Delegated Legislation Committee
Draft Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) Order 2016
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Geraint Davies
† Blackman, Bob (Harrow East) (Con)
Eagle, Maria (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)
† Heappey, James (Wells) (Con)
† Henderson, Gordon (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con)
† Jarvis, Dan (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
† McGinn, Conor (St Helens North) (Lab)
† McGovern, Alison (Wirral South) (Lab)
† Morris, Grahame M. (Easington) (Lab)
† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)
† Smith, Henry (Crawley) (Con)
† Smith, Julian (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
† Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)
† Twigg, Stephen (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op)
† Wharton, James (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
† Zahawi, Nadhim (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)
Joanna Welham, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee
Wednesday 13 July 2016
[Geraint Davies in the Chair]
Draft Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) Order 2016
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) Order 2016.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. The draft order, which was laid before the House on 8 June 2016, if approved, will deliver one more significant milestone in fulfilling our manifesto commitments and our commitment to implement the devolution deals between the Government and the Liverpool city region.
On 17 November 2015 the Government and the Liverpool city region combined authority announced a devolution deal that involved an offer of powers and budget from the Government, on the basis that the area will deliver certain reforms and measures, including adopting a directly elected Mayor covering the whole combined authority area.
The Liverpool city region deals—there can be more—are part of the ongoing process of devolution, which allows areas to take control of their own destiny and growth and supports our commitment to rebalance the economy. The deals are part of building a northern powerhouse, which has the massive potential to add an extra £37 billion to our national economy by the end of the next decade.
The draft order, under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, which received Royal Assent on 28 January, will, if approved, deliver two major steps of devolution for the Liverpool city region. To reflect their agreement to the original deal, the six councils of the Liverpool city region and the combined authority have formally consented to the order.
In the first of the two steps, the order creates the position of a directly elected Mayor for the Liverpool city region, with the first election to be held in May 2017. Under the 2016 Act, the Mayor will chair the combined authority and exercise individually those powers agreed in the devolution deals. In the second step, the order specifies that the first mayoral term will last three years, with the next election in May 2020, and subsequent terms will last four years, which will enable the Liverpool city region to align the mayoral election with other local elections from 2020.
The order is an important step in the journey to implement fully the groundbreaking devolution deals that we have reached with the Liverpool city region. We will introduce further secondary legislation to confer on the city region and its Mayor the powers agreed in the devolution deals, including legislation to provide the detailed arrangements for how the powers will be exercised in practice. That secondary legislation, which of course the House will have the opportunity to debate and, if it so chooses, to approve, will include necessary provisions on the relationship between the Mayor and the other members of the combined authority.
I commend the draft order to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, I think for the first time.
The draft order is narrow in scope, as the Minister has outlined. It covers the areas of the local authorities of Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral, under the combined authority, and it sets the date for the election of a Mayor. A number of Committee members have a sense of déjà vu, because we have had similar discussions about a number of other combined authorities—I anticipate that we will have some more, perhaps even before the recess. I will try my best not to go over old ground, but I will put some key points and questions to the Minister on behalf of the Opposition.
I am sure that the Minister is aware of previously expressed concerns about an elected Mayor being a prerequisite for the devolution of substantial powers. In particular, the Communities and Local Government Committee was concerned about the creation of complex and over-bureaucratic systems of local government, with multiple tiers that can often blur lines of accountability.
Will the Minister outline how the Government consulted with local communities before choosing their preferred standard model of governance? In a Delegated Legislation Committee yesterday, the Minister referred to the consultation exercise conducted by the combined authorities, but if that is to be meaningful and there is to be proper engagement, how is he addressing the matter?
For the sake of brevity, I am going to use the term “Merseyside combined authority”—[Interruption.] The Minister says “Liverpool city region”. I am not sure of the correct nomenclature, but I will use Merseyside combined authority. The authority has a track record of success since its formation two years ago. There has been significant investment in transport and in projects such as the one to transform the empty, iconic Littlewoods building on Edge Lane into a state-of-the-art film studio. More than £21.5 million has been invested in more than 30 projects to enhance learning facilities and build new ones, and key housing and economic development sites have been identified to promote growth throughout the region.
