecurity worsens after the coronavirus epidemic. That is a potential famine of biblical proportions. Have the Government had any discussions with the UN in respect of that report? If so, what action ensued from those discussions?
Existing humanitarian disasters and conflicts are going to be exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19. We are working hard to urgently redirect programmes right across Africa to respond to these compound risks. We will be working through our country programming and multilateral responses, as well as through the World Food Programme.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the combined departments of the FCO and DfID will now provide added value to UK humanitarian work in the Sudans, and to good governance? Can she report on any progress with conflict prevention in the south?
DfID and the FCO already have a joint Sudans unit covering both Sudan and South Sudan. That work will continue and, as the noble Earl says, with the new department we will be able to ensure that we use both our diplomatic and development expertise to the highest effect.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply, and I ask that questions and answers are brief.
EU Coronavirus Vaccine Programme
Private Notice Question
My Lords, we have had constructive discussions with the EU on this scheme. We have decided not to join since we would not have a say in running it and would not be able to pursue our own negotiations. We will instead continue our own ambitious programme to secure a successful vaccine for the UK public as soon as possible and build collaboration with the EU outside of this framework.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. I think the noble Lord would not be surprised if some anxiety was not expressed about this issue, for two reasons. First, the Government have form in this pandemic by refusing to take part in the European procurement programme to buy PPE, for example, for which we have paid a price. Secondly, the Health Secretary has said that the Government have rejected the offer to join the EU scheme because they did not want to disrupt the UK vaccines programme, which one understands, and we have secured two deals with
“the two most developed candidates in the world”.
Does the Minister share my concern that the Government may be putting all our vaccine procurement eggs into two baskets? If these two candidates are unsuccessful, what options will be available to the UK, given the aggressive procurement efforts of the United States, China and other countries? What does the Minister think the UK’s role should be in what is turning into a vaccine nationalism—a sort of arms race—with significant worldwide political, economic and public health implications?
I understand the noble Baroness’s reservations and she makes some good points, but the important point about this scheme is that we would not have been able to take part in the governance of it or as part of the negotiation team. We would have had no say in which vaccines to procure and at what price, in what quantity and for what delivery schedule. We could therefore not have been confident that the scheme would deliver for UK needs. Crucially, we would not have been able to negotiate with a company that the EU is negotiating with in parallel. For all these reasons, we took the decision not to participate. We do not rule out participating in future procurement programmes, and the noble Baroness makes a good point about the nationalisation, as it were, of some countries. We will continue to pursue international collaboration, and we have a number of schemes in which we will continue to take part.
My Lords, I have read what the Government have written to the European Commission saying that involvement with the EU Covid-19 vaccine programme means we would be unable to pursue parallel negotiations with other potential vaccine suppliers. That has come as an astonishing surprise to most of the biopharma industry and it is plainly away from the truth. It is very much like the mistakes that have been made on testing and tracing, and it places the United Kingdom way behind the science curve. Would the Minister agree that, the more vaccines that are created and tested from reliable research, including the EU programme, the more likely it is that a successful research outcome will take place, the more trustworthy the research protocols will be and the more exhaustive the vaccine programme will be in getting a vaccine to people as fast as possible? Would he also agree that ideology must never, in any circumstances, trump the science?
I am afraid the noble Lord is wrong on his first point, but on his supplementary points I can agree with him. I can confirm that we are supporting a number of different research platforms and vaccine technologies, both through our discussions with companies and through our global efforts, alongside helping to fund research on a vaccine at Oxford University with the help of AstraZeneca. We have committed £250 million of UK aid to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an organisation that is working on a global scale to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.
In April, the World Health Organization said that countries must work together to develop a number of Covid-19 vaccines that have concluded successful clinical trials and demonstrate that they can manufacture many millions of doses faster than ever achieved before—none of which is a given. The UK was a signatory to the following World Health Organization declaration:
“We will continue efforts to strengthen the unprecedented worldwide collaboration, cooperation … and we will work tenaciously to increase the likelihood that one or more safe … vaccines will soon be made available to all.”
On this basis, why are the UK Government still refusing to collaborate with the EU vaccine scheme?
I did not catch all of that question; the audio was a bit poor. If the noble Baroness is saying that we should continue to co-operate on an international level, I would completely agree with her. I set out earlier the reasons why we did not think it was right to participate in this particular EU initiative, but we do not rule out participating in other EU procurement initiatives and we are in discussions on how we might do that.
My Lords, has my noble friend seen the comments of Oxford’s Regius Professor John Bell, who said that the Government’s decision was “sensible”, that the UK has
“a very, very coherent and good vaccine plan”
and that the UK is
“way ahead of Europe in the way we think about vaccines”?
Does he agree that if there is a loser from the UK opting out of the EU plan, it is the EU and not the UK?
I had not seen the comments that my noble friend refers to, but I agree with them. We do have a number of promising vaccine production methods going on. However, if there are future international collaborations, either with the EU or with other international partners, then we rule nothing out because we need to work together to find an appropriate vaccine.
My Lords, since Brexit, which I supported, the United Kingdom has withdrawn from the Galileo satellite project, the Erasmus university programme and now the European vaccine programme. Can the Minister please confirm that, in the context of co-operation, we look forward to much co-operation with our European neighbours?
Yes, I agree with the noble Lord. Whilst we have decided not to participate in this particular initiative, we are committed to strengthening our collaboration with the EU and international partners on vaccines outside this framework. I assure the noble Lord that we will indeed continue to work with our European partners in other areas of mutual interest.
My Lords, notwithstanding any agreements we could have made with the European Union on vaccine development, what happens if the Chinese get there first with their Sinovac Biotech product or even another Chinese product? Can we have an absolute assurance that we will reject any pressure, trade threat or anything whatsoever from the Trump Administration or any other American Administration to boycott a Chinese product?
The noble Lord asks a number of hypothetical questions. All I can say is that we will continue to collaborate internationally both in the EU and across the world on vaccine development. It is something that we all have a stake in, and we all need to work together to achieve it.
My Lords, Wellcome’s head of global policy has described the EU policy as “morally right” because it ensures that the priority will be to spread the use and availability of vaccine across all countries according to need, treating those at the highest risk first. If the Government are not to be part of the EU scheme, will they at least commit to ensuring that vaccine is available to all, across borders, by priority and that they will not simply prioritise UK people? The coronavirus is not a respecter of international borders.
The Prime Minister has already said exactly that. Of course, we want to collaborate internationally; of course, the virus is affecting virtually every country in the world. We have to work across borders, and the vaccine should go to those who need it most.
My Lords, I understand that the Commission’s vaccine programme has yet to complete a deal, while the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance, led by Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, has closed an non-exclusive deal with AstraZeneca for 400 million doses at cost. The IVA states that its mission is to enable rapid action on vaccine procurement to create added value for European nations and beyond. On this evidence, the IVA may be a more effective vehicle than the official Commission programme. Have the Government had any discussions with the IVA on collaboration and, if not, will the Minister undertake to do so?
I can confirm to my noble friend that we have had discussions with many countries, including those who formed the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance. It is our understanding that the alliance members have now joined the EU procurement initiative, with commercial negotiations being taken forward under that framework. However, as I have said, we will continue to work with the EU and other international partners on development.
My Lords, the Minister has been keen to acknowledge the benefit of international collaboration. If a number of vaccines are successfully produced, one of the great challenges we face is that a significant proportion of people will not take them. Will he at least talk to the EU about collaborating on a European-wide effort to encourage our populations to take up the vaccine?
My Lords, in this decision, the United Kingdom has made the right call, given that, like the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy have moved to make their own provision prior to the European Commission initiating action. Given that we pay into the multiannual financial framework until the end of 2020, why were we not permitted to be part of the governance and negotiation? Is that likely to happen if there are future projects? If so, it would be understandable if we went our own way.
Other EU member states would have been able to take part in the governance of the scheme; we would not. Even though the main development is funded from the EU budget, any individual procurement or orders would come from national budgets. Crucially, we would not have been able to negotiate in parallel with other companies with which we already have a good working relationship.
My Lords, new research from King’s College London, in which I declare my interest as an employee, suggests that immunity from Covid-19 may last just a few months, indicating that mass, or herd, immunity from the disease is not an effective strategy, that vaccination boosters may be required, and that any cavalier approach to infection on the basis that one might as well get it in order to acquire the protection of immunity is woefully misguided. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of these findings on their vaccination strategy and their approach to vaccine development?
The Vaccine Taskforce is of course considering all the academic work being done in this field; it is a rapidly developing sphere of science. I am sure that we welcome the work taking place at the institution mentioned by the noble Baroness, but a lot of other research institutes are already looking into it. There are a number of developing vaccine forms which require different manufacturing processes to produce individual vaccines, and we are of course evaluating all of them.
My Lords, there have been some pretty knee-jerk reactions to this announcement. Can the Minister confirm that this decision is not about being against co-operation—far from it; it is precisely what Brexit and a new policy are about: a new relationship based on co-operation? However, does my noble friend agree that in this crucial step in our battle against the virus it would be entirely inappropriate to hand over decisions about costs, timing and distribution, and even rationing if it came to that, to a European Commission on which there is not a single British voice?
My noble friend makes a good point, but this was an individual decision about this particular programme, which we did not think was well suited to UK needs. We would not have been able to take part in the governance of the scheme or be part of the negotiating team. We would have had no say on what vaccines were procured nor on their price, quantity or delivery schedule, nor even on whether they would be made available to people in this country. It was a pragmatic decision on this particular scheme, but we do not rule out future co-operation with the EU on other schemes.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, a limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. I should remind the House that our normal courtesies in debate still very much apply in this new hybrid way of working.
A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published and is in my brief, which Members should have received. I also have lists of Members who have put their names to amendments in, or expressed an interest in speaking on, each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord or noble Baroness sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard.
During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Business and Planning Bill
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 17th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 9th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Pavement licences
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert “, except that no application may be made in respect of premises that fall within a cumulative impact zone.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to stop premises in cumulative impact zones, which are areas already identified as contributing to community problems because of alcohol availability, from benefiting from this easing of restrictions.
My Lords, I also intend to speak to Amendments 3 and 11 in my name.
This Bill demonstrates exactly why we need to get back to work as a House of Lords. Some 70 Members will speak in different parts of this Committee stage and there is a large number of amendments to what is a highly contentious Bill. This weekend, the Government said that we should go back to work; perhaps we should start by setting an example and getting the House of Lords back to work.
Before I get to the meat of this, I note that Labour is not supporting any Divisions so we will probably have a Division-free day. However, many items in the Bill deserve considerably closer scrutiny. I hope that, before it comes back next week, there will be considerable concessions from the Government; otherwise, I fear that there will be Divisions. Looking at recent history, the Government are not on a great winning streak there.
By way of background, Amendment 1 seeks to provide that premises in an exclusion zone cannot benefit from the provisions of the Bill. Exclusion cumulative impact zones, as they are called, were introduced in the Blair/Brown years after the Government introduced in the early part of this century a number of changes to the licensing laws, which they felt would help to bring about a café economy. Well, they did not; they brought about absolute chaos.
My wife spent four years on Forest Heath District Council, a rural council up here in East Anglia. For most of that time, she and her Labour and Liberal fellow councillors were involved in trying to get a cumulative impact zone imposed on a town called Newmarket, where we were living at the time. The fact of the matter is that the licensing laws were relaxed to such an extent that they caused enormous problems.
They still do. In the town of Cambridge, where I have lived for a good number of years, there is a cumulative impact zone on Mill Road. We have plenty of experience of the problems that excessive alcohol licences can lead to. There are more than 50 licensed premises in the Mill Road area. We have gone to considerable effort to get alcohol licences either in place or extended. Only a couple of weeks ago, we had an application from Brothers Supermarket. It wanted a licence to sell alcohol from 8 am to 11.30 pm. The person representing it knew all the legal arguments—indeed, they were a good advocate—but it was next door to another premises called Nip-In, where you could nip in at any point and buy alcohol. The problem was that, when this application went forward, it had 76 objections to it and not a single person sent in a representation in its favour because it was widely recognised not that there was anything wrong with Brothers Supermarket but that the area was totally swamped by alcohol licensing.
This Bill seeks to make that even easier, which is why I have tabled this amendment. Where there is a cumulative impact zone, it is clearly already in place and it demonstrates that there are severe problems with alcohol. You do not get a zone declared unless the police are on your side and there is fairly unanimous support from the council. That was the case here. Not only did no one support it; the police were against it and representatives of all three political parties sent in statements opposing this particular licence. After a three-hour hearing, it was rejected.
