Moved by Lord Balfe
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 statementThis 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?
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.
“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.
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.
“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.