Category: COVID-19

Business and Planning Bill

My Lords, I support Amendment 11 in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfe. Clause 3(2) states:

“Before making a determination in respect of the application”

for a pavement licence,

“the local authority must … take into account any representation made to it … consult the highway authority … and other persons as the local authority may consider appropriate.”

I support having input from the people and organisations stated, but I feel that it is necessary for the local police to be consulted in making a determination.

To reiterate what I said at Second Reading, I welcome the Bill, which will trigger the revitalisation of our businesses and help the well-being of the people. As a businessman, I would like the economy to pick up and create employment for all the people who have been idle for the last few months. However, my concern is the safety of staff and the nuisances and disturbances ?caused on pavements and streets and in neighbourhoods. Before the pandemic, we saw young men and women misbehaving and fighting in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. I used to see this happening when driving through towns at night. My concern is that people have been frustrated over the last few months and that the relaxation of the rules will lead to social problems.

When the problems of anti-social behaviour arise, they will be dealt with by the police on the spot. Local police know the hot spots in their areas where problems are likely to flare up. To alleviate the issues and possible problems, we need consultation and input from local police when an application is made for a pavement licence. I appreciate that the police have powers to issue closure notices, but this is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is therefore important that the police are consulted before the problems arise.

 

In response, Baroness Williams of Trafford said: 

To answer my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, the Government expect that this would include the local police force, but believe that the local authority can and should use its discretion and local knowledge to decide who to consult. To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, directly: yes, we have spoken to the police. We have engaged with them throughout. The most recent time that I spoke directly to Martin Hewitt was last Friday, just before we went into super Saturday. We will continue to engage with them throughout.

 

Lord Sheikh on Amendment 25: 

My Lords, I support Amendment 25 relating to the two requirements that have been stated. I reiterate what I said when I spoke on Amendment 11: I support the Bill, which will trigger the revitalisation ?of our businesses and help the well-being of the people. However, it is necessary for us to implement the changes with caution. My concern is safety of passage and accessibility by blind and disabled persons. In addition, of course, all pedestrians must be able to pass without hindrance where there is a gathering of customers outside a restaurant or pub.

Blind persons have felt less independent since the lockdown rules were implemented and, if there is an increase in street furniture, blind and partially sighted people may be forced to walk in the road, change their route, avoid travelling independently or even stay at home. Street furniture will present additional challenges and should be marked off with an accessible barrier. The idea of marking off the areas will ensure accessibility. Furthermore, if the appropriate distances are maintained, it will help pedestrians to walk without difficulty and prevent the spread of the virus. Adequate spacing will also enable disabled persons to go through without much difficulty.

As a Muslim, my other concern is the passage of Muslim ladies who may be subjected to harassment, particularly if they are wearing a hijab, niqab or burka. Most hate-crime incidents happen in the street and if the accessibility and passage of these ladies are blocked or hindered in any way, my concern is that they may be picked on by customers, especially if they have had a lot to drink. I have been informed by Fiyaz Mughal and Iman Atta of Tell MAMA that, since the lockdown was eased, there has been a spike in the number of cases where Muslim women have been abused and spat at in the street. In fact, I have been told by Tell MAMA that there has been a threefold increase in hate crimes against Muslims, and some of the incidents are unfortunately nasty and aggressive. I hope that the Minister will agree to Amendment 25.

 

Lord Sheikh on Amendment 18:

My Lords, I will speak in favour of this amendment, which I wholeheartedly support.

I remind noble Lords that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and other illnesses. Smoking causes harm to smokers as well as being a danger to others. When a person smokes, most of the smoke does not go in his or her lungs but is in the air, meaning that anyone can breathe it, with dire consequences. It was therefore decided not to allow people to smoke indoors, but this rule should now be followed by customers who are outside the premises.

If smoking is allowed on the pavement outside the premises, there will be a danger, not only to smokers but to other customers and pedestrians passing by. There will also be a danger to the staff who are serving the customers, as they will be affected by second-hand smoke. Over 85% of the British population are non-smokers. They do not like others to smoke near them, as they feel that they will be subjected to passive smoking. I hope that this amendment is accepted.

 

Lord Sheikh on the sale of alcohol:

My Lords, I was going to speak in favour of Amendment 27 but, in the light of what my noble friend the Minister said earlier, I will speak in favour of Amendments 30, 32 and 35. The issue that worries me is how alcohol is sold to be taken away. It should be sold in sealed containers. If it is sold in glasses, these should be plastic, not beer or wine glasses. I am worried that glass can be used to cause injury to others.

We have seen how people behaved in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights before the lockdown. There were fights at night which police, ambulance staff and hospitals had to deal with. It is not only men; women also misbehave when they have too much to drink. I used to go to the City of London, as I had an office there. I used to see business and professional people who were sober and well-behaved during the day but who behaved badly after consuming alcohol. I therefore support the amendments which I referred to.

 

Link to full debate on Hansard. 

