Thirty-nine pubs are closing each and every week. The all-party save the pub group secured a Westminster Hall debate last week to highlight the problem and discuss solutions. Contributions from MPs are extracted below.
Karen Bradley MP said pubs are socially useful: "The group shares a belief that the British pub is an important part of this country's history and heritage, and that pubs are hugely important to the communities they serve as a focus for community, social, sporting and charitable activity. The traditional public house also provides a sociable and controlled drinking environment, which is important to encourage responsible sociable drinking."
Jack Lopresto MP says the smoking ban should be relaxed: "Overall, the smoking ban has been positive. It has improved the environment of pubs no end, especially for those that rely on serving food as a key part of their business, and it makes for a much more pleasant experience for most people who are non-smokers. It has also made pubs more family friendly. But there needs to be a re-think on having a dedicated smoking area inside buildings, with extractor fans, where no children would be allowed and no food would be served. I realise that this would not be possible in every case, but it would allow many pubs to utilise extra space or even have a smoking bar and non-smoking bar or room/lounge-whatever-and end the practice of smokers being thrown outside in all weathers at any time of day or night, with the problems that can be caused with disturbance to local residents who live close by. That would generate a significant increase in business for pubs that are currently struggling and it could make the difference between a pub staying open or closing."
Thérèse Coffey MP said that pubs should offer diverse services: "We must also encourage other income streams; I think of what is happening with post office essentials. If a pub is open from 11 until 11, there is no reason why one cannot buy stamps and get driving licence forms and so on there. There are also aspects such as the internet hub. We have the digital village pump, and I know that schemes are afoot already to try to ensure that it is near the pub, so that people can use the internet there as well. Of course, we had the endorsement of His Royal Highness Prince Charles in 2001, when he spoke about the pub as the hub. On that note, I raise my glass and toast the future of British pubs. Cheers, everyone."
David Nuttall MP agreed with this call for diversification: "We must ensure that pubs are used for more than just a few hours in the evening. We have gastro pubs, sports pubs, real ale pubs and music pubs, but we must use them in the day as well. We could use them as libraries, post offices or parcel collection points. They could also be ideal meeting places for groups. I am talking about pubs not just in rural areas but in the suburbs. Very often, when a pub closes, it is the last focus of a community-whether that be in a small rural village or the outskirts of a large town or city."
And Andrew Jones MP commended the Pub is the Hub idea: "The key idea behind Pub is the Hub is to provide support for rural communities by maintaining the viability of the local pub at the heart of the community. The organisation does that by promoting diversification, as other Members have mentioned this afternoon. It especially promotes diversification into providing some of the important services that might not be provided otherwise. So it achieves two goals; it maintains important local services and it prevents the diminution of rural communities by underpinning the ancient tradition of the pub."
Andrew Griffiths MP blamed the supermarkets for selling cheap alcohol: "We cannot allow a situation in which the supermarkets are fuelling the phenomenon of binge-drinking, which we see all too often on our streets. I am not trying to hype that or to scaremonger. The fact is that the irresponsible pricing by supermarkets has led to an increase in consumption. The facts speak for themselves. In 1992, 527 ml was the average for alcohol consumed at home; in 2008, that increased to 706 ml. In 2000, 733 ml was the average for alcohol consumed away from the home; in 2008, it was 443 ml. It is cause and effect. Cheap, irresponsible pricing by supermarkets is changing people's drinking habits and leading to unsupervised drinking."
Mike Weatherley MP said that it was important that pubs could host live music events: "The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is due to have its Second Reading next week. Although I appreciate the need for licensing authorities to be able to impose specific conditions on premises licences and temporary event notices in limited circumstances, we should enable the application system to be as quick, easy and cheap as possible, with limitations on rejections unless there are very good grounds for preventing an event. We should not make it easier to stifle live music performances; rather, we need to find ways to allow live music to flourish. If we do that, we can, in an incremental way, help our pubs to remain open and at the heart of our communities."
Rory Stewart MP even suggested financial subsidy: "We need to recognise that, with all our orthodox attachment to the free market, this sector is an example of where it may be necessary to have subsidy and regulation, to protect something that cannot be quantified simply-a value that spreads into the deepest recesses of English civilisation."
Read the full debate.