A number of people, including supporters of CAMRA, have raised their worries about community pubs and the difficulties that local pubs are currently facing. I am deeply concerned about the plight of local pubs up and down the country. Pubs are a cherished British institution and are often at the heart of our community life, no matter where we live. It's shocking that over the past couple of years, an average of 30 pubs a week have closed down, despite 634 million pints of cask ale being sold each year. And the Government has made a bad situation worse by reforming the planning system in such a way that pubs can be demolished or changed to other uses - including betting shops and supermarkets - without the need for planning permission.
This is crucial because the process of obtaining planning permission for change of use allows communities the chance to offer their views on the proposed change, so if you didn't want your local pub to be converted to a Tesco or Asda, you could say so and your views would have to be considered by the local council. Although the Government has removed these powers from local communities, Labour believes they should be restored.
In fact, we tried to make this change during the recent passage of the Infrastructure Bill. The 'Save the Pubs' amendment, backed by Labour together with the Campaign to Protect Real Ale and the parliamentary Save the Pubs group, would have required developers to seek planning permission before demolishing a pub or converting it to another use. Despite our best efforts, the amendment - which I voted for - was defeated by 293 votes to 245 due to the Government's opposition.
Rt Hon Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central