11.45 am

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): It is an honour to follow the hon. Members who have spoken. I thank and pay tribute to fellow officers of the all-party save the pub group—the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), who opened the debate so succinctly and precisely, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), who has been such a dogged and long-standing campaigner for Save the Pub. I add my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee, which does such a sterling job in identifying subjects for debate that are dear to the hearts of Members and constituents.

We often say that there should be more cross-party consensus, particularly on policies relating to the NHS and social care, but a long journey starts with a single step, and perhaps on this topic, which has attracted support across all parties, we may be able to reach consensus. I am sorry that the Minister has slipped out for a moment, as hon. Members have made some excellent suggestions for a way forward.

My contention is that a way forward was offered by an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill that was tabled by me and the hon. Members for Leeds North West and for Bristol North West, which attracted the support of 38 Members of Parliament. The proposal was hardly revolutionary: to promote diversity, it offered some choice. It did not offer any permanent protection; it was simply an attempt to introduce community consultation to try to prevent viable pubs being closed and steamrollered into an alternative use, usually as a supermarket.

I echo the disappointment of the hon. Member for Bristol North West at the response of the Government, who have sought to block every effort to support tenants and safeguard our pubs. At all stages the Government seek to water down and amend legislation to favour powerful self-interests in the pub industry—those of the large pub companies—rather than working in the best interests of communities, customers and tenants. It is a shame that this debate is necessary at all. New

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clause 16 to the Infrastructure Bill would have made quite a simple change to the planning laws, empowering communities to protect their local pubs from being demolished or converted into supermarkets without consultation.

Earlier hon. Members were trying to differentiate pubs that are clearly no longer viable as pubs and those that have support and are clearly viable, and that perhaps offer a range of services, such as restaurants. As today’s motion notes, the existing planning laws in relation to permitted development are causing valued and viable community pubs to be targeted by supermarkets. Hon. Members have given examples in Canvey Island, Bristol and North East Derbyshire, where that is precisely what has happened. In east Durham, in Easington, which has 18 villages and two large towns, there have been so many pub closures that there may be one pub left in a village. In some villages—Hawthorn, Dalton-le-Dale, Hesledon—there may be one or perhaps even two pubs, but there is considerable pressure, particularly on the tenants of pubs that are owned by the large pubcos. As we have heard, research from the Campaign for Real Ale suggests that a considerable number of pubs—I have a figure of 29, but the hon. Member for Bristol North West said that it is 31, and I am sure she is correct—are closing every week, and quite a number of those are being converted into supermarkets.

I greatly appreciated the widespread support that was shown for new clause 16, which offered such protections for community pubs. It was defeated only following a late intervention from the Government when the Minister made a token concession to remove pubs listed as an asset of community value from permitted development rights. While new clause 16 would have protected all pubs, the Government’s amendments potentially protect only 600 of the 48,000 pubs in the UK. This comes from a Government—on both sides of the coalition—who believe in and promote localism. Requiring ACV status to protect one’s local simply adds unnecessary bureaucracy and costs when a much simpler alternative is to empower local people. I am at a loss to understand why the Government believe that nightclubs, launderettes and casinos should have more protection than community pubs.

By opposing planning protections for pubs, the Government have failed to protect pubs and community interests. Not only that, but we continue to see efforts to water down an important decision of this House to empower pub tenants against pub-owning companies. That is an important factor in the many conversions. Last year, the House expressed its clear will to offer tenants a market-only rent option as part of a statutory code of practice between themselves and a large pub-owning company. I recognise that we have a planning Minister here and the purview of ministerial responsibility is perhaps not entirely his, but it is germane to the debate that we consider the implications. Importantly, such a safeguard would help to protect the tied publican who may be struggling financially. Some 46% of tied tenants earn less than £15,000 a year despite their hard work and, in most cases, long hours. Nearly nine out of 10—the exact figure is 88%—identified the beer tie as one of their most significant financial problems.

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The market rent-only option agreed by the House helps to level the playing field and redress the balance of power between the tenant and the pub-owning company. That may relieve the pressure that is leading to so many pub closures—31 per week, as I said. It is important to note that the market rent-only option would not end the beer tie—as some critics have claimed, saying that it would be a retrograde step—but would ensure that pub-owning companies had to show real value to their tenants in order to retain the tie.

Despite the House’s support and the benefits to tenants, Tory peers—including some with clear vested interests, if I may say so—have been trying to exempt pub companies from the market rent-only option if they significantly invest in a tenant’s pub. “Significant investment” is an incredibly wide concept. While I am not surprised that a peer with a pecuniary interest would try to undermine the statutory code, I am more concerned about the Government’s efforts to reword and water down the protections of the market rent-only option without consulting MPs, or Fair Deal For Your Local campaigners, prior to inserting replacement clauses into the statutory pubs code legislation.

Subsequently there has been some consultation with the various interest groups, all of which the members of the all-party save the pub group have met, including Fair Deal For Your Local, the Campaign for Real Ale and trade unions representing pub landlords, such as my own union, Unite, and the GMB. Importantly, however, despite promising to do so, the Government did not consult in advance and the discussions seem to have taken place after decisions have been made.

Simon Clarke from the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign is an outstanding advocate in defence of our pubs. He has warned that one revised clause means that existing tenants will not have the option of a parallel rent assessment, resulting in a tied tenant being unable to determine whether they would be worse off than if they were free of tie. That was an absolutely key principle of the Bill and Ministers gave us an assurance from the Dispatch Box that that would be the case.

A Government Minister said in the other place that Ministers

“are always discussing these issues and changes with tenants”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 December 2014; Vol. 757, c. 1243.]

However, despite such assurances, Mr Simon Clarke describes the Government’s amendments as

“an attempt to bulldoze through amendments without the dialogue and consultation promised.”

The Government should explain their position.

I have a number of questions to put to the Minister. Why are the Government failing to support local communities to protect their pubs? What are their objections to allowing local people a say in the planning process when a change of use is proposed for a pub? Will the Minister guarantee that he and the Government will work with MPs and campaigners to ensure that the explicit will of the House of Commons in supporting a market rent-only option in a statutory code is not undermined or watered down in the other place, because that would simply compound the problem?

It is time for the Government to do more than pay lip service to supporting communities, consumers and tenants, and to safeguard pubs and begin to offer some practical

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support. As my Health Committee colleague the hon. Member for Bristol North West has said, before we call time on this Parliament—that is a really good expression—we should ensure that we can, in unanimity, provide some modest protection to pubs that are in the interests of all our communities.

11.57 am

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): First, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us the time for this debate. I also thank my hon. Friend the excellent Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), who is a friend with a small f and the vice-chair of the save the pub group, and all other members of the group from both Houses who share our passionate belief that the British pub is not only important to our society, economy, heritage, history and tourism appeal, but, in the context of this debate, a hugely important part of community life as a place where communities can come together.

I also wish to say a big thank you to all 244 MPs who effectively voted for what we are discussing today to go into the law of the land after the debate on new clause 16 to the Infrastructure Bill, and particularly the 29 rebels who had the courage to vote against their own Whip to show their real support for pubs. I thank the Opposition Front Benchers for supporting that campaign, and I want to give particular mention to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), who had the courage not only to vote against his party, but, in doing so, to resign as a Parliamentary Private Secretary. He really has shown his support for pubs and I hope he has been congratulated on doing so by his local CAMRA branch and others.

I wish to echo the comments by the hon. Member for Easington about thanking the campaigners. In this case, we say a huge thank you to the Campaign for Real Ale, which is leading the wonderful Pubs Matter campaign, and to all the others. He mentioned the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign, the Fair Pint campaign and the wonderful work of Simon Clarke and his team, but there are also Licensees Supporting Licensees, MALT—the new Mutual Association of Licensed Tenants—and the Protect Pubs campaign. There are many campaigners around the country, and there are also individual pub campaigns, some of which have already been mentioned. I thank all such community campaigns and congratulate them on trying to save their pubs, whether or not they are successful.

I am glad that we have the chance for a proper debate today. We did not get the chance for any sort of a debate when the very important, but simple and common-sense, change was proposed a few weeks ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West had four or five minutes to introduce the important new clause and I had two or three minutes to speak, so we did not get the chance to put our case. It worries me that the MPs who were persuaded not to support that simple change did so on the basis of a one-sided argument, because the other side of the argument was not heard and some of the information presented did not reflect the reality of what is going on or of what the Government suggest is sensible.

I thank the Minister for his engagement. We do not agree on a solution, but he is certainly listening and conversing, and I appreciate the time he has given to

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that. I gently remind him that this very simple change is current Liberal Democrat party policy and is already in our pre-manifesto. I have not yet checked the manifesto, but I hope that it is included, as we were told it would be. It is for CAMRA and other organisations to challenge all the parties to put pro-pub policies in their manifestos.

Today, we are talking about something very simple. In a way, it is not about pubs, but about whether communities should have the right simply to have a say when a significant change of use is threatened for a building that is of value from a business or community point of view. We are talking about absurd planning loopholes. The idea that there is any relationship between a pub and a supermarket express store or solicitors’ office is ridiculous. The fact that free-standing pubs with no protection in the planning system can be demolished overnight before people even get the chance to have a say—it happens—is a scandal.

I believe that there is a better solution, which I will come on to, but the save the pub group welcomes the fact that the Government have announced a modest step forward in providing a right of consultation. Let us be clear that it is not protection for pubs; it is simply a right to comment—that is all—just as people can comment on any planning application. The proposal is only for pubs listed as having added community value. As has been said, only 600 pubs have been so listed in the four years since the scheme was introduced. That is not particularly impressive: it is 1.25% of all the pubs in the country.

The scheme does not even apply in Wales. One of my particular concerns is that that was not mentioned in the explanation from the Department for Communities and Local Government about why the new change is fine. It is not fine: it will do absolutely nothing at all in Wales. Welsh colleagues, particularly those who are Government Members, must be aware of that.

In the Government’s thinking, there is a mantra that we must have permitted development rights because they will allow the sensible changes that people want and that will help business. Apparently, such changes are not allowed for nightclubs, launderettes or theatres, but they are fine for pubs. The Government are effectively saying that nightclubs, launderettes and theatres—and casinos, which have more protection in the planning system —are more important than pubs. They conceded the point on betting shops, which rather undermines their argument. They accepted that if they did nothing and continued to turn a blind eye to betting shop conversions, as they had up to that point, we would see betting shops all along high streets, particularly in London. Therefore they can change, and where they recognise there is a problem, they will change. I share the frustration of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West, and other colleagues, that the Government are simply not listening to something that would bring the system into line with those other, simple uses.

Grahame M. Morris: The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent case about the Government’s modest offer of a compromise. The cost of listing all pubs as assets of community value would fall on local authorities. Are any figures available for that, because those I have seen from the all-party save the pub group suggest that it would cost about £1,000 per listing? We could be talking about many millions of pounds, and I would be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments on that.

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Greg Mulholland: I will come on to cover that point.

The problem is the conversion of pubs into supermarkets, and particularly their buying power. CAMRA figures show that two pubs every week are being converted into supermarkets—that is more than 100 a year—and in the past four years, Tesco alone has converted 37 pubs.

I have written to supermarkets as chair of the all-party save the pub group, and the replies I received were simply not honest. Supermarkets claim—I wonder whether this is where the Minister got a mistaken idea about what is really going on—that they are bringing derelict buildings back to life, which is a wonderful thing, and that the pubs were failed businesses. That is absolute rubbish; it is dishonest and they know it. The reality—I urge the Minister to look at this issue—is that secret deals are done behind the backs of communities between large indebted pub companies and supermarket chains. Supermarket chains are deliberately targeting and indulging in the predatory purchasing of larger pub buildings, precisely because they know they can impose stores on a local community without it being able to do anything.

We have the absurdity that a new Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Co-op—it is very engaged in this process—can impose a store on a community that is stunned to find that it has no right to object, yet the supermarket chain then has to submit planning permission for new signage. That sort of thing brings the planning process into disrepute, and from that point of view such a system cannot be defended. Ministers, the Department and some MPs are misunderstanding what is going on.

