My Lords, I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, has just said. There is a big problem. The facts are these: more than 20 pubs are closing every week, and 2,000 pubs have been listed as assets of community value, but around another 40,000 have not been listed and, currently, have permitted development rights applied to them. As the London Borough of Wandsworth has demonstrated, it is possible for local authorities to use Article 4 directives on pubs, but that is a very complex process—and certainly in this respect far too complex for most areas.
I puzzled over the question of whether, if you have 2,000 pubs listed as assets of community value, there is actually a problem. If 2,000 community organisations can make a proposal for their pub to be listed, the process seems to work fairly way. However, there is another way of looking at that, which is the view that I take, which is that if communities feel that it is necessary to list 2,000 pubs as assets of community value, there is clearly a problem that needs to be solved, because 2,000 is a very large number. Of course, we have now experienced the fact that, despite 2,000 pubs being registered, large numbers have not been listed and have been lost. The solution is simply a minor amendment to the law to end permitted development rights and to require that any proposed change to a pub should secure planning permission. It is a simple remedy.
After Committee, when we had lengthy debates about this, I saw in my local newspaper in Newcastle reference to a research project. It had been carried out by Northumbria University and funded by the British Academy. The research, undertaken by Professor Ignazio Cabras and Dr Matthew Mount, showed that there was stronger community cohesion in parishes with pubs. They examined 284 parishes and demonstrated that, where there was a pub, there were more community events and clubs than in parishes without a pub—even in parishes with a sports or village hall. The very existence of a pub promoted community cohesion. Their conclusion was that we needed legislation to prevent unnecessary closures. That has convinced me that we need to do something to address this problem. Removing permitted development rights seems the most effective way. Many pubs may still close, as we have heard, but some will be enabled to stay open. That should be our objective.