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

My hon. Friend, the shadow Minister, is absolutely right: the process is too difficult and onerous. I have a copy of the documentation put together at huge cost in time and resource by the police in support of the application for a closure order. It is more than 100 pages long—I was trying to print it before coming to the Chamber so that I could show it to everyone, but my printer broke—given the amount of work and number of witness statements required of police officers.

In the first case against Arabian Nites, the police did not get the closure order and had to apply a second time. Meanwhile, my residents who live with that place directly opposite their homes are terrified of gun violence, of stepping outside late at night and even of taking their kids to the school around the corner. The regime is too onerous, and to rely simply on existing police powers is not good enough. I have nothing but praise, by the way, for the way that the police have tried to engage with the issue. They have done their best with the avenues open to them.

In Birmingham, a total of three such establishments have been subject to closure orders. All three happen to be in my constituency: Arabian Nites, which I have mentioned; Cloud Nine, which was closed after the suspected sale of laughing gas to children as young as nine, and following breaches of fire safety and venue capacity limits; and the Emperors Lounge, which was closed after a murder was linked to the premises, but which has since reopened after a three-month closure order.

As the law stands, shisha smoking is subject to the ban on smoking in public places, alongside all other smoking in the UK—it is subject to the same rules. Shisha is a tobacco product, so it is subject to the same rules that apply to regular tobacco, in particular the ban on sales to those under 18. When it comes to licensing legislation, however, the Licensing Act covers only the sale of alcohol and certain forms of regulated entertainment. Shisha bars or lounges do not require a licence under regulation unless they sell alcohol or have other regulated entertainment under the 2003 Act.

Some establishments sell alcohol. Arabian Nites was selling alcohol, which was one of the bases on which the police and the council were eventually able to take action, but Cloud Nine and the Emperors Lounge did not have licences for the sale of alcohol, instead falling within the other regulated activities under the Licensing Act. No single agency or piece of statutory legislation regulates shisha activities. If serious incidents occur—shootings or serious violence such as I have had in my constituency—the police may apply for the powers available to them under antisocial behaviour rules, such as a three-month closure order, as we have seen in Birmingham. However, that process takes a lot of time and effort.

Furthermore, many premises will fight their corner with what is available to them through the legal system. It is fair to say, too, that many will do whatever they can to frustrate the legal process, keeping the thing running for as long as possible in order to beat everyone down and evade the enforcement action being sought.