[Relevant documents: The Second Report from the Trade and Industry Committee, Session 2004-05, on Pub Companies, HC 128 and the Government’s response, HC 434. The Seventh Report from the Business and Enterprise Committee, Session 2008-09, on Pub Companies, HC 26. The Third Special Report from the Business and Enterprise Committee, Session 2008-09, on Pub Companies, HC 798. The Fifth Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Session 2009-10, on Pub Companies: follow-up, HC 138, and the Government’s response, HC 503. The Tenth Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Session 2010-12, on Pub Companies, HC 1369, and the Government’s response, Cm 8222. Oral evidence taken before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on 6 December 2011, HC 1690-i of Session 2010-12. The Fourth Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, on Consultation on a Statutory Code for Pub Companies, HC 314.]
I beg to move,
That this House notes that two years have passed since its resolution on pub companies of 12 January 2012; remains of the view that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee was right to state in its Fourth Report, on Consultation on a Statutory Code for Pub Companies, HC 314, that only a statutory code of practice which included a mandatory rent-only option for pub companies which own over 500 pubs, an open market rent review and an independent adjudicator would resolve the contractual problems between the big pub companies and their lessees; further notes that pub closures are increasing, and believes that the Government should by July 2014 bring forward legislative proposals to introduce a statutory code of practice of the kind recommended by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.
For many Members, January in Parliament means two things. First—for some— it means the worthy, if somewhat joyless, challenge of a dry month, and secondly, it means a parliamentary debate about pubs.
This is the third January in a row during which the House has debated the regulation of pub companies. We know that pubs in our local communities are among our constituencies’ most precious assets, and a quick trawl through the press releases expressing MPs’ dismay at the fact that much-loved pubs in their area face closure will reveal immediately what an emotive issue this is, and how passionate our constituents feel about it.
I know that Members on both sides of the House will agree that, economically, socially and culturally, pubs are part of the fabric of our great nation. As well as being community hubs, they make a huge contribution to our fragile economy. Each pub employs an average of 10 people—often young people; often women, including working mums—who are finding it particularly hard to obtain other work. When a pub closes, its local economy loses about £80,000. More widely, the production and sale of beer contributes about £19 billion to the United Kingdom’s GDP, and generates total taxation revenues of £10 billion each year.
Given that a wide body of experts and more than 27,000 other people signed the 38 Degrees petition on pubco reform in just four days, today is one of those—some would argue—all too rare occasions in an MP’s life when he can vote for something that is both popular and right. In the last decade, our expectations of our locals have changed, and consumers now rank food higher than beer or sociability among their reasons for choosing a pub. As I know there is so much common ground between many Members across the House, I shall argue the case for reform in as unpartisan a way as I am capable of. [Laughter.]
I hope the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to take that step. He is right to say that there have been huge problems with pub closures, but as a result of new policies introduced by Liberal Democrat-led Cambridge city council, not only are pubs not closing, but previously closed pubs are able to reopen. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the council on its excellent work, which has been supported by the Campaign for Real Ale and many other organisations?
I am possibly the only Member in the House who owns a pub. I am the chair of the John Clare Trust, which has bought the Exeter Arms, where Clare and his father used to sing and play. Unfortunately, it is closed at the moment, but we are determined to reopen it as a community pub.
I almost got carried away there, then my hon. Friend announced that his pub was in fact closed. However, the fact that his determination and vigour will ensure that it soon reopens gives us all a sense of enthusiasm and excitement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), a former Enterprise Inns landlord himself, will have the honour of winding up the debate. I also want to salute the many other hon. Members who are here today and who have previously raised this issue in debates here or in the press, or joined campaigns in their communities to highlight the problems caused by aggressive pub company behaviour.
In September 2011, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s fourth review of pub companies finally settled on the view that only a statutory code with a mandatory rent-only option would put the pubco relationship on a fairer footing. I was therefore disappointed by the suggestion in today’s Government amendment that Labour should have regulated this issue before. The Government will know that it was precisely because the Select Committee wanted to give the pubcos time to get their house in order that they were given a final chance in 2010, with a timetable that the Secretary of State supported when he first came into office.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather strange that the Government are using the previous Government’s decision to abide by a Select Committee recommendation as an excuse to ignore the current Select Committee recommendation?
My hon. Friend’s intervention gives me an excellent opportunity to put on record my gratitude—and that of the whole House and the wider coalition supporting the reform—for his work as Chairman of the Select Committee, which has led the way on this issue. I entirely agree that it is odd that, with such a large body of opinion in favour of the reform, it has been so difficult for the Government to support the recommendation that the previous Government were behind and that this Government said in 2011 that they would support.
Many people outside the House are clearly taking a great deal of interest in this debate. We have a lot of independent brewers in the south-west, and some fantastic beers are sold in the local pubs. Many publicans there have raised the issue of the way rents are passed on with little independent assessment. Is my hon. Friend going to say something about that?
My hon. Friend has successfully predicted what I am going to say. I will definitely touch on that issue, because it is one of the key elements of the debate.
I also want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the other contributions that have been made in the run-up to the debate by Members trying to support pubs in their area. The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) has been a determined campaigner on this issue. Among his many valuable contributions to the campaign, his article in the Yorkshire Post on 10 May was on message enough for the Liberal Democrat press office to promote it with the message that
“pubco terms are the biggest reason for pub closures”.
That was his view in May 2013, as I know it remains. Now, eight months later, I am disappointed to see that he has signed the amendment proposing that the Government need more time to come to the conclusion he has so consistently and persuasively argued for.
The hon. Gentleman might be disappointed, but I was disappointed that he has tabled this Opposition day motion. We have had a conversation about this. My belief is that support for this issue commands a majority in the House of Commons, and that we need to do this properly, rather than through an Opposition day debate. I look forward to getting the recommendation from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and, at that point, getting everyone on both sides of the House together to push this through.
I have tremendous respect for the hon. Gentleman, but those whose lives have been wrecked by the behaviour of the pub companies will look askance at the idea that, because of the nature of this debate, people will choose whether or not to vote for the motion. We had a Back-Bench debate on the issue two years ago, at which the motion was carried unopposed. However, the Government ignored it. In fact, it is only when the Opposition have brought pressure to bear that we seem to have achieved any movement on the issue. Today, in an entirely open and reasonable way, we are calling for all Members who feel strongly about this, as I know the hon. Gentleman does, to support the motion and give the Government the necessary impetus and the courage of their convictions to take the action that is so desperately needed.
One reason behind pub closures is the high taxation on spirits in general and on Scotch whisky in particular. Given that spirits and Scotch whisky account for 40% of the sales in pubs, and that the level of taxation continues to escalate, should not the Government look more closely at the inevitable loss of revenue involved?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. There are many aspects to the debate on the future of our pubs, but this debate is about the pub companies. I will therefore resist his offer to get drawn into what the shadow Chancellor should propose to do about the taxation of the Scottish whisky industry. However, my hon. Friend rightly identifies whisky as an important product for our pubs, for our economy and particularly for the Scottish economy. Whether the statistic that he has just given us lends any credence to Scottish people’s reputation for an enthusiasm for alcohol I will leave to Members to consider.
May I offer an example from my constituency to support the motion and illustrate the urgency of the matter? A constituent of mine moved into her pub a few years ago with the promise of significant investment being made in the property. Those repairs have never been carried out. She also has to buy her beer from the pub company; if she buys from elsewhere, the pub company fines her and charges her significantly more. Does not that illustrate why the motion is so important—particularly the part about rent-only tenancies—and why we need action now? Tenants such as my constituent cannot afford to wait any longer for action.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.
I shall outline how we have arrived at this position. We have now seen the full scale of the revelations from the Select Committee in its four different reviews over eight years. Examples have also been given by many Members from across the House on behalf of their constituents. The hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) are all well-known champions of the cause. Just a little research has revealed many more.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) has told the House about the landlords of the White Horse in Quidhampton, alleging that
“Enterprise Inns signed them up to a lease on a false prospectus and…made their business completely uneconomic and unsustainable”.—[Official Report, 13 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 476.]
The hon. Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery) has confirmed that
“unsustainable rent demands…from Enterprise Inns”—[Official Report, 13 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 476.]
led to the closure of the White Hart in South Harting. The hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) has written to Enterprise Inns to inform it that the Abbots Mitre in Chilbolton was
“under threat largely due to unrealistic rents and changes in terms and conditions.”
The hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) has written to Enterprise Inns asking it not to close the Lamplighters in Shirehampton.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has bemoaned Enterprise’s decision not to save the Little Owl, saying that
“a big company has failed to recognise a pub’s value to the community.”
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) was also concerned with saving the Owl, this time the one in Rodley, whose threatened closure he blamed on
“the mounting costs imposed by the building owners, Enterprise Inns”.
The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who has recently written an excellent article in support of a mandatory free-of-tie option, has said of the sale of the Porcupine in Mottingham that the public were
“incensed that their right to bid for the pub has been bypassed deliberately by Enterprise Inns and LiDL”.
The right hon. Member for East Devon (Mr Swire) told a packed crowd that he would be joining the campaign to save the Red Lion in Sidbury, which Punch Taverns was planning to sell. There are many more examples. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) joined the campaign that successfully saved the Wheatsheaf. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) was particularly busy: she was trying to save both the Clifton and the Star. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) campaigned to save the Bittern. The list goes on and on and on.
Today we are faced with a choice. We can race to the aid of pubs in distress in our communities—pubs that are the symptoms of the great pubco disaster that plays out in every one of our constituencies and leads to job losses and the loss of a treasured community asset. We can sign the petitions; we can beg the pub companies to be fair this time; we can complain that the rents were too high or that the companies sold a false dream; we can rage against how they did not understand or seem to care about the impact on our communities; we can bemoan that they changed the rules; or, finally, we can act.
Televised sport, especially football, is very important to many pubs. I have had news today that a pub in my constituency is in difficulty because Sky Sports wanted to charge £1,250 a month to show Sky Sports in the pub. Has the hon. Gentleman had any thoughts as to how we can try to get sport into pubs more cheaply or increase competition so pubs can show sport, especially football?
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. I know that many pubs have an agonising decision to make about whether they continue to show sport, which is incredibly expensive but attracts a lot of people through the door. I am sure he raises this question looking forward this weekend to Sheffield United playing Fulham on BT Sport, which can be watched in most good public houses at about 1 o’clock on Sunday afternoon.
The point the hon. Gentleman raises highlights the fact that the proposal we are discussing today is not a panacea for all the problems of the pub trade. If our motion is supported and the Government, with our support, swiftly bring forward regulation we can all back, it will not mean that all the problems will be solved and no more will be asked of Parliament. The sports issue is important and I will speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) about it, as he is putting forward Labour’s ideas on sport for the next manifesto.
I recently met a landlord who has managed to turn around a failing pub and increase the turnover. His reward is for all the extra money to be taken away in increased rent. That destroys the incentive for people to work hard and bring these pubs back.
That is an important point, and we hear it time and again. Given the economic difficulties and the difference between on-trade and off-trade alcohol, people understand that there are going to be difficult times for pubs. They will also recognise that some people are not suited to running a pub and, for whatever reason, are unable to make a decent fist of it. What sticks in the craw of most fair-minded people, however, is that the majority of those who take on major pubco tenancies end up earning under £10,000 a year. It is not a case of a few people doing very well, a reasonable number making a decent living and a small number failing; we are seeing the majority failing. Under the existing perverse disincentives, regardless of whether the pub does well or badly, the pub company does all right, and many people say that even when their trade grew they got hit with higher rents or higher prices that took away all the increased revenue they had generated. It is clear that there is a desperate imperative to act.
My hon. Friend recently rattled off a great long list of Members on both sides of the House who have rightly campaigned on this issue. Does he share my disappointment that as long ago as last January he brought a debate to this House during which the Government performed a U-turn saying they would seek to introduce a statutory code, which is absolutely necessary, and we had a lengthy consultation, but very little in terms of the legal framework has changed 12 months on?
I certainly do share my hon. Friend’s disappointment. My sense is that there is a lot of sympathy on this issue across the House and I want to bring people together rather than tear us apart. It is fair to say that a year ago the Government did a U-turn. I was not disappointed with that at all; I was delighted. They told the House that they were going to get on with the consultation. Many people were celebrating, and they went out drinking in the pubco pubs around the country that night. A few months later the consultation started and it finished about six months ago, yet despite the overwhelming response in favour of what we are proposing today and what the Government seemed minded to consider, we still have not actually had any action. We have not changed the situation on the ground for hard-pressed publicans and all those people who have seen their life-savings disappear and who want to know that the regime is going to improve for the people who follow them.
As I was saying, we can bemoan the situation, we can join the campaigns, or we can act. We can take court action on the cause of the closures. We have within our grasp today the opportunity to prove that actions speak louder than words and stand united across the House on behalf of our communities, but also on behalf of the hundreds who are looking to us to act. In just four days since Friday, 26,762 people have signed the 38 Degrees petition on the great British pub scandal.
CAMRA is an immensely important and well-respected body. It has the best interests of the pub in its heart and in its DNA; that is its raison d’être. It boasts a membership of almost 160,000, a staggering demonstration of the importance of real ale and pubs to people across our country. If I was seeking to make a political point, I might have mischievously pointed out that, with almost 160,000 members, CAMRA is bigger than the recently reported membership of the Conservative and Liberal Democrats parties combined, but as I said I wanted to be consensual, I am not going to mention that.
We all know that a fairer relationship between pub companies and their landlords is not a panacea that will end all the challenges faced by the trade. There are others and there will continue to be asks of us in Parliament even if we take action on this scandal today, but the fact that we cannot solve every problem does not mean we should not solve this major one. From the Federation of Small Businesses to the GMB, from CAMRA to the Forum of Private Business, from Fair Pint and the all-party save the pub group to Unite the Union, a diverse coalition of interests has consistently called for a new statutory code of regulation.
