Business and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (North of England) (Northern Powerhouse), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Food and Rural Affairs) 6:48 pm, 29th June 2020

Not North End? Fair enough. Anyway, all the best. Both maiden speeches were wonderful. On to even more serious matters, Mr Deputy Speaker. You must really have to sit on the fence where you are—good golly. Burnley? Blackburn? My goodness me. Stick with Clitheroe—that is my advice.

The Liberal Democrats support the provisions in the Bill and recognise how necessary they are. We recognise the colossal sacrifice that so many people have made in the last three and a bit months. Many did so before there was any guarantee of any kind of financial support, which might have made it a little easier for them. My constituency has an average age 10 years above the national average, and we were one of the infection hotspots right at the beginning. The number of deaths was tragically high in our community in south Cumbria. Many people running businesses of all sorts closed down or restricted their economic activity right at the beginning, before any compensation was available to them, because they put the interests of their neighbours and people they had never met before their own financial interests. I pay tribute to my constituents and indeed folk around the country for doing that.

At the head of the movement to try to get people to restrict their economic activity right at the beginning, even telling people not to visit the Lake district—Britain’s biggest tourist destination after London—was Cumbria Tourism itself, our tourism board. It led the calls for people to visit us, but just not now, not yet, in order to keep people safe. We need to remember that sacrifice. I am very moved by and proud of it.

Of course, the Government package did come weeks later and it is very welcome. It is important in this process—in this crisis—that we find ways of working together and being collectively responsible for the mission to get Britain through the covid crisis as much as possible. It is right for those on the Opposition Benches, and indeed on the Back Benches, to hold the Government to account, and to do so constructively. I take my role as Cumbria’s only Opposition MP seriously. I have a responsibility, which must not be abused, to speak out, but I recognise that my job would be undermined, and I would be undermining my constituents and folks across Cumbria, if I was oppositionist for opposition’s sake. So it is important to congratulate the Government and work with them, when they have done the right thing. The furlough scheme, the grant schemes and so on undoubtedly saved, at least for the time being, millions of jobs around the country and thousands of jobs in my constituency.

There are, however, some gaps, and I want to spend a moment or two talking about them. It is still beyond me that the Government have still not been able to find a package to support people who make their living by being directors of very small limited companies. I can think of a person I know well in my constituency who is a photographer. He is a one-person band, effectively; he is not the director of some large corporation. His income has been completely stopped these past three months. The Government surely could still find ways of ensuring that directors of small limited companies are able to get support.

I also think, in relation to this package of measures, of the plight of people in the mobile catering industry, whose interests have been represented incredibly well, especially by my hon. Friend Wendy Chamberlain. It is important that they are explicitly referenced in the Bill so that they are supported to be able to make a living, and supported for the shortfalls in their incomes over the last few months.

I am bound, though, to focus on the gap in provision for those who have been self-employed for not so long. One in four people who work in my constituency work for themselves; they are self-employed. Our community is hugely entrepreneurial and we are very proud of that. New business start-ups are one of the council’s most important focuses. Many small business do not make a profit in their first, or even their second, year; it just does not happen. People put their effort, money and capital into getting going, and they maybe turn a profit in year three. Those innovative, risk-taking people, who have perhaps made a lifestyle choice to earn a bit less money, but to live in a nice part of the world, put their kids through the local school and add to our community, are falling through the gaps. When Westmorland and Lonsdale had the largest single increase in umemployment in the United Kingdom—of 312%—we know that many of those were those hard-working, innovative people who were starting off, and the Government did not find a way to be able to support them.

The Government said that they were not able to support them because there was not 12 months’ worth of evidence of them operating. I would argue strongly against that, but even if that is an argument, why, when we came to the second iteration of support—when some of the people who were denied the first time round would have then done 12 months—were those people not included? It is so important that those people are not forgotten and that we as a country invest now in supporting them.

In my constituency, 37% of the entire workforce is on furlough. That is the biggest number anywhere in the north of England and the biggest number of anybody outside London. It is important to remember that a large part of that will be down to the significance of the hospitality and tourism sector, with 60,000 people working in it throughout Cumbria, the bulk of whom are in my constituency, the Lake district, the Yorkshire dales and other parts of south Cumbria. While we look forward nervously and cautiously, but with a level of excitement, to 4 July and the comeback of much of the hospitality and tourism industry, we recognise that many, many businesses will not be able to fully function. I am thinking of, for example, the survey that Cumbria Tourism did of its members just last week, when they discovered that 69% of those businesses will not be able to open fully even after 4 July. We must not assume that everything is back to normal in just a week or two’s time.

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, in Committee, I will want to talk about our new clause 1 and hospitality and tourism in a bit more detail, so I will not go further at this point, save to say that I recognise many of the comments from my hon. Friend Sarah Olney and Meg Hillier about antisocial behaviour sometimes coming with the immediate upsurge in visitor numbers. That is not just in urban areas. The road on the east side of Coniston water had to be closed down in the last couple of weeks because of the antisocial behaviour we have seen there, and many of the florid descriptions from my hon. Friends can be repeated about the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales. I could say many things about that. One is that the countryside code is very good. It does not need amending. It needs publicising and embedding in our schools and to be promoted by the Government. I hope that they will do just that.

I turn to planning and the easing of planning restrictions being seen as underpinning the revival of our economy. That is absolutely right—at times, that will be worth pursuing. However, I point out to the Minister that in some cases, the revitalisation of a local community can be helped by restrictions or new changes in planning law. In particular, I am thinking of absentee ownership, or second home ownership, in places such as the Lake district, the Trough of Bowland, Yorkshire dales and other places of natural beauty.

In my constituency, 7,000 of our properties are not holiday lets, but second homes—they are boltholes that are not lived in for nineteen twentieths of the year. That means it is a home owned by somebody who sends no children to the local school and who rarely contributes to the local post office, the bus service and so on. It is possible to make planning laws that would enable places such as the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales to have a lid on the number of empty homes in our communities. Therefore, a community that has been built and shown to be vibrant during the covid crisis can have the opportunity to grow still and not peter out due to a lack of full-time homes.

I am intrigued by the speech the other night about Roosevelt—we will wait to see whether there is anything behind that. Undoubtedly, the only answer as we build back better from all this is to take that Keynesian, investment-based approach and do so in a thoroughly green way, with renewables, recycling, making sure that we have retrofitted insulation and moving forward with public transport. This is an opportunity not only for us to build back better and demonstrate our ambition for a different kind of country, but to do so in a way that our children and our grandchildren will thank us for, because we did so sustainably, renewably and in a thoroughly green way.