There is perhaps a little light at the end of the tunnel. We have all seen the figures and the fact that Tesco has got itself into a terrible mess—as out-of-control big business sometimes does. One Tesco store that was announced will now be closing—so much for bringing things to the local economy. Tesco will be closing the Tesco Express in South Tottenham, which used to be the Golden Stool and before then The Mitre. Having taken that pub away without the community having a say, Tesco is walking away and leaving a derelict building—so much for this being a wonderful thing for business and communities. Not only are supermarkets buying premises, they are leasing pubs from pub companies—an even sneakier and easier thing to do.

Of all the arguments I have heard in this place, the Government’s argument on this issue is one of the weakest and it is absolutely full of holes. It includes stating that somehow laundrettes, theatres and even nightclubs are apparently more important to DCLG than pubs. That is because the situation has been presented as somehow being about the derelict pubs we see around—at least one hon. Member has mistakenly taken that view to be a fact. The Minister told us about derelict pubs in Bristol, but those pubs are derelict even with the permitted development rights—that issue has absolutely nothing to do with it. Many pubs have now shut, but that goes back to the unfair business model of the large pub companies that Members across the House have mentioned. I pay tribute to the work of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that was instrumental in exposing that and leading finally to change.

I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Easington about the moves to water down what we voted through on 18 November, and we all need to be aware of that.

The derelict buildings are nothing to do with it. We are talking about viable, wanted and profitable pubs. I

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would love to know what every right hon. and hon. Member who voted against new clause 16 will say when a constituent walks into their surgery and says, “We are losing our local pub. We have just found out that Enterprise Inns or Punch Taverns have sold it to Tesco, Co-op, Lidl or Sainsbury’s. Will you help us to oppose that?” They will sit there and say, “There’s nothing you can do, because they have the absolute right to do it. You can list it, but by then it will be too late.” As has already been mentioned, the ACV process is used reactively. It is used only when people see there is a threat to a pub. In some cases, that is far, far too late.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) submitted an interesting freedom of information request. Of all the assets of all types—not just pubs—only 11 have been bought by communities. CAMRA knows of about 10 pubs now in community ownership that are listed as ACVs, but it cannot say whether the ACV initiative led to the pubs being saved, or whether that came later. The reality is that probably fewer than 10 pubs, of the 600, have actually been saved. It is fair to say that some of them have not yet been threatened, but only 10 have been saved.

I have already mentioned the problem with not giving commercial companies, the small breweries and small pub companies—who, incidentally, are thriving as the big pub companies fail—an adequate chance in this process. The Golden Harp in Maidenhead had ACV status, but then became a Tesco. The council turned down an article 4 direction, which is the other way in which DCLG suggests this can be dealt with. About 42 pubs in London that have ACV status are currently closed. Many are simply being land-banked, because developers know that if they sit on them for long enough, they will probably get whatever planning permission they want or need, or they will go ahead anyway.

We have to debunk the myth that going through the planning system to give people the right to a say somehow means that a pub is not only protected—it is not—but cannot become another use. That is simply untrue and it is wrong for Ministers to suggest otherwise. The truth is that viable and profitable pubs are being lost even when planning permission is needed. Indeed, in the constituency of the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), Ye Olde Dun Cow in Cowbit had ACV status. There was a community campaign to bring it back to life, but permission was given to demolish it.

The Summercross in my own constituency—one of my local pubs in Otley—was, after a hard fought campaign, turned into a care home, despite the fact that we gave the council figures to show that the pub was trading profitably when it was deliberately closed by a developer. The owner of Hooper’s in Camberwell obtained planning permission to convert it to a house even though it had ACV status. The Tumbledown Dick in Farnborough, an ACV pub, was partially demolished and is now in use as a McDonald’s against the wishes of the local community. The George IV in Brixton, the Emperor in Ipswich, the Chesham Arms in Hackney—this is not a happy picture, even when people do have to go through the planning process, so the Minister may seriously think that even if they make this limited change, or even if we get the new clause changed, it will save lots of pubs and stop conversions, but that is simply not the case.

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There is a dangerous loophole that I urge the Minister to address. If an ACV pub is sold as a going concern, that bypasses the six-month moratorium, even if it is a deliberate sale as a temporary going concern where the intention is clearly to end its use as a pub. That undermines the position hugely.

We need a clear announcement. I hope and suspect we will get from the Minister today an idea of when, in the eight weeks left of this Parliament, we will hear that announcement. This is our last chance. I share the voice echoed by the hon. Member for Bristol North West. I urge the Government, even now, to think again, and this is where we come on to costs. I asked the chief executive of Leeds city council to give me its costs of every ACV status. The reply was that on average an assessment and approval of a nomination up to the stage of being first added or otherwise to the list of assets of community value costs around £1,070 in officers’ time. It also pointed out that the DCLG guidance states that on average a nomination should take 8.3 hours, but officers from Leeds city council estimate it takes twice as long. That, of course, does not include the time it may take to consider a formal review of a decision, any resource required if a review should go to a tribunal stage, or any time to deal with administering the process when an owner informs of the intention to dispose of an asset. That is without even the possibility of legal challenge, which is quite likely.

Natascha Engel: May I add to that very long list? The hon. Gentleman talks about officers’ time. What is the cost of the time of members of the local community who are putting in time, effort and a lot of resource?

Greg Mulholland: The hon. Lady is absolutely right and I will come on to that point once I have presented the view of the local authority. I do not doubt that the Government believe in localism—I believe in localism myself—but localism does not mean passing the buck when the clear responsibility for the use class orders is with national Government and DCLG.

Several surveys have been conducted, including by the Save the Pub group and CAMRA. The Local Government Information Unit has figures showing that 45 out of 49 local authorities said they did consider pubs as valued community assets worthy of protection, and 33 of them said that existing planning regulations do not give sufficient protection to public houses from change of use and demolition. In every single survey, a large majority say that they would welcome the changes we suggest today.

On to the reality for communities, as the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) said, these are ordinary working people. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West used the word “misleading”. I worry that, because we did not have the chance to have this debate at the time, there was a sense, certainly on the Government Benches, that all one needs to do to register a pub is to get 21 people. Colleagues would say, “I’m not going to support you, because apparently we have a concession.” Let me read the reality of the situation as set out in the DCLG guidelines, “Community right to bid: non-statutory advice note for local authorities: part 5, chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011”:

“5.1 A nomination must include the following information for the local authority to consider:

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I. A description of the nominated land including its proposed boundaries. These boundaries do not have to be the same as ownership boundaries, for instance as shown on the Land Registry plan if the land is registered; nor is it necessary for all parts of the nominated site to be in the same ownership.”

That means communities are expected to go and get plans. They either have to pay the Land Registry—okay, that is not particularly expensive—or they have to produce plans themselves. The guidelines continue:

“II. Any information the nominator has about the freeholders, leaseholders and current occupants of the site.”

How many people living near to a pub would actually know that?

“III. The reasons for nominating the asset, explaining why the nominator believes the asset meets the definition in the Act.

IV. The nominator’s eligibility to make the nomination.”

That is not 21 people saying that they think a pub is important. The Minister and the Department have given the impression that this is a wonderful way to get all valued pubs listed, but there are thousands and thousands and thousands of valued pubs. The majority of the pubs we still have left of the 48,000 are valued, yet multiple applications cannot be made.

I have exciting news for the House. The first multiple application, as a test case, will be made next week in my town of Otley, in my constituency, by the wonderful community organisation, Otley Pub Club. Otley has 20 pubs. As an Otley resident and occasional user of those pubs, I can assure the House that all 20 pubs are highly valued by Otley Pub Club and the local community. They are going to seek to list all 20 of them, which has never been done before. We will see what happens.

I want to make the case for why the Government’s proposal is the wrong change and ours is the right one. If the applications are regarded as average and simple, listing all 20 valued pubs in Otley will cost £21,400 of taxpayers’ money and take 332 hours of officers’ time. [Interruption.] I hear the Minister chuntering from a sedentary position, but listing costs local authorities money, and several councils have said it amounts to about £1,000. It is more for an article 4 direction—more like £2,000, £3,000 or £4,000 per pub. To list all the valued pubs in the country, therefore, would cost millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, and that is not acceptable simply because it is local authority money, rather than central Government’s money. It is irresponsible, given that there is a much simpler solution and that local authorities are extremely hard-pressed with greatly reduced budgets in these difficult times. It simply is not an appropriate way to proceed.

Furthermore, of course, councils can and do turn down ACV schemes. Even if those 21 people go through the time-consuming steps—it took Otley Pub Club six months to produce its 20 forms—of ascertaining the boundaries, working up the plan, finding out who the leaseholders, freeholders and occupants are and giving their reasons for making the application, the local authority can still say no. CAMRA knows of approximately 40 applications that have been turned down. That does not sound like localism to me.

If, as he seems to be, the Minister is absolutely adamant in his view —on that, I share the frustration of the hon. Member for Bristol North West—I and CAMRA have some suggestions, and if he could consider them as part of introducing this proposal, that would be better. Two simple things need to happen if it is to have anything

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like the impact he suggests: first, we need to make it much easier, less onerous and quicker to get ACV status for pubs and to make it much less likely that a council will refuse; and, secondly, if the Minister is serious about pursuing this measure, we must strengthen ACV status not just by ending permitted development rights but, for example, in the case of the pubs I have mentioned, by making it much harder for developers to go against the will of the community and get planning permission where needed. Such is the power of those large companies that pubs are still being converted and bulldozed, even when the planning process has been followed.

To make this measure meaningful, the Minister should make it possible to submit multiple applications. If people say, “These are the valued pubs in our village”, why should we separate them? If there are three pubs in the village, they might all be valued. If there are 15 pubs in a town, 10 of them might be valued. If so, let the community list all 10. It is obvious and simple and would save local authorities money. In addition, it should not be the responsibility of local communities to establish boundaries. As the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire said, if local communities have to go through that process, they will not always bother.

CAMRA also asks that the Minister close the loophole whereby selling an asset as an ongoing concern bypasses the moratorium—a glaring gap in the Bill—and make the moratorium last longer than six months; it is not enough. If this is seriously about saving pubs, we must extend the moratorium. Furthermore, if he insists on going down this route, we need a new status with more powers; alongside the ACV status, we need a community pub of value status, and then DCLG could put in extra protections specifically for pubs. In Scotland, the legal system is in some ways more progressive, certainly in respect of the planning system. We should also establish a genuine community right to buy, rather than our very weak right to try—the right to put in a bid that in the end can simply be ignored.

I hope I have shown that the simple change of allowing local communities the basic right to comment—not just to object, but to support—on a significant change of use to a pub would be cheap and easy. The Government’s suggestion is a welcome but modest step forward. Even if, as we hope, more pubs are listed, many wanted, viable pubs will still close. That is a fact. It baffles me why this Government, who are committed to localism and have said they want to be the most pro-pub Government ever, have proposed a solution that is not pro-pub but is more bureaucratic, much less effective, partial, will take much longer and will cost millions more in taxpayers’ money than what we could achieve with one simple vote and change, through secondary legislation, to the use class orders.

In the last eight weeks of the Parliament, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues to do the sensible and obvious thing and put pubs in the sui generis category, alongside theatres, casinos, laundrettes and nightclubs. It is the simple and obvious thing to do. If the Government want to leave a legacy as a pro-pub Government, that is the announcement we need to hear in the next few weeks.

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12.25 pm

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I shall be comparatively brief.

I wish to be a little more generous to the Minister than some speakers. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on having secured this debate and the Backbench Business Committee on having supported it. Having been both pubs Minister and planning Minister, I am conscious that planning policy is always a balance, and striking a balance does not always make us popular—sometimes, we are about as popular as the landlord calling time on a crowded Saturday night—but it has to be done. I am therefore much more supportive of the Minister’s position.

That does not mean that, in the light of experience, planning policy cannot be improved, and I think that the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) has made some sensible suggestions that we ought to listen to, as too has my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West. I was also impressed by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris). In particular, I join in her tribute to Councillor Ray Howard, whom I have worked with over many years. He is rightly nicknamed Mr Canvey, and after almost 40 years of elected service, he now epitomises everything that good local government is about. I am happy to get that on the record.

