Lord Greenhalgh debates involving the Leader of the House during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 20th Jul 2020
Business and Planning Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage
Mon 6th Jul 2020
Business and Planning Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Business and Planning Bill

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. It is right that the House is again afforded the opportunity to consider the implication of pavement licences. The various amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, highlight the need for inclusive design. I agree with him and am pleased that the Government have also tabled amendments on this theme. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raise similar concerns, and I am glad that the House has debated them today.

I hope that, in addition to the Government’s amendments, the Minister offers further non-statutory assurances to make certain that accessibility issues are resolved. As my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley noted, applications should not be granted if people are forced to cross a road; they should be able to pass by without incident. Pavement licences, when granted, can result in vibrant social spaces, but relevant stakeholder consultation is essential, as is the role of local authorities in ensuring compliance—as raised by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey. I agree with him that resources will need to be made available to local authorities for the extra work that this will entail.

My noble friend Lord Hain returned to the issue of trade union engagement, and he has the support of these Benches in so doing. As he said, consultation and co-operation have become the name of the game. I associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti in that respect. It should be the norm and statutorily implemented.

The House is aware from previous stages of the Bill that amendments in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, have been raised about the concerns of trade union members. This amendment would ensure that local authorities consult employees and their unions when determining pavement seating applications. In recent weeks, I have spoken to members of Wetherspoon staff represented by the BFAWU, and it is clear that they are often left in the dark on decisions that have enormous ramifications for their working conditions. I hope the Minister will assure the House that he has at least engaged with trade unions in drafting the legislation and that he continues to during its implementation.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, the pavement licensing clauses in the Bill will provide vital temporary flexibility to aid the recovery of the 158,000 hospitality businesses that employ almost 2 million people over the summer months. That is the importance of this legislation, as raised by my noble friends Lord Naseby and Lord Sheikh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

Noble Lords have voiced concerns over accessibility, which the Government agree is paramount. While the Government have sought to address accessibility from the outset, through robust conditions such as the no-obstruction condition, guidance and enforcement procedures, we have reflected on the strong feeling in this House and recognise that more needs to be done.

In response—and what has been described by “a huge step forward” by my noble friend Lord Holmes—the Government have tabled Amendments 6, 16, 21 and 87, in the name of my noble friend Lord Howe. First, the Government have tabled Amendment 6 to Clause 3, which would insert a new subsection after subsection (6). New subsection (6A) provides that, when local authorities are determining whether furniture put on the highway would be, or already is, an unacceptable obstruction, they must have specific regard to the needs of disabled people and to any recommended distances required for access by disabled people, as set out in guidance issued by the Secretary of State. This puts in the Bill a requirement that a local authority, when deciding whether to grant an application and to exercise its enforcement powers, must have in mind the needs of disabled people and for clear access, as set out in the Government’s guidance.

Secondly, as well as the amendment to the Bill, I appreciate that there has been some confusion over the application of inclusive mobility guidance, so we are going to sharpen the focus. Inclusive mobility draws on a wide range of stakeholder inputs and remains the key piece of design guidance for the pedestrian environment. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Low, work led by DfT is under way that will update inclusive mobility next year. However, we recognise that businesses applying for licences may need clearer direction.

That is why our guidance will make clear that, in most circumstances, 1,500 millimetres or 1.5 metres of clear space should be regarded as the minimum acceptable distance between the obstacle and the edge of the footway. We will also address other concerns raised—specifically, provision of clear barriers to demarcate seating, explicit reference to duties on local authorities under the Equality Act and style of furniture. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, that is the framework within which we are asking local authorities to operate.

We have also set out, in the House, the circumstances when local authorities can use their power to revoke, including where there is a breach of condition or there are risks to health and public safety, as well as highways obstruction. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, there are robust enforcement procedures and local authorities can revoke licences when they give rise to these risks. They will need to have regard to the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act, when devising and implementing the new licensing regime, to eliminate discrimination and harassment. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, disabled people can complain to the local authority, so authorities can act and revoke the licence for breach of a condition, which would be taken immediately. The idea of using markers, as raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, will also be considered in the guidance. That was a good point.