Let no one say that this House or the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee have rushed to judgment. Over four reports and eight exhaustive years, the Committee gave the major pub-owning companies every opportunity to make the changes that were needed to put their house in order, yet at every turn it found that the industry moved at a glacial pace, and always reluctantly, and only because of the scrutiny of the Committee.
Although I want to pay tribute to everyone involved in the work of the Select Committee and to say that I think the work done on pubco is a shining example of the Select Committee system at its best, it should not have to be the role of a Committee not only to investigate an issue but to be the body that constantly has to chase to see whether the assurances made to it have been kept. Following the final 2011 Select Committee report, there was widespread disappointment when the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) came to the House to defend opting for a self-regulatory regime. In January 2012 this House felt it had seen enough. We believed that voluntary regulation had failed and we voted unanimously for a statutory code, a vote that was ignored by the Government. Frankly, at every stage it has felt as though the Opposition and the Select Committee, ably supported by Members across the House, have had to make the running.
During oral questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in November 2012, there were three Labour pubco questions and it was suddenly announced that there would be an investigation into the success of self-regulation. A day before the Opposition day debate in 2013, the Government finally announced that they would consult on introducing a code to deliver a fairer balance between pub companies and their tenants. The response to the consultation was overwhelming: over 7,000 people responded, 96% were in favour of regulation, 67% were in favour of a mandatory free-of-tie option, 92% were in favour of open market rent assessment, and there was widespread support for a stronger independent adjudicator.
The strength of feeling was overwhelming, with 91% of respondents who ran a pub saying that the beer tie was one of the three biggest challenges facing their business, and more than nine in 10 saying they would take a free-of-tie option even if it meant paying a higher rent. It is therefore a little odd for the Government to say, as they do in their amendment, that they want to take more time to learn from the consultation. They chose the questions to ask and they got a big response. On almost all the big questions, the level of support was so overwhelming that even Robert Mugabe would have thought it was a bit one-sided, yet the Government then commissioned a report from London Economics, which critics felt was deeply flawed, apparently to try to persuade themselves against the view they appeared to have taken before their consultation. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the failure of the big pub companies than the desire to leave them on the part of the very people they consider to be their business partners. But for all the warm words expended on the Floor of this House and elsewhere, still nothing has changed in legal terms, and every week 26 pubs close.
If the Government do not introduce a Bill on this issue in the Queen’s Speech, it is impossible to imagine that there will be sufficient parliamentary time to pass one in this Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said on Sunday’s “The Andrew Marr Show”, if this Government fail the challenge set them today, everyone who feels strongly about this issue will know that, for all the rhetoric, only voting for a Labour Government will bring about the fairness that so many people so desperately want. Hon. Members will today have an opportunity to choose whether to be part of the solution or, I am sad to say, part of the problem.
There is no doubt that the existence of large pub companies, which own the vast majority of British pubs and often force their licensees to buy beer only from them, are distorting the market. As we consider their devastating impact, let us remember that 57% of Britain’s pubco publicans, people who often work among the longest hours of anyone in our communities, earn less than £10,000. The Federation of Small Businesses, brilliant advocates but hardly Marxist radicals, found in 2013 that a mandatory rent-only option would generate £78 million for the UK economy, that 98% of respondents would have more confidence in the success of their pubs and that almost 10,000 would take on extra staff or give their staff extra hours of work. Hon. Members will know that the FSB does not propose additional regulation lightly.
My own Chesterfield pubs survey mirrored many of those encouraging statistics, but also sounded a deadly warning about the cost of inaction, with many pubs saying that they were on the brink of closure and that increased rents and beer prices were key issues. This morning, the British Beer & Pub Association claimed that tied tenants’ pubs were cheaper, but that is far removed from the reality that people see in their community. At The Nags Head in Dunston in Chesterfield, I dealt with a Marston’s tenant who was competing with Marston’s managed houses just across the road that were selling the same product at up to £1 a pint less. The big pub companies and the BBPA will tell us, “Yes, there is the odd problem, but it is not typical.” They say, “You can’t offer general criticisms. We need to know about specific cases.” However, when we bring them specific cases they say, “Well, that’s just a one-off.” It seems that no evidence is good enough for them to recognise the reality of what people are seeing in their pubs. The BBPA and the pub companies are saying, “Mainly it’s just people who have failed in their businesses wanting to blame someone else.” I do not think that stands up to any sensible scrutiny.
Many businesses and industries have undergone tough times, particularly in the past five years or so, but they have not all universally claimed that they have been misled by their suppliers. Corner shops have closed, but MPs are not besieged by former Londis or Spar shopkeepers claiming they have been ripped off by Londis or Spar. People in business generally know the difference between tough market conditions and plainly misleading practices.
On that note, the BIS consultation last year was sobering reading for anyone who thought that the threat of regulation would cause the industry leopards to change their spots. It told of a married couple who produced a careful budget plan before signing a lease, only to find on the day they received the keys that their pub company increased the prices, meaning the couple can only afford to pay themselves one salary. We also heard about the couple who ploughed—
That has been preoccupying me for several minutes, Mr Speaker. None the less, I would not like the couple who ploughed their life savings into acquiring a pub only to find the agreed credit order with their pubco was unilaterally withdrawn, leaving the business in ruins, to be left out of my contribution. I am glad that they found their way in.
Our motion calls for three key steps to be taken that will ultimately lead to a better future for Britain’s boozers. First, we need a mandatorv free-of-tie option. The beer tie, whereby landlords can buy products only from their pubco, works for some licensees, but for many others it means that they can buy only limited products at inflated prices. We want every landlord to have the choice of whether to go free of tie. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), whom we all miss terribly, although she will be back with us soon, has previously said that she is
“committed to stamping out abuse of the beer tie”.
Clearly, there is only one way to do that.
The Government have previously committed to the principle that no landlord should be worse off than they would be in an otherwise free-of-tie pub, but the behaviour of the pub companies suggests to me that that will not happen without allowing the market to decide. Members who are worrying that such a measure would go against their free market principles should have no fear. What the pubcos are defending is an old- fashioned closed shop, whereas what we are proposing is a genuinely competitive market solution that stands up for the rights of the small entrepreneur.
Secondly, we need independent rent reviews. When a new licensee takes over a pub, or when an existing rent contract expires and is renegotiated, there should be a fully transparent and independent rent review, completed by a qualified surveyor. That would deal with so many of the horror stories that we have heard in this debate and previously.
Finally, there must be a truly independent body to monitor the regulations and adjudicate in disputes between licensees and pubcos. There is little confidence in how PICAS, the Pubs Independent Conciliation and Arbitration Service, or PIRRS, the Pubs Independent Rent Review Scheme, are operating, with many of the people going through the PICAS process unhappy with the outcome.
Those are our tests, which are grounded in the principles of building a market that works, with rules to prevent restrictive practices and big companies unfairly using their size in an uncompetitive way. I know that Members across the House share this vision, so let us unite today behind this vital British industry and this vital British institution, and deliver the change that publicans, licensees, business groups, trade unionists, beer enthusiasts and the great British public are crying out for. I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“welcomes the opportunity to debate the issue of fairness in the relationship between publicans and pub owning companies; notes the concerns, acknowledged by the Government in January 2013, about the failure of pub company self-regulation to rebalance risk and reward between the companies and their tenants and lessees; recognises the excellent work and the four Reports that the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee and predecessor Committees have produced over the years on this issue; further notes that the previous Government failed to take any position on this important issue until February 2010, just two months before the dissolution of Parliament and the end of its term in office; further notes that this Government held the first ever consultation to explore how best to protect tenants and lessees through a statutory code of practice backed by an independent adjudicator; further notes that this consultation received a very large response and that it is right that the Government carefully considers the huge volume of the evidence received as part of this consultation before publishing its response as soon as it can in 2014.”.
I welcome the opportunity to debate, again, fairness in the relationship between publicans and pub-owning companies, on which, at least on the broad principle, there is a wide measure of agreement. Perhaps I might thank the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) for what, by his standards, must rank as a calm and consensual introduction. I wrote down the word “statesmanlike” at one point, but that was probably a bit excessive, so we will save it for another occasion.
My own approach to the matter is slightly coloured by the fact that I have only just stepped off an aeroplane from a part of the world where tasting alcohol is likely to lead someone into prison, if they are lucky. Indeed, I spent yesterday evening in a bar where the most potent drinks on offer were “mocktails”. At least in this country we do value our pubs, not simply for the drinks but for the fact that this is a major industry, with a large number of small and medium-sized companies. The people who run them are hard-working and not well paid. Hundreds of thousands of people work in the industry, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, makes a contribution to the communities in which we live.
The central issue in the debate is not about the principles, which we have debated before and on which there is a lot of common ground, but, “Why the delay? Why have the Government not given a formal response?” Let me explain the point. We received a big response to the consultation, which, let us remember, was the first Government consultation on a specific set of proposals in the long period, under both Governments, during which the issue has been considered by the Select Committee and others. We had a formal consultation, to which there was a massive response. We received about 9,000 responses, more than 1,000 of which were very specific—they were often written communications with nuanced arguments, which we must try to address. We are trying to look at the evidence in an objective way. The evidence may well point in one direction, but there are competing studies; the London Economics survey has been mentioned, but another good study has been done by the Federation of Small Businesses. Such studies do give different arguments, which we must evaluate.
Let us also remember that the industry is a complex one, and it was not a simple “yes or no” issue. The consultation also covered a set of other issues, including flow monitoring, guest beer and the gaming tie, each of which must be examined properly, not to mention its open question, which was about the mandatory free-of-tie option and open market rent review. Everybody concerned with the matter knows that that is the core issue, on which, although there was a strong opinion, there was less unanimity. We must respond to those issues and try to come forward with a proposal that carries the House and as many of the stakeholders as possible. I am very conscious of the legislative timetable, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no attempt to delay on those grounds. We want to see action, but first we must provide a thorough and proper response to the consultation. Of course we have already released the evidence.
There is a lot of cross-party support for this matter, but I get the impression that the Government are taking for granted my good nature and that of other hon. Members. Will the Liberals go into the next general election having done absolutely nothing on this important issue?
I have a lot of sympathy for what has been said in the debate so far, but I am a little troubled by suggestions that this problem arose only in May 2010. I had an Adjournment debate on the issue during the previous Parliament, and a number of other debates were also held, but nothing was ever done. My right hon. Friend was right to suggest that this is not a simple issue.
I thank my hon. Friend, who remembers such things from his time in the House, for his reminder. We have, I think, had four Select Committee reports under different Governments. The matter has been actively debated for something in the order of eight years, and we have moved quickly on it in comparison with what went before.
The failure of the pub companies to self-regulate underlines the need for an adjudicator, as does the fact that a number of pubs are closing. Does the Minister not feel that there is a sense of urgency in relation to bringing in legislation?
As I will say later—we have covered the matter in earlier debates—we did try to encourage self-regulation. We drew the conclusion that the action had not been adequate, which is why we moved on to proposals for statutory regulation on which we are now consulting. We have been down that road; we have tried that.
I agree with the Secretary of State that it is important that we get this right. I must impress on him that there is a degree of urgency now with the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. Does he agree that we should recognise the fantastic job that local organisations, such as the Campaign for Real Ale group, are doing? In my area, CAMRA has pioneered a number of pub salvations, working with the community to ensure that the King’s Arms at Shouldham and the Dabbling Duck at Great Massingham were able to survive.
That was the purpose of the Government consultation. Statutory regulation was necessary, and we consulted on how to do it. We are now evaluating the results of that process. The House will soon hear our conclusions on how to take the matter forward.
Let me repeat my appreciation for the work that has been done by Members from all parts of the House. I also thank the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, whose Chairman is here, and the various campaigning groups for their work on the matter. It would not be amiss to single out Fair Deal For Your Local, which is the campaign that has been mobilised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland). As part of his campaign, he has brought together CAMRA, the Federation of Small Businesses and the GMB union as well as various other groups. We are talking about local and national groups across industry and across the country.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and for what he said about me being a statesman. If I may, I will press him on the timetable issue that has been raised. If he accepts that statutory regulation of some sort is necessary and the consultation overwhelmingly supports the majority of such aspects, will he at least commit to some sort of legislative action in the next Queen’s Speech, and will he say that we will not get to the end of this Parliament with nothing having changed?
I cannot really add to what I have already said. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are following a process. I am conscious of the legislative timetable, and he will remember—indeed it is the whole purpose of this debate—that the Government did not consult in an open-ended way over this question; we consulted on a specific proposal to introduce statutory regulation, and that is what we are responding to. Although I am conscious of the legislative timetable, I will not give a specific date on which this report will be concluded.
As a member of the Select Committee, I urge the Secretary of State to take action as soon as possible, but I do understand the need to listen to the consultation. A moment ago, he mentioned some of the broad campaigning that has gone into this matter, and the organisation Fair Deal For Your Local, which I support. Does he agree that it is unfair of Opposition Members to suggest that this Government have done nothing for pubs when we have paid attention to the important campaign to end the unfair and job-destroying beer duty escalator?
Indeed. I will go on to talk about some of the things that the Government have done to help the pub industry, the most important of which is the tax measure. The combination of the 1p cut and the abolition of the escalator is the equivalent of 4p on a pint. There have also been various other measures to support community pubs, of which my hon. Friend will be well aware.
I have two points to make. One relates to the many pubs in my constituency and the curry industry, which is worth about £4 billion, and the other to the inter-relationship between beer and curry. What assessment has the Secretary of State’s Department made of the impact on pubs and the alcohol and restaurant industries of the increase in VAT to 20%?
Just about every aspect of the fiscal and economic implications for this industry has been exhaustively reviewed, and I will try to find out the answer to that specific question from the various studies that have been done. I do not think that we have specifically analysed the interaction between beers and curries, but I am sure that there is a positive correlation.
Will the Secretary of State urge his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give full consideration in advance of the Budget to a reduction in VAT on the hospitality industry, as it is urgently required not only in Northern Ireland but by the British Hospitality Association?