This Bill seeks to get things decided within seven days. How on earth is that to be done if multiple applications have to be dealt with? It is quite likely that there will be. I seem to remember that the Blair/Jowell Bill was also enacted in August and local authorities were caught off their guard.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and several other noble Lords are vice-presidents of the Local Government Association. I am not and I have not had anything to do with local government since I left the Greater London Council in 1977, so to put it mildly, I am a bit out of date. What I would like to hear in this debate is an explanation of how the LGA proposes to handle this vis-à-vis its councils. The cumulative impact zone is just one of the problems, but there are others, all of which are highlighted here. A second one that I draw attention to in my Amendment 11 is to ask whether the police will be consulted because, at the moment, the Bill does not say that they should be. That is why the amendment seeks to add after “local persons” the words
“including the local police force”.
Surely the police have a vested interest in whether or not order can be maintained, and they should be consulted.
In Amendment 3 I refer to locked-down premises. In our area, and I dare say in the rest of the country, we have had two very different experiences of the period of lockdown. I have already mentioned the licensed premises close to our house, but there are some premises, one called 5 Blends Coffee House and the other Tom’s Cakes, which were locked down for the whole period. Obviously, they need to get back into business again but some of the other ones do not, and, as will become clear in the debate, there are problems with pavements as well as other issues. The 5 Blends Coffee House has room for tables outside because it is on a corner, but Tom’s Cakes, because of the street furniture, has no room, although it does have a garden at the back, which presumably can be used without permission. Further up the road is a health food shop called Arjuna Wholefoods, which has a licence and enough room outside to set up tables. I do not think that the owners will do so, but if they did wish to set up those tables and serve glasses of wine to their customers, that would only add to the problems in the area.
What I am asking the Minister and the Government to do is to agree to take a much closer look at this and, particularly where there are cumulative impact zones, to say, “Right, a problem with alcohol has already been identified in the area and that should be enough for it not to be exacerbated by making it even easier to extend licensing facilities and thus make it easier to buy alcohol.” I also do not think that it is unreasonable to ask that the police should be consulted, and when we consider locked-down premises, is there any reason why the Sainsbury’s shop in Mill Road should not be allowed to open an off licence on the pavement, given that it has a licence to sell alcohol? I do not think that it would wish to open an alcohol vending service, but what if it did? The shop has been open throughout the lockdown and, if anything, its trade has gone up because more people have been tending to shop locally. There is a need to distinguish between a firm that sells alcohol which has been open for the whole time and one that has not. With those words, I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Balfe on his interesting and in-depth trip down Mill Road. That brings back all kinds of memories from being a student at Cambridge. I will speak briefly, but I ask my noble friend the Minister to address all my points in detail when she sums up the debate because that may be the most expeditious way of resolving them. I shall speak to Amendments 36, 37, 40 and 43 in my name, and I thank other noble Lords who have put their names to them and have agreed to speak.
These amendments all have a clear purpose, one that I believe is in line with the purpose of the Bill, which is to get the economy moving again. We should have done this earlier and we could have done so, but we are doing it now and that is a good thing. I have a few issues with this part of the Bill, where I believe that we could improve the outcome for businesses, for individuals and for society.
The amendments address the position of small independent breweries which find themselves shut out of the provisions of the Bill—and thus the economic restart—as currently drafted. The amendments seek to enable small independent breweries to sell alcohol directly to the public for a temporary period in a safe and measured way that is in line with the other temporary measures being put in place for other sectors of the economy. In the circumstances, I believe that this would be both proportionate and low in risk. It could be done by using the normal licensing procedure in these circumstances and for this to be seen as a minor variation, as set out in Amendment 40.
Similarly, Amendment 43 seeks to allow the use of temporary event notices. Increasing the number of these notices would give the local authority even more control over the situation because it will issue them to businesses that have already been issued with them. There will be a track record and the authority will have a knowledge and understanding of how those businesses operate. That would not be a shot in the dark because HMRC knows these businesses. They will be on the system and they will have passed the fit and proper person test. The notices would be for a temporary period to enable small independent breweries to get back into business rather than potentially going to the wall or, indeed, needing to come cap in hand to the Government. This would resolve those issues.
There is also an important secondary benefit in having more venues open: patrons would be more able to observe social distancing because there will be more places to go to have a drink. Moreover, small independent breweries are not often located in residential areas or in zones such as those described by my noble friend Lord Balfe. It makes sense to spread people out so that they can go out for a drink safely and thus help start up the economy again.
As I have said, I hope that my noble friend the Minister can address all of the specifics raised in Amendments 36, 37, 40 and 43. I look forward to her response and to hearing the comments of other noble Lords.
My Lords, I shall confine my comments predominantly to Amendment 38, which stands in my name. It is an attempt to bring sports clubs and other similar concerns with licences into line with the rest of the off-sales from the licensed premises sector.
We spoke about this at Second Reading and the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said in his usual disarming way, “Oh, don’t worry. You can get a licence or special arrangements can be made.” We are talking here about a short-term move that may last for two or three months. If sports clubs need to get a licence every time they require one, a fast-track system for doing so is needed or they will miss out on many opportunities. Those opportunities are important because sports and other clubs need their bar revenues to continue to function; it is that simple. The model for a sport such as cricket is that the bar is part of how the club ensures that it can maintain the ground, maintain kit and run the juniors programmes. That is why we want this provision in the Bill—we want these clubs to operate on similar terms to those of other businesses.
If there is a way around this that we have not come across before, that is great. It is not about doctrinaire issues but is purely practical. If there is another way of dealing with this, let us hear about it—but if we do not get this and have to have a process of licensing down there, people will miss out. I appreciate that the Government have to act fast with the difference in the two licensing applications, but can we have a practical solution to this? That is all I am really asking for.
We have other stages to go through on this Bill. If we can find one that works, I will be happy and the people who have been nudging me forward will be happy—at least, I hope so—but we need to make sure it is dealt with. The bars of clubs are important to their function, and their function is generally regarded as a public good. Surely putting them on the same terms for one or two days a week as a pub or anywhere else selling alcohol will not damage society greatly, and indeed may improve it.
I will speak to Amendment 44 on digital age verification and thank my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones for his support. I raised this at Second Reading and thank my noble friend the Deputy Leader for his courteous and timely letter. I am especially grateful to him and the Minister for Crime and Policing at the Home Office for publishing on GOV.UK the government response to the call for evidence on violence and abuse toward shop staff. That certainly helps to put discussions today into perspective. I am glad to hear that the Minister for Crime will work with business, the police and other partners to tackle this serious issue, including underreporting. I know the British Retail Consortium is disappointed about some aspects of the government response, but that is for another day.
Today is about emergency measures to deal with life under Covid-19, and they are all most welcome. As my noble friend Lord Holmes said, we need to get the economy motoring again. That includes measures that encourage business to revive and grow, as his amendments have proposed. In that context, I remain concerned about the absence of digital age estimation and verification for sale of alcohol. Our amendment enables the use of such verification, provided that the licensed seller in a shop or pub takes reasonable precautions and applies due diligence to ensure the purchaser is over 18.
The obvious example is the Yoti app used in a number of European countries, such as Estonia— a real digital leader—and some parts of the UK. It means there is no need to show paper ID and wash your hands or resanitise—or perhaps not—or to remove a mask to engage in a physical conversation and a physical check of the customer’s ID. It works brilliantly at automatic checkouts, as their videos show, and would help to speed up queues in pubs and elsewhere. Other apps will no doubt be developed, making the technology more widely available. Interestingly, I see from the Yoti website that NHS England and NHS Improvement have begun deploying a secure digital ID card from Yoti to put employees’ NHS ID cards on to their phones. The killer argument for this Business and Planning Bill is that this system is already in use in shops to verify sales of knives—arguably much more dangerous than drink—and other age-restricted products such as tobacco, lottery tickets and fireworks.
It has been argued that we cannot introduce a digital system for alcohol outside the Proof of Age Standards Scheme—PASS—which is being developed for card issuers. However, that has got bogged down and delayed by Covid and is not producing the solution required when it is so desperately needed. It is of great significance that the British Retail Consortium, which set up PASS, no longer has faith in it. It rightly believes that no scheme should be skewed to a particular interest group.
Ours is an open amendment that overnight would improve things hugely and allow more enforcement of the drinking rules than I believe is taking place at present. A sunset clause can be included allowing the opportunity to simply trial these new app-based methods, at the same time avoiding the need for young people to carry passes—and lose them, as they often do. I hope my noble friend the Minister will look favourably at this amendment and be open to agreeing a simple enabling provision before Report.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 36, 39, 40 and 43, to which I have added my name. I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said in his introduction and will not preface what my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark may say when he introduces his amendment later. While supporting and fully agreeing with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that we should all get back to work in the Chamber, I do not really agree that the increased number of outlets will improve the environment of Cambridge. You could then argue that we had better get back to prohibition days, and I do not think anybody wants that.
My amendments are intended to increase the choice of products and balance the smaller number that can be inside a pub or restaurant with more space outside. I commend the Government on allowing many outlets to put more space on the pavements or even roads and increase the space for cycling at the expense of polluting cars. The amendments would also allow a greater choice of suppliers, which I think is important.
My interest is encouraging small brewers and limiting the bullying tactics we have seen over the years from the pubcos, which are very much to the detriment of the small landlord. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, small brewers have lost a large proportion of their trade during the Covid lockdown, and 65% of breweries have apparently been mothballed because they could not sell their product direct to the public. Some of the smaller breweries do not have premises licensing and without these amendments cannot offer takeaways or deliver direct to the public. I believe that small breweries have really reinvigorated the hospitality sector in recent years. Allowing off-sales on a fair, proportionate and reasonable temporary basis, subject to the various conditions put in these amendments and the existing legislation, is surely a good thing.
I certainly believe that the amendment is not a licence for street raves. It is just a means of providing similar spaces outside due to the shortages inside because of the lack of social distancing space, combined with adding the possibility of much more competition within the brewing industry generally.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 44, so well introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. As she emphasised, it is a deregulatory amendment that entirely fits within the context of this Bill. Given her experience running the Better Regulation Unit and on the board of a major retailer, she should know.
This amendment is designed to give retailers the option of carrying out contactless age verification at a distance and automatically. It is supported not only by those representing and directly providing digital solutions, such as techUK, NCR and digital identity providers such as Yoti, but by the leaders of the key organisations involved in the retail trade, the British Retail Consortium and the Scottish Grocers Federation. It has the twin benefits of keeping retail staff and customers safe by assisting compliance with coronavirus guidelines and social distancing, and preventing the sales of age-restricted goods to minors, upholding the principles of Challenge 25—the retailing strategy that encourages anyone who is over 18 but looks under 25 to carry acceptable ID if they wish to buy alcohol.
The relaxation of coronavirus lockdown measures will now see an increase in in-store footfall, a potential rise in abuse and social distancing challenges with queues. Queues in supermarkets in particular create a point of potential congestion that can put staff at risk. Retailers have noted that almost 24% of baskets contain an age-restricted item. As a result of current rules, many customers wait longer than necessary. It can typically take 63 seconds to alert a staff member and carry out an age check when a basket includes an age-restricted good.
Age verification has a British standard, BSI PAS 1296 —Online Age Checking: Provision and Use of Online Age Check Services—which has been approved for use for all products apart from alcohol and has received assured advice from the Association of Convenience Stores. The standard has been worked on by age-verification experts and covers all the aspects important for designing and building a robust age-verification system—namely data protection, security, transparency and effective operation. Such a contactless method would take pressure off store staff, at a time when they are busy and pressured, and when wrong decisions can be made and there is temptation not to ask for ID.
The current conditions of customers wearing face coverings and social distancing make checking physical ID documents for age-restricted goods, in a retail context, much harder for staff. Staff have enough problems with aggressive customers without asking them to remove a mask or face covering that they are wearing under government guidance. As a result, there is a heightened risk of increased verbal, physical and racial abuse, increased coronavirus transmission risk when physically examining Challenge 25 approved ID documents, and the difficulty of matching documents to a customer wearing a face covering.
I have, for some time, been a supporter of age verification through digital identity systems, first legislated for in the Digital Economy Act 2017. It is clear that highly accurate digital age-proofing and identity-checking solutions are available off the shelf in the UK today that can significantly help alleviate issues facing retail staff. They are trusted for right to remain without a formal standard for 3 million-plus people and approved by the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group for financial services in the UK. In-store use of these technologies has been successful in the US and Europe—integrated into self-checkout and automated dispensing machines—but not in the UK, purely due to the current inconsistent regulatory requirements. We are behind other nations as a result, which is ironic given that the UK is playing a leading role in this technology.