I believe in pubs. I have been active in a campaign to save a pub in my constituency, and we succeeded within the current regime. There are hurdles, but they are not impossible. Equally, however, those of us who believe in pubs have to be realistic and accept that not every pub is viable or will be an ACV, so we have to take a nuanced approach. I approach this matter slightly differently from my hon. Friends. I am concerned that more pubs are not listed, but I think we should be looking at why we cannot encourage greater uptake of the ACV regime. As one of the Ministers who introduced the regime, I confess I had hoped that communities and local authorities would be more proactive in listing not just pubs but many other types of facility. That is something not just for the Government, but for communities themselves, to look at. In the case of my pub, The Porcupine in Mottingham, ACV status was achieved very quickly.

Natascha Engel: Surely the reason local communities are not better at listing these assets is that it is so difficult to do, not that they are too lazy.

Robert Neill: I do not think that local communities are necessarily lazy. That would be a patronising thing to say about any community. In Mottingham, the community moved swiftly and efficiently, the local authority co-operated and the pub was listed as an ACV very quickly. I do not accept all the criticisms made of the Government’s position.

Charlotte Leslie: My hon. Friend is an exceptionally efficient and effective Member. Does he think that the speed of success might have had something to do with his being pubs Minister at that point?

Robert Neill: I regret to say that I had departed office by then, although I am delighted to say that the then pubs Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend

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the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), came down to the constituency and looked at the site—without in any way prejudging the outcome. It was simply that our local councillors, the community and I were quickly on the case. There were some issues—I shall come on to them—where I agree with my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West, but at the end of the day it was possible to do it under the current regime. Does that mean that we cannot improve the regime? No, we can always improve it. Much planning policy develops incrementally in the light of experience.

Grahame M. Morris rose—

Robert Neill: Let me make a bit of progress before giving way again.

First, we should look at ways of being more proactive about developing the assets of community value regime across the piece. Secondly, we need to do more to encourage the adoption of neighbourhood plans, which enable a greater degree of granularity than in ordinary planning documents. If they are linked to a robust local plan—more and more authorities are introducing those—that, too, provides an opportunity to have plans locally that are attuned to the need to protect pubs in particular areas. That would be a good way forward too.

In the case of Mottingham’s public house The Porcupine—a much-loved asset—I had a lot of sympathy with what was said. Enterprise Inns quite cynically ran that pub down, and it is right to say that many of the pub companies have a bad track record of running down pubs essentially to improve their balance-sheet position. Enterprise Inns has long been doing that; it has a deliberate disposal policy. I totally agree with the hon. Member for Leeds North West that that is what we need to address. The debate is about the nuance of how best to do that. In that case, the public house was sold without notice to the community. That is an aspect of the way in which the regime works that we could look at again in the light of experience.

Happily, the Mottingham residents association and our local councillors were in touch with me quickly and we were able to make an application to the local authority, which swiftly had the matter placed on the agenda for the planning committee. A decision was taken and the pub was listed. The local authority, after a hearing, rejected the application. The supermarket Lidl that had bought The Porcupine site appealed. Representatives of the local community and I gave evidence at the public inquiry. I am delighted to say that the inspector rejected Lidl’s appeal, and the time for Lidl to challenge in the High Court has now expired. It was a win for the local community.

We were able to engage the services of the excellent Richard Harwood QC, one of our leading planning lawyers, who put up an exceptional case—[Interruption.] Actually, he was instructed by the local authority. Tribute should be paid to him. He understands the issues and did a great job. I have one or two of his suggestions for further improvements, which I shall put to the Minister in a moment. The point is that this can be done under the current regime, but can we make it easier? I would always like to make it easier for communities to help their pubs in the future.

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In the debate on the Infrastructure Bill, the Minister announced certain changes to the assets of community value regime, which I welcome. I would like further clarification of the statement that the secondary legislation would be brought forward at the earliest opportunity. One advantage of doing these things through secondary legislation or planning policy guidance is that we can be more fleet of foot than if primary legislation is used. Can the Minister tell us when this legislation will be introduced? Can he confirm that this will apply to public houses and other assets of community value that have already been listed? That seemed to be the sense of what was being said in his statement, but one or two lawyers have said that it would be good to have absolute clarity on that point. I hope that that will not be difficult to achieve.

We could look at encouraging local authorities to do as the Mayor of London has done. When I read the inspector’s report on The Porcupine case, it was clear that he gave considerable weight to the fact that this was an asset of community value. In fact, the Government’s reforms bit, and were effective in this case. The inspector also gave considerable weight to the policies in the London plan that were introduced by the current Mayor of London to strengthen the protection of public houses in London.

Those policies resulted from a report by Steve O’Connell, the Conservative London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, called “Keeping Local: How to save London’s pubs as community resources”. I recommend it to any Member, as there is no reason why other planning authorities cannot adopt that same useful approach. A number of specific policy lines have been put into the London plan. Members interested in this should look at policy 4.48A, the whole of policy 4.8 and policy 3.1B, all of which deal with the ability of boroughs—indeed, an obligation is placed on them—to bring forward policies to retain, manage and enhance public houses, where there is sufficient evidence of need and of community asset value and viability in pub use. Authorities are also tasked with the need to develop policies to protect valued community assets, and the London plan specifically refers to pubs in that context. Policy 3.1B also specifically refers to the need to protect pubs.

The Mayor’s “Town Centres Supplementary Planning Guidance”, which is given effect by the London plan, also strengthens the position of pubs, including specifically taking into account the continuing viability of use of the public house, the history of vacancy, the prospect of achieving reuse at market value and whether or not it has been effectively marketed. Some of the pubcos go through a sham exercise in marketing, which was exposed in the inquiry into The Porcupine. Frankly, the pubco had simply gone through the motions, and we were able to call an expert who demonstrated that this was not a genuine marketing exercise. These are things that we could sensibly seek to tighten up, and we could do so without direct interference by the Government, but they might like to think about strengthening the guidance to reflect what is already good practice in London in that regard.

There are a couple of other things we could do that would not be too onerous and would still maintain the balance that we always need in planning policy, involving flexibility when needs and circumstances change and vary from area to area. More could perhaps be done to

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increase the weight given to the harm caused by the loss of non-designated heritage assets. If the asset—often a pub, but it could be a church or something like it—is a listed building, it obviously gets much more significant protection. It might be worth looking at the operation of paragraph 135 of the national planning policy framework to see what could be done to increase the weight given to the harm that would come from losing assets that are of community value, but do not have the status of being listed buildings because of their architectural merit. Something might not be of great architectural merit, but it could still be of great value to the community. We should look at ways of providing help on that.

Rebecca Harris: What my hon. Friend says is precisely relevant to the case of The King Canute, which I raised earlier.

Robert Neill: Yes, that is something that it would be good to prevent. I am aware that the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) wanted to intervene earlier. I did not mean to be discourteous to him. Would he like the opportunity to intervene before I finish? If I have covered the point, well and good.

Grahame M. Morris: With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, he mentions the services of a top barrister, but would it not be much simpler and less bureaucratic—I have heard him arguing for the need to cut costs many times—simply to accept the proposal in the motion? It proposes a simple change to

“put pubs into the sui generis category”,

which would achieve the same ends, be administratively simpler and cost local authorities nothing.

Robert Neill: The proposal is initially very attractive, but having looked at the operation of use class orders during the two and a half years when I was a Minister, I warn the hon. Gentleman that we need to be little careful about some of the intended consequences of changes to use classes. I would not rule it out entirely for the future, but we should approach it carefully, incrementally and on an evidence basis. I hope, too, that the decision in The Porcupine case—something of a test case—will make it easier for us to succeed in subsequent legal challenges. We all want the same thing—there is no dispute between us about the objective—so it is the means by which we achieve it that we are debating.

Another suggestion is that we accept extending the need for planning permission to the demolition of commercial buildings, which would be quite straightforward. That was a risk in the Porcupine case, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West raised the issue of what happens if a pub is knocked down, when the building is gone and the chance for restoration to a pub is pretty much lost. My suggestion would be possible following the SAVE Britain’s Heritage judgment in 2011—on my watch—about the Mitchell’s brewery site in Lancaster. The need to give notice before exercising permitted development rights to demolish has been helpful as a result of that judgment because it has enabled article 4 directions to be made. That worked in Lewisham in the case of The Baring Hall public house just over the boundary from me—in the constituency, I believe, of the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander),

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whom I am delighted to see in her place on the Opposition Front Bench today. That did work, but we might be able to build on it and make it simpler to achieve.

Finally, let me salute the work that CAMRA has done over the years. CAMRA was a great help to us during The Porcupine case, and it might be able to help us again. Now that we have a site that is vacant—not demolished, I am delighted to say—we need someone to offer to take it off Lidl’s hands and make it commercially viable. CAMRA might be able to take on a brokerage role, working with other bodies, because it contains some very bright and commercially astute people. It could perhaps bring together those who have the money with which to acquire a site—and might be interested in acquiring it—and the local community and local authority.

This has been a very useful debate. If I have adopted a slightly different tone from some other Members, that is not because I am not as passionate about pubs as anyone else—as many will know—but because I want to find a suitably nuanced way in which to achieve our shared objective. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

12.40 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), and to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), for securing the debate, and I pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee for supporting their application. However, although I am pleased that they secured the debate, I wish that it had not been necessary. All who have spoken today have given excellent expositions of why the planning system should be changed better to protect community pubs, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West provided a very good elucidation of use class changes. I hope to emulate that approach.

Just two weeks ago, I was in the Chamber helping to make the case for the inclusion of new clause 16 in the Infrastructure Bill. Despite cross-party backing, the new clause, alas, failed to overcome the Government’s opposition to it. The background will be familiar to many colleagues who have taken an interest in pubs and in the ways in which the Government’s policies have made life more difficult for them.

As a shadow planning Minister, I was at the forefront of the fight against the changes in permitted development rights which the Government started to force through two years ago. Those changes mean that pubs can, without planning permission, be converted to shops in the A1 use class, including retail warehouses, hairdressers, undertakers, travel and ticket agencies, and post offices. They can be converted to establishments in the A2 use class, including banks, building societies, estate agencies, employment agencies and, of course, betting shops and payday lenders, and to A3-use establishments such as restaurants, cafés and hot food takeaways. They can also be demolished altogether, again without the need for planning permission.

I pointed out in December 2012, during the debate on the Bill that became the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013—and I have done so on other occasions—that the Government’s changes in the law governing permitted development were profoundly anti-localist, and should

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be opposed. However, I feel that stronger words are needed to describe their continued refusal to back down on the pubs issue in the face of overwhelming opposition from Members in all parts of the House, not to mention local communities up and down the country.

The relaxation of permitted development rights and use class changes have led to a number of unintended consequences. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) is no longer present, because I wanted to draw attention to some of the unintended consequences of his changes, such as the lack of any effective planning for our high streets—where there are currently clusters of payday loan companies—and the inability of local communities to do anything about it or prevent an increase in the number of pub closures. I have described the consequences as unintended because I assume that they are, but it is, of course, possible that the Government really do not care about the increasing number of pub closures or the removal of rights from local communities. How else could we explain their stubborn refusal to back new clause 16? As the hon. Member for Leeds North West put it on that occasion,

“If hon. Members support pubs and support local democracy, they should vote for new clause 16, and if they do not, they should vote against.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2015; Vol. 591, c. 648.]

Unfortunately, too many Members voted against the new clause, and did not examine what the Government were supporting closely enough.

While they have announced some limited measures aimed at tackling the problems that pubs are facing, the Government have failed to take adequate notice of cross-party calls to restore planning protections to community pubs, and the steps that they have announced appear to be wholly inadequate. The Minister has heard that said clearly by Members on both sides of the House today. In the wake of the Government’s successful attempt to scupper new clause 16, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), announced proposals to extend planning protection to pubs that were designated assets of community value, but, as is noted in today’s motion, details of how and when the Government intend to implement that have not been forthcoming—although, obviously, we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say today—and the decision throws up more questions than it answers.