I have met the hospitality industry and it has set out its case for a VAT reduction. As the hon. Lady will know, I do not make the decisions on what goes into the Budget on tax measures. I am sure that there are many other claims on the Budget in terms of tax reduction and spending. Certainly, the hospitality industry has been very effective in making its case.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the measured way in which he is considering all the responses to the consultation. Does he understand the concerns raised by the Office of Fair Trading about the free-of-tie proposal as outlined in the consultation? It claims that it will increase rents and the price of beer and lead to the closure of more pubs.
I have not seen those comments by the Office of Fair Trading, but I will certainly look for them. I am rather surprised by them because the whole purpose of that option is to increase competition and market forces. If my hon. Friend could send me the details, I would be interested to see the response of the competition authorities.
As I own a pub, I have a great interest in this debate; I am chair of the John Clare Trust and we will be bringing this pub back to life through crowdfunding. The Secretary of State might not have control of the Budget, but he knows that there is a consultation on crowdfunding regulation. If we get that regulation wrong, it will stop a lot of community enterprises funding themselves, so will he ensure that it is appropriate?
I am well aware of the importance of crowdfunding, and the hon. Gentleman might have followed the progress of the business bank, which is now actively engaged in, and supporting, crowdfunding, certainly through the peer-to-peer lending streams. I am aware of the issues with the regulation. Some incumbents, understandably, want their industry regulated, but we need to balance that against the fact that new companies coming into the industry might be less enthusiastic about regulation. Incumbents such as Funding Circle have made a very good case for sensible, moderate regulation.
Let me move on. As I said, we have had four Select Committee investigations into whether the tied model is at the root of the unfairness in the relationship. We have received an enormous amount of correspondence, quite apart from that received from the various action groups, from tenants about problems in their relationships with pub companies and from MPs. The response I have had in the past 10 to 15 minutes shows how widespread such concerns are.
Although pub-owning companies can and sometimes do treat their tenants well, the overall sense from those representations is that the tie arrangements with the pub-owning companies are unfair and that a lack of transparency causes a severe imbalance of negotiating power. That is the essence of the problem. There is an issue about what exactly we should do about it, which is what we are consulting on, but there is no doubt about the problems.
It has also been very clear from the discussions led by the Select Committee over the years that the problem is not so much the tied business model but the unfairness with which it operates. There is quite a lot of debate about the evidence on the speed of closures and how they operate in the tied sector and the non-tied sector. My understanding is that there has been a fairly steady rate of decline, from some 70,000 pubs in 1980 to 50,000 today. Depressingly, that is something in the order of 18 a week net. That decline has continued even after some of the big changes that have taken place in the industry—from the beer orders to pub company consolidation. I know that there is a debate among campaigners about whether tied pubs are more likely to close than pubs that are free of tie, but the evidence I have seen goes both ways. This is not fundamentally an argument about pub closures; it is essentially about the unfairness of and inequalities in the relationship.
My right hon. Friend is right to broaden his critique beyond the tie itself, important though that is. In my constituency, the landlord of a pub in Melksham complains that Punch is in breach of its own code of practice and of the framework of the British pub industry. He asks where else he can go under the current arrangements, without statutory regulation, when he finds that he gets no joy from the self-regulatory system on a range of issues from dilapidation surveys to meetings that are not minuted.
May I move on, as the hon. Gentleman has intervened once already?
Just as this is not primarily an issue about the rate of closures, I think we would all agree that it is not fundamentally an issue of consumer choice. Otherwise, the competition authorities would have been engaged a long time ago. It has already been shown that the share of microbreweries has increased over the period for which many pubs have been under a great deal of stress. The number of breweries now tops 1,000, the highest figure since the 1930s.
The conclusion that I think we have all reached is that there are issues with the beer tie, but that is not the fundamental problem in itself. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee argued that it does not want to see the tie model disappear. Under proper conditions, it is a business model that can be used and it has been around in various forms since the 18th century. The abuses are a different matter and are due in part to the lack of transparency in the relationship between the pub-owning companies and their tenants, which is what I want to turn to.
I was recently contacted by my constituent, Claire, who has been told by her landlords, Enterprise Inns, that the rent on her pub, the Pattenmakers Arms in Duffield, will increase by 42% in April. Claire loves her pub and has brought it from being a grubby and run-down pub to an award winner; she even worked while she was battling breast cancer. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the pub companies whose business practices force out committed publicans such as Claire will be dealt with effectively by some sort of adjudicator?
That is a truly awful case. I hope to see the details of that example, because although we have a lot of cases, it seems to be a particularly bad one. I guess that would be one of the factors that led the Government to conclude that the voluntary code approach was not satisfactory, as presumably it has already been used.
The voluntary approach did have some positive outcomes, such as the Pubs Independent Conciliation and Arbitration Service and the framework code, but the conclusion we came to at the beginning of last year was that the changes had not gone far enough and that problems persisted. To us, the essential point is best captured in the work done by CAMRA that suggests that 57% of tied tenants earn less than £10,000 a year. If we apply that to 35-hour week, 48 weeks a year, we are talking about less than £6 an hour, which means that people are working for considerably less than the minimum wage. Since many work much longer hours, that means that this is a very low-paid industry. Many publicans are struggling. In contrast, only 25% of those who are free of tie are on at the same income level. There is a striking disparity, which is at the heart of the question.
The Secretary of State is being very generous in giving way. Does he agree that many of these disputes need to go to adjudication? Does he share my view and that of many colleagues that getting an adjudication system in place as soon as possible is essential?
Indeed. That was the objective of the consultation. Let me briefly reveal the history, as we have been talking about it implicitly throughout these exchanges. We announced last January that it was time for the Government to step in and the consultation was launched along the lines envisaged by the Select Committee on a statutory code of practice and an independent adjudicator. That was the framework of the Government recommendation. We included an open question on the mandatory free-of-tie option with open rent review and we tried to underpin a specific intervention with a framework, a philosophy, a set of principles, the overarching fair-dealing provision and the core principle that a tied tenant should be no worse off than a free-of-tie tenant.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, he is being very generous. Does he recognise that because of the relationship between the licensee and the pub companies, whatever the licensee does means in some circumstances that the pub company asks them for more money? If they put on food, for example, the pub company increases their rent. The relationship is fundamentally unequal and difficult.
The hon. Lady is stating in her own way what I have already said several times and what I think is the consensus. There is an imbalance in the relationship, which is not equal. The market does not deliver a fair outcome, which is why we are considering how we can change it.
We did not want to reopen the fundamental issue about the pub tie, but to decide how to address the unfairness of it, and the consultation revealed the depth of feeling on the subject, which all the interventions that we have had so far have reinforced. The responses came not just from the pubcos and the tenants, but from supply chain companies, consumer groups and trade bodies, all of which fed into the consultation, and they were so many and diverse that we published them just before Christmas so that hon. Members were aware of what was being said before we came to a conclusion on how to respond.
As I have said already, we want to respond as quickly as possible. We fully understand the problems, not just because distressing cases are continuing but because people in the industry want clarity, and it is perfectly reasonable for people to want regulatory certainty. We do not want to rush into a decision. We want to get this right, but we realise that there is some urgency because people need to make investment decisions. We are trying to get this absolutely right and we want the intervention that we make to be proportionate and properly targeted.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for taking a further intervention and for all the others that he has taken. He makes the case for urgency, which is reflected across the House. Does he not accept that his failure to answer the question from the shadow Minister and the Chair of the Select Committee, together with the wording of the Government’s amendment, will be seen widely throughout the country as an attempt simply to kick this issue into the long grass? Will he reassure the House that that is not the case by giving a commitment that legislation will come forward in this Parliament?
There is no attempt to kick this into the long grass. We are trying to do this properly. I can assure him that it will be dealt with in a timely way. We are not cutting corners. As I said at the beginning, we have a large number of responses and different strands of evidence that we are trying to reconcile and respond to properly. We must do this right.
The whole issue of the beer tie, the relationship with the pubcos, is crucial, and we must take action in the way that we have discussed, but it is not the only set of measures for the pub industry. We are sometimes in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture. Thanks to interventions from Government Members there was reference to the budgetary measures that have been taken, and I would add to that the action taken on business rates, including the capping of the business rate increase, the continuation of business rate relief, the £1,000 discount for retail outlets, which include pubs, and some of the action taken by my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, for example the pub is the hub scheme and the community right to bid to keep pubs open. A lot needs to happen and a lot is happening on a broad front, and I reassure the House of my commitment, which remains as strong as ever, to addressing the unfairness in the relationship between pub companies and their tenants.
Order. A large number of Members wish to take part in the debate, which is due to finish at 4 o’clock, including the Front-Bench winding-up speeches. I ask each Member to speak for no more than 10 minutes, including interventions, so that we can fit everybody in. If that does not happen, there will have to be a time limit.
In the last three Januarys, including this one, I have written to Mr Speaker to ask to speak in a debate on pub companies. In all three debates—I assume this one as well—there has been unanimity across the House of Commons on what measures need to be taken. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and, although he is not here, the hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), and many others too, right across the political spectrum, who regard this as a very serious and important issue. There have been two unanimous votes in the House of Commons on this, although on the second one it took 24 hours before the Secretary of State decided that he agreed with the House of Commons, and he came along and gave us great assurances of what would happen.
There have been four Select Committee reports, more or less all arguing for the same course of action. Enormous numbers of people from our constituencies—I think of Mr Phil Jones who owns the Open Hearth in Griffithstown in my constituency—have written to us about the iniquities of the system. A large number of organisations support the basis of the Opposition motion, including the GMB, CAMRA and the Federation of Small Businesses—a whole host of them. The essence of it is that they all say—I understand that the Secretary of State agrees with this—that first of all there should be a statutory code of practice; secondly, a mandatory rent-only option for pubcos that own more than 500 pubs; thirdly, an open market rent review; and finally, an independent adjudicator. All those are meant to enhance the significance and importance of the role of pubs in our communities. That has already been mentioned a number of times, and I am sure will continue to be throughout the course of the debate.
A new institution that has come into the debate, which many hon. Members will have read about, is the Local Government Association, which talked about the importance of pubs in our communities, and, as the Secretary of State mentioned, the importance of the community right to bid for pubs. But the essence of my contribution is not what has been said and will be said, but why we have had a delay, which strikes at the heart of what was said by the Secretary of State—who clearly is not listening to me, but perhaps other hon. Members are.
The Secretary of State presides over one of the largest Departments in the Government. He has an army of officials and civil servants and a little army of junior Ministers. He tells us today that the reason why this has been delayed is that the consultation is so enormous, so vast and so unwieldy that they cannot make up their minds as to what to do, but in the same speech he admits that this was not an open-ended consultation. This was a consultation on the basis of the Government not having made up their mind but being very close to making up their mind on what the solution should be. In many ways it was a closed consultation, making it much easier.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s desire for movement and to see some improvement in this matter, but does he not accept that in 13 years of his Government, despite 6,000 pubs closing in the last three years alone, they did nothing at all, apart from a few weeks before the general election, when, amazingly, something appeared in the manifesto? Does he understand that at least this Government are listening to the consultation and looking to make some changes for the good?
Of course I accept that Labour could have done more when we were in government, but after three debates in the House of Commons during the last three years, and when the Government have already said that they want to take these matters into legislation, they are now using the excuse of a consultation being too burdensome to allow them to make up their mind. If we were at the beginning of a parliamentary Session, that would not be too bad, but we are not. We are 15 months away from a general election. We are possibly just months away from a Queen’s Speech. When my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield referred to the fact that this had been kicked into touch, perhaps he had a point. Unless the Government make up their mind relatively soon, time will run out and nothing will happen between now and the general election.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good case. With some 50% of pubco licensees reporting earnings of less than £10,000 and 26 pubs a week closing—a different figure from that mentioned by the Secretary of State—time is not on our side. Urgency is needed. We need to have the legislation in place before the next election.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The purpose of this debate is not to argue for or against the proposals, because last year the Secretary of State said that he agreed with them. He said that he did not believe in the voluntary system and that a proper system of regulation was needed, and I believe he genuinely believes that. He represents moderation in the Cabinet and, some might argue, social democracy.
Indeed. In which case he would be opposed to the big energy companies, the shenanigans of the bankers and—I believe that he is—the way the pub companies operate, which is to the detriment of the small and medium-sized enterprises that are our pubs. I therefore think that he is on our side.
However, I know from my years in government that things can be delayed for other reasons, even if Ministers pretend that it is because the consultation exercise is too big to handle. I think that the Secretary of State is meeting opposition from Cabinet colleagues, maybe from the Treasury and maybe from the top. The consultation ended months ago and the timetable is now tight, and I do not believe for one second that the delay is being caused by anything other than Government disagreement, whoever it is from.
The longer the delay continues, the greater the damage to public houses in our communities. Some 26 pubs a week are closing. The pub companies themselves have caused thousands upon thousands to close. Some of those closed pubs have now been taken over by big companies and turned into shops—I think Tesco has taken over 130 in the past few months. When we bear in mind the importance of pubs to our communities, we realise that the longer the delay continues, the worse the situation will get.
The Secretary of State has the power to change that. He could persuade his colleagues—that is where the problem is coming from—on how to change those things. Unless he does so, all the promises that he was forced to make last year, which I believe he thinks are right, will come to nought.
What puzzles the Opposition is the fact that the Secretary of State has accepted in principle the need for a legislative code, so I do not understand why he is unable to commit today to taking legislative action by at least the end of this Parliament, given that that is what he is consulting on. Does my right hon. Friend, like me, fail to understand why we are not seeing that commitment from the Secretary of State?
I repeat that I think the reason is that he is encountering opposition within the Government.
The Secretary of State is right that things have changed. Having been a Cabinet Minister for eight years and having dealt with all sorts of consultations, my experience is that we must of course take them seriously and look at the pros and cons, but he had already made up his mind, more or less, before the consultation was done. The consequence of all that is that he has to battle on. He has to get back into the Cabinet Committees and persuade his colleagues that this is important. Let us ensure that in the Queen’s Speech there is a proper Bill to put right what is clearly wrong.