In summary, the amendment would protect customers’ health, help with the development of a leading UK technology, reduce cost to retail because it reduces time taken at checkout and self-service, and reduce regulatory burden significantly because it removes the need for a second paper check of ID after the digital check. What can the Government conceivably object to in this amendment?
My Lords, I am speaking in favour of Amendment 3 from the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. If anything like the normal timetable had been in existence, I would have added my name to it.
At Second Reading, I asked for clarification over the scope of Clause 1(4)(b), specifically whether it covers supermarkets setting up pavement licences and whether that is good for the hospitality sector. The Minister wrote in reply, confirming that it covers any premises, but I will read into the record some of what the letter says, because of the emphasis it gives:
“This includes shops, such as convenience stores and supermarkets, which you referred to, from which food or drink can be bought. Draft guidance mentions public houses, cafés, bars and restaurants, including other types of food and drink establishments such as snack bars, coffee shops and ice cream parlours, though eligibility goes beyond this. It would include any businesses which sell food or drink, for example theatres and galleries with cafés and bars.
You also raised an important question about whether this is helping the hospitality industry by allowing other premises, such as shops from which food or drink can be bought to apply for pavement licences. Given that indoor space will be limited while social distancing measures apply, we want to provide a temporary process that helps support as many businesses to reopen as possible by allowing them to serve customers outdoors. This process is intended to help give much needed support to the hospitality industry, but given the impact Covid-19 has had on the whole economy, this provision should not be limited just to the hospitality industry when there is an opportunity for other sectors which have also been struggling economically to benefit.”
Apart from the admission that it covers supermarkets, the letter puts great emphasis on reopening and struggling venues. All the places named in the guidance had been forced to close, but supermarkets have not been closed or struggling; they have had to rise to challenges, but have done well out of people not being able to eat out. Convenience stores have not been closed either and, likewise, many have done well due to people shopping locally during lockdown. But the Bill has been introduced, promoted and publicised as helping the hospitality industry, while containing a hidden bombshell.
At Second Reading in the Commons, the Business Secretary said:
“We want to support the hospitality sector by allowing outdoor dining and off-premises sale of alcohol, helping the sector back on its feet with the promise of al fresco dining for all this summer.”—[Official Report, Commons, 29/6/20; col. 51.]
He went on:
“I turn first to the temporary measures in the Bill to step up the recovery of our hospitality sector. Our 127,000 pubs, restaurants and cafés, which employ around 2 million people, are the lifeblood of our high streets and town centres. Social distancing guidelines significantly affect their capacity to accommodate customers, and food and beverage service activity has fallen by nearly 90% in the last quarter. The Bill introduces a temporary fast-track process for pubs, cafés and restaurants to obtain local council permission to place tables and chairs on the pavement outside their premises.”—[Official Report, Commons, 29/6/20; col. 53.]
There is no mention of supermarkets. I have looked carefully but nowhere did he explain how it helped the hospitality sector to recover by allowing cheap competition on their doorstep from businesses that are not dedicated to hospitality and have the other advantages of mixed business. How is that preserving the lifeblood of our high streets? This is a devastating blow to pubs and cafés, and the Bill has been sold to them on a false prospectus: hailed as salvation coming down the track, but instead a Trojan horse and the harbinger of further demise.
I understand that local authorities can exercise discretion and apply specific rules, so they may be left with the decision on whether to support pubs or let them close for good, but I would prefer the Government to think again about this. For the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister confirm whether a local authority can make general rules preventing supermarkets from having pavement licences or must it be done case by case? We will come back to some of these points later, but the provision of tables and chairs for consumption of off-sales is contradictory to how licensing is usually interpreted. This wide liberalisation and its implications, at the very least, do not seem to have been properly explained.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 44 and 1. As declared on the register, and as I referred to at Second Reading, I chair the board of PASS, the proof of age standards scheme. I was delighted that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe highlighted this scheme, which has the support of the hospitality and tourism sector, and the retail sector, as represented by the major players. It is true that we are undertaking a consultation at the moment and that there was a slight delay in enabling everyone from whom we had not already heard to respond.
The point I want to make is that obviously I am in favour of a digital verification scheme. However, to me, it is extremely important that any digital scheme should comply with the same standards and meet the same regulatory requirements as any physical provider. I am sure that my noble friend would agree with that.
As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, pointed out, a physical proof of age scheme—now moving to digital—is government policy. We look to my noble friend the Minister to tell us, in responding to the debate, that the Home Office stands behind the proposals that we are to make in this regard. As my noble friend and the noble Lord rightly said, it will greatly expedite entrance to clubs, bars, nightclubs and all sorts of places if we have a digital verification scheme alongside the physical scheme. The scheme has been so successful because even the physical scheme offers an alternative to those people—usually young people—who, on a good night out, take their passport or driving licence and come home without it, which obviously incurs a huge expense. So anything that the Minister can do to chivvy things along with the Home Office would be very welcome news.
The fundamental point is that, whichever age verification scheme we use, be it physical or digital, it must meet certain standards. Obviously I would say that PASS is best placed to provide that verification and regulatory role.
I turn briefly to Amendment 1, moved so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Balfe. In most circumstances, it will be environmental health officers who enforce and police these arrangements. But there might be circumstances in which there is an outbreak of public disorder and the police are called. If it is indeed the case that the police have not been consulted, I would be interested to know the reason.
My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 40, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. This amendment seeks to insert a new clause, requiring the Secretary of State to make regulations to ensure that small independent breweries can make an application for a temporary premises licence easily and quickly. This is an important addition, as it would allow small independent breweries that would otherwise be excluded from the benefits of the licence measures in the Bill to take full advantage of them.
Like other businesses, independent breweries have struggled through the lockdown. A recent survey of small independent brewers, conducted by the Society of Independent Brewers, showed that 84% expect the pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures to have a lasting negative impact on their business. It is therefore right that the measures in the Bill, which are after all designed to help businesses recover and to protect jobs, can apply equally to small independent brewers. They should not be excluded.
After all, local breweries have a positive effect on local economies. Where I live in south London, Brockley Brewery—the local brewery, which was started in 2013—employs local people and is a London living wage employer. To survive the lockdown, it has been running a beer delivery service, alongside a weekend brewery shop. I am sure that these innovations have been a lifeline for the business. This amendment will allow other small independent breweries to benefit from innovations such as this. It will give them the option to use the measures in the Bill to keep their business going and to protect jobs. It will allow them to develop more innovative ways of getting their business back on its feet.
I can see no reason to exclude small independent brewers from benefiting from the measures in the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept the need for Amendment 40 and ensure that this vibrant part of the hospitality sector is not overlooked.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, my noble friend Lord Howe, for his engagement with the House on this legislation. I also thank him for his very helpful letter confirming to me that convenience stores that sell food and drink are within the ambit of the legislation; I am grateful for that confirmation.
I support this legislation, at least in general terms, and the provisions relating to pavement licences. However, we need the proper protection of certain interests, and I will be listening carefully later when the interests of the blind and the partially sighted are considered, as I think we need proper protection there.
I am also concerned about the dangers of off-licence drinking, particularly in city centres and particularly late at night. I therefore have considerable sympathy with the arguments put forward so ably by my noble friend Lord Balfe. I urge the Government to get a grip on this particular aspect of licensing. We all want to see the opening up of our economy—of course we do—but it is only against a safe background that the measures will be successful. I urge the Government to adopt the same lack of dogma on social measures as they have done on economic measures, with such marked success.
As I say, it is only against a safe background that the measures will be successful. Perhaps I might talk more widely on that for a moment, because I think it is relevant to the whole idea of ensuring that we open up the economy safely. I think that mandatory face masks in shops will be necessary. The Prime Minister’s seeming instincts here must surely be right. We came to this late, but correctly in my view, for public transport; we should do the same for masks in shops. A voluntary approach will simply not work: it is rather like switching to driving on the other side of the road and inviting motorists to choose whether to do so or not. It will work only if everybody wears a mask—allowing of course for medical exemptions, which will be few in number.
Coming back to pavement licences, eating and drinking are very different outside and if we have social distancing. But therein lies the rub for late-night drinking and drinking in city centres, as we have seen recently in Soho. That is why we need to ensure that there is proper consultation with the police and to control late-night licences in city centres; otherwise, control of the virus will suffer a very serious setback.
I therefore support the need to work closely with the police, as stated so ably by my noble friend Lord Balfe. I also very much support the amendment on age verification, articulated so effectively by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones; what they said was absolutely right. I will be listening very carefully to what the Minister says, knowing that she will articulate the case very effectively and come up with appropriate answers.
I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. No? We will move on to the noble Lord, Lord Wood, and then come back to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of Amendment 40, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Holmes of Richmond and Lord Berkeley, who have already made the case for this important proposal; I am grateful to them both. This amendment would allow an application for a premises licence for a small brewery to be treated temporarily as a minor variation to existing terms, which would shorten the time for the consultation period and reduce the cost of the application. The aim is to provide desperately needed flexibility, speed and support for Britain’s breweries at a time of huge need.
The start of 2020 saw the UK independent brewery industry in great health. There are over 2,000 breweries in the UK—the most, apparently, since before the Second World War. Boosted particularly by a tax break introduced by Gordon Brown in 2002, the microbrewery industry has boomed in this country; it has become a crucial part not just of the entertainment leisure sector but of our cultural life more generally. However, the brewing industry has been severely hit by the Covid crisis, as my noble friend Lady Kennedy eloquently explained just now. While online beer sales have increased significantly, sales are still down overall by a whopping 82%. Government support in many parts of our country was prompt and extremely welcome, but the decision in April not to defer beer duty payments for the period in March when pubs were forced to shut down overnight has put an additional financial strain on the UK brewery sector. In the light of continuing sluggish demand, anxiety about the future and a litany of stories about late payments from establishments supplied by independent breweries, this is a part of our national life in continuing need of help.
That is why I urge the Government to consider this amendment. It is not costly; it offers regulatory flexibility rather than cash. By its nature it is well targeted—only those breweries that choose to take up the option of on-site licensed premises would benefit. It is time limited, so any unanticipated consequences for other parts of the retail sector would be minimal and short term. As my noble friend Lord Holmes eloquently set out earlier, proprietors are known to regulatory authorities; they have already passed the “fit and proper” test. Overall, from a regulatory point of view the proposal is low-risk and proportionate. In allowing an expansion of the number of venues, it gives more choice to consumers and, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, it encourages the small independent sector in the brewing industry to compete in different ways with larger, more established companies. I wholeheartedly support this amendment and I urge the Minister to back it.
My Lords, I shall be brief. I just want to pick up on a point made earlier by my noble friend Lady Bowles: that the opening up promoted by this Bill—which I support, particularly given some of the safeguards embedded in amendments —should not extend to supermarkets and convenience stores. When pubs reopened just over a week ago in Richmond, I and others observed that licensed premises managed their customers and alcohol very responsibly. The problems that occurred were caused by people buying discounted alcohol from supermarkets and reading the relaxation of the rules governing pubs as, in effect, a relaxation of the constraints they had been observing during lockdown; therefore, they were out on the streets, frequently exceedingly drunk. As the chair of the Police Federation noted, it is crystal clear that people who are drunk cannot socially distance.
I could not find a way to shoehorn a specific amendment into this Bill, but I hope the Government will take on board that discounted alcohol served or sold by supermarkets and convenience stores late at night is a fundamental cause of problems that, unfortunately, are frequently being attributed to licensed premises. Locally, we find that those with a licence are well embedded in the community, have a strong and well-established relationship with the police and manage their customers exceedingly well. Going out on Richmond Green in the middle of the night, it becomes clear that it is supermarkets providing very cheap alcohol that are fuelling highly risky behaviour.
My Lords, I too shall be brief. I support what my noble friend Lord Balfe said about the House getting back to work. Indeed, I encourage my noble friend to come and join us in the Chamber, where he will find a warm welcome awaiting him.
I hope that he was wrong when he said that he was expecting Divisions on Report. We have to get this Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible. I hope we will not lose sight of the fact that these are temporary relaxations designed to help get the economy working again. Many of the issues raised are problems of normal times; we are not in normal times and we should not judge the relaxation proposals in the Bill by the issues we encounter in normal times. The important thing is to give the benefit of the doubt to premises that want to get going again. There are provisions in the Bill which allow licences to be revoked at a later stage if it does not work out. The most important thing is that we embrace the liberalisation encompassed in the Bill and do not hold it back by trying to make the application process more difficult or by putting more barriers in the way of our economy getting going again.
My Lords, I need to explain at the outset that, although I am down to talk about this group of amendments, I should be addressing a later group. I hope your Lordships will forgive me; it is probably my fault—I am not sure—but I certainly should be speaking later on. I welcome the pavement licence provisions and have no problem with most of the clauses—apart from Clause 11, on which I should be speaking.