In drafting the guidance, we have consulted key stakeholders, including the RNIB and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, as well as the Local Government Association. These are the relevant stakeholders requested by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. Since these measures will come into effect immediately on Royal Assent, it is important that we publish final guidance now, so that local authorities and businesses have regard to these vital considerations of accessibility without delay, as soon as these measures are implemented. However, we have made clear that any new national conditions will be subject to the negative procedure, as I will turn to shortly.

Finally, as a third step, we will be communicating the publication of the guidance to local authorities to make sure that they have sight of it as soon as possible. In so doing, we will point to existing examples of best practice on accessibility, as suggested by the RNIB.

With these steps, the Bill now makes clear that authorities must take the needs of disabled people and recommended distances into account, while guidance will set out further detail on what this entails. This provides very clear direction to local authorities and leaves scope for them to respond to their own local circumstances, while complying with their existing duties under equalities legislation. That delivers the certainty referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, with a degree of local discretion. I have to say, I note that my noble friend Lord Blencathra reserves the right to bulldoze through any obstruction in his armoured wheelchair.

I hope, therefore, that my noble friends Lord Blencathra, Lord Holmes and Lord Cormack, the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will accept government Amendment 6, and not press their amendments on this matter.

As I set out at Second Reading, the Government have accepted the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and tabled an amendment to replace the Secretary of State’s power to publish national conditions on pavement licences with a power to specify any national conditions for pavement licences in regulations, subject to the negative resolution procedure. This should provide a robust level of scrutiny of any national conditions. I hope that noble Lords will accept government Amendments 16 and 87.

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Moved by
6: Clause 3, page 4, line 8, at end insert—
“(6A) Where a local authority is considering for any purpose of this group of sections whether furniture put on a relevant highway by a licence-holder pursuant to a pavement licence has or would have the effect referred to in subsection (6)(a), the authority must have regard in particular to—(a) the needs of disabled people, and (b) the recommended distances required for access by disabled people as set out in guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes provision for the needs of disabled persons in particular to be taken into account when determining whether furniture put on the highway is an obstruction.
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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock [V]
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My Lords, we have heard, as we did in Committee, powerful arguments about taking this opportunity to exclude smoking from new pavement licensed areas. The case for ensuring that those of us who do not wish to inhale second-hand smoke are not excluded from that enjoyment is well made.

The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Northover is a vital step in making our country smoke-free. It had strong and detailed arguments in support of it from the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Grey-Thompson, the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Balfe, and many other noble Lords.

However, Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, lacks clarity for businesses and shies away from the paramount public health concern. It is a cop-out. When an argument relies on pointing to the drafting issues of a stronger amendment, as hers did, you know that it is very weak.

We have heard that the overwhelming majority of people do not smoke: a mere 14% do. Protecting the interests of a minority does not extend to a situation where, by doing so, harm is created for the majority, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has just explained. Smoking kills and second-hand smoking kills. Surely the Government should take every opportunity to restrict it.

The choice is clear: do we use this opportunity to keep the health needs of customers paramount or not? The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is supported by the Local Government Association. I hope the Minister will provide a full response to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to have further consideration on Amendment 15 prior to Third Reading, so that progress on this issue can be made.

Other amendments on this matter fudge these vital health concerns, and we on these Benches wholeheartedly support the cross-party amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Northover.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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My Lords, we would do well to remember that the pavement licensing clauses in the Bill provide vital temporary flexibility to aid the recovery of hospitality businesses over the summer months, and that we need to proceed quickly to achieve that. Noble Lords have voiced some concerns and requested clarity in relation to the position on outdoor smoking under these temporary fast-track licences. I am not going to go into the respective roles of the hard cop and the soft cop in achieving the Government’s amendments, as my noble friend Lord Young put it. However, in recognition of the mood across the House the Government have tabled Amendments 13, 14 and 25 to provide the clarity that local authorities, businesses and customers need.

It is important to recognise that we are winning the battle against smoking: Great Britain has one of the lowest rates of smoking in Europe, at 13.9% of adults. Fewer than one in six adults smoke today and, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, over 1 million people have given up during the lockdown, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bethell earlier today.