I, too, welcome the debate. It is not the first time we have looked at the topic. I am in favour of the amendment, because I believe that the Government are taking action and that it is important to do that well, rather than rushing for reasons of political expediency. It is important to start by echoing the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) made, which was that the previous Government did not act. They seemingly did something only two months before the 2010 general election. By contrast, this Government have taken the trouble to go through a large consultation process, which has been acknowledged to be very popular. I know that many of my constituents have responded to it. It is important that the Government offer a high-quality response.
I defer to the hon. Gentleman, who chairs that Committee, and leave it to him to explain its actions to the House.
I want to focus first on the proposals set out in the consultation. It is right to put in place a system to stop pub companies abusing the beer tie. It is good to look at having an adjudicator who can help tied pubs. It is also good to have independently chosen guest beers, which helps to support connected industries and manufacturing across the UK.
In the time I have been a Member of this House, like every Member present this afternoon, I have become well aware of the situation facing pubs in my constituency. I could talk about the Bull at Hellesdon, an Enterprise inn, which is a good pub at the heart of the community. In fact, that was one of the first pieces of casework I took up as a new Member of Parliament. I could also talk about the Maid’s Head in Old Catton, which is also an Enterprise inn. It hosts an enormous charity fundraiser—a walk around the ring road in Norwich. The only other hon. Member who might have done that is my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Simon Wright). It is that kind of activity that puts pubs at the heart of the community, and rightly so.
I also take my cue from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), who noted the role of the Campaign for Real Ale in supporting and campaigning for pubs. CAMRA runs the large Norwich beer festival, which in turn makes large charitable donations, most recently to the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind. The Norwich Evening News is also running its strong Love Your Local campaign. By focusing on a pub a week, it does something very practical to help what can be quite a beleaguered trade.
I think we all acknowledge that pubs are facing tough times because many of their customers are facing tough times. There is a far broader debate to be had in that respect. We might look at many long and short-term economic factors, for example, but we would also do well to recognise the other things that our constituents talk to us about, such as the introduction of the smoking ban, which is commonly thought to have changed the pub trade quite a lot, and competition from supermarkets, which I will talk about later. I have always believed that good pubs can do good trade, regardless of some of those external conditions. I also want to reiterate the point that pubs are at the heart of the community.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to point out that the Red Lion in Arlingham would have been closed by a pubco but is still open and now owned by the community. That is a good example of communities taking charge of their destiny and that of their pubs.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. I recently made the acquaintance of another landlord in his constituency who not only runs a good pub, but thinks that my hon. Friend is doing a good job as his local MP, which I think is very important.
The value that pubs can give to their communities has been quantified in various places. I want to mention a few figures which have a bearing on the debate. The industry is said to sustain 900,000 jobs nationally and each pub contributes £100,000 a year to its local economy. Crucially, about 30% of the industry is owned by the pub companies, and it is that segment that we are talking about. I support action to make that segment of the market fairer.
The hon. Lady is making an important speech, but my point is about urgency. Twelve months ago, I raised concerns about the Hunters Rest in my constituency. Mary Spence, the landlady, said that because of the tie she was paying £500 a week over the odds, which equates to £26,000 a year. She threw in the towel in November. Does the hon. Lady agree that this shows the importance of the Government taking urgent action?
I have already said that I agree with the Government taking the action that they are correctly taking. The hon. Gentleman gives a solid example of one of the very human effects that we are talking about.
I want to note a couple of other ways in which the pub trade is being supported, including scrapping the beer duty escalator and a set of community rights. The community right to bid gives communities a fairer chance to bid to take over pubs, but there is an issue connected to this that I recently came across in my constituency. Residents were shocked to discover, at the very latest hour, that the Beehive in Sprowston had changed hands from regional brewery and pub company Greene King to the East of England Co-operative Society’s retail arm. I am the kind of MP who runs surgeries in pubs—I run a series called Politics in the Pub—and I am sad to report that I had never made it to the Beehive when this news broke. Now I may never have the chance to have a pint and some politics in the Beehive—unless I prefer a pint of milk, which is not necessarily the sort of thing I am thinking of.
On 6 January, the Co-op confirmed to the Norwich Evening News that it had exchanged contracts on the Beehive and would announce plans for a new community food store in the near future. Local residents then quickly organised and held public meetings, and local councillors and I met residents to go through the options for using the community right to bid. In this case, however, it was too late because information about the sale emerged at a very late stage. I have asked the Co-op to provide information about its plans so that it can engage with the community at an early stage. Understandably, the community is concerned not only about the closure and loss of a pub but the potential effect of a supermarket on other local businesses, as well as any intrusive aspects of the new premises that might arise from parking, lighting or similar things.
I know from experience that the Co-op’s retail arm is extremely keen to work with local communities, and I urge it to do so in this case so that the necessary issues can be properly addressed, despite the fact that planning permission is not required for a change of use from A4—which, as Members will know, is for pubs—to A1 for supermarkets. That feature of the planning system involves a very easy switch, which sometimes means that communities are not consulted on the concerns that can accrue when a pub closes.
I urge the Minister to look at this set of issues as it connects to pub companies. This is not only about the relationship between a tenant and their proprietor but the relationship of a pub to its community and the relationships that ought to be examined in the planning system—in other words, what citizens ought to be able to expect in a well-planned local area. These issues come down to wanting to keep the economy moving. I do not say that there should be stasis throughout the whole planning system, but there should be sufficient safeguards and community involvement in planning.
I support the Government’s amendment, because action has been taken to help pubs not only on the issues addressed in the consultation on an adjudicator and more, but in the field of community rights. That is very important, but, on behalf of my constituents, I am looking for the final element of fairness to enter into the debate.
This is a debate that I never thought we would need to have again. Last year, we were given assurances that a statutory code would be introduced; a year later, there is still no sign of it. The motion reflects the sense of exasperation felt by Labour Members—and perhaps privately by many Government Members—about the lack of progress on this issue.
Absolutely. The only debate I want to see again is on the proposed legislation when it comes forward —if it ever does. I would add to the sense of exasperation a sense of bafflement as to why that has not happened.
The work done by successive BIS Committees has had two characteristics: first, the overwhelming desire to get the industry into a position where it would regulate itself; and secondly, the need to ensure unanimity across all political parties on the measures to be proposed. Successive reports said what needed to be done, what progress—often very little—had been made, and what would happen to the industry if it did not regulate itself. It has been said in this debate—indeed, it is mentioned in the amendment—that the previous Government did not do anything, as if that is some sort of justification for this Government not doing something. In the conclusion to its 2010 report, the Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Sir Peter Luff), said:
“The industry must be aware that this is its last opportunity for self-regulated reform. If it cannot deliver this time, then government intervention will be necessary. We do not advocate such intervention at this stage, but remain committed to a resolution to all the problems discussed in this Report and those of the 2004 and 2009 Reports. Should those problems persist beyond June 2011, we will not hesitate to recommend that legislation to provide statutory regulation be introduced.”
Significantly, it was never intended that there should be statutory regulation until all other procedures had been exhausted in 2011. The previous Government committed themselves to that course of action, as did the current Secretary of State when he came into office. Yet still, after all these years, we have not had statutory regulation despite the overwhelming body of evidence that clearly demonstrates that the industry was not prepared to regulate itself. I give credit to my colleague on the Committee, the hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), whom I think would have vigorously expounded similar views today but had an unavoidable commitment and was therefore unable to be here. I emphasise that successive Committees have tried to secure a consensus across the board on this.
Like other Members, I was delighted when the Secretary of State changed his position and agreed to have a Government consultation. That took place in the early part of last year, and the Government have had the results since June. Again, there is an increasing sense of exasperation as to why those results have not been published. All right, it was the Government’s own consultation, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) said, the Secretary of State has the people to analyse it, and there appears to be no coherent logic as to why it has been delayed for so long. When the consultation was published, the Committee was asked whether it would have a session looking at it, as though it were the Committee’s job to analyse it. We refused in somewhat robust manner.
I will give the Government credit for one thing—they are perhaps the one organisation to have made the British Beer and Pub Association’s speed of operation look positively dynamic. I can think of no reason whatever why they could not have introduced legislation soon after the consultation process was concluded. There was nothing dramatically different in the consultation from the evidence unearthed by Select Committees or the points made in debates in the Chamber. The Groceries Code Adjudicator Act 2013 could provide a model for that legislation. Although there might be different opinions on different recommendations in the Select Committee report, it would have been appropriate to put those recommendations in legislation and have a debate on them in the Chamber. The different opinions are not in themselves an excuse for legislation not having been brought forward.
I wish to emphasise the sense of embarrassment that I feel, as the Select Committee Chair, about the fact that all the work that has been done over the years still shows no tangible result. My sense of exasperation is reflected by tenants up and down the country, who want to know what is happening and why parliamentarians support the pubs in their constituencies in debate after debate but do not seem prepared to vote to bring forward legislation to do something about the situation. I know that some Government Members have been even more vigorous than I have in upholding the need for legislation to be introduced quickly. The public at large and pub tenants will be mystified as to why they are not prepared to back the Opposition motion today.
I cannot help but feel that the lack of progress demonstrates something more profound than just sympathy for publicans—tensions within the Government and a lack of political will to translate promises into legislative action. The result of that will be disillusionment among the public and the tenants who need reforms, and above all, disillusionment with Parliament as an institution, which has demonstrated that it cannot make its will prevail over the Government.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) outlined effectively and persuasively the importance of pubs as valuable assets to this country. They are at the heart of our communities and a big part of being British. In East Hampshire we have great community hubs, from the Fox and Pelican at Grayshott to the White Hart at Holybourne. There are also a number of the beautiful country pubs that form part of our national image and attract people to visit this country, such as the Queens and the Selborne Arms, the Greyfriar at Jane Austen’s Chawton, the Harrow, the Trooper and the Pub With No Name. That great range of brilliant pubs is a mixture of managed houses, tenancies, leases and independent free houses.
Like many other areas, we have also suffered too many pub closures. Just in the past couple of years, in one town in my constituency, Alton, and its surroundings, we have lost the Gentleman Jim, the Railway Hotel, the Barley Mow, the Wey Bridge, the two pubs in Ropley—the Chequers and the Anchor—and, just recently, the only pub in the growing community of Four Marks, the Windmill. Like the pub that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) mentioned, the Windmill is going to become a Co-operative retail store. Of course, a lot of other publicans are struggling to break even and make a decent living.
I welcome the Government’s support for the licensed trade, such as the scrapping of the beer duty escalator, the 1p of tax taken off a pint, the extension of small business rate relief and the community right to bid. It is worth remembering that the pub trade’s problems predate the beer duty escalator and exist in both tied houses and free houses. Top of the list is the declining propensity of men to visit a pub after work multiple times a week to drink reasonably large quantities of draught beer, which is a high gross margin product. The second, related, problem is the wide price gap between the on-trade and off-trade in alcohol sales, which has coincided with the arrival of affordable, decent quality new world wine. There are a whole range of other factors, many of which we would welcome in themselves but have had adverse consequences for the pub trade. I refer to things such as the smoking ban, radically different attitudes to drink-driving and changes in people’s living rooms, such as having big-screen TVs at home, not just at the pub. There is also intense price competition in food and leisure in general.
When I used to work for an integrated brewer—I worked for Greene King for a couple of years—the cost pressures that licensees used to talk about included the massive price of Sky, which my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) mentioned, the national minimum wage and the cost of products through the tie.
We could argue that pub owners take too much money from publicans, but to mention only the tie is to chase the wrong target. People have two key objections to it: the impact on product range, and the way the product is priced. On the first point, we must remember that the tie is not the same for every pub. For some, particularly food-led pubs, it excludes wine and spirits, for example, which can be bought from outside. For others, even a tied house, there may be provision for a guest beer or for what is sometimes called a “local hero”, which means that a pub owner in an area where there is one dominant beer brand might be allowed to have that brand, even though it is a direct competitor.
A lot of the focus has been on whether licensees have the right to buy in a guest ale of their choosing. The hon. Member for Chesterfield mentioned the 160,000 members of CAMRA, and a lot of other people are also real ale lovers. I am proud to count myself among their ranks. I am proud of real ale—it is a uniquely British product that is not found anywhere else in the world, and I am proud to bits that it is growing. It is a craft product, and we should support it. I would love the Triple fff brewery in Four Marks, in my constituency, to have more outlets for its beer, which people would enjoy drinking. A guest ale option is positive for the increase of the brewery industry. However, we must be clear that it is a red herring for the survival of most pubs. Real ale is a small category in most pubs, and four out of 10 do not stock it at all. The drinks that matter in most pubs are standard lager, bag-in-box Coke and the others that generate the bulk of revenue.
The second set of objections to the tie are about pricing, which goes to the heart of pubs’ profitability. Sometimes when we discuss the matter—it happened in the last debate in the House—we speak as though, if we could remove the tie and the inflated beer prices from the equation, everything else would stay the same. Of course, that is not what would happen at all. The target margin for pubs is set by starting with a target return. There is an asset on the books with a certain value, and it is believed that the shareholders and the market require a certain return to be demonstrated on it. That return is split between rent and margin, the latter sometimes being known in the trade as “wet rent” for that reason. If the return was all on rents, the rent would clearly be higher and pubs would be more operationally geared, with a higher fixed cost. Arguably, more businesses might fail.
With respect, although my hon. Friend speaks from a position of knowledge, I think he is missing the point. The whole point of the benchmark level of the market rent-only option—the Select Committee’s solution—is to stop the double overcharging that currently happens. The large pub companies have skewed the traditional tie so that there is no longer a lower rent if there are higher beer prices. The benchmarking survey by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers shows that tied rents are higher, on average, than free-of-tie rents, which is an abuse of the tied model.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is difficult to make such comparisons. That is precisely why we are making the case that the only way to get genuine fairness is to ensure that people know what is a fair market rent. We can then say, “You can take that or you can take an alternative. The choice is yours.” That is the only way we will get a genuinely fair deal.