I shall speak to Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and to Amendments 27 and 29. All these amendments restrict off-sales of alcohol to a time limit of 11 pm—an amendment with a 10 pm limit would be even better. I fear that the off-sales provisions are a bit of a panic response by the Government which will cause more problems than they solve. The Government defend the move by pointing out that changes can be made through an expedited review process if there are problems of crime and disorder, public nuisance or public safety—and of course, we can be sure that there will be. They also point out that the police have the power under Section 76 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to issue a closure notice if needed. When eventually the correct group of amendments comes along, can the Minister tell the House what the police’s reaction has been to the proposal to extend the time limit for off-sales? Presumably, they anticipate a lot more trouble.
The other problem pointed out by local authorities is that the powers do not work at all where there are several premises together, as is the case in most towns and cities. However, the extraordinary point about Clause 11 is that it encourages the excessive use of one of the most dangerous of all recreational drugs: alcohol. As we know, alcohol kills 7,000 to 8,000 people each year; it is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the UK. Some 7.8 million people binge on alcohol on their favourite night out—or favourite night for drinking—no doubt causing problems for their liver. Is it really the Government’s job to encourage the consumption of this dangerous and addictive drug? I cannot help also pointing out the illogicality and cruelty of government policy—not just of this Government; I am making a non-party-political point—with respect to a drug which has none of the dangers associated with alcohol. How can the Government on the one hand tell people to take the alcohol drug late into the night—the more the better; yes, it is dangerous, highly addictive and kills people, but never mind—and at the same time criminalise those who are very sick and take an entirely safe drug, cannabis medicine, which is well-balanced and harms nobody?
I know that the Minister understands these issues extremely well and I do not like to ask an awkward question, but how can she possibly justify these contradictory approaches to alcohol and cannabis? It is high time that all political parties aligned their drug policies with a scientific assessment of the risks of individual drugs. Clause 11 of this Bill is just one more ill-judged drug policy.
My Lords, I support Amendment 11 in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfe. Clause 3(2) states:
“Before making a determination in respect of the application”
for a pavement licence,
“the local authority must … take into account any representation made to it … consult the highway authority … and other persons as the local authority may consider appropriate.”
I support having input from the people and organisations stated, but I feel that it is necessary for the local police to be consulted in making a determination.
To reiterate what I said at Second Reading, I welcome the Bill, which will trigger the revitalisation of our businesses and help the well-being of the people. As a businessman, I would like the economy to pick up and create employment for all the people who have been idle for the last few months. However, my concern is the safety of staff and the nuisances and disturbances caused on pavements and streets and in neighbourhoods. Before the pandemic, we saw young men and women misbehaving and fighting in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. I used to see this happening when driving through towns at night. My concern is that people have been frustrated over the last few months and that the relaxation of the rules will lead to social problems.
When the problems of anti-social behaviour arise, they will be dealt with by the police on the spot. Local police know the hot spots in their areas where problems are likely to flare up. To alleviate the issues and possible problems, we need consultation and input from local police when an application is made for a pavement licence. I appreciate that the police have powers to issue closure notices, but this is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is therefore important that the police are consulted before the problems arise.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests in the register and apologise to the Committee for not having been able to speak at Second Reading.
I welcome and accept the Government’s objective of getting the hospitality sector moving, and we should not underestimate the wider impact on the economy if that sector does not revive. Speaking personally, despite the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, I would welcome a shift towards a café culture society and away from the focus on binge drinking and vertical drinking establishments. However, this move should be achieved with local consent and neighbourhood support, where the parameters can be properly policed and enforced. That is why Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, is so important. The views of local police must be sought on whether the proposed arrangements being considered in a locality are in practice workable and sustainable from a policing perspective. This raises a wider question: will the police be adequately resourced to manage what may be a more volatile street scene? What has the National Police Chiefs’ Council said about this? I observe that the extra officers the Government have promised will certainly not be available this summer.
An interesting and separate point is raised by Amendment 44, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, on digital age verification. It is extraordinary that the Government have been so slow in encouraging digital age verification. I declare that, for a year or two, I was associated with a company developing such a digital solution. The problem was, and remains, that licensees are required to inspect a physical document with holographic authentication. This means that teenagers routinely take their passports and driving licences with them on a night out, many of which are then lost. Digital age authentication, based on mobile phones, is not only possible but far more practical. When will the Government act on this?
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests set out in the register as a councillor and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We on these Benches support the purpose behind this Bill, which is to provide additional flexibilities to businesses in the hospitality sector that have been forced to cease trading for three months and more as a result of government decisions to control the spread of the coronavirus.
As many Members have pointed out through the amendments discussed in this group, alcohol sales and premises are carefully licensed for a reason: undue consumption of alcohol can result in detrimental effects for both the individual and the locality. Although this Bill provides for temporary measures, temporary measures lasting 18 months can still cause considerable disruption for residents, communities and the environment. These factors must be carefully considered.
There are helpful proposals in these amendments to extend the flexibilities to include sports clubs and bars, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Addington. As he described, these provide a significant part of the funding for community sports clubs. I hope the Government will support this extension.
Equally, small breweries that currently do not have licences, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and others, also seem a worthwhile addition to the flexibilities provided in this Bill.
My noble friend Lady Bowles made a powerful case for businesses that are not directly part of the hospitality sector, such as supermarkets, to be excluded from being able to apply for pavement licences. I hope the Minister will make it clear that this Bill is not, in the words of my noble friend, a Trojan horse for struggling pubs, cafés and restaurants.
Flexibilities on current regulations can result in unforeseen additional concerns. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to assess their impact after three months and to ensure that these temporary changes are indeed temporary is to be welcomed.
On safety concerns, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, made some interesting comments on the mandatory use of face masks. None of us wants the additional flexibilities to support businesses to result in easier routes for the virus to spread. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about the use of cash and provision of toilets is therefore important.
Enabling digital verification, in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, which is supported by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, seems eminently sensible.
Temporary event notices are currently used for major local events such as festivals and fêtes. These are currently restricted to protect local communities and other licensees. Greatly expanding the number without a full consideration of the facts and impacts is questionable. With those comments, I pass on to other speakers.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as president of Pubwatch.
Group 1 deals with a range of amendments relating to premises and alcohol licensing, including Amendment 39 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Berkeley on temporary event notices and Amendment 41 in my name, which seeks to add a new clause on health and safety to the Bill after Clause 11.
The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, referred to there being no votes today. We do not often vote in Committee—I have now been in the House for 10 years. I have made it clear in all my dealings with the Government, at Second Reading and in my meetings with them, which have been very helpful, that I will divide the House on Report if necessary. I have been very clear on that. I hope that we will get some resolution today so that it will not be necessary, but I am certainly not averse to having a vote. I would not be accused of that.
The first amendment in this group, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, raises the issue of cumulative impact zones, which are areas defined as contributing to community problems because of alcohol. The noble Lord rightly seeks to stop premises in these zones applying for pavement licences. I look forward to the response from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, explaining how she has consulted with groups such as Pubwatch and other groups representing towns and city centres.
I hope that the noble Baroness will also detail the wider assessment the Government have made of the impact of these changes on crime, and in response to Amendment 11, on police consultation, I hope she will confirm that dialogue with police, local authorities and other interested parties will continue after measures in the Bill are implemented.
The noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, made the point, which I agree with, about the need for the new street drinking to be controlled and managed safely. People can then relax and support the local economy while doing so safely and helping to avoid a second spike. That is very important.
My Amendment 39, plus two amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, deal with how the provisions can help businesses which do not have the necessary licence presently, as they rely on temporary event notices. This would also help street vendors who have been hit particularly hard in this crisis and have seen their doors close, some for good. Up to 15,000 businesses have lost all their income overnight and many tens of thousands of pounds have been tied up in rent for music festivals and rolled over to 2021.
The amendment would also help small breweries, which have suffered. Many noble Lords have spoken about the support for the small brewery industry. As we have heard, small breweries have seen up to 82% of their sales reduced because of Covid-19. They have not received the same level of financial support as pubs and the hospitality sector, and that is a matter of regret. One in four breweries—about 500 of the 2,000—does not currently have any way to sell directly to the public. The Government should adopt this measure as a way of helping them in the months ahead. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley, made a convincing case for the need to help small breweries, as did my noble friends Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lord Wood of Anfield. As my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, these small breweries have made a fantastic contribution to the variety and type of beers sold in the UK; they employ local people, and they have been devastated. We need to do something and I hope the noble Baroness will be able to give us a positive response.
My Amendment 41 seeks to highlight the importance of workers’ safety in the hospitality sector, which the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, also referred to. I am grateful to the support I have had from the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers’ Union for its contribution about how to address this issue. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, will address issues such as the handling of cash and how that can be limited. In pubs and other small venues, small amounts of money are handed over. There are payment companies like Worldpay and Shopify, but in many cases if you go into a pub or a small shop and want to pay by debit card, or if you spend less than £10 or £15, they charge you. There needs to be some way in which the companies will not charge the 10p that they presently do. What contribution can they make to ensure that people use less cash and pay by debit card more? Companies would need to step up to the plate and maybe the Government could ask them to do that. It would certainly help reduce the amount of cash being used, with the benefits that that would bring.
It would be interesting to hear about the protection of security staff at entrances to licensed premises. That is very difficult normally, but particularly now that we are talking about social distancing. What support are the Government going to give those staff to ensure they can do their job properly as well as being safe?
How do we ensure that toilets are safe for staff and customers? What discussion has the Minister had with the British Toilet Association including advice on keeping toilets clean and safe? This will be of paramount importance for staff who need to ensure their toilets are kept clean and safe for their customers. Can the noble Baroness also explain what guidance the Government will offer to pubs on these other issues?
Other amendments in the group raise important points, and I hope that we will get a detailed response, particularly on Amendment 44, from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. They both made a clear case about allowing better enforcement of the drinking regulations, which would be welcomed. It will be interesting to see whether it is possible to bring that forward quickly. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, made it clear that there is support in the sector for bringing these matters in quickly.
I will leave my comments there and look forward to the detailed response from the Minister.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who manages to get cannabis into every debate—I admire her tenacity. If she is agreeable, I will respond to some of her comments in group six.
The general tenor of this debate is that people support the context in which this Bill is proposed, to get the economy moving and, crucially, the fact that it is sunsetted to next September. As my noble friend Lady Noakes clearly articulated, this is not about the norm but about emergency measures to get the economy moving again. As this mistake has been made a couple of times, it is important to distinguish between pavement licences and off-sales licences, which of course supermarkets have got anyway.
Amendment 1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfe seeks to prevent the granting of pavement licences to businesses in cumulative impact zones. It is right that cumulative impact and potential for nuisance and disorder be considered when granting these pavement licences. That is why the Bill gives local authorities the ability to effectively manage risks in their local area. If a local authority thinks problems related to alcohol or anything else could occur, they can refuse an application for a pavement licence. In granting these licences, they may also impose conditions and if these conditions are breached, the local authority may issue a notice requiring the breach to be remedied. Local authorities can also revoke pavement licences in several situations including when the licence is causing risk to public health or safety or causing anti-social behaviour and nuisance. I hope my noble friend will agree it is important to retain local authority discretion in this area and he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 3 is also in the name of my noble friend, and I appreciate the points he has made. We expect the pavement and alcohol licencing measures to benefit cafes, restaurants and pubs primarily. However, it is important that the Government support economic recovery whenever they can, which is why this fast-track route is available to all businesses selling and serving food and drink. It will mean that a range of businesses, including some shops, theatres, and galleries, will be able to apply for pavement licences and off-sale licences, maximising the economic impact of these temporary measures. For the reasons I have set out I am not able to accept this amendment and I hope that my noble friend will not press it to a vote.
Amendment 11 is the last of the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Balfe. I assure noble Lords that the Bill requires local authorities to consult such persons as the local authority considers appropriate before determining an application for a pavement licence.
To answer my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, the Government expect that this would include the local police force, but believe that the local authority can and should use its discretion and local knowledge to decide who to consult. To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, directly: yes, we have spoken to the police. We have engaged with them throughout. The most recent time that I spoke directly to Martin Hewitt was last Friday, just before we went into super Saturday. We will continue to engage with them throughout.
Off-sales licences will of course be granted automatically to most premises that already have an on-sales alcohol licence. However, as with pavement licences, local authorities retain their full ability to review or revoke licences, including in consultation with local police if disorder occurs. I hope that, given my rationale, my noble friend will choose not to press his amendment.