This Government have taken great strides in reducing the harms caused by smoking. We committed to doing so in the prevention Green Paper. We will publish the prevention guidance response in due course and set out our plans to achieve a smoke-free England by 2030 at a later date. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, supports that mission. I emphasise to her that there has been no stop in providing smoking cessation support. The Government continue to provide those programmes of work, which address smoking harms nationally and are delivered locally through the tobacco control plan for England and the NHS long-term plan’s commitment to provide smoking cessation support in hospital settings.

In the debate noble Lords expressed their support for the temporary, urgent and necessary reforms brought forward in the Bill to support the businesses hardest hit by this pandemic—our pubs, cafés and restaurants—and to protect jobs in those sectors. We recognise that the Covid restrictions mean that customers are encouraged or required to eat and drink outside, and that clarity is critical as we support businesses to recover. That is why the Government have tabled an amendment requiring proper provision for non-smoking seating via a smoke-free seating condition. This amendment does not prevent the portion of businesses which wish to cater for smokers from doing so. It requires proper provision for non-smoking seating. This means that customers who want to choose to sit in smoking or non-smoking al fresco dining areas will be able to do so.

The Government’s position means that all businesses eligible for pavement licences can share the benefits of this new fast-track licence, while ensuring provision for non-smoking seating. Of course, businesses can already make their own non-smoking policies for outside spaces to reflect customer wishes without the need for regulations, and the Government support that. I say to my noble friend Lord Balfe that a blanket ban can be imposed by businesses themselves. Our guidance will further reinforce this point, making it clear that the licence holder has to make reasonable provision for seating free of smoking.

The guidance is available on the GOV.UK website and was circulated to noble Lords and noble Baronesses before this debate. It includes clear no-smoking signage, displayed in accordance with the Smoke-free (Signs) Regulations 2012. No ashtrays or similar receptacles are to be provided or left on furniture where smoke-free seating is identified. Licence holders should aim for a minimum two-metre distance between non-smoking and smoking areas, wherever possible. That is the framework, so I do not see the confusion raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

It is also worth reiterating that businesses must continue to have regard to smoke-free legislation under the Health Act 2006, and the subsequent Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulations 2006. This is restated in our guidance, as it is absolutely right to stress it, and the Government are committed to working towards a smoke-free society by 2030, as I have said.

Now is not the time to prevent businesses catering to their customers, or to use a temporary provision on pavement licences to ban smoking outdoors. Now is the time to support our hospitality industry and ensure that all businesses eligible for pavement licences can share the benefits of this new fast-track licence. This point was made by my noble friend Lord Blencathra. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is to withdraw her Amendment 11 and I thank her for her support for our amendment, which seeks to achieve what she set out in her amendment.

However, I fear that Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is not the way to proceed and would be unfair to businesses. While undoubtedly not its intention, it would create confusion. The effect is to create an unfair playing field between businesses applying for these new licences, which need to abide by the condition, and those with existing licences, which do not. This point was made by several of my colleagues. Her amendment also cuts across the ability of business owners to make their own non-smoking policies for outside space, without the need for regulations. Of course, there are cases where the regulations are already clear. The existing power, set out in the Health Act 2006 and subsequent Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulations 2006, made it illegal to smoke in public in enclosed, or substantially enclosed, areas and workplaces. The Bill changes none of this.

On the other hand, the Government’s amendment has the proportionate approach advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. He said that we needed proportionality and this is what we deliver with this amendment. It rightly requires proper, fair provision for non-smoking seating, while not undermining business owners whose customers include smokers. It supports our hospitality sector in continuing to operate, while following the Covid restrictions necessary to protect public health. I thank my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe, Lord Sheikh, Lady McIntosh, Lord Lansley and Lord Young for supporting the government amendment, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. I therefore urge noble Lords to support government Amendments 13, 14 and 25, which will ensure that consumer choice remains. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, has already indicated that she will withdraw her Amendment 11, but I ask that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, does not move her Amendment 15 when called.

On a couple of points of clarification, the guidance being issued is joint guidance from the MHCLG and DHSC. It will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. In response to the noble Lord, Lord German, there will be no physical barrier between non-smokers and smoking areas but a two-metre gap. I hope that answers the questions raised in the debate.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport [V]
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My Lords—[Inaudible.]

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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My Lords, when I first spoke this evening, I should have mentioned that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, so I mention it now for the record. I will be very brief. If the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, are successful, I will be the first to congratulate him.