The jury is still very much out when it comes to the right to bid that was introduced by the Localism Act 2011. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, more than 1,800 assets have been listed since the introduction of the right in September 2012. That figure sounds promising, but, as has been shown by research carried out by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), the picture is a great deal murkier than it suggests. Freedom of Information requests to local authorities revealed to him that, of the 122 groups that had triggered a moratorium, 60 were unsuccessful in their bids, while 27 bids were outstanding and only 11 had so far resulted in community buy-outs. That, as was explained earlier, relates to all categories.

According to an excellent report entitled “Community Rights”, which was issued by the Communities and Local Government Committee last week,

“The Community Right to Bid process has achieved some success because the first phase, listing local land or property as an Asset of Community Value…is relatively straightforward. It brings

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people together and gives them the opportunity to have a say in what happens to valued pubs, shops or community centres if they are put up for sale. But if as it appears, almost 50% of attempts to buy ACVs are unsuccessful, there must be scope for enhancing people’s chances of success with the second and most important—bidding—phase of the Right.”

While the Government’s decision to extend protections to pubs that are designated assets of community value has been welcomed by CAMRA—among others—as a

“step in the right direction”,

the Government have made no attempt to explain how communities will be supported in their efforts to obtain that designation for local pubs. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us today. After all, the difficulties involved in the process, particularly the buying stage, have been described to him clearly.

Ministers are naive if they think that this measure—I would call it a half- measure—is adequate to the task in hand, because it will not extend to pubs the protections that they need. CAMRA has pointed out that some pubs have been designated as assets of community value, only to be converted to other uses. The Select Committee report reminds us that

“Listing a building such as a pub as an ACV does not prevent its change of use under permitted development rights…to a shop, estate agent or restaurant—or indeed its demolition.”

The George IV pub in Brixton is just one example. Its designation as an ACV failed to stop its conversion to a supermarket. Will the Minister tell us what measures, if any, the Government intend to take to address that issue?

Groups such as CAMRA had the foresight that the Government evidently lacked in anticipating a potential loophole in the proposal that could still allow developers to proceed with change of use conversions even when a pub has been ACV-listed. Currently, a pub is removed from the ACV register when it is sold. CAMRA has called on the Government to ensure that the order is strengthened to ensure that the listing of a pub as an ACV would permanently suspend permitted development rights for the premises, avoiding the need for community groups to re-nominate an asset every five years. Will the Minister commit to adopting that common-sense proposal?

Ministers have also said that communities may wish to use article 4 directions to suspend permitted development rights in an area. We know that article 4 directions have been used by a number of authorities. However, it is a very difficult process. Although it is within local authorities’ remit to pursue that option, they must notify the Secretary of State, who reserves powers to modify or cancel most article 4 directions, and for any reason. Given the Secretary of State’s tendency to micro-manage planning departments, we have no faith that he would not interfere in that way.

In 2010, the then planning Minister, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who is now back in his place, went so far as to recommend that local authorities pursue the use of article 4 directions to combat the clustering of betting shops in certain areas and to help to ensure diversity on their high streets. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) pointed out at the time, article 4 directions are very costly for local authorities to pursue. Perhaps they are prohibitively expensive. Article 4 directions are a pretty blunt instrument when it comes to protecting community pubs. In addition to the national planning policy framework

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requirement that they may only be pursued when there is “clear justification” to do so, there is also potential for heavy-handed oversight from Whitehall. Indeed, Government guidance has made it clear that councils face a hefty financial burden if developers affected by the directions seek financial compensation. The guidance states that

“Local planning authorities may be liable to pay compensation to those whose permitted development rights have been withdrawn”.

Given the rate at which developers up and down the country are stampeding to convert pubs to countless alternative uses—we know that upwards of 30 pubs are now closing each week—there seems to be a gaping loophole in the protections afforded to them. We argue that article 4 directions are not the appropriate protection, even though successive planning Ministers have put that forward.

We criticise the Government’s approach. An issue has been created for communities that wish to protect community pubs. The Government made changes to permitted development rights and then put forward another mechanism so that communities did not have to apply the changes to permitted development rights that the Government put through in the first place. That seems a bit perverse at best. Therefore, Members on the Labour and indeed the Government Benches are suggesting a much simpler approach to protecting community pubs. It is extraordinary that so little is being done to protect our pubs, especially when they face such competition from supermarkets.

Pubs face a double-whammy from supermarkets. Not only can pubs be converted into supermarkets without planning permission, but often local supermarkets sell cheap alcohol and make it readily available, whereas, because of the way our licensing laws operate, pubs can promote more responsible drinking and ensure that a restaurant and food are available. The Government have to deal with that issue. Why not tackle the supermarket issue and the availability through supermarkets of cheap alcohol, rather than attacking pubs in this way?

The Government should today show support for this excellent motion. They should forget about cumbersome applications for assets of community value to protect pubs. They should wake up to the fact that article 4 directions are not an appropriate mechanism to protect pubs. They should recognise the additional burdens that assets of community value designations and all aspects of the relaxation of permitted development are placing on councils, without the resources to deal with the extra work, and with many also suffering from the Government’s unfair local government cuts. The Government should do the sensible thing and return the determination of permitted development and use class changes to local authorities and the communities they represent, so that they have the means to protect pubs should they wish to do so.

12.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): As is customary, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the time for the debate and congratulate the sponsors of the motion. Much more significant congratulations are due to my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for

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Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), because last night she announced her engagement. These days, we find out these things via Twitter; that is how I discovered the news last night. I am delighted publicly to congratulate her and John, who happens to be a friend, on their engagement. I wish them many happy years together. Hopefully, my hon. Friend and I will agree on a few other things as I proceed, too.

Recently, we discussed these same issues during debate on the Infrastructure Bill. I am glad that we have had more time to do so today. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) was deeply frustrated that there was not sufficient opportunity to rehearse the issues fully at that point. The Bill introduced a huge raft of changes. It was not possible perhaps for everyone to make the length of contribution on the amendment that they would have wished at that time, but we have had that opportunity today.

We are of course fully aware of the strength of feeling in the House about the importance of community pubs. We have made clear our commitment to protecting those pubs that most benefit the community. We recognise that public houses are important assets that play an important role in local communities, making important contributions to the economy and providing local hubs that strengthen community relationships and encourage wider social interaction.

I will shortly come to the changes to the planning system that I announced on the day of the Infrastructure Bill Report stage and specifically to pubs that are listed as assets of community value. However, I want to start, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West did, by reminding the House of the other measures that we have taken in government to support local pubs.

I think that the coalition Government can claim to be the most pub-friendly Government for quite some time. For example, we cut beer duty in the last two Budgets and scrapped the beer and alcohol duty escalators put in place by the Labour party. We have introduced a £250,000 fund for business partners to help to deliver more community-owned pubs and pubs providing community-focused services, which has contributed to a more than doubling of the number of co-operatively owned pubs over the past two years and seen many rural pubs offering a wide range of new community-focused services and facilities. I would like in particular to thank the Plunkett Foundation and Pub is the Hub for working as partners with my Department on those issues.

We have also reduced the bureaucracy that had been hindering landlords from running their pubs, for example through the removal of the licensing rules for small-scale live music venues. We have increased the business rates discount for pubs with rateable values below £50,000 from £1,000 to £1,500 for this year, a move that is estimated to benefit three in every four pubs in the country, and the protections we are giving publicans tied to large pub companies under the new statutory code of practice, to be enforced by an independent adjudicator, will address the imbalance in bargaining power between large pub-owning companies and the thousands of tenants that run tied pubs.

There are already protections for pubs in the planning system. Local plans right across a local authority and neighbourhood plans, which are becoming increasingly popular, should reflect and be consistent with the strong

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support for pubs in the national planning policy framework —that, I believe, is in paragraph 70 of the document—particularly if that is adopted in the local plan. For instance, last year I visited the Phene pub in Kensington and Chelsea where there has been huge pressure for pubs to be converted into houses, which have incredibly high domestic values. The Phene had been saved from that fate because of the strong planning policies that the council had put in place. Local planning authorities are encouraged to plan positively to support the sustainability of their communities. That includes plans to deliver the social, recreational and cultural facilities and services that the community needs, and to promote strong rural economies through the retention and development of local services and community facilities in villages, such as pubs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) rightly said that national permitted development rights play an important role in the planning system, providing flexibility, reducing bureaucracy and enabling the best use to be made of existing premises. Current permitted development rights allow for the change of use or demolition of pubs without the need for a planning application. That has been the case for quite some time. Some Members may remember that during the progress of the Infrastructure Bill I gave the example of the Ashley Court hotel in my constituency, where the owner wanted to sell it to a property developer and, despite the fact that it was a popular local pub with one of the most magnificent views in the whole of the city, he went ahead and demolished it. That was in 2007, I think. There was nothing I, as the local Member of Parliament, or the two local councillors for Ashley ward at that time could do about it. We all opposed what we felt was going to be the ultimate outcome, but he went ahead with the demolition. There was no provision in the planning law that we could use to stop it. That has been the case for some time. That is what will change as a result of the proposals in the Infrastructure Bill that I outlined.

Grahame M. Morris: I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification, but I am sceptical about the potential of the orders to stop demolitions. Earlier in the debate, a colleague of his on the Government Benches—the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), I think—suggested that the costs of ACV should be placed on the developers, rather than falling on the local authority. Does the Minister see any merit in that?

Stephen Williams: I will very shortly come on to the points raised about the process of listing ACVs and any costs that may arise.

It is right that non-viable and underused pubs and other commercial buildings should be able to change use quickly to respond to changing local demands. There are lots of reasons why pubs may close. As I said in the debate on the Infrastructure Bill, there could be demographic reasons, and the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) made exactly the same point today. There could also be reasons of local employment—there may be a factory closure, or the location of a football stadium may move, which happens fairly often. There are lots of reasons why pubs may no longer have their former customer base and patronage. We are saying it would be inappropriate, and, in fact,

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disproportionate, for the planning system to have blanket protection for every single pub in the country, when there may be perfectly good reasons why a permitted development right is appropriate.

Greg Mulholland: Can we be clear? This is not about giving more protection; it is simply about allowing people the right to have a say over a change of use. Will my hon. Friend accept that the reality of what is going on is that profitable pubs are being closed deliberately as secret deals are done between large pub companies and large supermarket chains? It is nothing to do with pubs that are not viable or not wanted. Can he accept that point, and what is he going to do about it?

Stephen Williams: I accept what my hon. Friend says about supermarkets, and I assure him I am going to come to that point. The change that he wants and the motion suggests is not modest, however. It is quite a big change to the planning system to give blanket protection to one particular retail use of a piece of land.

Let me depart slightly from my remarks, as I have been provoked. There are probably lots of high street retail uses that different Members around the House might lament the loss of, as shopping areas have changed during our lifetime. I like going to pubs—I have even been to the pub with my hon. Friend several times and hopefully he will buy me a drink again very soon because we have not fallen out too much over this issue—but I am a bibliophile and really enjoy going to bookshops, and I lament the fact that many towns have lost all their bookshops. Even a seat with well-educated constituents such as mine, Bristol West, where there are lots of book- readers has experienced this; the number of bookshops open and trading in Bristol since I went there as a student in 1985 has shrunk markedly in recent years. Is the reason for that because there is not enough protection? The Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), was chair of the Labour club and I was chairman of the SDP-Liberal club at Bristol university at the time, and she will remember that there were lots of bookshops. There are not so many now.

Has that change happened because there is no protection in the planning system for bookshops—or for bakeries, or for other uses people value in the high street and wish were still there? No, it has not. It has happened because customer tastes and purchasing patterns change. We cannot have a planning permission that stands in the way of people changing how they buy things and exercising their commercial choices.

Natascha Engel: That is not the point we are making. All of us have said pubs that are no longer viable are very different from pubs that are perfectly viable. The Wellington in New Whittington is a heavily used pub, but the company that owns the building can make more money by selling it to a supermarket than by keeping it as a pub. It is still making money, however; it is making plenty of profit.

Stephen Williams: It is, perhaps, difficult to pick on individual examples without getting into trouble, but one of the bookshops in my constituency closed because a well-known TV personality restaurant-owner paid more for the renewal of the lease than it could afford even though it was trading profitably as a bookshop.

