Moved by Lord Holmes of Richmond
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.
“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.
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
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.
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 my noble friend for his comments. Of course, I noted the points about the need for a minimum access requirement.
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.