In respect of meetings of mayoral development corporations, I am pleased that the Government listened to the points that I and other noble Lords made, and I thank them. I have only one question: can the Minister confirm that, when we agree the government amendments tonight, they will come into effect on Royal Assent and the required regulations will be laid quickly so that we do not have to wait for weeks and weeks before they can take effect? With that, I am happy to give way to the Minister.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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My Lords, I rise to speak to government Amendments 84, 88 and 89—tabled by my noble friend Lord Howe—which are grouped with Amendments 85 and 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, and Amendments 61, 62, 64, 68, 69, 70, 72, 76 and 77, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley.

I turn to Amendments 84, 88 and 89, government amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Howe, and Amendments 85 and 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. The purpose of these amendments is to secure that mayoral development corporations, Transport for London, urban development corporations and parish meetings are subject to the power in Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which enables the making of regulations to allow these bodies to meet remotely until 7 May 2021.

They correct the omission of these bodies from the Coronavirus Act, which was an accidental oversight due to the pace at which the Act was drafted. It is wholly consistent with the current policy of the Government that bodies such as local authorities—in the broadest sense—should be able to meet remotely, carrying on their business while protecting the health and safety of members, officers and the public. The Government have received representation on this matter from, among others, the Mayor of London—particularly on behalf of the London Legacy Development Corporation—Transport for London and the National Association of Local Councils with regard to the inclusion of parish meetings.

I will answer both the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, by saying that the Government’s intention is to make the amended regulations with urgency following Royal Assent. In fact, Amendment 89 specifically allows early commencement of Amendment 84 and, in addition, we will move at pace to ensure that the regulations are in place in a matter of days, as opposed to the typical 21 days. This is a similar pace to the laying of regulations following the passing of the Coronavirus Act.

I note Amendment 85 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which would have put the change to Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act in the Bill in respect of mayoral development corporations, and Amendment 86, which seeks to include a specific reference to the highway authority for the Greater London Authority in the local authority remote meetings regulations. We support the spirit of these amendments but, in the light of the government amendments, we hope that noble Lords will not move those amendments. I hope that will also be the case for the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, for Amendment 56. We agree that local planning authorities should have sufficient information about the impact of extended construction hours on the community and environment to enable them to make a timely decision. We believe that the most appropriate way of ensuring that this happens is through guidance. There is likely to be a range of possible responses from the construction industry to this measure and variation in what will be requested—from an additional hour or so on some sites, so that workers can have staggered start and finish times, to longer evening extensions on others. Therefore, we need a flexible and proportionate approach that can be tailored to the circumstances.

However, we listened to noble Lords’ views during Committee and we hear their concerns. We recognise the need for balance and to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect amenity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, have asked for. We have strengthened the draft guidance so that it also lists an assessment of impacts of noise on sensitive uses nearby as something that local planning authorities may wish to encourage an applicant to provide to aid swift decision-making. This is in addition to providing a justification for extended hours and mitigations to aid swift decision-making, which were already covered in the guidance.

We have also taken the advice of the Institute of Acoustics, the Association of Noise Consultants and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and gone further still to make other changes to strengthen the guidance, including that applicants provide information on the primary construction activities expected to take place during the extended hours, including the plant and equipment expected to be used. Taking into account these changes, I beg noble Lords not to press their amendment. I also assure my noble friend Lord Balfe that the legislation is temporary and we will not see any diminution to the environmental gains that have been achieved by the planning system.

I turn to the nine amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, which relate to Clauses 17, 18 and 19, and the extension of planning permissions and listed building consents. These amendments would extend the time limit for relevant planning permissions and listed building consents to 1 May 2021, instead of 1 April as currently drafted. I note that he has tabled these amendments as a compromise given my concerns about accepting his amendments in Committee, which would have introduced an extension to 1 June 2021.

I agree with my noble friend that any extension of unimplemented planning permissions or listed building consents needs to be of sufficient length to aid the development industry, given the impact that Covid-19 has had on development. We certainly think that it will take time for many developers to commence new residential and commercial development. I thank him in particular for his insightful points during the debates on these measures, particularly on the potential impacts of the winter months on the productivity of the development industry.