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Now there is a much-shrunken version of it further down the road. We cannot have a planning system to protect every single piece of economic use of land in towns and cities in that way. We have to reflect the fact that commercial patterns change. That is what our constituents are doing; they are changing the way they buy books, and the way they drink and eat.

Rebecca Harris: In a previous life, when I last had a proper job, I was a director of a publishing company so I know a little bit about bookshops and the book trade. Bookshops have closed for many reasons, in particular the growth of the internet and Amazon, but that is not the same as the conversion of a bespoke building in a neighbourhood, designed for the one purpose of being a pub, despite its being perfectly profitable and there being no evidence that people are buying their alcohol online from Amazon these days. We are talking about a completely different scenario. We are talking about profitable businesses in bespoke premises being taken over for another use.

Stephen Williams: I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. I am simply saying that the planning system has a column of use classes and different examples of commercial uses, and that it cannot always give protection to every kind of commercial use in that column of use classes. Other factors also come into play.

Grahame M. Morris: Will the Minister explain to me in simple terms why protected development rights should apply to launderettes—and all those other categories—and not to public houses?

Stephen Williams: I am being invited to depart from my prepared remarks again, but that is the nature of debate. I do not know the whole history of the planning system. It has obviously evolved over a long period since the original Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which was passed by the Attlee Government. There may well be anomalies within the system; I am not aware of its full history. The motion gives examples including theatres and launderettes. I do not know how many theatres there are in Easington compared with the number of pubs, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in my constituency of Bristol West there are hundreds of pubs and only two theatres: the Bristol Old Vic, the oldest and longest-running professional theatre in the country, and the Bristol Hippodrome. I am thinking off the top of my head here, but this is probably a matter of proportionality. Theatres are important to the community, and there are likely to be only a few in any given town or city, which might be why they are given that protection.

The same could apply to launderettes, although on the face of it, that might seem odd. There are far fewer launderettes in my constituency than there are pubs, and every time someone tries to close one, the local residents use the planning protections to fight the closure. Launderettes are obviously important, particularly for people who live in flats or houses of multiple occupancy. They are also important in city centres and university towns, where not everyone has the facility to wash their clothes at home. I think that that is why there is a distinction for launderettes, and I would not put the hundreds of pubs in any given location into that same category.

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Local planning authorities can currently protect pubs by making an article 4 direction, which has the effect of removing national permitted development rights, and they can use that power where it is necessary to protect the amenity or well-being of an area. Once a direction takes force, a planning application must be made before any development can take place. Article 4 directions can be targeted at individual pubs or applied over a specified geographical area, as appropriate. The shadow Minister had some questions about article 4 usage, but she is no longer in the Chamber. She will be able to read my answers in Hansard, however.

The Secretary of State no longer has the power automatically to block article 4 applications, but he does have the power to ensure that they are not being applied completely disproportionately—right across a local authority area, for example. They are meant to be targeted. More than 130 local planning authorities currently have article 4 directions in place, 26 of which apply specifically to pubs. They include pubs in the London boroughs of Wandsworth, Camden, and Kensington and Chelsea, as well as in Bristol and Cambridge. So the powers are being used, but not as extensively as CAMRA would like. That is one reason that we considered bringing forward the change that was announced on the day of the Infrastructure Bill’s Report stage.

The listing of assets of community value under the Localism Act gives local people a greater stake in the future of assets listed and triggers a moratorium on any sale, enabling local people to develop a bid to buy the asset and ensure its continued contribution to their community. We welcome the fact that a third of the 1,800 assets across the country that have been listed so far—around 600—have been pubs. This has been by far the most popular use of the right, which has been in place for the past couple of years—not four years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West said. Those pubs include the Greenbank pub in Easton, in my constituency. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West has recently been involved in getting Lamplighters pub in her constituency reopened, and I should like to extend an invite to her. She and I should go to The Lamplighters to celebrate her engagement —maybe this weekend. I will buy the drinks for me and her, and for John, and we will find the necessary 21 people who want to list the pub as an asset of community value so that we can get it protected. Let us see if our diaries work.

Charlotte Leslie: You’re on!

Stephen Williams: I fully understand the widespread concern that pubs that are valued by communities could still be lost because of the regulatory environment of the planning system. That is why, on 26 January, we announced our intention to disapply the permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of any pub that is listed as an asset of community value. I hope that that addresses the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) about the King Canute on Canvey Island.

Pubs are not just useful to local communities as gathering places; they can also be significant landmarks along the high street. That is certainly true of the Ashley Court hotel in my constituency, which I mentioned earlier. It did not quite come up to scratch in terms of

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architectural merit, which is often the problem in big cities that have lots of listed buildings, but it was nevertheless an important landmark and now it has gone. However, demolition will now come within the scope of the changes that we are making.

The measure will be effective for a five-year period from the date of disapplication of the permitted development rights. That will affect the loophole to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West referred. Under the present listing rules, if a sale takes place, the clock starts again on the listing. We have already foreseen that loophole, and I am grateful to CAMRA for discussing it with me. We are therefore proposing that the protection should be in place for five years from the date of the disapplication. That will mean that, for those pubs, a planning application must be made to a local planning authority before a change of use or demolition of the pub can take place. That will give the decision back to the council representing the local community—giving people a say, as has been suggested several times—and provide an opportunity for local people to express their views and offer any counter proposals.

I want to deal with some of the other points raised in the debate. The process for listing assets of community value has been described as bureaucratic and costly. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire said that communities might not have the ability to deal with such a process. I understand that these rights are quite new and that there is still some knowledge to be gained about how they should be applied. That is why other Ministers and I, along with representatives of the partner groups we are working with in the Localism Alliance, are going round the country explaining how these community rights work. We know that there is still some awareness to be raised, however. The process for listing assets of community value is actually very straightforward. The requirement is simply to find 21 people who support the listing of a building or piece of land as an asset of community value and to submit an application to the council. There is absolutely no cost to that group of 21 or more people; the cost to them is zero.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt)—who has had to leave the debate early to attend another engagement—asked whether we will review the changes after 12 months. They are linked to the Localism Act rights that we have introduced, and we have already committed to conducting a formal review of how that Act is being applied, later in 2015. We have already been gathering evidence informally, including from CAMRA, on how the rights are being used, and that review will certainly happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West asked how to publicise the rights, and that is particularly important now that the listing of an asset of community value will have even more teeth than before. I suggest that, as constituency MPs, we will all want to publicise all sorts of things over the next few months, so we now have a real opportunity to go out into our communities and raise awareness of these issues. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West mentioned his occasional use of the pubs in Otley. I follow him on Twitter and from what I read I think he is much more than an occasional user. We should go out into our communities and publicise these changes. CAMRA, which has been working with the Department as a valued partner for quite some time now—since the Localism

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Act rights came into place—has published its own “how to” guide on listing assets of community value. I am sure CAMRA will update it to take into account the new teeth this new right will have.

I have dealt with the cost of listing, but my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West and the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) also mentioned the cost to authorities of listing assets. I was surprised to hear my hon. Friend say that Leeds city council says it takes 16 hours of officer time to deal with each application—I believe that is what he said, but he will correct me if I am wrong. No doubt my officials back in Marsham street will have picked up on that and will check whether it is the case. The procedure is quite straightforward in the legislation. We are aware, and some of the evidence we have been gathering from partners shows, that some local authorities are gold-plating what they need to do under the regulations. I do not suggest that Leeds city council is necessarily doing that, but we are aware that it is happening in some places. The procedure, as laid down in the Localism Act, is straightforward for listing an asset of community value. It is very simple for the promoters of that listing and it ought to be similarly simple for the local authority to consider whether the proposal meets the tests, as set out in the legislation.

My hon. Friend and others referred to the practices of pub property companies and others who deliberately promote the closure of local pubs in their area. I was made aware this morning of a report in the Evesham Journal about NewRiver Retail writing to 11 of its owned pubs in the Dudley area, which it seems to want to convert into Co-ops, and suggesting that the pub managers, for an incentive—I put it no strongly than that—should not seek to obstruct what it is doing. Planning law cannot stop all those sorts of commercial practices, but if any of the pubs in Dudley or elsewhere are important to the local community, people should get out there right now and list them, in order to give protection.

We believe the measure we have proposed strikes the right balance between protecting valued community pubs and avoiding the blanket regulation that could lead to more empty buildings around the country. We intend to introduce the required changes to secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity, and we will lay the regulations before the end of this Parliament. The Government have in place common commencement rules for changing business regulations on 6 April and, I believe, 6 October each year. We intend that these regulations will come into place on 6 April 2015—that deals with a key question Members asked—and we will lay the statutory instrument necessary for that in good time to make sure it happens.

I invite all hon. Members to join me in urging local communities to come together to support their local pub, use the community rights we have given them and nominate their local pub as an asset of community value. As I said, 600 pubs have been nominated so far. That is a good start, and if we all get behind this, working with CAMRA and local amenity groups, that number can expand significantly in a short time. If people think their local pub plays a key social and economic role in their community, they should act decisively and act now. They should not be reactive. I think someone spoke earlier about these changes and people being reactive. People should be proactive. I have been saying that, as

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other Ministers have, for the past 18 months or so. People should not wait for a threat. The right is there now, so please use it. If people think any community asset is important, they should list it now—they should not wait for a threat to come along.

The change we are making has been described as “modest”, but giving planning protection to pubs that are listed as an ACV is a significant change. The Government can fairly say that, without doubt, the future of local pubs will now lie in the hands of local people.

1.24 pm

Charlotte Leslie: I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate. I will return to the Minister’s comments, but first I wish to thank him for his congratulations on my engagement. I will be delighted to take up his offer of a pint in The Lamplighters. As he knows, he can get there from his constituency via the Severn Beach line, which may one day be a Henbury loop—who knows?

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): What has that got to do with the debate?

Charlotte Leslie: It was a terrible abuse of local knowledge, and I apologise to my hon. Friend for taking up his time in that way.

We heard some fantastic speeches today. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) summarised excellently the value of pubs beyond the immediately obvious, talking about their community value and all the other activities that take place in them, which include knitting, crèches, children’s tots groups and coffee mornings; some £120 million is also raised for charities each year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) powerfully illustrated the real-world consequences of the current situation, providing exactly the gritty detail that I hope will keep this issue in the Government’s mind through 2015 and beyond. The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) also touched on the enormous amount of work that I know he has done on the statutory code for pubcos, which has until recently been a pretty grim backdrop to the pub situation. I am pleased that the Government have moved on that, largely thanks to his efforts and those of the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland).

The hon. Member for Leeds North West was, as ever, a powerful blast of reality. He illustrated excellently the practical realities of an ACV bid. For some communities it may be easy but for others it is not nearly so easy, depending on discrepancies between local authorities and between the nature of the communities affected by the potential loss of their pub. He also gave news of his Otley Pub Club collective bid. We wish him luck with that and we will be interested to see how he gets on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who gave his apologies for not being able to be in his place now, gave a balanced assessment, using the benefit of his experience and expertise as a superb and first pubs Minister. He made some sensible suggestions and I very much hope we can progress them. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), who is also not able to be in her place now and has courteously given her apologies, made

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a statement that many of us perhaps agree with, especially given the time. She wished that this debate had not been necessary, and a lot of us would say “Hear, hear” to that.

Let me return to the Minister’s response. As I say, I look forward to discussing this further over a pint in The Lamplighters and perhaps any other pub he wishes to name. Importantly, he reminded us of the significant positive impact the Government have had on pubs, which is possibly easy to forget; in trying to get the best, we should not make an enemy of the good. There is concern that perhaps he had missed the point of the debate, which was not about commercial viability and protecting those things that are not commercially viable, but simply about allowing communities to have their say when there is a change, be it commercially viable or otherwise. His measures to close loopholes on ACV are welcome, as is the pledge that the way ACV is working out—that is separately from aspirations about how it might work out—will be reviewed as part of a formal review of the Localism Act. I am very pleased that we have received assurances that that element will be considered. It is also welcome that we now have a date, 6 April, for the moves that the Government have made to enhance the status of ACV. Most of us in this House would agree that on planning protection of pubs it is, “Time, gentleman and ladies, please. Time.”