I have a lot of sympathy with that view and it is legitimate. We must not forget, however, that the owner of the pub also has an interest in that business thriving, and it must be an arrangement both sides are happy with. In one sense, the tie is just a way of sharing risk. It is a way of having rent that goes up when business is good, and down when business goes down. If we want to complain about how much money pub owners take from licensees, that is perfectly reasonable, but it is misleading to speak only about the tie and to say that if that went, all those problems would disappear. I do not believe they would.
I believe the single most important thing for regulation is to ensure the availability of proper financial and legal advice for new licensees. That must include someone giving advice who is able to understand and challenge what the pub company puts forward. It is called FMT—fair maintainable trade—and involves an estimate of what the pub can make, on which the rent and target return is based. If the licensee enters that arrangement with their eyes fully open, it is a commercial decision. Pub companies tell us that things are getting better and that pre-entry training, consultation and so on has improved, but it is difficult to tell that from the outside—I know the Select Committee has had more opportunity to look at that in detail.
Overall, we want more of a partnership approach between the owner of the pub and the licensee, and in the industry at its best that is of course what happens. For a long time, pulling pints has not been enough to survive and thrive in the licence trade. Such businesses are increasingly food driven, and they are trying to attract a wider range of customers while having to compete against managed houses that have different cost structures. There can be big advantages to being part of a wider group, such as consultancy and guidance on the development of the food business and menus. For some, there are other streams of business such as accommodation and retail opportunities, or—critically—improving purchasing programmes to improve margins.
It may be that as the industry evolves, the old tied model becomes less appropriate as more business goes to food and other products, and a franchising-type model may become more appropriate. It is arguably easier to do that and provide a full range of services if there are managed houses, as well as tenancies or leases. It is not for the Government to force such things through, but competition authorities can ensure there is sufficient space in the marketplace for operators who would provide a different model to licensees. The other crucial thing the Government can do to ensure that pub companies are fully mentally invested in long-term pub operations, rather than having an asset register of real estate, is make it harder to convert to residential property. If someone knows that the way they will make money out of a certain asset is by trading it well as a pub or a place where people come together to eat and drink, their minds will be focused on doing that more and more.
Where communities want to take over a pub, but that does not work out with the pub company and so on, I would like the Government to review continually the way the community right to bid works. We have a number of such instances in my constituency, and there is a great team working on the Anchor in Ropley. People are giving up a lot of time and putting in their expertise. That seems quite hard on occasion, and I hope the Government will keep that under review to ensure the process is as simple as possible.
In conclusion, we should beware of solutions, such as removing the tie, that appear to solve a lot of problems. Let us think back to the beer orders, and those who thought it was a great idea at the time in terms of breaking the vertical integration hold of brewers on individual pubs. I wonder what some of those people think about that now.
It comes almost as a surprise to me to speak in this debate. First, I am a member of the Methodist Church and we have a long tradition of not being very keen on drinking, although we have modernised a bit since those days. As I said in an intervention, I also own a pub as chairman of the John Clare Trust, because we bought the Exeter Arms in Helpston. It is temporarily closed while we finance what we call an omni-hub in the village, which will meet the needs of the local community and the overall educational purposes of the trust. A journalist said to me the other week, “You must be the only MP who owns both a church and a pub.” Funnily enough, the church in Norwood Green in Halifax, where we have an environmental body, has a strict codicil that states we cannot serve alcohol. It is an interesting world we live in.
May I remind the House of a bit of history? I support the motion today. I do not say that in a partisan way because there is so much agreement about the need for action. I shall support it not only because the Whips will tell me to, but because it is about time we had some action. I think there is a majority in this House for action on the situation of the many people in tied houses. When we took over the Exeter Arms, having negotiated a reasonable price with Enterprise Inns, there had been a succession of tenants who just could not make it work while having to pay premium prices for beer and everything else. They had to pay if they introduced new varieties of food and for all the gaming machines—I did not realise the tie could take a lot of that as well. Many people had found it very difficult to make a go of that pub, and they need a new and fair deal.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I was about to make that point. Let us look at the history. I have been in the House quite a long time and I remember what seemed to be a dramatic change when Lord Young of Graffham, then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, cut up the industry, and the link between brewers that cared about their pubs and the pub estate was broken. That was done perhaps with the best intentions, but the unintended consequence was that people who had a tradition of brewing and who loved beer and their pub outlets were cut out of that relationship. The Conservative Government at that time—I am not being too rancorous about this—created unintended consequences that severely damaged brewing and the pubs of this country.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that was an unintended consequence of the change, but organisations—particularly CAMRA at the time—said that there had to be a limit for all companies, including stand-alone pub companies, but that was not included because of industry lobbying. That led to the disaster that created the stand-alone pubcos and it is why the Government must now intervene to put that right.
I agree, but we cannot get away from the fact that, as I see it, the whole brewing industry and the pub estates have been taken over by money men and women who are interested mainly in the return they can get on the estate and do not have a real love of the sector, brewing, beer and the leisure industry generally. I get the impression that the people who own most of the pubs in our country are not those who love the sector, and they are out to screw as much money and profit from it as they can. Some of them, because they made unwise takeover investments at a particular time, have become very ruthless indeed, although I shall not dwell on that.
The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) made a very good speech, but one thing I feel strongly about as a long-term campaigner against smoking is the myth that banning smoking in pubs damaged trade. I do not think it did. I think it opened pubs to a broader audience of people who wanted to go out but not to finish the evening stinking of tobacco. That is the only thing I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about.
Hon. Members are sometimes cosy about the pub trade and defend it. I love the pubs in my constituency—I do not go to all of them, but there are some wonderful ones. We have some fine history, too, like the Luddite trail in Huddersfield. At the time of the Luddites, people could not belong to a political society or trade union. The only place they could meet—it was a secret society—was in pubs. People still go to many of the pubs that the Luddites conspired in, which is a lovely bit of history. The Exeter Arms in Helpston is the pub where John Clare played the fiddle—he was taught by Gypsies—and sang with his father, who was also a farm labourer. That is the wonderful history of Helpston. John Clare also worked as the pot man at the Blue Bell Inn to make ends meet.
There is history, but the industry, like any other, must be up to date. Many people stopped going to pubs because they did not keep up to date. The hon. Member for East Hampshire mentioned men going home from work and drinking a lot of beer every night. That has gone. The pub trade should keep up by providing good food and a good selection of drinks—I drink wine, but not much beer. Pubs should have well trained people serving. The skills training in the pub trade is very poor. I care very much about high-quality skills in every sector, but there is too little high-quality training of pub staff. I have found that there is very little training in pub management. Many who have a go at running a pub have never been trained to manage anything, which is a recipe for disaster. We need an industry with training at its core and with 21st century skills.
We also need a diverse community of pubs. One of the first social enterprises I started as a young councillor was a folk club for young people in a Welsh village. Pubs playing the relevant music for the area are an amazing draw. People go to pubs to have fun and a good time. If they cannot have fun and a good time in a pub, what is its purpose? A good time means different things for different parts of the community. The pubs mentioned by the hon. Member for East Hampshire reminded me of Roger Davies, a well known singer-songwriter from Brighouse in West Yorkshire, who strung together the names of all the pubs in his area in a glorious song.
Pubs have to upgrade. Back in the day, someone went into a pub in Rochdale after reading a sign saying, “Pie, pint and a friendly word.” He gets a pint, which is not very good, and his pie. He says to the landlord, “Where’s the friendly word?” The landlord leans in and says, “Don’t eat the pie.” I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) was not in the Chamber to hear that, because that is too often the image of the pub. I love CAMRA and my local CAMRA organisation, but it sometimes puts people off. There is sometimes a stand-off in CAMRA pubs. There are only men, many wearing beards and dressed in a particular way. They sometimes make going to the pub a little bit too much of a minority leisure activity, which can be damaging.
The future of pubs is at the heart of the community, doing all sorts of things they have never done before. They could have crowdfunding centres, educational facilities for elderly and young people, and a range of activities, so that they are a hub in a broader sense than anyone has managed to achieve so far. I chair the Westminster forum on crowdfunding. Crowdfunding through CrowdPatch can turn a community around. Where better for such activity than the pub?
I commend the Opposition motion only because I want action. However, I want the trade and the pub industry to come up to date and do exciting and innovative things.
I cannot say that it is a pleasure to take part in the debate. I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. I pay tribute to him, to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Sir Peter Luff), and to his Committee for their excellent work. It is a stunning example of a Select Committee. Like the hon. Member for West Bromwich West, I would rather we were not having another debate on pub companies. If we have to have one, I would rather that we were voting on Government proposals that do what the Committee has said the Government should do since 2011.
We will have to have at least one more debate on pub companies—I have shared that with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). When we have the response, we will need to bring it before the House and show that the majority of hon. Members support not only action but the only sensible and obvious action, namely the Committee’s suggestion of a market rent only option.
It is important to remember the history of pub companies. Let us be clear that we are debating pubcos because of the concerted lobbying of a number of organisations. Last year, I was pleased to bring those organisations together under the banner of the Fair Deal for Your Local Campaign. Those 10 organisations—the Federation of Small Businesses, the Forum of Private Business, the GMB, the Guild of Master Victuallers, Fair Pint, the Pubs Advisory Service, Justice for Licensees, Licensees Supporting Licensees, CAMRA and Licensees Unite—have a membership of more than 2 million people. The campaign is now supported by no fewer than 206 MPs on both sides of the House. It is supported by the whole Opposition, so there is a clear majority for action.
I pay tribute to one MP who was a supporter of the Fair Deal for Your Local Campaign—the wonderful Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, Paul Goggins, who is sadly no longer with us. I thank Paul for his support, which was yet another example of his commitment to social justice and a reform that we need if we are to have a fairer society.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills decided in 2011 not to do what we believed it would do. The reality is that we were outdone by some rather dodgy, behind-the-scenes lobbying. That is precisely why we set up the Fair Deal for Your Local Campaign—to ensure that, with the might of the 10 organisations behind us, we could tackle that lobbying head-on, which is precisely what we have done. It was the freedom of information request submitted by the all-party parliamentary save the pub group that outed the lobbying and led to the first debate and the unanimous vote for action.
To be fair to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Government, the motion in January 2012 said that we must have a consultation in autumn 2012. It appeared that we would not have one, but it happened. The consultation showed what we knew it would show: that the problems are as bad as ever and that self-regulation has failed. The response was the debate a year ago and the announcement of the consultation.
As someone who has campaigned on pub companies for something like six or seven years, I of course share hon. Members’ frustration. I am more frustrated than anyone and wish that the Government had responded by now, but they have not. The only reason that I shall support the amendment is that, as the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has said, there has been last chance after last chance for the industry, so the Government should have a last chance to act. This is that last chance. I assure the Chair of the Committee and the House that if the Government do not announce swiftly that they will back the Committee’s solution, and in a time frame that allows for legislation, they can be assured that I will lead the criticism most loudly, because it is so long overdue. That is where we are and I hope we will get a decision as soon as possible. What we are seeing from the rather desperate lobbying by industry sources are the death throes of an unjustifiable and unregulated business model, and the last sorry chapter in one of the worst and most shameful episodes of corporate abuse and financial mismanagement that the UK corporate sector has ever seen.
The Secretary of State was right to say that the issue is not the existence of a tied model, and just to correct my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), it is not about the abolition of the tie. The Fair Deal for Your Local Campaign is very clear that it is about stopping abuse of the tie. That abuse is endemic because of reckless financial mismanagement, the acquisitions spree and the overvaluation scam that led to huge debts that are the reason why these companies are taking so much of the profit—often 75% and even 100% of pub profits—and stopping tenants and lessees making a living.
This is not about emotion or roses around the door, but cold, hard economics. While average tied rents are higher than free-of-tie rents—it should be the other way around, because the only justification for the tie is that if people agree to pay more for their beer they should pay a lower rent—beer prices go up and up and up, and the increases are above inflation every year.
I am delighted to see the Secretary of State back in his place. Does he know that Punch Taverns, which was the largest pub company, made an astonishing £2.271 billion in 10 years from selling on beer, simply by acting as a middle man, driving the price at the brewery down and selling on to tenants? I say to all my Conservative coalition partners—many are hugely supportive of this campaign, standing alongside the Federation of Small Business and the Forum of Private Business, and understand that this is about freeing up small businesses and giving them a chance—that this is about bringing in market forces. I say to those who are confused that this is not a market place that it working; it is an abuse of capitalism and a twisting of the market.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, though he has moved on slightly from the point I wanted to intervene on. On whether what we are now seeing are the death throes of a shameful part of the history of our corporate world, does he share my astonishment that the big pub companies are making the case that if their customers have the choice not to use them, they will not use them, and that that will cause them to collapse? Can he think of any other industry that would think it was credible to say, “The only reason our customers use us is because they have to, and if they don’t have to, we will collapse”?
As the hon. Gentleman and, I think, many right hon. and hon. Members know, there has been an extraordinary campaign of misinformation on behalf of the big pub companies by their lobbyists the British Beer and Pub Association. I am sorry to say that it includes false statements that have been given even to the Select Committee: false statements about the reality of pub closure figures, and lots of unsubstantiated nonsense about how giving the right to a fair rent—that is all we are talking about; the right to choose whether to have a rent-only agreement—will somehow close breweries, create all sorts of disasters and close pubs. That must be stamped on. I urge all Members to read “Setting the Record Straight” by the Fair Deal for Your Local Campaign, which puts those myths to bed.
I give my hon. Friend every encouragement to carry on the excellent work he has been doing over the years in Parliament. Does he agree that Punch Taverns, in particular, has very pernicious business practices? Just this weekend, I met the tenant of the Bulls Head in High Lane, who is a victim of its partner franchise tenancy. He has been driven out of business in less than nine months and tells me that he is one of three tenants of Punch Tavern inns who have been driven out of business in the past nine months through this pernicious sucking of capital and revenue out of the business.