I am pleased to say that the Government will accept my noble friend’s nine amendments. They will provide a modest extension into the more accommodating spring months. I also recognise that this additional time would be welcomed by developers and local planning authorities, given that the development industry is experiencing a slow and cautious return to full operating capacity. We accept that this is appropriate in the circumstances.

The amendments would, in effect, give any eligible planning permissions and listed building consents nine months, or three-quarters of a year, from now to take steps to implement the permission. We will, as previously mentioned, keep the use of powers to extend certain dates in the legislation under review if the impact of the coronavirus continues.

These are modest amendments, but I agree that they will give additional certainty to developers in these exceptional times. I trust that they will be well received by your Lordships’ House, as well as by the industry. On this basis, I am happy to accept my noble friend’s amendments.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock [V]
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I thank all noble Lords who contributed on this group of amendments. I am pleased that the Government’s administrative oversight in connection to the mayoral development agency in London has been put right. I very much thank the Minister for his reply and the information that government guidance will be strengthened regarding applications to extend construction hours to protect communities and the environment. With those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Business and Planning Bill

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Earl Howe Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Howe, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

It is a great privilege to open Second Reading on the Bill in your Lordships’ House. This is my first Second Reading speech since I took my seat in this House in April, and I am honoured to speak on this Bill, which is so critical for our economic recovery.

Noble Lords may have seen the Prime Minister’s speech of 30 June, when the Government announced that we would launch a planning policy paper this month setting out our plan for comprehensive reform of the planning system. I make clear that the Bill is not part of those ambitions for planning reform and should not be taken as a signal for what that will entail. This Bill is about implementing urgent and mostly temporary measures to provide much-needed support to businesses across our economy. We have within this House some of the country’s finest experts on planning and local government, so I look forward to constructive and positive discussions on planning reform once the paper has been launched.

For now, I beg noble Lords to focus on the merits of this urgent Bill, which will provide a much-needed boost to key sectors of our economy at this extraordinary time. The measures in the Bill have been developed in collaboration with industry and key stakeholders. The Bill directly responds to asks from businesses to help them to overcome the challenges that they face. It is right and important that we now support businesses in overcoming the disruption that has resulted from the pandemic and to implement new, safer ways of working. The Bill will support businesses in four key areas of the economy: hospitality, SMEs, transport, and construction. I will take each in turn.

First, the Bill will provide critical support for the hospitality sector. Food and beverage service activity has fallen by nearly 90% in the last quarter. From last Saturday, pubs, restaurants and cafes were able to reopen while following Covid-secure guidelines. The Government want to support those businesses to make the most of summer trade and to operate in a safe way. The Bill will therefore make it easier for businesses that sell or serve food or drink to obtain a licence on a temporary basis to set up outdoor seating and stalls. It will do this by introducing a temporary fast-track process for obtaining a licence from the local council to place tables and chairs on the pavement outside their premises. This new process will cut the time to receive approval for a licence and will cap the application fee at £100.

We recognise that public safety and access for disabled people using pavements is of unquestionably great importance. That is why the Government have published a national condition. When that condition applies, licence holders will be required to take into account recommended minimum requirements for footway widths and distances required for access by disabled people. In addition, local authorities will be able to refuse or revoke licences where they assess that it is necessary.

The Bill also makes it easier for licensed premises to sell alcohol to customers for consumption off the premises. It temporarily and automatically extends the terms of on-sales alcohol licences to allow the sale of alcohol for consumption off the premises as well. It also suspends any relevant conditions on existing off-sales licences, including conditions that require off-sales of alcohol in sealed containers and restrictions on sales for delivery.

We recognise the need to strike a balance between supporting businesses and ensuring safety and amenity for our communities. If in a particular location these alcohol licensing arrangements were to cause problems then any responsible authority, including the police or an environmental health officer, could apply for a new off-sales expedited review. This expedited review process will allow responsible authorities to quickly alter the alcohol licensing conditions, suspend it for up to three months or remove the permission for sales of alcohol for consumption off the premises. On receipt of an application, the licensing authority must consider whether it is necessary to take interim steps to the permission granted by the Bill within 48 hours of receiving that application, and must hold a hearing within 28 days of receipt. These temporary measures to support the hospitality sector will be in force only until the end of September 2021. This will enable businesses to make the most of outdoor seating opportunities in the summer months this year and next.

