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

Again—hon. Members are being helpful to me today—that brings me to my next point. We have been considering whether a local or national response is best, and if at the end of that evidence trail a national response is appropriate, my mind is not closed to that. As I said, however, there is no silver bullet, and some issues that have arisen are serious criminal offences that would not be covered by any licence—illegally held firearms are not subject to a licensing regime, so we must be careful to have a good look at that issue.

That brings me to my offer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, because her idea about a roundtable is extremely good. I happily invite her to come and meet me and officials, together with council officers who have real expertise in this area, and we as a Department should start that dialogue about how we can help and what would be an appropriate national response, if indeed one is required. The bar for closing someone’s business should be quite high, as should the bar for a national response when many powers already rest with local authorities. I have not closed my mind to the fact that there should perhaps be a national response, but a lot of work must take place before we get there. I hope that is helpful.

The hon. Lady spoke about shisha bars being an add-on to many cafés and restaurants, and that is something we have identified. In my high street, the local coffee shop is also a bookshop—I am rather keen on books, so I go there quite a lot. In the evening it is also a yoga studio, but I am not quite as keen on yoga and cannot admit to having done it. The multi-use of retail premises was one thing identified by our future high street forum, and particularly the work of Sir John Timpson, who advises the Government on future high street policy. We are lucky that he is doing that as he is one of Britain’s most experienced and longest serving retailers.

As an acknowledgment of the challenges posed by a relatively static use class order system that dates from the 1980s, on the same day as the most recent Budget we launched a consultation on the future of that system on the high street, although not more widely for industrial units. That consultation remains open, and I recommend that the hon. Lady, her council and the hon. Member for City of Durham take part. Again, we have approached this in a very open way, and in the first potential major refresh of use class orders since the mid-1980s, it is important to ensure that the static system becomes more mobile and reflects changes such as the arrival of shisha bars on our high street.

Finally, the prevalence and growth of shisha bars is the sort of thing we try to encourage for our future high street forum, as long as they are legal, well run and do not impede unnecessarily on local residents. The future of the high street must be about a mix of leisure and retail, and all recent reports—including by Sir John Timpson on the Government’s future high street forum, and the Grimsey review—identify that if high streets are not just to survive but to thrive, they must incorporate the night-time economy.

We must get the regulation right and be satisfied that existing laws are enforced well, and if we decide that new regulation is required, we should consider that. A thriving night-time economy is key to the future of our high streets. Indeed, that point is not just for today, because in the most recent Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor identified a £600 million plus fund for the future high street. We have the future high street forum, and I will conclude my remarks by again thanking Sir John Timpson for his extraordinary work on high streets, which will benefit the entire United Kingdom.