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes New Economics Foundation research showing that local economies benefit twice as much from a pound spent in a pub rather than a supermarket; expresses concern that valued and viable pubs are being lost due to permitted development rights which allow pubs to be demolished or turned into supermarkets and other uses without planning permission, denying local people any say; notes that supermarket chains are deliberately targeting pubs and further notes CAMRA research that two pubs a week are converted into supermarkets; supports CAMRA’S Pub Matters campaign calling for an end to permitted development rights on pubs; notes that any change of use to a nightclub, laundrette or theatre requires planning permission, making it odd to refuse pubs the same status; notes plans to remove permitted development rights from pubs listed as Assets of Community Value (ACVs), and calls on the Government to announce how and when this will happen; notes, however, that pubs achieving ACV status is not as simple as Ministers have suggested, with the requirement for local communities to provide boundaries and plans and that every pub must be listed separately making it unrealistic for communities to protect all valued pubs; further notes that each ACV application costs local authorities over a thousand pounds, and listing all valued UK pubs as ACVs would cost millions of pounds and create significant bureaucracy; and therefore calls on the Government to make a simpler change and put pubs into the sui generis category so that communities can comment on a proposal to convert or demolish a pub.

Royal Assent

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measures:

Stamp Duty Land Tax Act 2015

Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015

Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015

Insurance Act 2015

National Insurance Contributions Act 2015

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Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015

Infrastructure Act 2015

Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Amendment) Measure 2015

Ecclesiastical Property Measure 2015

Church of England (Pensions) (Amendment) Measure 2015.

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Destruction of Historic Sites (Syria and Iraq)

1.29 pm

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered destruction and looting of historic sites in Syria and Iraq.

I thank the Speaker for granting this debate, the Backbench Business Committee for making the debate its own and allowing it to be heard on the Floor of the House, and the Minister and the shadow Minister for taking time out of their schedules to be with us. I also thank those who have far greater knowledge of this subject than I do for their wise counsel, especially Neil MacGregor of the British Museum and his exceptional specialists.

The current conflict in Syria, which has now enveloped large parts of Iraq, has ended its fourth year. We have seen at least 250,000 people killed, 6.5 million people displaced, 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries, and abuses, killings and ethnic and religious cleansing on an almost unimaginable scale by ISIL, the Assad regime and many others, and there is no sign of abatement. In a time of such terrible human suffering, the question must be asked: why should we turn our attention, even momentarily, to the destruction and looting of heritage—of mosques, libraries, souks, castles and churches?

The first reason is that the scale of the destruction and loss is so great—the greatest anywhere in the world since the end of the second world war—that it deserves to be better understood as just one element of the tragic conflict in the middle east. These are ancient civilisations of great beauty, accomplishment and intellectual achievement. It is an extraordinarily rich history bound up with our own history and that of other cultures and civilisations throughout the world. Some of the sites in question, such as in Aleppo, Mosul and Nineveh, are relatively well known. ISIL alone now controls more than 4,000 places of historic and archaeological interest as well as libraries, great and small, such as the Mosul library, in which it recently destroyed all the books that it took issue with including the entire children’s section.

No one group has done more to put the world’s cultural heritage in the gun sights than ISIL, and ISIL is not concealing its destruction; it is doing so brazenly with bulldozers and bombs, and it is available for all of us to see in arresting before-and-after images produced by the university of Pennsylvania and the United States Government. Those images are then broadcast by ISIL on social media. How shocking and shameful it would be if the west did absolutely nothing in the face of this destruction.

There is also a human dimension. I am talking about the unbelievably brave men and women on the ground—the curators, the site guards, the librarians, monks and academics—who are trying to protect what they hold dear by producing inventories or by bearing witness and producing the facts for the rest of the world. Many are unable or unwilling to leave, and hope—I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say this—still to be alive when it is all over to pick up the pieces.

Let me tell one story that was told to me by the British Museum. In October, a site warden at Nineveh was executed by ISIL, and every adult male who came

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to mourn him disappeared, and are presumed murdered. They were remarkable individuals. Most of their stories cannot and should not be told for fear of endangering them. In part, this debate pays tribute to them and salutes what they are doing.

There is a second reason for focusing our attention on the destruction. These tragic events are occurring for one of two reasons, both of which should concern us. First, it could be a deliberate attempt to subjugate communities by destroying the buildings and the heritage that they hold dear and to rob future generations of any connection to the past, or the ties that bind them together, that might allow reconciliation or even facilitate functioning economies based on tourism and visitors. That is madness applied to monuments. Secondly, systematic looting might be viewed as a significant revenue stream for ISIL, the Assad regime and others. I am talking about sculptures being turned into tanks. There is a fault line in ISIL, as there was in the Taliban in Afghanistan, between those two competing but equally concerning motivations.

Many will recall watching the TV news and seeing the Taliban dynamiting and destroying 1,700-year-old Buddhas at Bamyan in 2001, but what is considerably less well known—the story that has not been told—is that elements of the Taliban were on the telephone to wealthy individuals only 20 minutes before pressing the button and detonating the explosives trying to negotiate a $10 million ransom in return for saving and exporting those works of art. Those who sought iconoclasm and propaganda won on that occasion, but it is not always the case.

ISIL and the Assad regime are employing contractors to seek out antiquities, working at times with couriers and agents for dealers. ISIL is deploying militants to ensure its control of sites and to supervise digging in a disturbing fashion that reminds us of blood diamonds in Africa in the ’80s and ’90s. It is also licensing looting with a formal tithe or tax of 20% on those who do the work themselves.

For some local communities in Syria and Iraq, the harvesting of low-value pieces is a continuation of centuries of tradition—harvesting antiquities instead of crops. We should recognise that they are doing so because they are starving and they have no other source of income. But looting should concern us because it provides an insight into an extremely dark and dangerous underworld that affects this country. We need to understand it and to penetrate it as a way of tackling the financing of terrorism and serious organised crime. That looting, especially at the higher end, almost certainly continues the systematic looting in Iraq that was undertaken by Saddam Hussein and his regime as a significant source of revenue. As ISIL today facilitates the lines of communication that were established by Saddam, we can see that everything in history repeats itself, but with different players. Those lines of communication and passages to neighbouring countries are interwoven with the drugs trade, the arms trade and human trafficking. They are as dark and dangerous as criminality gets.

There is some mystery over where the looted works are heading. At the bottom end, one can see them freely sold on the market stalls at the Turkish-Syrian border, and some have appeared on eBay. At the top end, many of the artefacts may well be in storage until “the dust

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has settled”. I am pleased to report that there is little or no evidence of their emergence on the legitimate market of UK auction houses and respectable dealers, but works are believed to be appearing in other countries, most notably Germany and the city of Munich, which has a history of being a conduit for antiquities and stolen works of art.

There is a pervasive and disturbing culture of private sale in the Gulf states. Many of the ruling families of those states profess to be great lovers of art and are investing vast sums in the legitimate art market and in building some of the world’s most remarkable new museums, often in partnership with western institutions such as our own. It is extraordinary then that those states should tolerate a culture that allows the illicit trade in antiquities to thrive and to be entirely accepted. None of those Gulf states, save Sharjah, has any antiquities law or proper law enforcement. The ruling families of those states, many of whom are personally committed to the arts and view it as part of their own nation’s rise to prominence, should examine their conscience and change that culture.

The third and final reason for our taking a greater interest in this matter, and it is the most important reason as far as this debate goes, is that while this cultural barbarism appears utterly hopeless—as hopeless as the rest of these conflicts—there are practical steps that we, as one nation, could take to make a real difference and that would do our reputation in the region and the world no harm.

First, we could raise the priority of this matter in our diplomatic efforts—at the UN where a resolution is being sought; in bilateral relationships with neighbouring countries such as Turkey; through our embassy in Beirut, a key conduit for this market; and in our relations with the Gulf states. There are those in Government and the British royal family who hold some sway with those ruling families in the Gulf states. In the longer term, we should bring into law The Hague convention on works of art from conflict areas, which would be a powerful symbol of intent. It is hard for us to continue to justify not signing it, especially as the United Kingdom—proudly for me, as someone who used to work in the art business—is the leading hub in the world for that growing and extremely successful business.

Secondly, in the spirit of the monuments men of the second world war, we could make a modest but far-sighted contribution by establishing a commission to gather information to establish the truth from the fog of the war and to introduce actions in concert with our partners around the world. That could be encouraged under the auspices of the unequalled expertise of the British Museum and, as the US has under the leadership of Secretary of State John Kerry, we could make some modest funds available to help those brave individuals on the ground, funding training and mentoring such as that conducted by the British Museum and University college London both in person and, as it is the 21st century, over the internet via Skype. We could help them to inventory their collections, which is key. We need to work with groups such as the one that contacted me—the brave monks in Irbil who are scrabbling to digitise their manuscripts to preserve Iraq’s Christian heritage while time allows.

Culture is frequently neglected by the international development community in development plans and in funding choices, despite its obvious contribution to civil

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society, reconciliation and rebuilding economies post-conflict. I suspect that that is because most of us who live in and enjoy the west and our rich cultures take that for granted, like the air that we breathe. That is not the case in many parts of the world and certainly not in Syria and Iraq today.

Lastly, in case the deeply disturbing networks of organised criminals and terrorists seek to bring this material to our shores in the future, we should get our own house in order by ensuring that our counter-terrorist financing specialists include this work in their many priorities. It might indeed prove easier to trace these works, which are often large, difficult to transport and known to experts.

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): I am listening with fascination and horror to my hon. Friend’s account of what is happening. Does he agree that the importance of this cannot be overestimated? The first written work, the epic of Gilgamesh, is still being uncovered and studied, but the horror is that there are things we will never know about that great work because they have already been destroyed.

Robert Jenrick: I concur. These works, once lost, will never be recovered and many have not been properly inventoried. There are not the records that there should be. The inventory of the Kabul museum is only still being finalised with the help of the university of Chicago years after the start of the conflict. These efforts take time and resources, and they require the support of the western community.

On counter-terrorism, I suspect that it will prove easier to trace some of these incredibly dark and dangerous networks through antiquities than through drugs or arms. They are all bound inextricably together. That work must be done, understandably, without fanfare, but it is incredibly important and I would love to have reassurance that our expertise is being deployed in this area.

We should resource our current but woefully inadequate law enforcement in this area. The only dedicated law enforcement in this country is the Metropolitan police’s art and antiques squad, which comprises three officers. They are wonderfully dedicated individuals, but they are so hopelessly under-resourced that they are reportedly unable even to attend the relevant Interpol conferences to discuss and co-ordinate these activities. That is policing from an era of lovable antiques rogues in the spirit of Lovejoy and is totally not fit for purpose in dealing with serious organised crime, terrorist financing and the greatest destruction of works of art that we have known for half a century. That is unacceptable and warrants a review.

We could encourage co-operation, the key to fighting the trade in illicit antiquities, and promote good market behaviour such as the voluntary decision of some of the auction houses to set the year 2000 as one before which sellers must prove the provenance or the collected history of works of art, effectively shrinking the market for illicit works. That good practice is occurring and there is good news within this country, but it deserves the support of Government and deserves some co-operation. The Government could aid those efforts by appointing a co-ordinator to lead on the issue, bringing together the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

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and could bring the museums, the art trade and law enforcement together to ensure that this country is a shining example of responsible cultural stewardship, whether in our great public collections or in the art business.

In conclusion, we are witnessing cultural barbarism at its worst and its consequences run deeper than arts and culture. Madness is being applied to monuments and sculptures are being turned into tanks. I believe we should act to help Iraqis and Syrians protect and preserve their heritage against terror, acknowledging our shared culture and common responsibility. By acting, however modestly, in some of the ways that I have suggested—modest efforts will have the most practical effect—we will do a good that will last long after our own time and, in the world of politics, leave a legacy for future generations.

1.46 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): At 2 o’clock I must chair the Public Accounts Commission, so I will not be able to stay for the debate. I apologise to the House and I will try to come back.

I very much wanted to take part in the debate to talk about my personal experience, having visited both Syria and Iraq. I also felt that it was right to support my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). I support everything he said in his most impressive speech and I will not repeat all the excellent advice that he has given to our Government.