There are many, many examples from around the country that show just that. I have a word of caution for Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers, as it appears that some companies are using franchising to seek to circumvent the code, and that must be dealt with.
We have witnessed an extraordinary campaign of misinformation, but the report from the all-party save the pub group, to which the Secretary of State referred, showed the reality of pub closures. The CGA Strategy figures, often misquoted and misused in a disgraceful way, show clearly that between December 2004 and March 2013 the number of non-managed pubs—that is, tenanted and leased and mostly tied pubs—fell by 5,117, compared with a fall of only 2,131 free trade pubs in the same period. It is extraordinary for the BBPA to have gone around peddling the myth to the Select Committee—it fell for it previously, but it now realises that it was duped—when its own figures over 10 years showed that the number of non-managed, leased and tenanted pubs decreased by more than 8,000, while the free trade sector expanded by 1,600. No wonder it was keeping those figures rather quiet and relying on a distortion of others.
On pub disposals, Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns, the two largest pub companies, disposed of more than 5,000 pubs—a third of their pubs—in just four years, between 2008 and 2012. I say to the Secretary of State that pub closures, both temporary and permanent, are being caused in huge number because of the inequity of the lease-tied pubco model. The argument, based on flawed conclusions, that some reports and analysts make is that there is no competition issue or consumer detriment. How can it be argued that there is no consumer detriment when in many cases consumers are having their pubs unnecessarily closed because of the abuse of the tie and the reckless mismanagement by such companies?
The solution is clear and it is backed by the Select Committee, the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign and 206 MPs. I say to my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches that it is a simple market-based solution that would bring back not just fairness but competition into what has become an unequal and uncompetitive relationship. Do not take my word for it: take the word of the former community pubs Minister, the first appointed by the Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who said:
“A market rent only option offers the only mechanism that can transform the fortunes of thousands of landlords across the country. It is a common sense market-based solution.”
The Prime Minister himself knows these problems all too well through the experience of The Chequers Inn in Witney, where the Enterprise Inns lessee had to move after a long dispute and lack of support. One of the most extraordinary things in that dispute was not the overcharging, which is endemic in the Enterprise Inns business model, or that at the same time as pubs were shutting, the boss Ted Tuppen and the new boss Simon Townsend paid themselves vast salaries and hundreds and thousands of pounds in bonuses, but that The Chequers Inn licensee, Simon Moore, could not deal directly with the brewery whose yard was at the back of his pub. I cannot believe that Conservatives can stand that business arrangement any more than the Liberal Democrats or Labour Members, and I welcome the support of so many MPs, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, and the chair of the all-party save the pub group, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), who has campaigned long and hard on this issue.
Let us look at the research and the reality, not the nonsense being peddled. The extraordinary piece of work by London Economics is frankly so flawed that it is a disgrace it was ever commissioned. I have put in a freedom of information request to find out the truth. That research concluded that if we stopped the large pub companies taking too much from pub profits, they would, according to the pub companies, be less viable. It concluded that that would lead to pub closures, when clearly the opposite is the case. At the end of the research we see the worrying phrase:
“London Economics would like to thank the pub companies who supplied us with confidential data”—
more behind-closed-doors thinking. We want to see those data and the brief given to it, because its conclusions are utterly absurd.
In reality, as seen in research by the Federation of Small Businesses, if we had a market rent only option, not only would 79% of lessees take it, but people would take on more staff and invest in their pubs, and confidence would increase—98% of tenants said they would have more confidence in the future of their business. Moreover, the projections show that nearly £80 billion would be pumped into the UK economy, rather than go abroad to pay off foreign creditors, the people currently—
Order. I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that I asked Members to speak for 10 minutes so that we would not need a time limit and everybody could get in. He has now been speaking for 17 minutes, and other Members might not get in as a consequence. I would be grateful if he could reflect on that and perhaps draw his remarks to a conclusion.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I allowed my enthusiasm to get the better of me.
To conclude, these are the death throes of this model, but the Government must act to save hundreds of pubs. Punch Taverns is teetering on the brink. It is in discussion with bondholders that might anyway lead to its demise. Luckily its tenants and lessees have their rights, but they also need the right to a fair share of their pub profits. It is time we had a decision. I welcome the chance to give the Government the necessary nudge—that is what this is about—but let us come back and discuss this again when we get their response. They must now listen and their response must be the right one.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), whom I know has a long track record of campaigning on this issue.
I am sorry that the playwright Samuel Beckett is no longer with us, because there is more than a shade of an existential play to this one: in act one, we all eventually come to some sort of conclusion, but in act two, it all replays, only in this case there are more than two acts and nothing changes, and on and on we seem to have gone.
I fear I might also have to go to a Welsh pub to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) teach us folk singing, but I would be delighted to come to the hon. Lady’s constituency as well.
We were last here debating this matter on 9 January last year, when many of us genuinely felt reassured by the Government’s promises to introduce a statutory code and independent adjudicator, which we all concluded were needed, and I am extremely heartened that today, having doggedly pursued this issue, my hon. Friend the shadow Minister has offered the possibility of a proper cross-party agreement in order to get the Bill on the statute book. The Secretary of State said earlier that it all depended on the legislative timetable, but we know the paucity of business on that timetable. It would be easy for the Bill to pass, and I hope it does.
It was clear that an industry regulator was needed when we debated this last year and that the Government had to take action, and so they still do. We are not waiting for Godot; we are waiting for Government. One year on, and a good deal longer since the House first spoke out, many of us are disappointed that no progress or change has been made. Of course, any regulator must be created carefully, but the Government’s sluggish action is nothing short of a tragedy in many communities. As Members will know, the Government’s response to their own consultation on pub company reform is now four months overdue.
Society changes fast, and it is more than 20 years since the former Prime Minister John Major evoked those oh so quintessentially British images that not even UKIP councillors could complain about: of cricket, warm beer, and spinsters cycling—preferably having kept to soft drinks before doing so. The pub has been in decline for many different reasons, not least the revolting practice of what I believe is called pre-loading, which was mentioned earlier, but it is not about which Government did what. Figures from organisations such as the Campaign for Real Ale demonstrate the scale and pace of the decline, in a situation where we could effect positive change. With 26 pubs closing every week, a few hundred must have closed in the four months in which we have been waiting for the consultation on pub company reform. That is deeply concerning.
I am concerned about why the Government have failed to act. As Members will know, if a Bill is to be introduced before the general election, the Government must put it in this Queen’s Speech. With every month of stalling, it becomes less and less likely that a Bill will be passed this Parliament. We are losing hundreds of pubs a year, which adds up to hundreds of businesses and job losses. With hard-working families already struggling to makes ends meet, that will only add to the melting pot being created within our local communities. By the Government’s own admission this time last year, our local pubs are struggling. We know that. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was correct when he said that these small businesses were under a great deal of pressure.
In my own constituency, I am delighted to have seen creditable examples of communities coming together to fight for change, but often that has happened in opposition to the tied system, not because of it. I have been hugely impressed by a group from the village of Minera. Faced with a pub that had closed, local people came together, raised the money and reopened a much-loved pub that is now a welcoming hub within that beautiful mountainous community. Tyn y Capel pub is an excellent example of a truly community-owned and run pub. Local people have bought shares and are managing the enterprise, but financially, for all their success in the community, it is touch and go. It is not possible to run the pub full time; still less is it possible to have full-time paid staff—much of the time, it is staffed by volunteers, with only a temporary residue of paid staff.
We need more Tyn y Capels, but we need an environment in which pubs can survive. Thousands of pubs have closed in the last four years, and hundreds more are being sold every year, and with each closure, a family, an individual or a community lose their business, livelihood or a vital connection to their community.
Pubcos seem to be cutting off their nose to spite their face. I just do not understand. If they charge too much for rent and beer, their tenants will go out of business and it will not work. The only way for pubcos to survive is if they reduce their prices so that more pubs survive. It makes sense. Even without legislation, that is good economics and good business. Why are they not doing that?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. For far too long, what we have seen from pubcos is a ridiculous example of monopolistic practices, which this House and the Government need to deal with.
Even those pubs that are staying open face an appalling situation, with tied landlords often paid risibly low salaries. That is why it is vital that the Government act and stop delaying on a promise that they made this time last year—and, I think, probably this time the year before. This is not just about beer drinkers facing higher prices and poorer choice, or even about people losing their local; it is about fairness for current pub owners and future jobs in our communities. The Government made us a promise. Indeed, some of us can remember that before the Secretary of State became a Minister, he was often referred to—sometimes affectionately, sometimes not—as Saint Vince. Today Saint Vince has a chance to redeem himself, for it is high time that he and the Government delivered on the promise they made and took some much needed action.
Let me declare a non-declarable interest, as it were. My sister, along with her husband, runs the local pub, The Village Inn, in Twyning, the village I live in, so although I do not have absolutely first-hand experience of the pub trade, I have what must pass as a close interest.
I echo what has been said about the value of pubs to communities. They are not only places where people drink; they are places where they eat and meet. Many golf societies, darts clubs and pool tournaments are hosted by pubs, and they are of great value to local communities in rural areas especially. Pubs also raise a lot of money for charities. Just this Saturday gone, I had the honour of presenting three cheques totalling almost £4,000 to local charities, and that picture is replicated across the country.
However, we have concerns. We are seeing many pubs closing, as has been said, and many landlords getting by on very little money. Their profits have been squeezed by the business model under which many of them are operating. There are no easy answers to the problem. As I said in an intervention, I held an Adjournment debate on this issue in the last Parliament, during which there were other such debates. The then Government were accused of not responding to a report that came out in that Parliament. I do not seek to make a party political point about that; I merely suggest that it is fairly unusual for the House to be almost in total agreement when discussing a problem, as it is today, yet for us all to be struggling to come up with a solution that will actually work.
As has been mentioned, the idea was tried with the beer orders in 1989, when breweries were barred from holding more than a certain number of pubs. That gave birth to the pubcos that we now see, which then bought pubs and other properties at high prices. As has been rightly said, they are now trying to recoup that money, in some cases quite desperately.
I am not at all surprised to hear that. I do not know the exact figure, but I do know that that is what has given rise to the problem, to the extent that it is one.
I recognise that there is a problem, and I want us to move on as quickly as we can, to help hard-working people who are keeping pubs going at the centre of communities. There are problems—I want to stress that point—but I want us to come up with a lasting solution that will not make matters worse. There are some benefits to the existing situation—I will come to the weaknesses in a minute. For example, a pubco can allow people who do not have a great deal of capital to enter the trade. They might be unable to afford to spend £300,000, £400,000 or £500,000 on buying a pub outright or to borrow that money. They also get their accommodation basically covered—certainly in most cases—while they run the pub, which gives them some security.
I do not recommend the tie at all, but I am concerned about what would happen to the rent if there were no tie. I am not speaking against reassessing the rent against a market level, but if we do that, what do we compare it with? If we are looking beyond pubs, we might look to McDonald’s, for example, or other franchise organisations. Is that a direct comparison? I am not quite sure how the proposal would work in detail—and of course, the devil is always in the detail. What about the repairing side of the lease? Will people with a fixed market rent be required to do more repairing of the fabric of the building than they are now? I am not throwing those questions out as stumbling blocks or trying to cause a problem, but they need answering.
I am happy to help the hon. Gentleman on that. The valuation would be done with transparency against the performance of other pubs. We need much greater transparency in the industry. Under the specific proposals that we have made today, the publican would be able to decide, knowing what a fair market rent was, whether they wanted to throw their lot in with the pub company, on the offer being made, or to opt out and buy their beer from wherever they chose. I hope that has answered his questions.
Not exactly, no, because how do we determine what the market rent level is? Is it the level for those with a tie or those without a tie? What about a repairing lease or a non-repairing lease? These are all details that need filling out, but I am not aware that they have been properly addressed. I want to deal with them and to make progress, but I am not sure we are there yet.
The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that I can help him. BIS Ministers have a copy of the definition of a market rent only option, which sets out how it would work and when it would be triggered. In essence, it is about simply paying a rent, which would be independently assessed according to statutory guidelines, and then being able to buy everything directly from the market. He seems to be making a mistaken comparison. The pubco tied leases are generally “fully repairing and insuring”. One of the scandals was when, as part of a tied lease, all the responsibility for that was shifted. A market rent only option is exactly what I have set out, and I will send that definition to him.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; perhaps I could now move on to how rents are assessed. As has been said, quite often they are assessed not on the turnover of a pub, but on the potential turnover, which takes in things such as food and non-tied products. There is therefore an unfairness in the way that rents are assessed now. If we can move to a better system, I will certainly support that.
As has been said, there is also the inflated cost of tied products. For example, certain pubcos will charge £130.70 for a keg of Carling when it can quite easily be bought—we have looked at these figures—for £95. That is a huge difference, which squeezes the profits of the landlord and makes the beer more expensive for consumers. To give another example, Stowford is sold for £112.70 when it can be sourced for £79.99. Those are just two examples; I could go on and on if I had the time. I think hon. Members realise that this is a problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State both mentioned this, but this debate is not just about the rent and the tie. We make a huge mistake if we believe that. We can look at those aspects at the beginning of a contract taken out with a pubco, but the relationship goes on from there, and sometimes it is the behaviour of the pubcos that causes the problems. For example, pubcos have the power to install fixtures and fittings and charge an exorbitant amount to the landlord, but he will not get anything back for them. Basically, the fixtures and fittings rule, which has been in existence for a long time, is a con, I am afraid. I thought carefully about whether I should use that word, but I think that rule is a con. It is an additional rent that people have to pay, which again squeezes the profits.
When people go into a pub owned by a pubco, they often have to go on expensive courses run by that pubco, for which it can charge exorbitant amounts. The cost of carrying out electricity checks, for example, has doubled in one year at the local pub I mentioned. It is the same pub, so why has the cost doubled? These are the sort of extraordinary charges that pubcos sometimes make in the course of running their ordinary business.