Amendments 36 to 40 and 43 seek to support businesses such as breweries. As my noble friend Lord Holmes said, the Bill intends to do just what he articulates: to get the economy going. I am very grateful to all noble Lords for tabling these amendments and bringing this issue here for discussion. I assure them that I am very sympathetic to the objective of supporting small businesses throughout the pandemic.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Holmes know, the Bill’s provisions add the permission of off-sales to most premises with an existing on-sales premises licence. However, it would not be appropriate to use this emergency Bill to amend the process by which premises licences are granted. It is vital that the conditions on which a new premises licence is granted receive careful consideration from agencies with the knowledge of local issues and of the licensee. Any business seeking a premises licence can make an application under existing provisions in the Licensing Act 2003. Similarly, we are not currently seeking to increase the number of temporary event notices available for application in one year because these are temporary and limited, and should not be used as a route to a permanent licence.
I will answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on sports clubs. Under the Licensing Act 2003, a club cannot operate off-sales alone and any alcohol supplied for consumption off the premises must be in a sealed container. The Act says that they can sell alcohol by retail to club guests for consumption on the premises only. To give them permission for off-sales would be a significant change and out of the scope of the legislation. Any club without a permission to supply alcohol to its members for consumption off the premises can of course apply for a variation.
Amendment 41 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I appreciate the concerns raised that some recommended safer working practices should be enshrined in law to reflect the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 and to lower the likelihood of legal action being taken against employers. I assure him that the Government have worked tirelessly to produce clear safe working guidance. Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive have helped to create that guidance. An established update and evaluation process is undertaken by officials, where industry—and, indeed, anyone—can contact government with comments and feedback.
The noble Lord asked whether I had spoken to the toilet association. I have not, but I will see whether any of my fellow Ministers, or indeed any officials, have and get back to him. The HSE and local authorities already enforce the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, which clearly sets out an employer’s legal obligation. The amendment would create an additional burden and lead to an ineffective use of taxpayers’ money during the pandemic. I hope that I have given reassurance regarding the operation of the safe working guidance and that the noble Lord will choose not to move his amendment. I will add that the toilet hygiene standards of the particular restaurant I went to in Manchester were extremely good.
The Government have carefully considered Amendment 44 from my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. The protection of children from harm is a licensing objective that informs all decisions of licensing authorities and which all licensed premises should promote. Indeed, it is an offence under Section 146 of the Licensing Act 2003 to sell alcohol to a child. Age verification at the point of sale is a key element to prevent children gaining access to alcohol. It is essential that we have confidence in the forms of identification presented as proof of age to promote this licensing objective.
At present it is not possible to use a digital ID as proof of age for the purchase of alcohol in the UK because there is no industry standard for digital ID, although I assure noble Lords that the Government recognise advancements in technology and the need for agreement on what constitutes an acceptable form of digital ID for age-verification purposes. We have long supported this scheme and welcome the alcohol industry’s commitment to continue to support the Proof of Age Standards Scheme. We have also commissioned its board to produce a set of standards for digital ID. However, due to the pandemic, it has now been delayed. We look forward to receiving recommendations from the board next year. Until such a standard is agreed, the current restrictions should be upheld. I hope that my noble friend will not press her amendment. I shall finish there.
My Lords, I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has very effectively dealt with most of the points that I raised. The key thing is that she has confirmed that local authorities can refuse licences in cumulative impact zones. I am certainly very happy with local authority discretion. I have spent much of my life in politics arguing for devolution of power and for local authorities to be given the right to make decisions in local self-interest. It is clearly now up to Cambridge City Council, in my case, to decide what it wishes to do in the cumulative impact zone. I look forward to it considering things firmly.
As far as my other two amendments go, I am also happy with my noble friend’s response, in particular that the police will be consulted. Again, this is up to local authorities. I am sure that they will do so.
I took the points made by a number of noble Lords about the hospitality industry. The Bill goes somewhat further than the hospitality industry, but it is that industry that we seek to help. It will be a long struggle. Many of my friends are very reluctant, shall I say, to go back to restaurants, certainly indoors. If the Minister has time to read it, last weekend the Office for National Statistics published a very interesting document following a survey of how people regarded lockdown and the consequences thereof. To answer the direct question that I am asked: I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. 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.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after “furniture” insert “safely (including a barrier being sufficiently visible to separate the furniture from the pavement and furniture placed sufficiently away from the pavement to allow for the safe passing of pedestrians)”
My Lords, it is a pleasure to open debate on this second group of amendments. In doing so I state, as I did for group 1, my general support for the intent of the Bill. I am fully supportive of all and any credible attempts to get the economy not just going but motoring again. There is no reason whatever why, if we really focus on this, we cannot have a sharp and reassuring V-shaped rebuilding and recovery. However, the point in this set of amendments is that, as we do that rebuilding, we either rebuild together or will not rebuild anything particularly worthwhile at all. Everything must be predicated on inclusive design; then everything would be taken care of and sorted at that stage. This is in many ways emergency legislation, and the first real test is: in the crisis, can we hold fast to that concept of inclusive design, even when time is tight and we seek to get our economy motoring again? As I said, I am completely supportive of that.
At Second Reading last Monday the noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred on this issue to “guidance”, “may” and “consider”. If we put them together as “guidance may consider”, that would be far too conditional, whatever issue we were describing. When we look at something as significant as accessibility and whether somebody is able independently to access their local streets and community, we need something far more solid on which to pursue it than “guidance”, “may” and “consider”. Regarding the amendments in my name, I will speak to Amendments 2, 5, 8, 12 and 17. I thank all noble Lords who have signed my amendments and all the other noble Lords who have tabled amendments in this group. It shows how significant these issues are, and how much we need to ensure that the reopening of the economy and its rebuilding is done in an inclusive manner.
Specifically, Amendment 2 simply talks about a potential barrier around seating areas to enable particularly the blind and visually impaired, but in reality all street users, to access the area safely and inclusively. It is about having clear demarcation rather than seating areas potentially strewn across the pavement.
Amendment 5 makes it clear—and would put it in the Bill—that anything in this needs to comply with the Equality Act 2010. It is absolutely the case that all legislation has to do so but, considering the seriousness of what we are talking about, it is worth probing the Government on this point and having the provisions of the Equality Act understood in the Bill.
Amendment 8 demonstrates how pervasive this question of accessibility and inclusion is. This goes to the means by which local authorities publish notices and enable people even to be aware of a notice, and that a potential change is happening in their local area. If those notices are not published in an accessible format, not least online but considering all potential accessible formats, it would clearly be in breach of the local authority’s public sector equality duty. Can my noble friend the Minister give her views on that point?
Amendment 12 not only seeks to ensure that accessibility means that there is a clear pathway through any seating development; it also speaks very much to the need for social distancing. It sets out clearly that not only should it be possible for two persons to pass—be they wheelchair users, white-cane users, guide-dog users such as myself or people who use a walking frame—but that they should be able to pass with a 1-metre distance. Can my noble friend comment on the current guidance on which this distancing is to be based, given pavement width? Has this guidance been updated in the light of Covid-19 or is it still rooted on an understanding of distances to enable passage which take no account in reality of social distancing requirements?
Finally, Amendment 17 goes to the issue that a number of noble Lords see in the process of the application. The potential needs to be built in for residents and users—not just those with disabilities, but all—to be able to put in a complaint about a development if it has been enabled and a grant has been made, yet in reality that area is not accessible. Amendment 17 would put a requirement on the council to inspect within seven days and have the ability to immediately revoke that pavement licence if it did not fit with the Equality Act on accessibility—the public sector equality duty—and, crucially, that whole concept of predicating everything on inclusive design.
I look forward to hearing the comments from other noble Lords on this group. I also look forward to the Minister’s responses to ensure that we move from “guidance”, “may” and “consider” to something that can give real confidence to not just disabled people but all people. This would be an effective, positive move to drive economic activity, but in a way that is inclusive for all.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 6, 7 and 8 in this group—briefly, because the case seems self-evident. These amendments provide that consultation materials should be provided in accessible formats for the benefit of disabled people, particularly those with visual impairments, and that the clock on consultation should be started only once materials have been made available online in an accessible manner. I would be most grateful if the Minister would be willing to take these amendments on board.
My Lords, I sat in your Lordships’ Chamber last Monday and heard every speech on Second Reading. Two things came across to me powerfully: the second I will deal with later, when I speak to my Amendment 28. First, I want to address a few remarks to my Amendment 20 and, as it is so short, I will read it for the benefit of your Lordships. Line 7 on page 5 of the Bill says:
“The Secretary of State may publish conditions for pavement licences.”
We should probably change that “may” to must”. I have added the words:
“and in doing so must take into account the needs of the disabled, including the blind and the partially sighted.”
It came across in speech after speech last week that there was real concern on this issue—a concern most graphically expressed by my friend the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, who has just spoken, and my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who introduced this series of amendments.
t is one thing to aspire to a café society, which is very pleasant. It is entirely reasonable that we should spill out on to the pavements, if it is safe and suitable to do so. But it is essential that the needs of the disabled —including the blind and the partially sighted—are properly recognised. I very much hope that when the Minister comes to reply, we will have an assurance from the Government that this matter will be explicit and on the face of the Bill. If it is not, I will seek to reintroduce an amendment next week on Report and, if necessary, divide the House, but I am confident that that will not be necessary. I hope that this debate will be brief, and unanimous that on this issue, in those immortal words, “something must be done”.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 21 in my name, but begin by referring to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee, which I have the honour of chairing. It was critical of these conditions, which are legally enforceable but not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The committee’s report last week said:
“In the absence of cogent reasons for not requiring mandatory conditions to be imposed through regulations, we recommend that the power to impose legally enforceable conditions in Clause 5(6) should be exercisable through regulations and that the negative procedure would afford an adequate level of parliamentary scrutiny.”
However, today I am requesting simply that we apply it to the national condition relating to space on pavements for disabled people, because the guidance is absolute nonsense which would not survive proper parliamentary scrutiny.
This is nothing to do with my noble friend the Deputy Leader, or the Minister, who did not invent this guidance published by the Government on 22 June. Paragraph 4.2 refers to
“the recommended minimum footway widths and distances required for access by mobility impaired and visually impaired people as set out in Section 3.1 of Inclusive Mobility”.
Paragraph 2.2 on page 5 of Inclusive Mobility says that:
“Someone who does not use a walking aid can manage to walk along a passageway less than 700mm wide, but just using a walking stick requires greater width than this; a minimum of 750mm. A person who uses two sticks or crutches, or a walking frame, needs a minimum of 900mm, a blind person using a long cane or with an assistance dog needs 1100mm. A visually impaired person who is being guided needs a width of 1200mm. A wheelchair user and an ambulant person side-by-side need 1500mm width.”
So, if I read this correctly—and I apologise to the Minister if I have got it wrong—rather than one simple instruction to café owners to keep a space of 1,500 millimetres, there are six different widths by which they might be guided.
Some noble Lords are old enough to remember two ancient television programmes. I can imagine a Benny Hill sketch—or something like that wonderful “Fawlty Towers” episode in which John Cleese keeps moving his diners from table to table—whereby a café owner sets out his tables at 700 millimetres and sees someone with a walking stick coming and moves them out to 750 millimetres, then I come along in my chair with my wife beside me, and he moves them out to 1,500 millimetres, and closes them back to 1,100 millimetres when my noble friend Lord Holmes comes along with Lottie, his guide dog, or the noble Lord, Lord Low, comes along with his white stick.
These guidelines are unworkable. We must have one simple rule: a minimum of 1,500 millimetres in all cases. That would also go some way towards aiding social distancing.
My Lords, I am bowled over by the research done by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
I am pleased to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and the other amendments in this group. People who do not have mobility problems or sight impairment might wonder why there are so many amendments about accessibility. The answer is simple. So many of us who use wheelchairs or, in my case, mobility scooters, or have a sight impairment, have all had experience of obstructed pavements, which make journeys extremely hazardous.
As my noble friend Lady Pinnock said from these Benches, we support what the Government are doing in the Bill, but there is detail which must be addressed, and I hope that I am pushing at an open door. I too note the national guidance for local authorities over pavement space, but guidance is unenforceable by its very nature, so how much notice of it will be taken by an enthusiastic café owner trying to maximise table space, for example? We need something much more explicit in the Bill, and I urge the Minister to table a suitable amendment on Report if he is not going to accept any of the existing amendments.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 2, 5, 12, 17 and 25 in this group. Obviously, from personal experience, I feel very strongly about these amendments. Disabled people are often forgotten when we are thinking about access, and perhaps in the last 10 years not much has really changed. I support physical distancing, while balancing it with the need to open businesses in a safe way, but the Bill should reflect the concerns of disabled people and support them.