Secondly, to support small businesses, the Bill introduces measures to enable lenders to continue to issue bounce-back loans quickly and at scale. The Bounce Back Loan Scheme is designed to provide loans at speed to small businesses adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. So far £29 billion has been lent to small businesses under the scheme, providing a vital lifeline to many.

The effect of the Bill is to retrospectively disapply the “unfair relationships” provisions in the Consumer Credit Act 1974 for lending made under the scheme. This is necessary to remove some of the checks and processes that lenders would otherwise need to run, and which would prevent them from providing loans to small businesses at the scale and speed necessary in this crisis.

Thirdly, to support our transport sector, this Bill makes changes to driver licensing and enables changes to roadworthiness testing for commercial vehicles. It will reduce the backlog of checks and tests that grew over the lockdown. It will help us to get goods, and indeed people, moving across the country.

The Bill introduces a temporary—and, in Great Britain, retrospective—power to issue one-year lorry or bus driving licences, rather than the standard five-year licences. This flexibility will allow a licence to be extended for a year if an applicant is unable to obtain the medical report required for a full five-year licence. This helps to alleviate pressures on doctors and the NHS.

The Bill also reforms the powers to temporarily exempt goods vehicles, buses and coaches from roadworthiness-testing requirements. This will be a permanent change but our intention is to use the reformed power only temporarily in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. This will allow for the high demand for heavy vehicle testing, which was reintroduced after lockdown only on 4 July, to be managed so that the most important vehicles are tested first.

Fourthly, the Bill will support our construction sector to get building again. It will introduce a fast-track route through the planning system to apply for a temporary extension of construction hours so that firms can plan for the safe reopening of sites. Temporarily allowing longer working hours—for example, during the evening and at weekends—will help to facilitate safe working by spreading out the working day. Importantly, local councils will have discretion to refuse requests where they consider that longer hours would have an unacceptable impact. I make it clear that this measure will not apply to construction works to an existing house, which affords a measure of protection to neighbours from disturbance. This measure will expire on 1 April 2021.

In addition, the Bill responds to calls from both the development industry and local authorities to extend planning permissions and listed building consents that lapsed during lockdown or will lapse before the end of this year. As a result of the pandemic, almost 1,200 unimplemented planning permissions for major residential development have lapsed or are at an increased risk of lapsing by the end of this year. These account for 60,000 new homes. The Bill enables the extension of these planning permissions and listed building consents to 1 April 2021, subject to any necessary environmental approvals.

There are two further planning measures included in this Bill. The first supports the Planning Inspectorate to conduct hearings and inquiries while adhering to social distancing. It enables the inspectorate to combine written representation, hearing and inquiry procedures when dealing with town and country planning appeals. This change was recommended by the independent Rosewell review, following which a pilot reduced average decision-making time from 47 weeks to 23 weeks. This measure will apply permanently to support the improved efficiency of the Planning Inspectorate.

The second responds to a request from the Mayor of London. It temporarily removes the requirement for the Mayor’s spatial development strategy to be available for public inspection and for hard copies to be available on request. In a time of social distancing, that is not practical. This requirement is replaced with a duty to make the current version of the strategy available for inspection free of charge by appropriate electronic means. Nevertheless, the Government appreciate that not everybody will have electronic access. As a result, the Bill also requires the Mayor to take into account any guidance the Government publish on appropriate mitigation measures. This measure will expire on 31 December this year. Taken together, all these planning measures will support the recovery of our construction sector and help to get Britain building again.

Finally, the Bill contains a provision to enable the time-limited powers to be extended by secondary legislation, subject to Parliament’s approval. This provides necessary flexibility, given the uncertainties around the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic and the nature of future social distancing requirements.

The package of measures in this Bill has been widely welcomed by businesses and local government at this critical and extraordinary time. The Local Government Association is supportive of the Bill, which it says will help ensure that a consistent approach can be taken so businesses can reopen as soon as possible. The Federation of Small Businesses also welcomes the Bill, which it says will help small businesses in the hospitality sector to resume trading with confidence.

These measures are necessary to alleviate some of the current challenges that businesses face and help the economy bounce back as we emerge from this pandemic. I look forward to our debate today and I commend the Bill to the House.