The EU is very relevant. Given the implications of Brexit, we need some clarification. If we are to rebalance and grow our economy post Brexit, it is crucial that we restore the fortunes of our regions and great cities, such as Liverpool. EU investment and funding has been a vital lifeline for our regions. We heard yesterday that EU investment and funding for my region, the north-east, amounted to £400 million. That funding is particularly important for those in poorer areas that are often overlooked by central Government.
The Merseyside local authority areas voted to remain in the EU, which is not surprising, given that, by 2020, £190 million will have been invested in the region thanks to our membership. Bearing in mind the term of office of the elected Mayor, it is important that the Minister gives us assurances on that funding. One reason for such a large remain vote in Liverpool might be that The Sun, and other Murdoch press publications, are not popular on Merseyside. Nevertheless, access to EU funding, and its benefits, are key issues on Merseyside, as they are in many other regions.
There are clear examples of how Merseyside has benefited from EU funds, from Queen Square to John Lennon airport. There has been the restoration of St George’s Hall, a UNESCO world heritage site. There have been investments in skills and training, as well as the largest single investment nationally of £50 million in the arena and conference centre on the Liverpool waterfront. I am looking forward to visiting the latter when the Labour party conference is held there later this year.
I appreciate the fact that the Minister has stated that, in the short term, while we remain a member of the EU, nothing should change. But we should bear in mind the scope of the order and the date of May 2017, when the Mayor will take office. Will the Minister confirm that the anticipated investment from the EU up to 2020 will be guaranteed by the Government? There was a lot of speculation about the net benefit to the Exchequer of our leaving the EU, and various figures were bandied about, but we need some reassurance. It is important that we know where we stand in the short term.
It is also important to note that, in the longer term, beyond 2020, which is the scope of the order, large-scale infrastructure spending and investment needs continuity of funding, as the Minister is well aware. It will be very difficult to develop private-public sector partnerships if business is concerned about the Government’s commitment to real investment in our cities and regions. Will the Minister outline his plans for investment beyond that date, or at least beyond the term from 2017 to 2020? I am assuming we will exit the EU in two years.
Will the Minister match or, in anticipation, exceed the level of investment that would have been available had we voted to remain in the EU? Does the Minister agree that a decline for any reason in current levels of investment and infrastructure spending within the first term of the elected Mayor—from 2017 to 2020—would be a betrayal by those who advocated Brexit by promising the British people that we would have more funding available for schemes that support growth in the regions?
I will press the Minister on public engagement. It is a critical issue and we should take every opportunity to engage the public in the devolution process. Despite claims by Ministers that this will be a “bottom-up process”—a term used by the Minister in a Delegated Legislation Committee yesterday on the Teesside combined authority—the public are often looking in from the cold as decisions about their city and region are discussed behind closed doors and without their input. It would be remiss of me if I did not highlight the ongoing consultation on the Merseyside combined authority, or the Liverpool city region combined authority, which can be found on the combined authority’s website.
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the order we are considering is about having a directly elected Mayor, and the dates and terms of office, for the Merseyside combined authority, as you have called it. I appreciate that there are issues surrounding that, but the Minister may not be completely briefed to respond to all the key points about the implications of leaving the EU. While we are talking about dates, of course, we do not know when we will have Brexit. I assume the Minister will mention 2020 and how that might work with the general election and all of that sort of stuff. Please continue, but I thought I would let the Minister know that I do not expect him to respond to all those points.
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr Davies. I am trying to apply the arguments within the terms of the order. The Minister has repeated on a number of occasions that this is a process, not an event. We are looking at the event of appointing the elected Mayor and at the timescale of the term of office. If it is a process and it is the Government’s intention that things will develop from that event, what steps has the Minister taken to ensure that the views of local residents, which shape the evolution of these devolution deals, are included in that process?
The Merseyside combined authority Mayor will face many challenges during his term of office from 2017 to 2020. Since 2010, devolution has to a large degree been about delegating cuts, rather than empowering communities. I am concerned that we will not be thanked if we do not tackle the resource question in the period from 2017 to 2020. Local government has shouldered more than its fair share of deficit reduction, particularly in the most deprived communities, which in some cases have seen cuts 18 times larger than those in the most affluent areas. If Mayors and devolution deals are to succeed, we need a new, fair and sustainable approach to local government finance.