Not every disabled person is vulnerable; however, when I think about what disabled people experience in real life without Covid-19, having to manoeuvre round dockless bikes, bad footpaths, poorly dropped kerbs and adverse camber, with the additionality of where we are now, with blue badge spaces being closed off, and how difficult it is for a number of disabled people to move around in a safe way, like others, I hope that the Government will support the amendments in this group. If we do not do this properly, disabled people will stay at home and will not be out spending money, and we know the value of the purple pound. Disabled people are an important part of getting the economy going again, but if this is not done properly, it could put disabled people in more danger by moving them to kerbs and slopes which are not safe for them to use.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, covered well that there must be some urgent investigation regarding Amendment 17, and not just that this will be looked at some time in the future. As noble Lords have mentioned, guidance around disabled people is often forgotten. Also, I would like to see disabled people involved in this change and setting the guidelines and the standards required, because quite often a non-disabled person’s view of what disability access is required is somewhere between interesting and completely unhelpful. A number of people with visual impairments have told me that already in these times, when they have been out and about, they are being bumped into and pushed aside, and wheelchair users are being leaned over, and they cannot just jump out of the way of people coming towards them. That is why a sensible discussion on the amount of space is needed. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, on looking at all the idiosyncrasies around the guidance. Frankly, they are idiotic. There must be one standard.
My final point is that guidance is a lovely idea, but around disabled people it is ignored because it is seen as “just guidance”. It does not effect change in the way we want. One thing that I hope comes out of this is a more positive way of thinking about how disabled people interact with the built environment, to enable them to move around in a better and safer way.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I wonder what she might have said had she mentioned the Government’s proposals on electric scooters in the context of the problems of disabled people, or of those with visual impairments. It seems to me that they are going to exacerbate some of the problems we are talking about.
The amendments in this group deal with the nature of public consultation. Amendment 6 in particular, to which I have added my name, tightens up the expectations on local authorities. As I understand the Bill as drafted, it would be sufficient for a local authority simply to put the details on a notice stuck in the window of the town hall. The amendment, however, would require that those details be in a form accessible to the residents affected. I would like to see local authorities expected to consult directly with the residents in the immediate vicinity of some of these proposed licence changes.
Amendment 6 would also properly allow seven days for residents to register their objections or raise concerns. That seems to me to be a minimum. Seven days is a very short time under any circumstances, but, unless these subsections are strengthened, most residents in the immediate vicinity of a premises for which these changes are intended will never hear about them until they have been agreed, and probably not until the extra pavement furniture appears; until the extra noise starts; until the extra singing starts; and until the yobs start urinating and defecating on their properties. I assume that the Minister does not wish to be regarded as the Minister responsible for people doing that in others’ front gardens—but that is the danger, unless there is a proper degree of consultation, and people have the opportunity to raise their concerns. Amendment 6 is very modest, and I trust the Minister will accept it.
Amendment 17 is also very modest. If the new pavement use turns out to make it difficult for people with disabilities, or others such as parents with pushchairs and young people, to navigate the pavement, the local authority must speedily visit and assess the situation. If there is a problem, the pavement licence should be revoked. Social distancing already requires people on many pavements to step into the road to get past each other. It is clearly more difficult if you are blind, in a wheelchair, or simply pushing a double buggy with another child in tow. If you have to navigate a group of inebriated and boisterous young men—and it will often be young men—on the pavement, it is far worse. Under such circumstances, not only is consultation needed but an inspection of how the arrangements work in practice. How far do the pavement tables extend? In practice, on whichever model the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, was talking about, how much leeway do the groups standing around leave for those passing by? Again, I trust that the Minister will accept this amendment.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, with his detailed knowledge of local rules. However, I wish to emphasise the importance of balance, and to remind noble Lords that these are temporary measures. We must not get bound up in regulatory amendments, however justified these might be for permanent laws. We have to get the economy and our high streets going again and allow vibrancy to return to our bars and pubs. Our hospitality sector has been decimated and it needs all the help it can get.
There are safeguards: there is scope for suspending licensing conditions for up to three months, or removing permission for sales of alcohol for consumption off the premises. There are quite onerous requirements for Covid-19 risk assessments prepared in consultation with employees and unions. There are also various forms of guidance which, as we have heard from my noble friend Lord Blencathra, can contain anomalies. But the economy needs to open up. Bars and pubs must be part of the revival and regeneration, whether by young people, tourists or those of us at a more stately stage of life. The Local Government Association has, rightly, supported the Bill, including pavement licensing freedoms, and we need to get on with turning it into law.
Finally, I did not get a chance to say so, but I will be returning to digital verification on Report, as there is more to be done—and quickly.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. Like her, I absolutely recognise the economic imperatives behind the Bill, including this part of it. In your Lordships’ House we have excellent spokespeople for disabled people and real expertise, ranging from a colleague with enormous Olympic achievements to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who I congratulate on his admirable—if uncharacteristic—feat of pedantry in this debate, showing the absurdity of some of the rules. I support the notion that there should be the best possible uniform standard for enabling disabled people to negotiate our streets and built environment, even when economic imperatives lead to the opening up of those streets for eating, drinking and café society.
I will add a comment on Amendments 6, 7 and 8. There are good reasons for planning restrictions, and we do not want to see our built environment damaged significantly as a result of the economic imperatives that we are following. In particular, we need to protect the peace of places where people live and not see them turned into drinking streets because they happen to have a couple of pubs in the vicinity. I therefore support the requirement set out in Amendments 6, 7 and 8 for a proper consultation period.
Because of the internet, everybody knows that it is necessary at the current time to curtail some of the more officious parts of planning law, I would regard 14 days, rather than a week, as a reasonable period. However, it is important for such applications to be screened on the internet by local authorities, which can do it very easily, and for people to be given a meaningful number of days in which to make their representation. That would enable local authorities to make a quick assessment of the level of objections, if there were any, and to make an empirical judgment, rather than reacting only to the economic imperatives. I will keep back some of the things I want to say on similar issues to the debate on the next group of amendments.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Holmes, Lord Blencathra and Lord Cormack, on their amendments. This is a difficult area. On the one hand, we want to proceed quickly as these are temporary measures and we want to make good and recoup some of the losses that the hospitality industry has suffered. On the other, we want to allow access for those who are visually or otherwise impaired, or who are wheelchair users. When he sums up on this group of amendments, will my noble friend clarify how the Government imagine that the guidelines will be fit for purpose in this regard? Although I can see that there is an argument for consultation, does my noble friend not agree that that could potentially delay the coming into force of these arrangements?
I bow to the good will and common sense of the restauranteurs and bar owners who will seek to use a pavement area only if it is physically safe for the category that falls within the remit of these amendments. It is up to them, working with the environmental health officers and the police, to make sure that these provisions are enforceable.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my colleague the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA. This is an interesting section of amendments, because this is something we should be doing all the time. We should not have to insert it into legislation: it should be automatic. We have not only a considerable number of disabled people in our society but an ageing population. Speaking as someone who is ageing, I would like to think that such care and planning always happens, particularly with legislation of this kind. Even when it is temporary, it still matters.
It is obvious to us all that coronavirus has put life on hold. It has also given us a chance to change established ways of working. I note that many noble Lords have been talking about getting back to normal, but I argue that normal is not a particularly good place to return to. We should be thinking about how to make things better and not just repeating mistakes made in the past couple of hundred years. Increasingly, of course, given the changes in our population, we need to ensure that we are not imposing disabilities on people who are very active but have sight or movement problems.
The Bill should require that a minimum safe pavement area be left accessible—that is obvious—so that street furniture does not force pedestrians to walk in the road. That safe pavement space could vary depending on how busy the route is. Some high streets, for example, may have no safe encroachment area, which will cause large numbers of people to get too close together, but others might only require a metre or the 500 cm that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, spoke about—his was a pretty good speech. In any event, the Bill is currently deficient as it does nothing to address that issue, and the likely problems are obvious. Some councils have taken the opportunity during the coronavirus pandemic to close some streets to traffic and open them to pedestrians. That is obviously a wonderful way forward.
Consultation definitely needs to be improved for the emergency licensing regime. The measures proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, would maintain rapid licensing while helping to ensure that those who may be impacted can have their say and adapt the licensing accordingly. A system of appeal or reconsideration should be included in the Bill. It is natural that some mistakes will be made with such a rapid decision-making process, so it would be a good idea to include a provision that would remove these measures quickly as well. Judicial review should not be the only option to put things right. It is very cumbersome and slow.
Tucked into this group is Amendment 4 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which would allow licences for pavement spaces outside empty premises. That would be a worthy improvement to the Bill, making better use of empty premises and their adjacent pavements. It is a simple amendment and I hope that the Minister can accept it.
My Lords, I very much support the Bill and admire Her Majesty’s Government for pushing it forward. I say particular thanks to my noble friend Lord Howe, who wrote me a letter about new towns.
I will speak in favour of Amendment 2. I say to my noble friend that for five years of my life I lived opposite a pub, and if you live opposite, adjacent to or close to a pub you expect noise on Fridays and Saturdays, so there is nothing new about that in relation to the Bill. That point should be considered.
I say to my dear noble friends, Lord Holmes and Lord Blencathra, who is my roommate, well done because they have made people think. But, frankly, the average publican will think. He or she is aware of the disabled and of wheelchairs. Maybe they need reminding, and Amendment 2 does that, but for heaven’s sake, this is only a temporary Bill. The only point I would make to my noble friend the Minister is, why do we not review this after six months? After all, the real point of the Bill is the next six months; particularly the summer and autumn. It would be more sensible to review it towards the end of this year, around December, in readiness for next year. The need is self-evident. I support the amendment and wish my Front Bench all possible success with the Bill.
My Lords, I support pavement licences not only for the purposes of the Bill but because, as I said at Second Reading, they have the potential to help knit together communities. But there must—“must” is the operative word—be access for all pavement users. Otherwise, our pavements are not a shared space in the wider sense of the term.
Anyone who knows Berlin and smaller towns in various countries on the continent will see how well this can work. As a pedestrian in Berlin, I do not recall ever having to walk around tables and chairs, which is an important point. The scheme is not working if you cannot walk down the centre of the payment, and where the pavement is wide enough, there is no reason why café furniture cannot be split into two sections so that it can be right up against the road or fence between for safety.
I am sure that there is a whole art to this, but things such as large wooden tubs with flowers and large umbrellas marking the corners of the café territory can give the area a structure that is both open and rigid, so that pedestrians know precisely where they can walk on a predictable, routine basis. That is extremely important, particularly in the context of the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Low. You should be able to walk down a pavement and know precisely where you will be walking on different days.
My Lords, I had the pleasure yesterday afternoon of my first meal out since before the lockdown, at the fabulous Drift Inn in Lamlash, on the Isle of Arran. The young proprietors and members of staff there had been looking forward to their first full spring and summer, with tourists and locals enjoying their hospitality. Of course, the business has had to stand still for several months. For them and so many others, small businesses in particular, I welcomed the Bill last week and I welcome it again today. I hope that, beyond England and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, there will be a bit more enthusiasm for supporting these businesses to get safely back on the rails over the coming weeks and months.
Turning to the amendments, I counsel the Government not to go against the grain when pushing through the Bill and the important powers it will enable. The Government themselves have spoken about building back better after the lockdown and Covid-19. There have been many negatives and terrible impacts of Covid-19 and the lockdown over recent months, but for those of us lucky enough to have had the opportunity to leave our homes, at times it has also been a pleasure to reclaim our streets and parks for walks or runs and relaxation. Many people have commented on that.
On the issue of off-sales, which I mentioned last week and which will come up later in Committee, I think it would be wrong for those to become too readily available in a society where they are already far too readily available. That is a major mistake. Also, we cannot talk about “building back better” if we leave people out of the equation. Without the amendment so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, whose introduction to this group was excellent, and without the consultation that was so well described by my noble friend Lord Harris, we will be, yes, rightly encouraging businesses to become entrepreneurial in this new environment and encouraging customers to go out and enjoy the hospitality of those businesses, but if we do that to the exclusion of sections of our society, whether they are there as customers or are just passing by, that will be a terrible error. We should leave no one behind as we emerge from this lockdown period.
I urge the Government not to go ahead with the Bill in its current form just because it has been through the House of Commons and because it was drafted by Ministers and officials before these debates but to listen to the debates and make the changes. They will get a much stronger welcome in the country for the Bill when enacted, and it will be more successful as a result, if it involves everybody and does not leave anybody behind.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend’s enthusiasm and wise observations. I had signed up to speak on Second Reading and, due to unfortunate technical problems, was unable to do so. I wish to speak to Amendments 6 and 8.
