Shisha Lounges

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:12 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning) 3:12 pm, 5th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood for securing the debate. She has done the House a real service because a lot of us, even though we know something about licensing, were unaware of the issue. I hope that when we hear from the Minister we will be able to chart a way forward. From the briefing that my hon. Friend kindly sent to us all, I was struck by how big the issue is, and is becoming more so, particularly in our urban areas. The figures she provided on the growth of shisha premises were stark: from three in Birmingham in 2007 to 28 in 2018, with more planned. The issue is obviously growing and needs to be addressed.

From listening to my hon. Friend’s speech and looking at the issue, I thought there were perhaps two separate issues that we need to address. The first is the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Licensing Act 2003, and then there is getting licensing legislation that is specific to shisha lounges. I want to look at the first issue for a moment, because I managed to read the 100 pages of documentation online about the Arabian Nites shisha lounge. I saw for myself how difficult it was for authorities in Birmingham, including the police, to get it shut down, even when there were major firearms offences, and that was really worrying. Presumably the lounge had a licence to sell alcohol and for late-night music that was covered under the 2003 Act, but lots of probably criminal activities went on. We might associate some of the antisocial behaviour recorded at the club with a nightclub that had got out of control. There were fire safety concerns, smoking indoors, antisocial behaviour, noise, litter, non-payment of tobacco duty and underage sales, as well as other non-compliant activities.

Interestingly, the Minister raised a point about not putting local businesses out of business. Of course, none of us would want to do that if they are properly managed, are compliant with legislation, are not causing a public nuisance and are not a hazard to public safety. The one voice that we have not heard enough of in this debate, except for what my hon. Friend said, is the voice of the local community, who find the Licensing Act very hard to challenge. The police had to go through a difficult court case. It took days and days to gather evidence to get the premises that had breached so many laws closed down. It is not clear yet whether the premises cannot simply open again under another owner, which I know has happened in several areas. So the first issue that I wish to put on the Minister’s agenda—I will come back to it in a minute or two—is the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Licensing Act.

The second issue, and the major substance of my hon. Friend’s concerns, is that there is no specific licensing scheme that applies to shisha lounges, especially the ones—most of them—that do not serve alcohol. Where licensing seems to fit, as she rightly pointed out, is through what I think could be an addition to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 by simply adding a new schedule to the Act that would cover shisha lounges. The purpose of the Act is to enable local authorities to regulate certain types of activity in their areas. The schedules currently cover sex establishments, street traders, refreshment premises, tattoo parlours, ear piercers and so on. I had a look at Birmingham City Council’s website and Durham Council’s website to see exactly what the system entails. Generally speaking, it is straightforward and the website is clear about what people have to do. I looked at tattooing and Durham’s website clearly states:

“Applicants will need to ensure that their procedures, equipment and facilities comply with local bylaws—are safe, hygienic, prevent the spread of disease, and comply with the duty of care required by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.”

Also, they are inspected to ensure that they are fire safety-compliant. So we have a useful piece of legislation and it would not take the Minster or his team a great deal of effort to introduce an amendment to the Act and simply add a new schedule. What is interesting and relevant about schedules is the fact that they are specific to the type of activity being regulated. I hope the Minster will think about that.

It seems to me that, specifically with regard to shisha lounges, hygiene standards could be raised and safeguarding work could be done. There are sanctions for non-compliance and there is clarity on ownership and management. That can be a real problem not only with shisha lounges, but with nightclubs and activities that fall under the 2003 Act. Clear sanctions can be highlighted for a breach of tobacco control regulations and public health legislation, and I hope that the Minister will consider that.

I have a couple of additional points to raise, in relation to the planning regime. We need to think about how planning could be used for better regulation, particularly with respect to the number of shisha establishments in an area—because they do not get planning permission as shisha establishments. Generally, they get it as a restaurant or café, and the shisha activity is an add-on. That creates an issue for the planning system, and we may need to consider a use class that will specifically address shisha lounges. There is also an issue with regard to arguing that there is a cumulative impact from establishments in an area. Usually, cumulative impact applies to premises that fall under the Licensing Act 2003 rather than those covered by the 1982 Act. Building regulations are also relevant—in particular, the enforcement of regulations on fire safety and controlling the numbers attending premises. Because of cuts, many local authorities find it difficult to employ enforcement officers.

Obviously we need to address the issues to do with shisha lounges. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood is right: an amendment to the 1982 Act would do it. However, we need an overall review of the Licensing Act 2003, to test whether it is still fit for purpose. The experience of many Members of Parliament is that residents find it too difficult under the 2003 Act to get premises closed, to stop proliferation of premises, and to stop premises’ opening times getting later—or earlier in the morning. I am not quite sure which way round to put that. There is a good opportunity for the Minister to put his stamp on some new and, hopefully, effective legislation.