Extraordinary decisions are sometimes taken. The local pub I mentioned needed about £100,000 of work carried out, but the electrics and the roof were not completed when that work was done. There seemed to be an obsession with putting up new wallpaper, which was not necessary and not at all important. The work needed to be done over a six-week period, yet the period covering the jubilee week of last year was suggested. That is unbelievable—the busiest week of the busiest year in memory was chosen, and when the landlord refused to have the work done then and asked why it could not be done in January, there was a startled reaction.
I am providing examples to show that it is not just about the rent or the tie; it is about the behaviour of the pubcos as they go through the period of the agreement. I do not know how best to assess and tackle the problem, which is as important as other issues discussed today.
I have had my 10 minutes. I would have liked to talk about more issues, but in summary, I believe it is important to be careful to get this matter right. I think we need to take a little longer—I suggest not years, but months. Sometimes Government interventions can make things worse; sometimes Governments can be the problem rather than the solution. As I said at the outset, I believe that there is a problem and that it needs fixing.
It is interesting for me to follow the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), who broadened the debate, yet also provided some technical detail. I am sure that both Front-Bench teams will be interested to consider what he said. There has been broad agreement on this issue. What I think frustrates publicans and people who use pubs the most is the fact that, despite that broad agreement, nothing seems to be happening.
The Secretary of State, who is not in his place, listed all manner of surveys, while my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) talked about the detailed work done by the BIS Select Committee over a number of years. Apart from the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), very few Members have that level of detailed knowledge of the history and nature of the problem. The House is privileged to have both those Members contributing to the debate.
Pubs are struggling. As we have heard, many have diversified and are successfully running restaurants, for example. I called into a pub somewhere off the A303 and found that an opera evening was going on, apparently with great success. This and other specialist events are all designed to bring the punters into the pub, and provide a good all-round pub experience. Of course, when pubs are well run—and most are—they provide an opportunity for people to drink responsibly. Some Members touched on concerns about alcohol abuse, with some people just boozing at home. We should encourage people to go and drink sensibly in a pub with a responsible landlord, and we want a thriving network of pubs around the country.
Members have voiced concerns about the level of advice and training of the people who work in and run pubs. The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) made a good point about that, and it is worth looking at as part of the wider process of change.
I find it extraordinary that the Government and the industry have failed to act on the popular demand for change. The case made by the Fair Deal for Your Local Campaign, the Campaign for Real Ale and its members, the Federation of Small Businesses, the GMB and others is an extremely sound one. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) cited the outcome of consultations, returning resounding support for change, with 96% in favour of the main question and 92% in favour of independent rent reviews. From my experience, Governments seldom issue consultations without having a ballpark idea of the answers they are likely to get. I therefore find it almost inexplicable that, despite receiving full and rounded responses on the subject, the Government are still prevaricating. It is extremely disappointing.
We have some fantastic pubs in Plymouth and the south-west, but in other parts of the country, pubs are struggling and closing. We had some recent closures in Plymouth. My local pub, The Ferry House Inn, is diversifying. It serves fabulous food, and it is surviving, which is great. Other publicans across the city, however, are earning little more than the minimum wage. They sometimes work 364 or 365 days a year, and I think it takes a special type of person to take on the challenge of running a pub. The hon. Member for Leeds North West made it very clear that the tie is a distorting influence, in that tenants can no longer get lower rent in return for higher beer prices.
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, and it would be interesting to hear what the Secretary of State says in response to that finding, which, to be honest, many Members find rather odd.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield highlighted other areas of business where there is a relationship similar to the one that exists between the pubs and the companies, but where things are much more open and fairer. Clearly, we need to get pubs put on to that type of footing. This motion encourages a move away from the current position. All hon. Members who enjoy visiting their local pub and drinking a good ale or beer should think carefully and support the motion.
With pubs struggling for a range of different reasons, we need to do something about it. We need to introduce independent rent reviews to stop this double rent charging, to put in place the mandatory free-of-tie option and to set up an independent adjudicator, which would make a massive difference. The Government keep telling us that they are not kicking this issue into the long grass—I have lost count of the number of times that has been said—and that everything is being handled in a timely manner. Timely for whom? The Government should tell that to the 26 pubs that are about to close. They are not acting in a timely fashion. How many pubs will have to go to the wall before we finally get legislation? Let us face it: at the moment, the legislative programme is virtually non-existent, and there is no excuse for the Government not to bring legislation forward. I urge the Secretary of State to get his finger out and do something about it.
I shall keep my comments as brief as possible because the problems with pub companies have been well rehearsed this afternoon. I would like to thank the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) for mentioning the Abbots Mitre in Chilbolton; I can reassure him that the pub is still open and doing business. In that instance, however, there have been significant problems with the tie. That caused difficulties for the local community, which then sought to establish a community buy-out to make sure that their much-loved local is still open.
There are numerous examples in Romsey and Southampton North of previously successful and popular pubs shutting their doors. Some of the closures have been temporary. I am pleased that the Hunters inn in Romsey, for example, has reopened and is doing well. I echo the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) in saying that it takes a very special type of person to make a success of running a pub. The Hunters inn is a good example because the landlord there is also the landlord of two other pubs in the immediate Romsey area. He has certainly worked hard with pub companies to make sure that he can make a go of it. I am sure that it is partly attributable to his strong negotiation skills when it comes to arranging and agreeing leases.
However, this afternoon I want to focus on a slightly less happy example: the Stoneham Arms in Bassett, which closed in the middle of last year. I fear that what I am about to say is almost inevitable: the pub was owned by Enterprise Inns and is due to be converted to a Co-op store, although there is already one just a few doors away. I have no doubt that there is a sound business model to add to the existing retail offer in Bassett Green road, because otherwise the Co-op would not be seeking to do that, but the Stoneham Arms as a pub provided a meeting place for the community, and there are precious few such facilities left in Bassett. We often talk about the need for more community cohesion, but pubs can and do provide ideal meeting places.
I know that pub companies often cite a lack of interest on the part of potential future tenants as one of the reasons why they are obliged to consider alternative uses. Enterprise Inns informed me that the Stoneham Arms had been marketed on extremely competitive terms in an attempt to find a new publican, and that, in its words,
“not one serious enquiry was received to operate the premises as a public house”.
However, we cannot know how competitive those terms were, or, indeed, what other bars there were to people seeking to run the premises as a pub. Nor can I judge how significantly the beer tie acted as a deterrent to potential publicans, but I am convinced it played a part. The tie, the nervousness with which publicans regard possible abuses of it, and the general uncertainty that exists in the industry as a whole have come together to present a very bleak picture.
As we have heard repeatedly this afternoon, publicans just want to be able to earn a decent income—and must work incredibly hard to do so—and I believe that regulation is necessary to make that a possibility. Those in the trade seek certainty, fairness and reassurance that the Government are on their side, to ensure that they can run their business models.
Time is of the essence. As we have heard, 26 pubs are closing each week, and the Stoneham Arms is just the latest in a long list of pubs in my constituency that have either been lost or come under serious threat. The Woodman, also in Bassett, is now a Tesco Express, and in the villages of my constituency many pubs have been boarded up. I do not pretend that that is just because of pub companies and beer ties. Indeed, a pub in my own road is currently being marketed, and as far I know it did not have a contract with a pub company. However, we know from CAMRA that the rate of closures is increasing, and that many in the trade are looking to the future and considering their positions very carefully.
I realise that the Minister has heard a great many exhortations about timely action today. I welcome the amendment and the fact that it is supported by the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), whom I have always regarded as something of an expert on this issue. As he has said, it has and deserves cross-party support. We have heard from the Secretary of State that statutory regulation is needed, and there is agreement on that among Members on both sides of the House, but it is vital that when that is done it is done well, so that it works for the whole of the licensed trade and, indeed, its customers.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to take part in this important debate. I have been struggling to juggle the task of opening a new business in my constituency with my membership of the Care Bill Committee, so I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to speak—which I do as the Member of Parliament for Burton, which is the home of brewing and of two important pub companies.
Given that I am the last Back-Bench speaker in the debate, it is unfortunate that it should fall to me to represent the voice of doom, but I must urge the House to think about the unintended consequences of what it calls for today. I listened intently to the very reasoned speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), who uttered those words that strike fear into anyone who has been involved in the brewing and pub industry over the years: the Beer Orders. This is the single biggest factor that any Minister considering legislating in this area should consider. It is because of the Beer Orders and because of ill-thought-out legislation that we find ourselves in our present position, and I urge the House not to repeat those mistakes.
All Members who have taken part in today’s debate have done so for the same reason. They want to see a healthy and successful pub industry, and they want our pubs to thrive and to succeed. However, I believe that the unintended consequences of the proposed regulations will cause many more pubs to close.
It is important for the House to understand exactly what we are talking about when we refer to a free-of-tie option and to market rents. Let me cite the example of a pub company in my constituency, a brewery called Marston’s. It owns a number of pubs, which would be regulated under the proposed legislation. It has been operating for many years, and is a reputable business with a long and proud history. That brewery might have owned a pub for 30, 40 or 50 years, and run it extremely successfully. The tenant might retire or decide to do something else, and a new tenant might take over. Within months, that new tenant—despite having seen all the pub books and despite having had the business case assessed by his lawyer, his business adviser, his bank manager, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all, and despite knowing exactly what rent he would pay and what he would pay for beer—might decide that he wanted to become free of tie.
What is now being proposed is not only that the Government should tell Marston’s what it can charge for beer and rent in a property that it may have owned for 50 or 60 years, but that we should then allow that tenant, paying a rent set by the Government, to sell beer that is not Marston’s. We can see the unintended consequences of successful pubs, well run by brewers, no longer selling the beer on which they were built.
The hon. Gentleman has led a debate in the House on the same issue in the past, and it has still not been resolved. The situation he is describing actually happened between working men’s clubs and breweries. A number of clubs ran up a lot of debt that they owed to the brewers, and were then forced to sell their beer. How can we solve that problem? Many people in Coventry are concerned about pub closures.
As a young boy, I was more or less brought up in a working men’s club. I went to it every weekend. I recognise the importance of our working men’s clubs, and I know that a situation arose whereby clubs were in hock to the brewers. What we must bear in mind is that this is intervention in the marketplace that we would see nowhere else in business.
I am certainly open to the idea of an adjudicator. My question is, who pays? It is estimated that the administration of an adjudicator could cost £1 million, which is a huge amount of money to take out of the beer and pub economy. Who is going to pay for what could be described as just another piece of red tape and Government regulation?
I genuinely ask the Minister why she would want to sit in judgment on rent disputes or other commercial or contractual disputes between two businesses, especially when effective mechanisms are already in place that are unique to the pub sector, independent and funded by the industry. I ask her to consider carefully the Office of Fair Trading’s report to the consultation. It clearly expressed the view that the tie is not distorting the market, and states that the proposed intervention could result in a breakdown in economies of scale, leading to an increase in rents and prices that would affect tenants and consumers. I also urge the Minister to consider the report from London Economics, which her own Department requested. It suggests that more than 2,400 pubs could close as a direct result of the proposed intervention in the market.
The reality is that many pub companies are nursing pubs because they cannot find a tenant or buyer for them. The proposed economic model would mean that those companies would have to free themselves of those pubs, which could lead to thousands of pubs closing in a very short time. I ask the Minister: why regulate? Is there a consumer issue involved? Not according to the Office of Fair Trading. Would regulation help the smaller brewers? Certainly not, according to the Society of Independent Brewers. That organisation represents the micro-breweries. We have heard people rejoicing today that those breweries have flourished and blossomed. There are now 1,000 micro-breweries operating in this country as a result of the progressive beer duty introduced by the previous Government—I commend them for that—so why would we want to interfere in the market, given that those brewers have clearly stated that to do so would prevent their access to the market?
I think that you would become apoplectic, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I were to wax lyrical on why pubs are closing. We all know that it is due to changing social demographics, to the fact that people are spending more time at home, to the drink-driving laws and to the supermarkets. There are many reasons—[Interruption.] And, yes, the smoking ban. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) gesticulates as though he is puffing on a cigarette. I completely agree with him on that point. The previous Government introduced the smoking ban and, at a stroke, closed thousands of wet-trade pubs without putting in place any support for the pubs or the industry. He has pointed out another unintended consequence of legislation. It was a good idea that we stopped smoking in pubs—they have a nicer environment as a result—but the unintended consequence was that many of them closed.
The danger is that we repeat those mistakes in the proposed regulation. We would not expect McDonald’s franchisees to be able to sell Kentucky Fried Chicken products because they thought there would be more profit in doing so. Why, then, should we want a Marston’s pub to be forced to sell other people’s beer as a result of the proposed regulation?
My hon. Friend has mentioned the difficulties involved in reaching a solution, as I tried to do in my speech. Does he agree that one clear way for the Government to help pubs would be to cut the tax charged on beer, which can amount to 37% on the average pint? That is a huge amount of money, and any tax cut would benefit customers and landlords.
I recall a previous debate on beer, which I think was led by the hon. Gentleman. I made an intervention on that occasion to ask about whisky and other spirits. It is now known that spirits account for 40% of the sales in pubs, so would he include them in his calculations, as well as beer?
Of course, and whisky is a great product, but the hon. Gentleman will also know that the whisky industry is growing and that the vast majority of that growth is coming from exports, whereas the beer industry is in decline, and beer is produced and sold uniquely in this country.
I recognise that I am in the wilderness here, but I urge the Minister, colleagues and all Members who are considering how to vote in this debate not to introduce red tape and regulation that will force more pubs to close and create a further decline in the great British pub.
First, may I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), to her post? She has taken over the role from the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) whom we congratulate on the birth of her son, Andrew, and we pass on our regards to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames), who participated in the early part of this debate.
We have had yet another constructive debate on pub companies and their relationship with their tenants, but I cannot help but feel a significant sense of déjà vu. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) said in opening the debate, it would not be January without his staying off the alcohol for a month—I could flippantly say that he keeps off paying for it for the other 11 months of the year—and without our having a debate on pubcos. This is the third such Opposition day debate—that is, this Opposition are using our own parliamentary time to continue to raise this important issue and keep the pressure on the Government, stressing that they are doing too little, too late and too slowly.
