Shisha Lounges

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood 2:30 pm, 5th December 2018

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Afzal Khan for his intervention. I know that a lot of work has been done in Manchester. I will come on to some of the public health issues. He is right to raise public health concerns. There are, of course, public health duties on local authorities, and the public health risks relating to shisha are not well understood and publicised. He is absolutely right that much more awareness is needed. I congratulate Manchester for the good work it has done in this area.

The common life of those residents and the community they created, which they love and have thrived in for all these years, was being ruined. Some of those stalwart residents—the absolute backbone of the community—told me that they wanted to leave and were desperate to move out. In fact, they most wanted my help with council housing transfers. I thought that was one of the saddest things, because those people are the lifeblood of the area. If they move out, we will lose something much more profound in the community. It was all because they simply could not tolerate the daily misery they were facing because of the shisha venue.

As people became more vocal with their complaints—I took up the issues and worked with the council and the police, who were doing their best to manage the fallout from the venue opening near my residents, and there was more media coverage in the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Mail—residents became worried about reprisals from patrons of the venue. Suddenly, it became much more of a hot topic. Things then took a more serious and frightening turn, because gun violence and other serious crime was taking place. People were up in arms but also terrified. I was shocked that almost overnight a community could be ruined by a shisha place opening.

As the local Member of Parliament, I initially treated this as a policing matter. It is interesting that other parliamentarians and council leaders have tended to raise it with Home Office Ministers as a policing issue. I, too, talked to the police. We thought about having more policing patrols and possible interventions, but eventually I had to conclude that the law itself makes things complicated in this area. My thought was, “Just take away the shisha licence,” because that is the business model on which the premises are based—take it away and they will not have a business and will soon move on—but of course there is no licence for shisha.

In the case of Arabian Nites, it took a couple of serious incidents involving gun discharges—one discharge ricocheted and hit a passer-by—before the police could apply for a closure order under antisocial behaviour rules. Such closure orders are temporary and the one for Arabian Nites was for only three months. The venue has not reopened, but it is free to do so once it has met the new conditions.