I echo the introductory comments of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. His concerns may be widely applicable in many areas of our country. I am deeply concerned about the impact of the fast-tracking measures that will allow alcohol to be served outside or off premises. I witnessed first-hand a large event at a venue nearby, on two consecutive weekends, and was shocked to witness large numbers of young people gathered without any social distancing—not a mask in sight—spilling on to the streets, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. I welcome the points made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, about age verification. I question the age of many present at these gatherings and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that it is not enough to rely on staff minding the entrance to ensure identity of large numbers of eagerly waiting young persons.
I suggest to the Government that the beneficial income revenue is likely to be seriously compromised by insurmountable amounts of litter, men urinating on the road and against buildings, activity going well into unsocial hours with an unacceptable level of noise and antisocial behaviour and disturbance, inevitably causing concern to nearby family residents. In fact, a group of people came over to my car as I was driving by, who were drunk and aggressive. Witnessing this was my adult son, who lives with autism. He was distinctly alarmed and anxious. I could see no one obviously enforcing rules at this event and no signposting for social distancing rules or for toilets.
Therefore, I am uncomfortable that some licences will be granted for more than a year without review. They are the most significant changes in licensing laws for years, and local authority and police services do not have any additional resources and will not be equipped to take on additional duties to monitor these licences for compliance without extra funding.
The proposal that local councils will have permission to revoke licences is, frankly, not good enough. Can the Minister clarify that local authorities and police forces locally have been allocated the necessary resources? Will these measures embed due regard to the rights of residents nearby, particularly those who are disabled or may be vulnerable young women, including the impact on women staff members? I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, referred to the danger of excessive availability late at night of cheap alcohol. As a former manager of drug and alcohol services, I agree wholeheartedly.
I am not convinced that communities, local authorities and police have been adequately consulted, particularly on the impact on people with disabilities and the environmental impact on their lives of these measures. Can the Minister say that residents, including those who are disabled, will be consulted—reaching out to all residents, including those for whom English may not be their first language? Will there be opportunities to express any dissent, and will a public reporting mechanism be established and made available in various locally relevant languages?
Finally, in support of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and other noble Lords, I agree that, even at this time of duress, this House must be assured of adherence to the fundamentals of the public sector equality duty, and thus respect all the prerequisites of ensuring compliance, not just by local authorities but by those who hold a licence. Throughout this pandemic, I have sought assurances from the Government that we heed local conditions and respect local needs, including those based on the population and its linguistic requirements, and consider lack of access to online services for a large section of our populations. I am confident that the Government will continue to honour this duty and ensure that public consultation materials, printed and online, are available in accessible formats—including Braille, audio and translated into some of the relevant languages—and made available on a variety of platforms, including ethnic minority media platforms.
I am indebted to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for giving me a new description, which I am proud to have, of having reached a more stately stage of life. I plead guilty to that.
Mention has been made by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and by others of the need to get the economy moving, that this is a temporary measure and all the rest. I ask noble Lords to remember that we are sending out terribly mixed messages. I happened to be in Cambridge station yesterday, and there people are still being advised not to travel. They are still saying that you should stay at home, at the same time as the Government are saying that you should now suddenly not stay at home.
I do not accept that this will make that much difference. I referred earlier to the Office for National Statistics survey, which shows quite clearly that a very large number of people—indeed, a majority—have no intention of going back to an enclosed restaurant in the foreseeable future. We need to distinguish between a temporary measure and what I am beginning to sense is almost a panic measure—the belief that, if we pass this Bill, suddenly everybody will go back to restaurants; that is not necessarily true.
I make another point about my tour of Mill Road, Cambridge, which I introduced in the first series of amendments. I did a very close survey of it in connection with the alcohol licence I mentioned earlier, which was opposed. There are two, if not three shops in Mill Road which are owned by Muslims, and two of them, at least, do not, on principle, sell alcohol. The idea that seems to be punted around that everybody wants to sell alcohol as a way of getting back to normal is not necessarily true. There are shopkeepers that do not wish to sell alcohol but to make a living selling groceries.
I also welcome Amendment 17, in the name of my noble friend, Lord Holmes, in particular the provision that asks local authorities to visit the area. There is no real substitute for local people, particularly local councillors, looking at an area where an application has been made and applying some common-sense judgment. I would say that that is common-sense judgment very much bearing in mind the broad guidelines put forward by my noble friend Lord Blencathra. Some people will ask, “How wide should it be?”, so those guidelines are extremely important, but it is also important that local government and local councillors are made accountable for the decisions in their area. You cannot have local democracy if you are constantly falling back on saying, “Oh well, the Minister says this, the Minister has said that”. So I welcome that, and I think “the local authority must” is an important element.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, only seven days is given for this process, which has been widely regarded as, let us say, a very short timetable. Will the local authority have the right to reject an application on the grounds that it needs a longer period to consult local people? I am thinking that if an application went in on a Thursday evening and it had to be determined by the following Thursday, that would not give enough time for publicity and for the council to make a decision. So will that be a legitimate temporary rejection where the local authority needs longer to consult?
Secondly, mention has been made of empty premises. Very good—but can the Minister confirm that, if tables are put outside empty premises, it must be with the agreement of the owner of the empty premises? In other words, just because a shop is empty does not mean that the shop next door that happens to be selling alcohol or food can therefore just put tables outside it. Will the Minister accept that, if they are to be put outside an empty premises, the application has to be accompanied by an agreement from the owner or lessee of the premises to have the tables put outside? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. My name is attached to Amendment 25. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, reminded us of the importance and the meaning of the words “guidance”, “may” and “consider”, while my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester reminded us that guidance can be unenforceable and that we need something much more explicit when we reach Report. I agree with them both.
The issue is the safety of pedestrians in two respects: the physical safety of pedestrians to prevent them risking an accident to themselves and the safety of pedestrians against the potential transmission of coronavirus by enabling two pedestrians to pass each other at least one metre distant. So will the Government review the Bill before Report to ensure that the powers really exist for local authorities to maintain public safety on pavements?
My Lords, I support Amendment 25 relating to the two requirements that have been stated. I reiterate what I said when I spoke on Amendment 11: I support the Bill, which will trigger the revitalisation of our businesses and help the well-being of the people. However, it is necessary for us to implement the changes with caution. My concern is safety of passage and accessibility by blind and disabled persons. In addition, of course, all pedestrians must be able to pass without hindrance where there is a gathering of customers outside a restaurant or pub.
Blind persons have felt less independent since the lockdown rules were implemented and, if there is an increase in street furniture, blind and partially sighted people may be forced to walk in the road, change their route, avoid travelling independently or even stay at home. Street furniture will present additional challenges and should be marked off with an accessible barrier. The idea of marking off the areas will ensure accessibility. Furthermore, if the appropriate distances are maintained, it will help pedestrians to walk without difficulty and prevent the spread of the virus. Adequate spacing will also enable disabled persons to go through without much difficulty.
As a Muslim, my other concern is the passage of Muslim ladies who may be subjected to harassment, particularly if they are wearing a hijab, niqab or burka. Most hate-crime incidents happen in the street and if the accessibility and passage of these ladies are blocked or hindered in any way, my concern is that they may be picked on by customers, especially if they have had a lot to drink. I have been informed by Fiyaz Mughal and Iman Atta of Tell MAMA that, since the lockdown was eased, there has been a spike in the number of cases where Muslim women have been abused and spat at in the street. In fact, I have been told by Tell MAMA that there has been a threefold increase in hate crimes against Muslims, and some of the incidents are unfortunately nasty and aggressive. I hope that the Minister will agree to Amendment 25.
My Lords, every speaker in this debate so far, from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, onwards, has emphasised the importance of safe arrangements on pavements both for pedestrians, particularly those who have impairments, and for those sitting outside under the new arrangements, with the new licences allowing tables and chairs to be set up outside places of refreshment.
I do not have anything to add to those points. I simply note that some noble Lords have said that we should be mindful of the fact that these are only temporary arrangements, but we do not know that. It is perfectly possible that they will go on for many months, because we just do not know what the course of the virus is going to be. So I absolutely do not think we should legislate less precisely for the arrangements because we think that they may apply for only a short time. It could well be that in a year’s time the arrangements and licences still apply.
However, it is vital that the law is clear about what the licences are going to contain, and it is that which I want to speak on. When the noble Earl, Lord Howe, replied to the debate last week, he said, in response to concerns that were raised at Second Reading about arrangements for pavements, that a national condition would be imposed,
“taking account of … section 3.1 of the Department for Transport’s Inclusive Mobility guidance. This sets out the recommended minimum footway widths and distances required for access by mobility-impaired and visually impaired people.”—[Official Report, 6/7/20; col. 969.]
When the noble Earl said that, it rang alarm bells in my mind. I remember when I was Secretary of State for Transport having to deal with an extremely difficult case of an accident, which led to a very serious injury, that was caused by a lack of clarity in the department’s guidance as to what minimum footway widths should be. Indeed, I remember looking at the guidance and believing that it should be updated. Due to the passage of time, I cannot now remember why it was not.
I have been back to look at the guidance and it brought back all the details of the case itself, which of course could happen on many occasions if licences are granted under the Inclusive Mobility guidance. It looks to me as if the 2005 guidance has not been updated: perhaps the Minister could confirm that. I could not find any record of it being updated—but if it has, perhaps he could point us to the updating. If noble Lords will forgive me, I will read section 3.1 to the Committee, because it is so important to the point about what is going to be contained in these licences.
The guidance says under the heading “Widths”:
“A clear width of 2000mm allows two wheelchairs to pass one another comfortably. This should be regarded as the minimum under normal circumstances. Where this is not possible because of physical constraints 1500mm could be regarded as the minimum acceptable under most circumstances, giving sufficient space for a wheelchair user and a walker to pass one another.”
That already brings in an ambiguity, on which I would like the Minister to respond. Will local authorities regard 2,000 millimetres or 1,500 millimetres as the minimum? Under the guidance, it could be either. However, the confusion gets greater still. It continues:
“The absolute minimum, where there is an obstacle”—
although “an obstacle” is not defined under the guidance—
“should be 1000mm clear space … It is also recommended that there should be minimum widths of 3000mm at bus stops and 3500mm to 4500mm by shops though it is recognized that available space will not always be sufficient to achieve these dimensions.”
The guidance is as clear as mud. Five different widths are specified in it but none is given priority. We are told that anything from 1,000 millimetres to 4,500 millimetres might be regarded as appropriate. The Committee should take particular note of the fact that the widest width—4,500 millimetres—is given in respect of shops, which will indeed be the premises that we are talking about almost exclusively in the case of this guidance. To double the confusion, it also says:
“The maximum length of restricted width”—
which of course is also vital; the restrictions apply not just to the width but to the length—
“should be 6 metres”,
and that is given without qualification, but of course many of the premises that we are talking about might be longer than six metres.
Therefore, my question for the Minister is: which of the various potential stipulations in the 2005 guidance will apply in respect of these licences? The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that the national condition would take account of section 3.1: what exactly is it taking account of? It is now very clear to me that it could be taking account of any one of six different, and in many respects contradictory, aspects of the guidance. On Report, the Government should come forward with an amendment that specifies the precise widths that will apply, and it should be more precise than the guidance. We must remember that the guidance was intended for exceptional purposes, whereas we are now talking about what will become quite a common occurrence in respect of our high streets and side streets.
The guidance makes no reference whatever to physical barriers—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, in his Amendment 2. If we are talking about the widespread introduction of pavement facilities for customers in cafés, pubs and so on, I think that the case for segregation is very strong, not just to make things safer—although it will do so—but to delineate very clearly the limits of the seating area. If there is not a physical barrier, those will not be clear, and we all know that people will spill out beyond them.
The 2005 guidance makes no reference whatever to barriers. If there is to be a provision in respect of barriers—a point very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and others—that has to be a wholly new provision over and above the provisions of the Department for Transport’s existing guidance on inclusive mobility.
I have just asked the Minister a very precise set of questions, which I hope he can respond to when he sums up.
It is very interesting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and his very detailed questions about the distances currently set out in guidance for the highways authorities. I, and I am sure others, look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh—perhaps in a letter to us all—how these different distances will be handled with pavement licensing.
This group contains a very important set of amendments, to which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, will be able to give a positive response. The daily difficulties described by my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and others amply illustrate why these amendments ought to be adopted by the Government.
In my own council of Kirklees, pavement licences already include a requirement for barriers. These not only clearly delineate the area in use and prevent a gradual expansion of the site but give a physical barrier for those with sight impairments. They also ensure adequate room for pedestrians, especially those needing space, such as parents with buggies, wheelchair users and people who need walking aids. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, it is simply not good enough to use words such as “may” and “consider”, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, did in response at Second Reading. These are vital changes and the words used have to be “must” and “will”. We on these Benches wholeheartedly support the amendment to ensure that barriers are in place around pavement licence areas and that sufficient room is provided for pedestrians, while keeping to social distancing guidelines. There should be no ifs and no buts.
