A Liberal Democrat minister has accused political rivals of “manufacturing a race row” over comments where he suggested an influx of Somali immigrants were causing pubs to close.
Stephen Williams, a communities and local government minister, was speaking in the House of Commons on Monday on new laws making it harder for pubs to be demolished or converted when he made the remarks.
“A blanket protection for every single public house in the country, which is what the new clause envisages, would protect pubs that for various reasons are no longer enjoying the patronage of the community,” he said.
“In my constituency, lots of pubs have closed, but it is usually because of demographic change. Some parts of my constituency, which had a ‘white working-class community’ 20 or 30 years ago, are now populated primarily by recently arrived Somalis and other people.
“Obviously the pubs in those areas have closed, and some have been converted to other uses, but some of them are still derelict.”
The MP for Bristol West was referring to clause 16 of the new Infrastructure Bill, which would enable local people to voice their opposition to pub closures by forcing any change of use to go through the full planning process.
Mr Williams’ comments were criticised on social media by people saying it was not the fault of Muslims and non-drinkers that pubs were closing.
The controversial beer tie, cheap supermarket alcohol, the smoking ban and lifestyle changes were all put forward as reasons for their decline.
But speaking to the Bristol Post, Mr Williams accused local Labour Party activists and the conservative newspaper that originally published his comments of stoking controversy by “manufacturing a race row” in the marginal seat.
“To suggest I am a racist because of pointing out a demographic shift change as a statement of the facts is absurd,” he said.
“In my 22 years as a councillor and MP in this city I have engaged with all communities and I have consistently helped the Somali population with engagement and events.”
Bristol has an estimated Somali population between 10,000 and 15,000 people, the newspaper reported.
According to Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, pubs are closing at a rate of 29 per week in the UK – almost twice the number seen in 2011.
Tim Page, the group’s chief executive, said the fact it is currently possible to convert a pub into a betting shop or supermarket without planning permission made it “too easy” for them to be lost without the local community having a say.
“Given the huge contribution that pubs make to community life in Britain we believe this cannot be right,” he added.
“The clause is a fantastic opportunity to get the Government to take swift action to close these planning loopholes.
English Inns: The Big Six
English Inns: The Big Six
1/6 The Gunton Arms, Norfolk
The Gunton Arms, Norfolk
Soak up the history in this remote inn, situated in the 1,000-acre deer park which surrounds Gunton Hall, near Cromer in north Norfolk. Stuart Tattersall, former head chef at Mark Hix, heads up the kitchen, incorporating venison from the surrounding park into the menu. The inn also has a snooker table for guests who fancy a different sort of game. Bedrooms are traditionally floral and there's also a private living room for guests, complete with a log fire.
Cromer Road, Thorpe Market, Norfolk NR11 8TZ (01263 832010; theguntonarms.co.uk). Doubles from £95, B&B.
2/6 The Fuzzy Duck, Warwickshire
The Fuzzy Duck, Warwickshire
This quintessentially English country pub, just a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, was renovated in 2013 and reborn as a boutique bed and breakfast. The building retains many of its distinctive coaching inn features, including exposed beams and flagstone floors. The bedrooms are light and bright with neutral furnishings. Hunter wellies can be borrowed for muddy walks, while top-quality comfort food and real ales await after a long, bracing walk.
Ilmington Road, Armscote, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 8DD (01608 682635; fuzzyduckarmscote.com). B&B from £110.
3/6 The Punch Bowl, Cumbria
The Punch Bowl, Cumbria
This posh gastro pub with bedrooms and a bar has been named Cumbria Dining Pub of the Year in The Good Pub Guide 2015. Situated in the heart of the Lyth Valley in Crosthwaite, The Punch Bowl combines traditional pub food – served at the bar – with more formal restaurant dining. Rooms are individually furnished with hand-picked throws and flat screen televisions. The spacious bathrooms come with Bath House toiletries. Rates include complimentary afternoon tea.
Crosthwaite, Kendal LA8 8HR (01539 568237; the-punchbowl.co.uk). Doubles from £105, B&B.
4/6 The Craven Heifer, Yorkshire
The Craven Heifer, Yorkshire
This family-run establishment in the Yorkshire Dales has seven themed bedrooms, all designed around famous Yorkshire men and women, including Dame Judi Dench, Henry Moore and David Hockney. Cabaret, named after Dench's first stage play, includes a feature wall with a timeline of the actress's career, red velvet curtains and a dressing-room mirror. The restaurant has a "Yorkshire Favourites" menu, as well as afternoon tea for hungry hikers.
Main Street, Addingham, Ilkley LS29 0PL (01943 830106; thecravenheifer.com). Doubles from £75, B&B.
5/6 The Red Lion, Somerset
The Red Lion, Somerset
Located in the pretty West Country village of Babcary, this thatched inn has six en-suite rooms, a beamed, flagstoned bar and an award-winning restaurant. The menu features local ingredients and changes daily. Bedrooms are equipped with Egyptian cotton bed linen and two rooms also come with sofa beds, ideal for families. The pub can also be booked as a wedding reception venue with its own marquee available to hire.
Main Street, Babcary, Somerton TA11 7ED (01458 223230; redlionbabcary.co.uk). Doubles from £110, B&B.
6/6 The Bell at Ticehurst, East Sussex
The Bell at Ticehurst, East Sussex
An orchard once stood on the site of this East Sussex pub, which might explain the silver birch trees sprouting from the floorboards of the bedrooms. The Bell opened four large lodges in October in addition to its seven double rooms; couples should check into the Love Nest lodge for a romantic night in a round bed, while music lovers should opt for Between the Lines, which comes complete with a turntable and classic vinyl records.
High Street, Ticehurst, East Sussex TN5 7AS (01580 200234; thebellinticehurst.co.uk). Doubles from £90, B&B.
“We urge every MP who supports local communities and local pubs to get behind this clause and help secure a better future for the great British pub industry.”
Charlotte Leslie, the MP for Bristol North West who tabled the clause said it was urgently needed to protect pubs.
"Of course there will be some pubs that simply are not viable, but we must reset the balance in favour of the community, not the big developers,” she added.
The Infrastructure Bill passed the third reading in the Commons and will now move to the House of Lords for consideration.Reuse content