This issue might seem a long way away, but it is of the most dramatic importance. It is not just a cultural catastrophe, as my hon. Friend has outlined, but a humanitarian catastrophe of the first importance. One cannot divorce the preservation of artefacts from the preservation of local community. Only on Monday, Archbishop Warda of Irbil was at a meeting in the House of Lords, which I attended. He also gave a sermon in Westminster cathedral yesterday. He spoke most movingly about the trauma suffered by his community, which is of appalling proportions. The problems we have in our own country, the issues we were debating and getting very heated about in Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday and the budget I will be discussing later in the Public Accounts Commission all pale into insignificance when one listens to a man such as Archbishop Warda talk about his local community.

Twenty-five thousand Christian families have fled the Nineveh plain and 125,000 people—men, women and children—are without their homes. That is not happening in 1915 or 1940; it happened in August of last year. I have been to these places and I shall describe them a little in a moment, because I feel passionately that having started all this we have a responsibility to finish it.

Let me first follow on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark was saying about Syria. I have been to Syria, but I must admit it was not a recent visit. I have also received an invitation to speak at Damascus university on the plight of Christians, but I think that perhaps discretion is the better part of valour in not going to speak in Damascus at present. However, I have been to Damascus in the past and I visited the house in Straight street where St Paul was converted in the home of Ananias. Apparently that house is in good order and has not been destroyed. Whether that is because it is in a part of Damascus that is controlled by Assad forces, I do not know.

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As my hon. Friend said, the destruction in Syria has been truly appalling. According to the United Nations, 300 cultural sites in Syria have been affected by the civil war. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research has accumulated a great deal of knowledge on what has been going on. Focusing on 18 areas of particular importance, UNITAR found 24 sites destroyed, 104 severely damaged, 85 moderately damaged and 77 possibly damaged. Those are sites of world heritage status. Such status is not granted casually; they are vital sites.

In one world heritage site in Syria, the old city of Aleppo, UNESCO believes that 121 historical buildings have been damaged or destroyed—equal to 30% to 40% of the area covered by the world heritage designation. The minaret of the 11th-centuryUmayyad mosque has been toppled, while the citadel of Aleppo is being occupied by military forces and has suffered at least three violent explosions.

The oldest surviving Byzantine church, that of St Simeon Stylites, built on the site of the famed hermit’s pillar, is at risk given its location 19 miles north-west of Aleppo. There is also damage to Krak des Chevaliers, which was created by the Hospitaller order in the 12th century. I should declare an interest because I am a Knight of that order. We are still around after all these centuries, trying to do good work in hospitals around the world, particularly in the middle east, and the work is extremely challenging. Illegal excavations are occurring in the Valley of the Tombs and the Camp of Diocletian—some of them undertaken using heavy machinery, bound to do a great deal of damage. The damage in Syria has been absolutely appalling.

I now turn to Iraq. When Saddam Hussein was in power, I visited the Christian communities there. I also visited Babylon, which, of course, is one of the great wonders of the world. Alexander the Great chose it to be the capital of his world empire. Following the mistaken invasion of Iraq, the coalition, unbelievably, created a military base right on top of the archaeological site, 150 hectares in size.

Babylon is a strange place. There is a lot of pastiche renovation undertaken by Saddam, but the damage to Babylon has been appalling since the invasion and it is getting worse, so I think that we do have a certain responsibility. Looters have attacked cities such as Nimrod and Nineveh, whose names resound with biblical and literary echoes that have rolled down the centuries, and they are now at the centre of destruction.

Let me quote from the prophet Nahum, whose tomb I visited in the village of al-Quosh. Of all the villages that I visited in the Nineveh plain in 2008, only two of those Christian villages—and I visited several—have not been occupied by ISIS forces. They are the villages of al-Qosh and Sharafiya. In the village of al-Qosh one can still find the tomb of the prophet Nahum, and what he wrote all those years ago still resounds today:

“Take ye the spoil of the silver, take the spoil of the gold: for there is no end of the riches of all the precious furniture. She is destroyed, and rent, and torn: the heart melteth, and the knees fail, and all the loins lose their strength: and the faces of them…are as the blackness of a kettle.”

That was Nahum talking thousands of years ago, and his tomb is right there, in one of the only two Christian

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villages that have not been pillaged and had their population expelled and churches trashed.

Unbelievably, in 2008 I was saying much the same thing. I organised a debate in Westminster Hall on the plight of the Christians and the Christian sites in the Nineveh plains. I also quoted Nahum, who said:

“Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them.”

I said in that debate—it is there in Hansard

“When I went to the Nineveh plains, what struck me was that there was a sense of security in those ancient, entirely Christian villages. I met many displaced people who had come up from Basra and Baghdad to settle in the Nineveh plains, and I heard some absolutely heart-rending stories.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 26WH.]

I went on to describe them.

It is extraordinary that, having started all this mess, having invaded Iraq—Saddam, for all his faults, was protecting some of these sites—

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Nicking stuff from them.

Sir Edward Leigh: Yes, but they were not actually being looted and the population was not actually being dispersed. Although things were bad under Saddam—I am no apologist for Saddam—I can tell my hon. Friend that they are infinitely worse there.

Back in 2008 I was given various reassurances by the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Bill Rammell, who told me:

“It is difficult to separate this issue from the broader picture in Iraq which, as a result of improving security and progress towards reconciliation, is a far brighter one than we have seen for several years—certainly brighter than it was a year ago.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 41WH.]

We have a responsibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark has given some practical ideas of what we can do, but I have visited those churches and I have listened, in those churches in the Nineveh plains, to services being held in Aramaic, the ancient tongue of our Lord, and I know that it is impossible to separate the expulsion of a people from the issue of the protection of those sites. ISIS, as a result of coalition bombing, has retreated from quite a few villages on the Nineveh plains. The Christian population could possibly be enticed to go back there—because the best way to protect the villages and the archaeological sites is to get the original population back—but they are too terrified to return because they do not trust the Iraqi army.

When ISIS enter a Christian village, they tell the Christians that they have three choices—“You leave, or you convert to Islam, or you die”—so most leave. If ISIS discover that someone is a Shi’a, they give them no choice; they kill them. I am afraid, however, that the Christian population in the Nineveh plains do not have confidence that the Iraqi army, dominated by Shi’as—because many Sunnis have joined or collaborate with ISIS—can protect them. It is therefore down to us.

I am not suggesting that we send some regiment from Aldershot to those burning hot plains where they will make themselves a target, but surely there must be a way forward. Having, in a sense, destabilised Iraq and put the Christian population at risk, can we just walk away and say, “We have fulfilled our side of the bargain by just putting in six planes”? I think we have to do far

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more than that. We have to arm the local Christian population; that is what they are asking for. I asked that question specifically of Archbishop Warda on Monday. He said, “That is what we want you to do—send in the international peacemakers, protect our people, let our people go back to our villages, and then we can protect their sites.” The same thing, surely—although it would be an infinitely more difficult and complicated picture—applies to Syria.

I will end on that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark has done a great service to the House in directing our attention to the appalling problems and humanitarian and cultural disaster going on in that part of the world. I hope that people in our country feel that, given our history, we have some sense of responsibility.

1.58 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): It is a real pleasure to be able to speak in a debate such as this, which seems to be on a rather obscure and specialist subject. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) so ably put it, there are far greater ramifications of what is going on in the cultural pillaging of Syria and Iraq beyond the appreciation of culture and the great treasures that are gradually disappearing.

I declare an interest not only as the vice chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on archaeology and chairman of the British Museum all-party group, but as someone who has studied Mesopotamology at Cambridge. It is not often that one gets the opportunity to revisit one’s studies in this place. I have also visited Syria twice. On my last visit there, five years ago, we went to Aleppo, a city which I think we would find hard to identify now. I found the museum there and went in search of some of the excavations by the great Mesopotamologist Sir Max Mallowan, who went to school at Lancing college in my constituency and was, of course, married to Agatha Christie. When I eventually found some of the finds from Tell Brak—one of his great excavations—rather alarmingly, I was asked by the guard who was on duty which of them I would like to buy.

Preservation of antiquities in Syria and Iraq has always left rather a lot to be desired, but there is a sense of déjà vu about this issue. After the first Gulf war there was extensive looting of the regional museums in Iraq in particular—that cradle of civilisation, Mesopotamia, to which my hon. Friends have alluded. It is estimated that the museums in Basra, Kufa and Kut, the great Nebuchadnezzar museum in Babylon and the museums in Kirkuk and Duhuk lost between them something like 4,000 priceless objects.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and after the great museum of Baghdad was miraculously almost untouched by the bombing, in April 2003 it fell foul of the looters. That was one of the great museums of the world; it had one of the greatest collections of cultural treasures in the world—treasures from Ur, Babylon, Nineveh, Nimrod and Ashur, examples of the earliest writing, fantastic cylinder seals and cuneiform clay tablets. Some 15,000 objects from the Sumerian, Akkadian and other periods were pillaged, including 5,000 cylinder seals, and gold and silver objects. Among them was, famously, the great vase of Warka, from the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk, one of the great treasures of the world. It was

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found in the temple complex of the Sumerian goddess Inanna by German archaeologists back in the 1930s. It is one of the earliest known surviving works of narrative relief sculpture with human figures, going back to the fourth millennium BC. That vase was wrenched from its base in the cabinet in the Baghdad museum. Then it went missing.

There followed an incredible story which is probably much more interesting than what happened in that rather poor film, “The Monuments Men”, about a fascinating part of history. A small delegation of mostly reservists from America were put in charge of trying to retrieve some of those treasures from the Baghdad museum. An amnesty was issued and, remarkably, out of those 15,000 objects, some 4,000 gradually trickled back to the museum. That included, remarkably, the great vase of Warka. Its return was described in The Times back in 2003. Three unidentified men in their early twenties turned up outside the Baghdad museum driving a rather clapped-out red Toyota. The Times went on:

“As they struggled to lift a large object wrapped in a blanket out of the boot, the American guards on the gate”—

at the Baghdad museum—

“raised their weapons. For a moment, a priceless 5,000-year-old vase thought to have been lost in looting after the fall of Baghdad seemed about to meet its end. But one of the men peeled back the blanket to reveal carved alabaster pieces that were clearly something extraordinary. Three feet high and weighing 600 lb intact, this was the Sacred Vase of Warka, regarded by experts as one of the most precious of all the treasures taken”

during that looting.

The vase of Warka was returned. There was great concern because it was in about 20 pieces, so it was thought to have been damaged. In fact, when the Germans dug it up in the 1930s, it was in about 20 pieces, so with a lot of conservation work and a good deal of glue the great vase of Warka was put back together. Alas, I do not know where the great vase of Warka is at present; whether it has been taken to a site of safety, I do not know. Others may have more information on that.

We had a fascinating talk from one of the reservist colonels who led that group of American soldiers retrieving those objects, who came to Parliament some years ago. Indeed, a book has been published about the looting of the Baghdad museum. He told us the story of the red Toyota and he showed us some amazing pictures. The looters tried to get into the Bank of Baghdad, where many of the treasures had been taken for safety, the gold treasures in particular.

I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who has now left the Chamber, that quite a lot of things that were thought to have gone missing were in the private collection of Saddam Hussein and other members of the Government of Iraq, so Saddam did his bit for early looting.

Among the pictures is a photograph taken from the vaults of the bank in Baghdad where, apparently, some rather hapless looters used a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to try to get through a solid steel German safe door. All the picture shows is a small dent in the safe door and a pair of boots from a hapless individual who tried to gain access. Fortunately, the looters did not succeed and many of the treasures in that bank vault were later returned to the Baghdad museum.

So there is a history of looting in that country. In addition to the 4,000 objects which were returned during

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that amnesty, over subsequent months and years further objects were recovered from Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Italy and the United States. It is estimated that around half of those looted objects were returned. Where they are now, I do not know. Where the others went to, we do not know.

This debate is timely. We are about to see the release of a film about the amazing life of Gertrude Bell based on the book by Georgina Howell, “Daughter of the Desert”. Gertrude Bell was an extraordinary individual who, in her time, was the oriental secretary to the high commissioner for Iraq. She played a part in the Cairo conference in 1921, alongside Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and others. She was part of those who created the constitution of Iraq and she was also responsible for the founding of the museum of Baghdad in 1926, the major hall of which is devoted to her memory.