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020

My Lords, I support and approve of the regulations requiring all passengers on public transport to wear a face covering, subject to certain exemptions. I note that failure to do so when asked is an offence subject to a fine of £100 and not being allowed to travel. How strictly are these regulations enforced?

When I go out, I always wear a mask. I fully support the guidance issued by the BMA calling for face coverings to be worn by the public as a matter of course. It is felt that if a person is not wearing a face covering and has the infection or is a carrier, the risk of passing it to another person is 70%. If the first person is wearing a face covering, the risk is just 5%. If both persons are wearing face coverings, the risk is reduced to 1.5%. Why is the BMA guidance not being followed by the Government?

 

Link to full debate on Hansard. 

Business and Planning Bill

My Lords, the pandemic has severely affected the economy of the country and, of course, caused immense disruption to the lives of people and businesses. I commend the Government for implementing the job retention scheme, providing help for the self-employed and small businesses, and, furthermore, arranging government-backed loans. ?However, the pandemic affected 75% of the hospitality sector and there has been a 90% reduction in its turnover. In the construction industry, smaller companies have particularly suffered; some 25% of these organisations have paused or ceased trading. I therefore welcome the Bill, which will enable us to trigger the revitalisation of our businesses and help support the well-being of the people. I welcome the provisions that relate to cafés, pubs, restaurants, licensed premises, government-backed loan schemes, vehicle testing, driving licences, construction works and planning permission.

We have more than 130,000 pubs, restaurants and cafes, which employ over 2 million people. They are the lifeblood of our high street; they not only create employment and generate income but enable people to go out and mingle with friends and relatives. I commend these organisations on their ingenuity and for revising their arrangements to comply with social distancing rules. However, I have a slight concern about the safety of the staff; I hope that this is ensured. I worry that allowing premises to have tables and chairs outside may cause nuisance on the pavements and in the neighbourhood. I am also worried about access and passage for blind and disabled people. Allowing licensed premises to make off-sales of alcohol could lead to anti-social behaviour. I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on the issues that I have raised. Has there been any consultation with disabled and blind groups? Do local authorities have appropriate powers to deal with anti-social behaviour as a result of the changes?

I am pleased to note that there are provisions in the Bill to kick-start the construction industry, which contributes about 9% of our GDP. I understand that there are more than 1,000 unimplemented major residential planning permissions. As we propose to extend planning permissions and listed building consents, it is hoped that the construction industry may be able to build more than 60,000 new homes. As regards staggering the hours for construction work, my concern is that this could create nuisance for the neighbours. Is there a grievance mechanism to deal with complaints where there are disturbances?

I note the easing of requirements for accessing the Government’s bounce-back loan schemes. In this regard, I feel that lenders should have an understanding and compromising attitude to any difficulties with regard to repayments; the customer must be regarded fairly. I ask my noble friend to comment on this point as well.

Local authorities will be involved in putting into practice the provisions set out in the Bill. Do they have the capacity and the right attitude to deal with what is being proposed? They are already under a great deal of pressure. What additional help will be provided to them by central government? Finally, I reiterate that I fully support the Bill.

 

Link to full debate on Hansard. 

Covid-19: Masks

My Lords, it has been announced that from 15 June anyone travelling on public transport must, as a rule, wear a face covering. In addition, all hospital visitors and outpatients will ?have to wear a face covering and all staff will have to wear surgical masks at all times. The WHO has now revised its guidance relating to the wearing of masks. Will the Minister comment on the recent announcement by the WHO and on whether we should make it compulsory for face coverings to be worn by everyone where social distancing is not possible, as advised by the BMA? As someone who wears a face mask all the time when I go out, I would like us to follow the BMA’s advice. I also feel that the social distancing rule should be reduced from two metres to one metre. Lastly, we need to ensure that face masks sold in the market are of appropriate quality.

Link to full debate on Hansard. 

Covid-19: Recovery Strategies

My Lords, the conditions created by the pandemic and the lockdown will probably result in this year representing the largest annual reduction in carbon emissions. The crisis and this result should, with the right approach, enable us to achieve reductions in our emissions to zero by 2050, stimulate the economy and create jobs. The crisis should be a springboard to achieving these objectives. It is anticipated that our GDP will fall by 12.8% and unemployment will be at about 7.3% by the end of 2020. My concern is that there will, in addition, be regional inequalities, which our Prime Minister is keen to level up. Therefore, it is important for us to take appropriate and immediate medium-term measures. During the pandemic, there was a need to spend, spend, spend. Now that we are coming out of the crisis, our motto must be to think green, to achieve growth and to create jobs. I commend the Prime Minister for his commitment to spending £2 billion investing in greener transport, including providing walking and cycling facilities.

We must all ensure that all the BAME communities are fairly treated in all aspects of the country, including the business sector, as part of our future strategy. This is a wake-up call for us to do so. What is the Government’s reaction to the two letters sent to the Prime Minister by 200 business leaders and the Committee on Climate Change, and how are the proposals being considered?

Link to full debate on Hansard.