Shisha Lounges

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:22 pm, 5th December 2018

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate Shabana Mahmood, whose constructive approach to the debate has engaged those on both the Opposition and the Government Front Benches. Her speech showed her passion for supporting her constituents and ensured that, rather than having a political argument—the issue is probably above politics—we have engaged in a constructive discussion about what we can and should do, and how people can work together to achieve something. I intend to follow the same constructive approach in my response to the debate.

I am a bit of a libertarian, so I am not necessarily always in favour of introducing new licences or imposing new requirements on business. The hon. Lady said that some of her constituents like going to shisha bars. Funnily enough, I was talking to a reporter on my local paper, the Lancashire Telegraph, which covers Blackburn—just over the border from my constituency—where there are some shisha bars. Most of them are well run and managed, and I know that the hon. Lady will confirm that in relation to her constituency. Many are smaller businesses, and often family businesses. They provide people with a living.

Today’s debate is important, because the prevalence of shisha bars is something new for Britain and our society, and my Department of course is responsible for communities. It is exciting that there are new ways for people to relax that do not necessarily involve alcohol. When such changes happen in Blackburn, Manchester, London, Birmingham and elsewhere, we must look at the law and see whether it covers the current situation. I suppose the question we should ask is: what response to a new activity would be proportionate?

The law currently governs many of the spaces in question, but I accept the hon. Lady’s point about the complexity of the law and the need for multi-agency working. Many of the relevant provisions will be in planning legislation, including on such matters as the construction of ventilation and outdoor seating areas. There is a requirement to license outdoor seating areas. Environmental health will have a role and, of course, some of the more serious crimes that the hon. Lady mentioned must be dealt with by the police. We cannot expect—I know she is not asking for this—local authorities to control the most serious associated gun and gang violence through licensing law. Whatever we do—even if we bring forward a new licensing regime—we must not lose multi-agency working.

There are, of course, already severe sanctions for breaching the existing regulations and laws, including one of up to £2,500 for breaching the smoking ban, as has been mentioned. Antisocial behaviour closure notices provide the opportunity to close businesses, as we heard with respect to Arabian Nites—although the process the hon. Lady described was quite difficult. On that specific case, it is worth noting that obviously a licensing regime will not be a silver bullet. The venue was licensed and therefore was subject to existing licensing laws—particularly for alcohol. Dr Blackman-Woods, speaking for the Opposition, said that it would require days of work by enforcement bodies, including the police, to reach the point where the licence would be removed. I suggest that under a new licensing regime where places were licensed for shisha rather than alcohol—or where there was joint licensing—it would still require days of work to prove that licences had been breached. Often the people running the businesses, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood pointed out, rely on them for their living.