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Volume 564: debated on Thursday 13 June 2013

We are currently consulting on proposals to introduce a statutory code of practice and adjudicator for the pubs sector. The consultation closes tomorrow.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. In assessing the possibility of a code and adjudicator, will he take account of the experience of my constituents Peter and Sara Strawson of the White Horse in Quidhampton, who, like many others, though accepting the challenges of local competition and changing patterns of consumption, maintain that Enterprise Inns signed them up to a lease on a false prospectus and then, with a combined wet and dry rent footing, made their business completely uneconomic and unsustainable?

I think we all have such examples of publicans in our constituencies and it was that kind of experience that led to the Select Committee producing four reports on the subject. It also led to our seeking a voluntary code. In view of the lack of progress, we recommended a statutory code, on which we are now consulting. We have had about 6,000 replies, which is a remarkable response. I cannot yet assess the conclusions, but my hon. Friend’s example is fairly typical of many.

Like too many other landlords in Meon Valley, Angela Ryan, who until recently ran the White Hart pub in South Harting, has lost her battle to continue in business after facing unsustainable rent demands, again from Enterprise Inns. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will do everything in his power to redress the balance between landlord and owner, so that such SMEs have a reasonable prospect of continuing in business and our rural communities may retain their valued pubs?

My hon. Friend’s example reinforces the general point that I made a moment ago. I cannot pre-judge the outcome of the consultation and we have not yet studied the responses. The Government’s overriding objective is to achieve fair treatment for publicans in respect of rent and beer prices. I think that the mechanism that we have proposed will survive scrutiny.

The Secretary of State will be aware that there was a huge Fair Deal For Your Local rally in Parliament recently. It was attended by Members from all parts of the House who support Labour’s view that a statutory code for pub companies must include a mandatory free-of-tie option to hardwire fairness into the system. Is a fairer distribution of risk and reward an objective of the Government’s regulation?

It is an objective of our regulation to achieve a fair distribution of risk and reward. As I have said, the precise mechanism and whether we proceed with the adjudicator in the way that we have suggested very much depend on how we analyse the consultation. The results will of course be discussed in the House.

Yesterday’s news about Punch Taverns’ unsustainable debt and its row with the committee set up by the Association of British Insurers shows that the securitised pubco scam is a disaster not just for local pubs but for the British economy. Will the Secretary of State listen to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Forum of Private Business, all of which back Fair Deal For Your Local and the obvious solution, which is the market rent-only option?

We have listened to those three bodies and to many other people, and we are sympathetic to their concern. However, the precise mechanism that is adopted—I am sorry to be repetitive—depends on the results of the consultation.