Pavement licences

Part of Business and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 8:30 pm, 29th June 2020

I thank everyone in the Chamber for the constructive discussion that we have had in Committee and on Second Reading. I want particularly to thank Opposition Front Benchers for the positive discussions we have had over the last several days to bring this Bill through all its stages today.

I also thank all the members of the BEIS team who have provided such great support for the Bill, those in the Department for Transport, those in my office and particularly—in my own Department, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local GovernmentSimon Gallagher and his planning team for all their efforts while there have been other demands, with the covid-19 emergency, on their time.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy set out, the overall aim of the Bill is to provide a boost to key sectors of our economy—the hospitality, construction, transport and SME sectors. It will support businesses across the economy, particularly in the hardest-hit sectors, to transition from the immediate crisis and the response to lockdown towards economic recovery. It will also support businesses to implement new safer ways of working to manage the ongoing risk of covid-19, and particularly the need, as we all know, for continued social distancing.

Hon. Members have made important points in their contributions on the amendments and new clauses tabled in Committee, and I should like to discuss them in turn. I turn first to amendment 3 to clause 9 of this Bill, which speaks to the same point as amendment 2. I thank Opposition Members for this amendment, as it raises the important matter that we would want to include in our definition of “relevant highway” those highways that benefit from a temporary traffic restriction order. This is particularly so given that more of these orders are now being made to encourage active travel, including walking, as people get back to work and more shops reopen. Our definition did not include highways where such temporary traffic restriction orders are in place, and it should have done; that was our intention. If we do not make this change, the scope of the pavement licence provisions will be limited, reducing the number of businesses that will be able to benefit and undermining the powers granted to local authorities that allow them to manage their public spaces in response to covid-19.

For those reasons, and in the spirit of the constructive comments made by Mike Amesbury, I will accept this minor technical amendment, amendment 3, to the definition of relevant highway in clause 9. I am grateful to him for bringing it to our attention, and I invite him to move it formally later. [Interruption.] It may only be the one, but bag them while you can.

I turn to amendment 1 to clause 11. Clause 11, as drafted, provides a bespoke temporary change to the Licensing Act 2003 to provide an automatic extension to the terms of on-sales alcohol premises to allow the sale for consumption off the premises. This is the amendment to which Ben Lake spoke very eloquently. It is important that every person wishing to sell alcohol has a licence to do so, and for licensing authorities to be able to record and regulate the sale of alcohol through their area of control. The amendment would allow mobile traders to sell alcohol in places not previously allowed, and that could lead to a significant number of alcohol sales taking place from new locations not previously allowed by licensing authorities, potentially leading to crowding and disorder in those new locations. I would encourage mobile traders to apply for a variation order to their licence under existing legislation. For that reason, I am not able to accept his amendment, although I understand the thrust of it. I also recognise that it is perhaps an important issue in rural areas such as the one that he represents, so I would be happy to talk to him further about how we can help the rural economy through this difficult time moving towards winter. I am sure that my colleagues in the Home Office will be prepared similarly so to do.

I now turn to new clauses 1 and 2. The extraordinary support that we have put in place has been about getting us through this crisis, and the Bill is now supporting us out of it. It is the case that some firms will be affected by coronavirus for longer than others, and the Government will seek to support these firms appropriately. So far, the coronavirus job retention scheme has helped 1.1 million employers across the United Kingdom to furlough 9.2 million jobs, protecting many, many people’s livelihoods. Starting with the first release on 11 June, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is publishing monthly figures for the coronavirus job retention scheme claims, broken down by employer size, sector and geography. These figures are publicly available on the gov.uk website. They show the total number of jobs furloughed and the value of claims made within the accommodation, food services, arts, entertainment and recreation sectors. The Office for National Statistics also provides a very great deal of data.

I therefore believe that there is data available that the House can see and that Opposition Members can use, and therefore there is no need for the new clause. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale is, I would suggest, a seasoned player in the Standing Orders of this House, and he knows how to use urgent questions, SO24 applications and Opposition day debates. There will be plenty of opportunities for him to raise issues of concern with the Executive at the Dispatch Box without the need for the new clause.

Tim Farron spoke very eloquently about the importance of supporting the hospitality and leisure sector, particularly in rural economies as wintertime approaches. I remind him that the tools that we have put in place already, such as the job retention scheme, are only temporary. There may be other, more effective and more sensible long-term tools to support the economic sectors to which he referred. The Chancellor made it absolutely clear in his remarks at the Dispatch Box during the Budget and subsequently that he will do whatever it takes to support our economy and its relevant sectors as we move through this crisis. I am therefore afraid that we cannot support new clauses 1 and 2, and I encourage those who proposed them to withdraw them.

I thank the hon. Member for Weaver Vale for tabling new clause 4, which would require the Secretary of State, prior to making any regulations to extend the time limits associated with the powers in respect of construction working hours, or extending the duration of certain planning permissions or extensions in connection with outline planning permissions, to make a statement to the House on the reasons for the extension beyond 1 April 2021. We recognise that there are concerns about this, but let me assure the hon. Gentleman that the powers in question were drawn in a proportionate way to address only what is necessary to facilitate the continued activity in the sector through this crisis. These delegated powers are considered essential to allow the flexibility necessary to respond to the emerging effects of coronavirus, its potential continuing effect on the sector, and the uncertainty around its future trajectory. Our intention is to exercise the powers only if the effects of coronavirus, including social distancing measures or other restrictions, continue for a longer period. I can make that clear to him from the Dispatch Box.