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Pub Industry

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

10. What recent representations he has received from the public house industry on the future of that industry; and if he will make a statement. (287446)

The Department has regular dialogue with representatives of the pub industry and other areas of the tourism and hospitality industry. That is essential to ensure that licensing policy reduces unnecessary burdens on small businesses while maintaining the necessary public protection.

That is all very interesting, but is the Minister aware that although responsible publicans—I am thinking particularly about such a group in the city of Wells—are doing what they can to counter irresponsible and antisocial drinking, when big retail chains sell loss-leading and discounted alcohol the pubs are blamed for the consequences? What is the Minister doing to counter that? What discussions has he had with the drinks trade to stop that particular unfairness, which is undermining responsible publicans?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He is right that responsible publicans ensure that they do not serve people who have had too much alcohol. Sometimes that causes problems outside their premises. We are working with the drinks industry. We responded to the all-party group on beer, members of which are present in the House today, in trying to look at the issues around pricing, and at a mandatory code to ensure that people do not have irresponsible promotions. Many such promotions are seen on the high street—for example, women can drink for free, or for £5 people can drink as much as they can. They are irresponsible promotions. Like him, I congratulate those publicans who act responsibly.

My hon. Friend is aware that the pub is part of the community. It is an important part of that fabric, but has he thought about the number of pubs that are empty? Has he considered the challenge of alcohol-free pubs as an alternative for young people? They would be a way of controlling young people, and of giving them a new way of life and an outlet.

My hon. Friend raises a good idea that has already been acted on in a number of areas. Buildings are being taken over and alcohol-free pubs are in place. I do not want people to run away with the idea that we think that that is a substitute for good community pubs. We want to see good, strong community pubs, and with empty pubs that may be a good idea to develop.