Amendment 25, which stands in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lady Thomas of Winchester and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is explicit in its requirement for barriers to show the extent of the area and to enable pedestrians to continue to use pavements for their purpose. There is a danger that pavement licences will result in pedestrians being forced into the road. For clarity, I have been asked by my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester to point out that electric scooters, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, are intended to be used only on roads, not pavements, while electric mobility scooters are intended for use on pavements, not roads. The changes set out in Amendment 25 would resolve these issues. They are so important to many of us that, if there is no movement by the Government to address them, we will bring the matter back on Report and will be prepared to divide the House.
We must be careful that consultations to ensure changes that benefit one group do not inadvertently impair the needs of others; hence Amendment 6 in my name would make sure that applications were well publicised. Furthermore, as this legislation could make life even more difficult for disabled people, it is vital that applications are published in an accessible format. People have a right to know and to comment. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, which proposes enabling the revocation of a licence, is important and makes good sense as a means of dealing with the few who fail to act responsibly. I also support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, who suggested that government should let go of the control strings and allow councils to take, and be accountable for, local decisions.
Many of us across the Committee are very concerned about these issues and hope that the Minister will be able to indicate a substantial change by the Government in the direction that we propose in Amendments 6 and 25.
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.
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.
I turn finally to Amendment 4, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, concerning pavements outside empty premises; it was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. As the Bill is currently drafted, applicants can already apply for a licence for premises that are currently empty or apply to put furniture on the highway in front of adjacent empty premises. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept this amendment, and I hope that my noble friend will therefore choose not to move it when it is called.
A number of noble Lords mentioned extending the consultation period from seven to 14 days. I propose to address the points made by my noble friend Lord Balfe, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, during the debate on the next group of amendments. I will leave it there.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
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.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendments 3 and 4 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
I remind noble Lords 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.
Clause 2: Applications
Amendments 5 to 8 not moved.
9: Clause 2, page 2, line 32, leave out “7” and insert “14”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment extends the public consultation period for pavement licence applications from 7 days to 14 days.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 14 in this group. Applications that have not been decided by local authorities within 10 working days are automatically deemed to have been granted for a period of one year. This is too long and could mean automatic approval for a significant proportion of licences and the volume of applications overwhelming local authorities. Combined with the absence of an opportunity to appeal, the automatic approval process risks allowing hazardous street furniture being permitted inappropriately in inappropriate locations.
If the automatic approval process is to be retained, the period should be reduced to three months in order that licences should not be approved automatically for an excessive period of time and in order to give local authorities the opportunity to revisit licences that have been approved simply due to a lack of resources within a reasonable period of time. Therefore, I would be most grateful for the Minister’s serious consideration of this amendment, and I would be grateful to other noble Lords for their support of it in the course of this debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 13, 15 and 16 in this group, which build on the discussion we have just had. Amendment 13 would put in a right of appeal similar to what was discussed in a previous group but in the context of the situation ably set out by the noble Lord, Lord Low, for his amendment.
Amendment 15 changes the date in the Bill from 2021 to 2020 for precisely the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Low, set out. We may be in extraordinary times and certain measures can be changed but I do not believe that it is proportionate at this stage to have a wave-through to 2021. It would be more appropriate to set a date of 2020, and that is what Amendment 15 seeks to achieve.
Amendment 16 brings out again the whole question of consultation and its being properly undertaken with the potential to incorporate views as expressed. It echoes many of the points made in the previous group around consultation. These amendments are specific to this group and to this Bill, but the reality is that these amendments are good not just for this time but for all times, in the sense of enabling full participation, full inclusion and full enablement for all across society.
There is precious little wealth in an argument that tries to push through at pace—understandably—and in so doing states that this is only a temporary measure and thus does not matter, and that we can suspend issues around inclusion, accessibility and full participation. If inclusion and inclusive design matter, and I believe they do, as I am sure everybody in your Lordships’ House does, then they matter for a second, an hour and a day as much as they matter for a month or a year.
My Lords, Amendments 22 and 23 are intended to offer the Government an opportunity to outline how a district authority can take full advantage of this Bill when the highways are controlled by a county authority. Without any permissions or discussions whatever, I take the example of my native town of Eastbourne. Grove Road has a lot of cafes in it; the pavements are narrow and the traffic is fairly continuous. There is no way in which the cafes can spill on to the pavements. However, if we can close the road, as is easy to do because there are good workarounds for traffic that would not cause any great problem, we suddenly become able to offer all those businesses the opportunity for profitable trade.
However, in doing this, the district has to work with the county. I would like to see workable arrangements that enable the district to say what they want to happen and for the county to enable that without delay and argument.
My lords, I have put my name to Amendments 15, 16 19, 22 and 23. The Bill allows applications for a pavement licence, and it says that they are deemed to have been approved if the local authority has not determined the matter within seven days. That approval then lasts until September 2021. This is not a temporary fix; it is quite a long-term fix. I think most local residents will find it pretty extraordinary that if, by default, something has not been considered or determined by the local authority, it will stand until September next year. These are the people who will be directly, and potentially, very adversely, affected by the outcome.
Clause 2(7) says that the clock starts from the day on which the application is “sent” to the local authority. I am not sure that many people will send such applications by post, but the difference between the date sent and the date received is potentially significant. Why does the Bill not specify that the time limit runs from the receipt of application?
Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, limits such an automatic approval of a licence to September of this year. That would no doubt meet the requirements in the remarks that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is about to make, and it would allow something to happen now. However, it would also mean that the matter could be reviewed in due time, and I would have thought this was a modest amendment that must make sense.
In my view, Amendment 16 goes to the heart of these issues. These determinations should—and, in my view, must—take account of the consultation with those who are going to be affected by them. Like me, the Minister has been a council leader. I doubt whether, in his time in this role, he would have been very happy not to consider or take account of the views of local residents affected by a proposal. I know that, sometimes, matters of high politics might mean that you wish to override them, but most of the time you will want to listen to local residents and to those who are going to be directly inconvenienced by the changes that you are agreeing. You will want to listen to those who are going to be adversely affected by noise or any rowdyism and anti-social behaviour, and to those who are going to be affected because people are—and I will use the phrase that I used in a previous group of amendments—urinating and defecating on their property. Let us not pretend it will not happen; that is what will happen, particularly in the absence of proper policing resources and local authority enforcement resources.
I ask the Minister again: what are the estimated extra costs that local authorities will face in their enforcement role to manage these changes and what will be the cost of extra policing? That is why my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport’s amendment is so important. Clause 5(6) gives the Secretary of State the power to publish conditions for pavement licences. Will local authorities and their associations be consulted about those conditions? Will they be given the enforcement resources they need? Again, what guarantees are there that the police will have the officers to ensure that suitable order is maintained as a result of the licences?
Finally, I have signed Amendments 22 and 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which acknowledge that, as a result of these licences, people will spill over into the highway or be forced to do so to get around those availing themselves of what is provided. Public safety may require that parking and speed limits be adjusted. That would require the highway authority, which may well not be the same as the local authority, to make adjustments. Similarly, transport operators—those running the bus services—may have to alter their schedules or make minor adjustments to routes to ensure that people are safe. The amendments would require that such discussions took place. Again, they seem modest, and I hope that the Minister can accept them.
My Lords, I hesitate to be predictable; the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has partly predicted what I will say. I am concerned that some of the amendments will make the process of applying for a licence more difficult and the process of getting one unattractive. In particular, if an automatic licence is granted for a very short time, it is of no real use to a hospitality business, which will probably have to invest in further tables and chairs and so on to operate outside, because not all can move outside the tables that they have inside. The amendments work against the spirit of the Bill, which is to try to get the economy going again.
We should not embellish the Bill with lots of extra things that have to be taken into account. There are already significant powers for local authorities to deal with these applications. Local authorities may have to get a bit more agile and deal with applications a bit more quickly than they have in the past. My impression of local government, never having been closely involved in it, is that it is not very agile. I will probably get into trouble with my husband when I get home because he chairs a planning committee, sits on a licensing committee and probably would not recognise my characterisation of lack of agility, but in these difficult times local authorities should be prepared to get a move on and do whatever they need to do to protect their local residents. They do not need any changes to this Bill to do so.
My Lords, I have sympathy with what my noble friend Lady Noakes has just said, but I have lent my support to Amendment 16 in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes. It is appropriate that a local authority should be able to include conditions when granting pavement licences in line with any concerns expressed in the public consultation—with the proviso that the consultation takes only seven days, so I am afraid that I do not support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Low. However, my noble friend Lady Noakes had a point when she said that such conditions should not be so restrictive as to make a nonsense of what is requested in the licence being applied for. I hope that common sense in this regard will prevail.
I do not agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes: we are not trying to make it more difficult; as I see it, we are trying to get the balance right. I referred in my initial speech to the changes in the regulations—what I think of as the Blair/Jowell reforms—which opened up our high streets to a wild west of alcohol licensing. One thing those measures had in common with this legislation is that they came into force in August. We are proposing to bring this into force at precisely the time when local authorities are going for their summer break—indeed, at precisely the time when we are going for our summer break. By my definition of local authorities getting “a move on”, extending the consultation from seven to 14 days is quite reasonable; I do not think that it is difficult at all. If someone sends an application by second-class post and gets their proof of posting at 5 pm on a Friday, it is unlikely to get there before the next Tuesday—particularly in Cambridge—so we are not even giving seven days. Seven days from date of receipt would be bad enough, but seven days from posting is just not enough.
I asked in my previous contribution whether people who wished to extend in front of unused shops would need to get the permission of their lessee or owner. That is an important point, because otherwise we are basically saying that a premises can just expand on to next door’s territory without any agreement.
I asked earlier, and did not get an answer, whether a local authority could reject an application because it had not had enough time to consider it. In other words, if it arrived on a Tuesday and was due to be determined on a Friday, and it is August and everybody is on holiday, could the authority say, “No, we reject it. We need another seven or 14 days to consider it”?
Amendment 16 states that conditions may
“incorporate views and concerns expressed in the public consultation under section 2.”
How will those views and concerns be gathered? If the local authority asks for views and concerns, it will effectively be giving the general public 24 or maybe 48 hours and then it will have to meet to decide what to do with the public consultation. We keep hearing about the need to open up the economy, but the majority of people in Britain do not feel safe going into a restaurant as it is. I do not agree that the economy will be opened up by this legislation. What we will get is basically another version of the wild west. We need to legislate at a reasonable pace, because if we do so in haste, we will regret at leisure. That is what happened in the earlier, 2003-04 experiment and it is what we are heading for here. Please let us take this at a reasonable pace.
My Lords, the points I would have wished to make in this group of amendments have already been made skilfully by others and I see no need to repeat them. All I would say is that I absolutely support and adopt the approach taken and submissions made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. The noble Lord said extremely skilfully what I would have tried to say, so I have nothing further to add.
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, spoke on the previous group, he said he had visited an establishment over the weekend. I share with noble Lords that I went to four establishments over the weekend and found them all very busy. I was pleased to “eat out to help out” as much as I did.
I do not know whether any noble Lords tuned into local London news last night, but it was interesting that the images of Soho this weekend were much different from those we saw the weekend before. One of the small establishment owners interviewed on “BBC London News” was very compelling in what he said about the tables and chairs outside his business making a massive difference to whether it would be able to survive.
I direct my comments mainly at Amendment 16 in this group, which I have some sympathy with. At Second Reading I said that release of lockdown and the return of some of our liberties was a moment to renew our individual responsibilities and restate some of the standards critical to a good, functioning society. I think it is fair to say that public consultations can often seem a bit meaningless to people, and a seven-day consultation will not provide much scope for people’s input.
That said, I am mindful of the comments made by other noble Lords that this legislation is temporary and its purpose is to kick-start our economy, so I do not seek to extend the consultation period in the way that some other noble Lords have suggested. I implore all responsible business owners and local authorities to take every opportunity, during the procedures and processes that will follow once this legislation is enacted, to demonstrate to local people that they care about addressing the potential negatives and nuisances that we know are a real blight for some people, such as litter, noise and the other troubling practices that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, referred to. If we are not to extend the consultation, we need to make sure that those who will make it possible for these changes to happen demonstrate to their local communities that they understand what matters to them and that local businesses will very much take all that into account.
As I am sure all noble Lords do, I have huge faith in small business owners, but I also want owners of bigger businesses to recognise their responsibilities and that the managers of their branches and local premises are local leaders in their area too. Big businesses should ensure that their local managers understand their responsibilities and their status in their local communities.