I am looking for assurances from the Minister that areas such as the Liverpool city region will not be financially worse off due to changes to business rates that are due to come in during that period. There is a real fear that that will relate into substantial cuts in areas with the highest need, which often have the lowest tax bases, while there will be a growth in resources for areas with higher tax bases, such as London and the south-east. The Labour party wants devolution to work, but the transfer of powers must be accompanied by a sustainable model of funding, because resources are key. I promise that Labour will do devolution differently. We will empower communities without the restraints and conditions that the present Government are seeking to impose and we will ensure that it is properly resourced.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I intend to make only a few brief points on the order. The announcement that we will have a metro mayor in Merseyside was greeted with some degree of scepticism in my constituency, not least because it was seen as a political construct imposed by the Conservative party despite it not having a single elected Member of Parliament on Merseyside. However, I welcome the introduction of the order.
I firmly believe that a metro mayor serving the whole of Merseyside and the Liverpool city region can bring us tremendous opportunities for trade and investment and for creating a civic identity for the region. Of the component parts of my constituency, people in Rainford feel a strong Lancashire identity, people in Billinge feel a Wigan identity and people in Newton-le-Willows feel a Warrington and a Cheshire identity. I think that it is fair to say to my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, West Derby and for Wirral South that there has always been a healthy rivalry between St Helens and Liverpool on a number of matters. Part of the reason for that is the geography of the region. In Manchester, where there are proposals for devolution, there is the city centre and a doughnut around it, so if an area to the east feels that it is on the periphery, there is a corresponding area to the west, north and south. On Merseyside, of course, St Helens is the periphery because the other side of Liverpool is the Irish sea.
Yes, via Wirral. It is therefore important, and I pay tribute to those standing for the Labour selection for the mayoral candidacy who have made a virtue of including the whole Merseyside region in their plans.
Will the Minister take note of some of the initial concern and scepticism that was expressed, notwithstanding our commitment to making this work? With regard to turnout at the election next year, there is a duty on local authorities and all of us as elected Members from Merseyside, but also on the Government, to ensure that we do not have a repetition of the first elections for the police and crime commissioner, so that the new Mayor of Liverpool, whoever he or she is, has a resounding mandate from right across Merseyside and the whole city region.
Opposition Members have asked a number of questions that I will seek to address. The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Easington, asked about consultation with local communities. As I have said before in debates on this topic, at which he has often been present, this is a two-way process; a deal comes from both sides. They are represented in these deals with the local authorities through their local authority leaders. Those local authorities have each given their consent to the order. It is for the directly elected councillors and council leaders to lead the authorities on which they sit and to consult with their communities as they feel is appropriate. It is right, as in many parts of our constitution and democratic traditions, for councillors to make those decisions and agree that on behalf of those communities. I welcome the consultation that many have taken part in, but as a Minister I think it would go against the spirit of devolution were we to dictate to them how to consult with the communities they know best. We expect them to do what is right for those communities and to have carried out what they believe to be appropriate.
The shadow Secretary of State also asked about European regional funds, which we have discussed previously—in the very recent past—in debates of this nature. The first point to make, of course, is that we have not yet left the European Union, which will take time to negotiate. I do not know the timeframe, but even article 50, once invoked, allows for a two-year period, so at the moment it is very much business as usual. We expect European funds to continue to be applied for, and we expect the European Union to meet its obligations to the United Kingdom, just as we will be expected to meet our obligations as a member.
Thereafter, any decision will be for the Government of the day, but I am absolutely convinced, given what we know about the complexity of European funds, that money could be better targeted and do better things, and that regional growth could be better supported. Whether in government or out, I will advocate support to our regions and the funding necessary to deliver economic growth. We should not forget that we are a significant net contributor to the European Union. There may have been argument about the figures during the referendum campaign, but it is undoubtedly the case that we will have more of our own money, over which we will have—to coin a phrase—taken control.
The shadow Secretary of State asked about business rates, but they do not fall directly under the draft order, so I do not want to go into too much detail, and nor is it my direct area of policy as a Minister. However, I believe that a consultation is going on at the moment, so there are opportunities for those who have interests or concerns, or who might even want to make supportive comments, to be part of it. We want to ensure that whatever changes come in are made fairly and properly. All contributions to the broader debate are welcome.
I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for St Helens North, who was positive about the opportunities that the draft order represents. I endorse his comments about turnout; it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that people understand the huge opportunity being presented to them, and why it matters that they get the right person to drive forward the economy in the Liverpool city region. I thank him for taking the time to make his comments.