What happened in the 1920s sowed the seeds of what we are reaping now—what has happened in recent decades in Iraq and the greater middle east, and the history that produced Saddam Hussein. So the debate is timely. The situation in Iraq and in Syria, as we have heard, is difficult to assess, because for obvious reasons we cannot get access. I, too, have been speaking with the British Museum, which has been liaising with the UK Border Force and other agencies in case any of those objects come into our geographical territory. I have also been speaking to Sam Hardy, to whom I think my hon. Friend the Member for Newark has spoken as well. He is an archaeologist who has spent a long time specialising in the illicit trade in antiquities.

We have limited information, but from the aerial photos it is very clear that so many of these important sites have been badly damaged and looted. There have been extremely disturbing reports, to which my hon. Friend alluded, of the cold-blooded execution of those who bravely guarded these great museums, in particular the museum in Nineveh, where the site guards lost their lives trying to protect those priceless objects.

The destruction of Syria’s archaeological sites has become catastrophic. There are unauthorised excavations going on, and the plunder of and trafficking in stolen cultural artefacts which is an escalating problem. Many of the objects have already been lost to science and society, and the context in which many of them are being dug up in unsupervised conditions will be lost for ever. The trading in looted Syrian cultural artefacts has apparently become the third largest trade in illegal goods worldwide. It is big business. Back in the 1960s it was a buyer’s market as there were few national collectors interested in Islamic art or other antiquities in Syria, but that has changed dramatically since the Gulf countries—Qatar and Abu Dhabi in particular—have become interested in the artefacts. There is also great interest in China and from Germany.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a crossroads of trade and culture for countless centuries, has been especially hard hit. Its vast, labyrinthine souk—the largest covered souk in the world—was tragically gutted by a fire in 2012. The Citadel, a castle that dates back to 3,000 BC, has been damaged. The minaret of the Umayyad mosque was toppled by fighting in 2013. Hundreds of other

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sites have been looted. Shops selling Syrian antiquities dot the Turkish side of the border, just 40 miles north of Aleppo.

Another wonderful site is Palmyra. I remember my visit to Palmyra—one of the most beautiful and dramatic archaeological sites in the world. I got up to see the sun rise from the temple of Bel. I had the entire complex of that huge Roman city to myself. I fear the security there left a lot to be desired in those days, let alone now, open as it is. It is an ancient settlement founded in around 2,000 BC, made famous by the great Queen Zenobia—a caravan city during Hellenistic and Roman times, on the edge of the Roman empire. Serious damage has been happening there. Syrian authorities confiscated three busts from Palmyra dating from 200 AD that had apparently been hacked off a tomb.

The majority of looted artefacts from Syria are now being held in antiquity investment storage pits and other stash sites for future sale at higher prices once the buyer’s market glut of cultural heritage artefacts has dissipated. In effect, these objects are being warehoused for people to make a fast buck in future. They will re-emerge, but in the meantime we have little intelligence as to where they are or whether they are being looked after properly. I am afraid that while countries such as China have a ravenous appetite for these archaeological artefacts, this market will exist. We need to appreciate the scale of destruction that is going on, with priceless objects plundered and hidden, and sites destroyed, losing vital historical information and its context for ever.

Some hon. Members—not in your case, I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker—do not appreciate culture and the importance of the amazing sites and priceless antiquities that several of us have mentioned. However, there are also major implications for how we deal with terrorism, how we rebuild that troubled part of the world in future, and how we approach international aid. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newark said, people who buy looted artefacts from Syria or Iraq are feeding insurgencies, fuelling the purchase of arms, and financing foreign extremists and mercenaries, as well as all sorts of other criminality.

It is estimated that looting is IS’s second largest revenue source after oil sales. My hon. Friend alluded to 4,000—although I think the figure is nearer to 4,500—archaeological sites, including UNESCO world heritage sites, which are now under the control of IS. Iraqi intelligence claims that IS alone has collected as much as $36 million from the sale of artefacts. It is the equivalent of what the Taliban were doing through the cultivation and sale of heroin in Afghanistan to feed markets in the west. We took that very seriously, and it was a priority for the invading and occupying forces in that country. Yet the devastation and profit involved in the plundering of these sites and the sale of antiquities does not seem to register remotely as clearly on the radar of the world.

We are facing a quadruple threat. First, jihadists are looting these sites, claiming some sort of religious reason for doing so—my hon. Friend the Member for Newark alluded to the destruction of the Great Buddhas of Bamiyan—but they in fact, entirely hypocritically, profiting on international black markets from their destruction. Secondly, it is alleged that President Assad is knowingly selling antiquities to pay his henchmen. There are videos showing Assad’s soldiers at Palmyra, some time ago,

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ripping out grave relief sculptures and smiling for the cameras as they are loaded on to trucks. Thirdly, the Free Syrian Army, in its various different guises, is looting antiquities as a vital source of funding. Fourthly, an increasingly active part of the population is involved in looting. Ordinary people are looting Syria’s cultural heritage because they have no jobs, income or tangible economic prospects, and are increasingly turning to age-old plundering techniques, in some cases looting to order. As a result of the activities of those four different parties, the fantastic culture of Syria and Iraq is being systematically plundered, yet that is hardly featuring on the radar in the west. We are also having to face the consequences of the financing of terrorist organisations through the plunder of antiquities.

Looking forward to a day in future when peace, in some form, comes to the region, the looting also threatens to deprive Syria, in particular, of one of its best opportunities for a post-conflict economic recovery based on tourism, which until the conflict started contributed some 12% of national income. There is the fantastic site at Palmyra that I mentioned; Dura-Europos, a fantastic Hellenistic caravan city; Ebla, a bronze age site; the Hama water wheels; the third millennium city of Mari; and the cities of Raqqa and Ugarit.

What should we be doing? My hon. Friend mentioned some practical solutions that we need to address with a greater sense of urgency. Collecting looted antiquities is a white-collar crime. The 1970 UNESCO convention, from an international law perspective, is a rather weak measure that exacts, at the most, a slap on the wrist for violators. The 1995 UNIDROIT—International Institute for the Unification of Private Law—convention is stronger and could potentially enforce more robust international law. Yet, for that very reason, far fewer countries have ratified it, fearing that it might target their citizens’ auction houses and museums. Another problem is that the law frequently differs between the source country from which the artefacts are looted and the country to which they are smuggled and then sold. That is a defence lawyer’s dream come true.

After the maelstrom of violence in the region, a 2003 United Nations resolution called on all 197 UN members to stop the trade in Iraqi antiquities without verified provenance. That now also applies to Syria. The European Union has recently banned the import of antiquities from Syria, but, inexplicably, this prohibition has not been followed by the International Council of Museums. Interpol has drawn up red lists of material known to be stolen from Syria. UNESCO has held workshops on how to combat the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage property from Syria and elsewhere. One sign of progress, I hope, is a new law in Germany that could point the way forward in requiring a certified export licence for an antiquity in order to secure an import licence. That is encouraging, but it still does not tackle the situation in the Gulf states and in China, in particular, where such safeguards are not in place.

As my hon. Friend said, we need, on a practical level, a proper survey of exactly what is going on before we can come up with solutions. There is a pressing need for more training of more specialists who can work in customs offices and at airports and sea ports to intercept some of these things and investigate whether there is any information about their having hit the market. He also mentioned the draft resolution before the UN

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Security Council requiring all member states to prevent the sale of antiquities from Syria, similar to the measure passed 10 years ago on antiquities from Iraq.

My hon. Friend alluded to blood diamonds. Everybody knows what blood diamonds are. There was a very successful film about blood diamonds. They have ended up on everybody’s blacklist, and we understand why. We should apply the same criteria to antiquities of such importance from these countries. It should be easier to do that because they are more easily identifiable and we know their provenance, as opposed to one diamond looking very much like another. That is the approach that we should be taking. There should be no excuse for being any part of a trade in these illicit antiquities that have been taken from their rightful homes in Syria and in Iraq.

By participating in such trade, and by countries not doing everything they possibly can to clamp down on it, we are creating a rod for our own back, because it allows for the financing of terrorist activities, which have affected our everyday lives, not to mention those of the brave servicemen and women who go to fight the cause in the middle east and try to contain the turbulent situation in those two troubled countries. We ignore the pillaging of their cultural background at our peril. To those who think that those dusty sculptures from centuries ago are of no relevance, I say that they are absolutely key to how we deal with that part of the world and, most importantly, hopefully to how we restore peace to a particularly troubled part of the globe.

2.20 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) on persuading the Backbench Business Committee to hold this debate, on the quality of his speech and on his success in persuading the hon. Members for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) to come along and make excellent and provocative—in the best sense of the word—speeches.

The hon. Member for Newark rightly referred to the danger the current conflict in Syria and Iraq poses to the peoples of both countries and to its implications not only internationally and domestically, but for some of the world’s great cultural sites in both countries. As he said, any debate about the damage to Syria and Iraq’s great cultural sites cannot ignore the security realities in those two countries, whose peoples are experiencing huge turmoil. The hon. Member for Gainsborough underlined the fact that thousands of lives have been lost and millions have been forced to flee their homes as sectarian, religious and political fault lines have opened. Ensuring an effective response to the rise of ISIL remains fundamental and we as a country must continue to play our part in ensuring that Iraq has the political, security and diplomatic support required, including strong support for the Kurdistan Regional Government and the peshmerga.

In Syria, ISIL-governed territory is being used to draw in, train and radicalise jihadists, including from Britain. Although the Assad regime cannot have a long-term future, the international community must continue to maintain efforts to achieve a transitional agreement of the type envisaged in the Geneva II process. I recognise the scale

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of the barriers to such an agreement, but the threat posed by ISIL must continue to be a motive for our international efforts.

As the three hon. Members who have already spoken underlined, both Iraq and Syria are exceptionally rich in terms of their cultural heritage. Indeed, parts of what is now Iraq and Syrian territory have long been regarded as the cradle of human civilisation. There are an enormous number of ancient sites in both countries, including Syria’s great Umayyad mosque, the 13th-century citadel that is part of the world heritage site in Aleppo, the site of Palmyra, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned, the Krak des Chevaliers and the Salah Ed-Din, the ancient city of Bosra and the many monuments in Damascus. It is clear that Syria has much to lose in terms of its cultural heritage from the ongoing conflict. As the three previous speakers have outlined, Iraq, too, has much to lose, including the ancient cities of Ashur and Samarra, and many other great sites of cultural heritage, which are under attack from the conflict within its borders.

There may be some outside this House who ask, “Does what’s happening to those cultural sites in Iraq and Syria really matter? If it does, is it really that important for the UK?” I share the view of the three previous speakers that it does matter and that, at its most basic level, heritage gives us a sense of place, gives a people a sense of their shared identity, and helps to bind nations together. Even though we in the UK may never visit some or all of the sites mentioned in this debate, our shared humanity means that parts of our common heritage are being attacked.

As the excellent Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN-Arab League joint special representative for Syria, said recently:

“Destroying the inheritance of the past robs future generations of a powerful legacy, deepens hatred and despair and undermines all attempts to foster reconciliation.”

Indeed, the director general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has talked of attacks on cultural heritage being, on occasion, part of a strategy of deliberate cultural cleansing, with implicitly a recognition that it is designed to erode collective identity, encourage hatred and therefore make it easier for people to access less tolerant, less inclusive, more hostile and destructive ideologies.

It is therefore not a surprise that ISIL has been involved in much of the worst recent attacks on cultural heritage, blowing up, for example, the shrine to the prophet Jonah in Mosul. There are also reports of ISIL bulldozing ancient statues along with Sufi and Shi’a shrines in Raqqa province.

As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham was at pains to point out, however, it is not just ISIL that is at fault. The Syrian air force bombed the Krak des Chevaliers, and looters have taken advantage of the lack of Government to destroy eastern Syria’s ancient Roman city of Dura-Europos. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s assessment of what is being done locally, in this incredibly dangerous and difficult conflict, to safeguard a series of key cultural sites in Syria and Iraq that are under sustained attack.