It is important that we should continue to re-emphasise the contribution that pubs make to our local economies and local communities. Each pub employs an average of 10 people, often young people who find it particularly hard to find work in other sectors. They provide skills in customer service, management and training. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is no longer in his place but he talked about training, which allows me to mention the Montpelier group in Edinburgh, which set up its own training academy for people who work in its pubs and restaurants. It deserves great commendation for the work it does on that in Edinburgh.
The role of the licensee is very difficult, as I should know—I was a licensee of a hotel and two licensed premises before becoming an MP. It is the combination of pubcos and decisions by Governments of all political persuasions that has pushed prices up for the consumer, which has subsequently undermined the competitiveness of these organisations and, indeed, other activities. We need to look at what can be done by Government.
I think it is fantastic that communities are able to bid for pubs. It is happening in Scotland as well, under the Scottish Parliament. Indeed, I have a small vested interest in that, because I am leading a consortium of fans looking to buy Heart of Midlothian football club. Community ownership—or at least having the opportunity to go into community ownership—is the way forward for lots of industries that have a tie to the local community.
The combination of high rents and tied barrelage costs means that a pubco tenant must sell a pint at a price level that allows some reasonable profit margin. That level is well above what non-tied premises can charge, which makes the pubco tenants uncompetitive and pushes up the price for the consumer. As the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) mentioned, barrelage costs can be 50% higher in tied premises than in non-tied premises, which can distort the market in terms of how much tied premises need to charge the customer. Add to that an increase in VAT to 20% and we have a cocktail of disaster for the publican.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that because it is indeed the case. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield mentioned that too, when he said that the ties can be on wet sales, dry sales and gaming machines, and they can mean compulsory courses, compulsory training, compulsory licensing and using highly inflated contracts through the pub companies for, for example, statutory checks like electrical checks.
My constituency has a large number of excellent pubs of distinction, and my hon. Friend may well have visited some of them from time to time. They are also major sources of employment in the area. How would the proposals in the motion assist employment in that very important sector in my constituency and others across the country?
There is a simple formula on employment in the licensed trade: the more successful a premises is, the more people it is likely to employ. The entrepreneurial nature of people in these small businesses running licensed premises means that they tend to want to get more licensed premises and expand what they are doing, so this is very good for employment. I declare an interest again, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I have visited some of the hostelries in my hon. Friend’s constituency, some of which are rather nice, and I encourage others to do likewise.
I was talking about the double whammy of Government decisions and the tied contracts pushing up prices to the consumer, which perpetuates the demise of licensed premises. We must also consider the ever-increasing energy bills, the spiralling rates and the costs of other non-alcoholic supplies such as food, which are rising much faster than tenants are able to pass on to their customers. More has to be done to deal with all those other relationships, and I hope the Government will back Labour’s policy on both energy and business rates to enable us to bring some of those other pressures down.
It is important that we talk about the financial structures of pub companies and pubs, but does the hon. Gentleman recognise the important social function of pubs such as The Bull’s Head in Rodington, The Cock Hotel in Wellington and the Plough Inn in Shifnal, all of which are in my constituency? They have a link to CAMRA and the flexibility of being able to bring in real ales so that everyone can enjoy them in the community at the right levels.
I am delighted that I gave the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to mention a lot of the pubs in his constituency—I hope that is reciprocated. As he rightly says, pubs provide a community benefit, and many of the premises I have frequented, and one I used to run, had the local Rotary club there raising a lot of money for charity, so the community part of the pub is very well established.
I wish to reflect on the relationship between tenants and the pubco owners of the premises, which has been mentioned. One thing I found galling when I ran one of my own premises was that our business development manager took great delight in telling us which tenants he was fining that week for buying out, which they had to do to make a small living. That kind of behaviour and culture in the pubcos highlights the problem we face. We must also address the issue of inaccurate information being provided when people are making big decisions, particularly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield alluded to, when they are putting life savings into these premises; they have to make sure that the information they get is accurate.
I thought it might be useful to intervene because I have something of an answer on the question of jobs. The research from the Federation of Small Businesses showed that the market rent only option would lead to 9,888 pubs in the UK taking on more staff, which would be worth £48 million in wages.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. I only hope that he changes his mind and votes with us in the Lobby. It was striking that he said he would not be voting with us, given that he sent an e-mail to all Members yesterday encouraging them to do so. It is a shame that he will not change his mind, although he still has time.
Let me now deal with the remarks by the Secretary of State, whom I am delighted to see back in his place. He mentioned that he was drinking “mocktails” on his trade mission to the United Arab Emirates, and I wish him well in there. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, a “mocktail” is a cocktail without alcohol. The Secretary of State has invented a brand new word in today’s debate, because he has developed a “molicy”, which is a Government policy without legislation. He refused time and again to commit to bringing legislation forward in the Queen’s Speech. Why? It was because he probably does not want to bring it forward or he is being pressed not to do so. Despite making the case for urgency, he does not seem to be doing this. To continue the puns, he seems to be serving the pub trade very much a short measure in his response to this debate, .
My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) rightly highlighted the numerous reports produced by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee report, which are strewn over the Table. I can count 10 in front of us that have looked at this issue, so the Government do have a great degree of direction on which way they may wish to go. He was right to say that we have been round this issue time and again. He also talked about the considerable coalition for action that we have heard about, and we need to take cognisance of the number of people who have been looking at this matter.
The hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) blamed the previous Labour Government for some of the problems. I was delighted when the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), highlighted that, because the conclusions of the 2009-10 report, which came out just before the general election, included the sentence:
“The industry must be aware that this is its last opportunity for self-regulated reform.”
It is clear that the reason the previous Labour Government did not take a statutory approach was that they were listening to the influential Select Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) said that there was broad agreement on the matter in the House, but that Members and publicans become frustrated when the Government do not take the right action. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), despite her tour of both Norwich and Huddersfield, was sober enough to notice that there is little legislation on the Government’s current agenda and that there is time to promote this issue, and we hope that the Government will be able to do that before this Session finishes, or in the Queen’s Speech in May.
In their amendment to our motion on this subject last year, the Government said that they would create an adjudicator; they have done that already with the groceries code. This year’s amendment tends to row back from that. We cannot help but think that they are kicking the matter into the long grass, as they did with the zero-hours contracts until they were forced into action by the Opposition. The window of opportunity for a Bill before the general election is rapidly diminishing. The Government must introduce a Bill in the next Queen’s Speech; otherwise, there will be insufficient parliamentary time to pass it. Without such a Bill, we face starting the next Parliament with even more reports telling us how broken the pubco market is.
The Government must support our motion today and set in place a statutory code that allows a mandatory free-of-tie option, independent rate reviews and an independent adjudicator with teeth. That is what this House wants, what it has consistently voted for and what we are asking the Government to do. If the Government do anything else, they will yet again be seen to be failing to stand up to vested interests and to back the local pub.
I thank the many Members who have spoken so passionately in the debate today. Almost all of us have heard tales of hardship from constituents who have worked in the pub industry. The need for action has been shown across the House. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) appears to be the only one here who currently owns a pub, albeit closed, but there are clearly a number of Members who have an understanding of the industry.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on giving probably the best plug to his business, which has been mentioned four or five times in today’s debate—crowdsourcing will clearly not be a problem from now on.
A number of Members who have spoken have previously worked in the licensed trade, so they have been speaking from knowledge not only as constituency Members but as former licensees and so on, which has lent weight to the debate. My thanks go to the members of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and their Chair, the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey). He and his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Sir Peter Luff), have done crucial work over the years to raise awareness of this issue. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton South (Mr Binley) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) on their tireless work over a number of years.
Finally, I thank the wide range of people who responded to the Government’s consultation, including tenants, brewers, pub companies and their employees, interest groups, trade bodies, supply chain companies and consumers. Indeed, a number of Members from all parts of the House also submitted their views.
We have heard a number of stories from Members whose constituents are facing real hardship and adversity, which is clearly worrying. In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) name-checked a large number of pubs that have been mentioned in previous debates, so I will not do the same. I would, however, like to highlight some of the Members who have given a passionate defence of pubs: my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West, for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) and for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), the hon. Member for Huddersfield, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell), the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) and my hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Burton (Andrew Griffiths). That illustrates how important pubs are to a diverse range of communities across the UK. The constituencies about which Members have spoken today range from the urban to the rural and have very different issues, and that shows just how important pubs are.
As many Members have mentioned, over the course of a decade there have been four Select Committee investigations into the relationship between pub companies and their tenants and into whether a tied model causes an imbalance in bargaining power. The Government have received a large amount of correspondence from tenants about problems in their relationship with their pub company as well as from many hon. Members writing on behalf of constituents.
Although many pub companies behave well and some tenants have written in support of the tie, many others tell us that the tie arrangements with their pub companies are unfair and that a lack of transparency in particular causes a severe imbalance in negotiating power. Another issue that has been highlighted during today’s debate is the research commissioned by CAMRA based on self-reported income, showing that more than half of tied tenants earn less than £10,000 a year compared with only a quarter of those who are free of tie. The problems faced by tenants are real and clearly something needs to be done.
The Government consulted on the creation of a statutory code of practice to govern the relationship between large pub companies and their tenants and of an independent adjudicator to enforce the code. As a number of Members have highlighted, the proposals would represent a real step change for the industry, offering tenants the protection of a code of practice enshrined in statute and an independent and reliable body to which they could turn for assistance—[Interruption.]
The proposed code has at its core two important principles: the principle of fair dealing and the principle that a tied tenant should be no worse off—[Interruption.]
Order. This has been a very important debate and everyone has been listened to quietly and with respect. There are far too many conversations going on and I cannot hear the Minister, who is speaking perfectly clearly. If Members are in the Chamber, they should be listening to the Minister. If they want to talk to each other, they should go outside.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I completely agree; I have to say similar things to my children when they are bickering, as some Members appear to be today.
The two core principles at the heart of the code are fundamental. As the consultation made clear, there is a problem in the relationship between pub-owning companies and their tenants, and that was backed up by pretty much every Member who has spoken today.
I am afraid that I am very short of time and the hon. Gentleman has already intervened a number of times, so I will not.
The purpose of the consultation was to consider the proposals to address the problems in the relationship between pub-owning companies and their tenants, rather than to rehash the problems that we all know to be there. That leads me on to the response to the consultation; I emphasise again that the volume of responses we received was staggering, demonstrating the depth of feeling on the issue.
We received more than 1,100 written responses and more than 7,000 responses to the online questionnaire. One of those responses was 2,000 pages long, so the amount of evidence we have received is significant. That also shows that the situation is not as simple as some people have portrayed it, as illustrated by the speeches made by a number of Members today—not least those made by my hon. Friends the Members for Burton, for Tewkesbury and for East Hampshire and the hon. Member for Huddersfield. They raised concerns about what should be done to tackle the problems, including mentioning the views of the OFT, and highlighted that the matter is not simple but is far more complex than has been suggested by those on the Opposition Front Bench.
The responses to the consultation came from a wide range of interested parties. Since we published the responses online in December, they have been read several thousand times. If hon. Members have had the opportunity to look at even a little of the evidence that has been submitted—I am fairly sure that no one will have read the 2,000-page submission—they will see that views are often polarised on the degree and the nature of the problem, and what the best solutions would be. That has also been seen in today’s debate. The 2011 report of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee noted that the evidence
“demonstrates a high level of acrimony within the industry and is littered with claims and counter-claims”,
which just shows that it is important to make sure that we get this right.
The breadth and depth of views expressed in the Chamber today and in the consultation help to illustrate what a complex issue this is, particularly if we aim to design a solution that is both effective and proportionate. As some hon. Members have highlighted today, the tie itself is not necessarily a problem; it is abuse of the tie that is the problem. Nor is the tie the only problem facing pubs, so finding the right solution is a complex matter.
As hon. Members have also highlighted, the Government had intended to publish their response to the consultation by the end of 2013. I know that those who are affected by the proposals, whether tenants or businesses, need clarity from us. This is, however, a complicated issue, and it is really important that we get the decision right. The excellent response to the consultation has created a broad evidence base upon which we can make our decision, and the evidence spans the range of proposals that we have discussed today, including the market rent only option, and puts us in a good position to make the right decision to ensure a fairer and more sustainable pubs industry.
We intend to publish the Government’s response to the consultation as soon as we can, but we are working to reach a proportionate solution that delivers greater fairness for Britain’s publicans. We believe fundamentally that a tied tenant should be no worse off than a free-of-tie tenant. The beer and pubs sector makes a significant and valuable contribution not only to our economy, although that has been highlighted in today’s debate, but also to the more intangible benefits of social cohesion and a sense of community. We want to support a fair and flourishing pub sector, which is why we removed the beer duty escalator, as has been mentioned by hon. Members, and reduced the tax on beer in last year’s Budget. It is also why we support the community right-to-buy scheme, which several hon. Members have mentioned today, and why we are giving £19 million to help communities to take advantage of the scheme.
By ensuring that tied tenants are treated fairly and putting an end to the abuses of the tied model, we will create a sustainable and fairer industry to enable pubs to remain as mainstays of our communities, and that will be good for publicans, pubs and the public.
Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
That this House welcomes the opportunity to debate the issue of fairness in the relationship between publicans and pub owning companies; notes the concerns, acknowledged by the Government in January 2013, about the failure of pub company self-regulation to rebalance risk and reward between the companies and their tenants and lessees; recognises the excellent work and the four Reports that the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee and predecessor Committees have produced over the years on this issue; further notes that the previous Government failed to take any position on this important issue until February 2010, just two months before the dissolution of Parliament and the end of its term in office; further notes that this Government held the first ever consultation to explore how best to protect tenants and lessees through a statutory code of practice backed by an independent adjudicator; further notes that this consultation received a very large response and that it is right that the Government carefully considers the huge volume of the evidence received as part of this consultation before publishing its response as soon as it can in 2014.