Clause 4 - “Adversely affected by coronavirus”

Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 9 Rhagfyr 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London) 11:45, 9 Rhagfyr 2021

Clause 4 is essential. It establishes which businesses can access arbitration and the Bill’s temporary moratorium on other measures. We appreciate that the pandemic has been difficult across the economy, but we are seeking to target this measure at those businesses most directly affected so that we can resolve cases quickly, providing businesses with certainty while protecting jobs in our most vulnerable sectors, such as hospitality, retail and leisure. That is important not only for eligible businesses, but for the individuals who contribute to them.

Clause 4 provides that a business was adversely affected by coronavirus, and therefore its rent may be in scope, if it was required by regulations to close all or part of its business or premises for any of the time while closure requirements were in place: from 21 March 2020 until 18 July 2021 for England, or until 7 August 2021 for Wales. If a business was subject to a closure requirement for any period within those times, it meets the test, regardless of whether it was allowed to carry out other limited activities such as takeaways. Without that targeted approach, we could see rent issues from the pandemic unresolved for a significant amount of time, so I urge the Committee to support the clause.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the Minister for his remarks. As he described, clause 4 clarifies what is meant by businesses “adversely affected by coronavirus”. It states that a business can be categorised as adversely affected if part or all of it was obliged to close due to coronavirus restrictions during the relevant period. It also states that any specific limited activities that the business was able to take part in during its forced closure can be disregarded as immaterial for the purposes of the Bill. We think that is very important, otherwise we will have situations in which one side or the other says that a business is not eligible for the scheme for the purposes of arbitration, so we support having that clarity in the Bill.

The clause also defines the relevant period as 21 March 2020 to 18 July 2021 for businesses in England, and 21 March 2020 to 7 August 2021 for businesses in Wales. We do not object to those dates—there are clear reasons why they have been chosen, given that Government policy changed around those times. My only concern is that the tail end of recovery has been slower in some sectors, such as aviation, travel and tourism, than in others. The dates on which some businesses were able to reopen and start to do much better did not apply in the same way to all businesses in all sectors.

Although we have not tabled any amendments to those dates and we support clause 4, it will be important for the Minister to keep this Bill under review, bearing in mind that there has not been an equal recovery for businesses. If concerns are raised with him about businesses that may or may not be eligible, but have been impacted by coronavirus closures or consequences, it is important that some amendments could be made in due course, should they be required.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

I think we all acknowledge the fact that this is not a perfect science: some businesses that were suffering through the lockdown will continue to have a slow recovery. This is a focused Bill dealing with a particular kind of ring-fenced debt, and we want to make sure that we encapsulate this issue, so that we do not make the Bill and the process of arbitration too big in a way that benefits nobody. I think the Bill is proportionate, and will have the right effect.

In terms of a long tail of recovery, we obviously need to look at the support from a holistic point of view, and at the additional measures that we have put in place to support businesses, including the sectors that the hon. Lady mentioned. Importantly, we will continue to flex. I have been on calls today, and over the past few days—especially with plan B being announced—with representative organisations, and people from hospitality in particular, which is hard pressed. We will continue to listen and respond.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.