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Community Pubs

Volume 587: debated on Monday 10 November 2014

In last year’s autumn statement we announced a £1 billion package of business rate support, which included a £1,000 discount for small businesses with rateable values above £50,000. That is benefiting three out of four pubs.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and for the work the Government have done on reducing the burden of business rates. Will he consider further reform, such as standardised billings and an appeals process, to reduce yet more of the burden on small businesses and community pubs such as the Charcoal Burner in Furnace Green?

I commend my hon. Friend on his work in supporting the pub industry. As well as the £1 billion package to help bills, we are considering ways in which the regime could be improved through a review of our business rates administration. We are also looking at ways to speed up the appeals process, to make it more transparent for businesses.

The problem with pubs in inner-city areas such as London is that the land they sit on is so valuable that they fall prey to property developers who want to build houses, as has happened to the Dutch House public house in my constituency. Is it not about time that we told developers that they are not going to take away these assets, which are highly valued by local communities, just for their profits? Will the Minister take some action to ensure that we protect pubs in such a situation?

We have already put in place a community right to bid process. As well as discounts for the associated business rates, councils can use article 4 directions if they want to shape their particular community and to shape how such businesses are established. The hon. Gentleman is right that the pub plays a really important role in the community. The good news is that beer is 8p cheaper as a consequence of this Government.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the serial bad behaviour by the Co-op in my constituency and others in the south, where it is taking over pubs and converting them into shops, often on very unsatisfactory sites? The Ship Inn in Cuckfield in my constituency is uniquely badly placed to serve as a Co-op. Will he look at what he can do to review the article 4 direction scheme, and to give general instructions about where such shops should be sited?

That was a splendidly detailed question. There was I thinking that the right hon. Gentleman was going to tell us about the champagne and oysters that he consumes in his community pub, but I was wrong.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his support of the local pub. The article 4 direction scheme is strong, and it gives councils the opportunity to intervene. I know that there is a passionate campaign to support the Ship Inn. I would welcome the opportunity to meet the campaigners, and I will try to support them where I can.

Other things threatening public houses include not just the issue of business rates, but the cost of alcohol compared with the discounts that people get in their local shops and supermarkets. Has the Minister had any discussions with his colleagues about changing the price of alcohol in this country, as has been recommended, to protect not just people’s health but the local village pub?

All sellers of alcohol have a responsibility to make sure that they promote responsible alcohol consumption, which the Government are encouraging. There is a consultation on alcohol pricing, which is still under consideration.

No one wants this Government to be shown to be the most pro-pub Government ever more than me, but that is not going to happen while this ministerial team continue not to change the rules whereby a pub can become a supermarket without needing to go through the planning process. Will the new Minister with responsibility for community pubs tell us that he will finally stop this scandal, which is robbing communities of pubs up and down the country?

I am afraid that I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman, because nobody in the House is more enthusiastic about supporting pubs than me. There are powers through an article 4 direction to protect a location, and there is an opportunity through the community right to bid to support a treasured local site. I suggest that he works with the local council to make sure that he secures such assets.

Will the Minister acknowledge the contribution made to many small community pubs by independent family brewers? Will he speak to his counterparts in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that the concession achieved for them during the passage of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill is carried through and that they are excluded from the regulations?

Having several small brewers in my constituency, I know that they make a huge contribution to the local economy. I am more than willing to have the conversation for which my right hon. Friend has asked.