Finally, I want to thank the shadow Secretary of State in a broader sense. He has been in post for a relatively short period of time, but he has been an Opposition Whip for the entire time that I have been in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I do not know whether I will continue in the Department as the week goes on—we will soon find out—but it has been a real pleasure to work opposite him in his different capacities. He has always been courteous and engaging—challenging, yes, but constructive with it. I commend him and thank him for that. In whatever context, I hope that we will get the opportunity to work opposite one another again—although, of course, for as long as possible with me sitting on the Government side.
Question put and agreed to.
Draft Pubs Code etc. Regulations 2016
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mr David Hanson
† Baker, Mr Steve (Wycombe) (Con)
† Barclay, Stephen (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab/Co-op)
† Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)
† Jones, Gerald (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
† Knight, Sir Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)
† Menzies, Mark (Fylde) (Con)
† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)
† Pawsey, Mark (Rugby) (Con)
† Rees, Christina (Neath) (Lab)
† Robinson, Mary (Cheadle) (Con)
† Soubry, Anna (Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise)
† Stevenson, John (Carlisle) (Con)
† Stewart, Bob (Beckenham) (Con)
† Whately, Helen (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
† Woodcock, John (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op)
Jennifer Burch, Katy Stout, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee
Wednesday 13 July 2016
[Mr David Hanson in the Chair]
Draft Pubs Code etc. Regulations 2016
If Members wish to remove their jackets, they may do so.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Pubs Code etc. Regulations 2016.
I can already see and hear that there is an outbreak of people being a bit demob happy as we reach the final stages of what has been, by any standard, an interesting—sometimes rather difficult—few months. May I say how sorry I am that we were not able to implement the pubs code by the original deadline of 26 May? As some hon. Members will know, a small number of technical drafting errors were identified in the regulations originally made in April, which meant that some tied tenants would not have had a right they were absolutely entitled to under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, which was passed not without some controversy in the previous Parliament. We were clear that we wanted the group of tenants covered by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 to have the right to the market rent only option. We felt that was important.
Frankly, we could have pressed on, though that would have been out of order and, if anything, somewhat dishonest. Even though it meant there would be a delay, we were adamant it was important that all tenants who should be included in the regulations were included. We were not prepared to introduce the regulations knowing that there was that flaw only to have to come back in a few months’ time to rectify it. Therefore, with regret, we pulled the regulations at that stage.
The Secretary of State and I had a meeting with the various pubco businesses—the big brewers and owners of many pubs—and we also met with representatives of the tenants. I really want to pay tribute to them, because in the meeting I had with them I thought they were so good, so fair and so reasonable in listening as we explained why we kept having to pull the regulations.
We had to amend the regulations in a number of ways, which we have now done. We have corrected the error in relation to the 1954 Act, which would have affected regulation 30 in particular. The regulations now refer to “protected tenancies”, which means tied tenancies where certain rights under the 1954 Act in relation to renewal of a tenancy apply. The drafting ensures that those tenants have and will retain a protected or contracted-in status once they have chosen the MRO option.
We also took the opportunity to add some clarification to the regulations and to improve the mechanism for assessing what constitutes a significant increase in price for the purposes of triggering the right to request the market rent only option. The changes to that significant increase in price are expected to give greater clarity on how calculations are carried out and reduce the potential for unintended consequences. Specifically, we have replaced the Office for National Statistics’ producer price index with the consumer prices index. I was really grateful to the tenants, who were so helpful when we met them, and I went through and explained what we wanted to do. Many groups and representatives said in particular that CPI was the right way forward. Changes were also made to exclude excise duty and temporary promotions from the calculation of price changes, which again is important; increase the tolerance in the “alcoholic drink other than beer” category from six to eight percentage points; and ensure that any products that are the same and sold in the same units are compared as like for like.
Other changes to the regulations following their withdrawal were mainly in response to comments and queries received from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and its legal advisers. Again, I thank that Committee. We struggled, because unfortunately its Chair was unwell. It was rightly concerned, as you would expect, Mr Hanson, about this secondary legislation, and it wanted to make sure we get it right. I pay tribute to everybody who has looked at the regulations to make sure they are right while doing everything they can to expedite them so we can give tenants the rights that we as Parliament said they should have as swiftly as possible.
Paragraph 12 of the explanatory memorandum, which the Minister’s Department produced, says that there will be a review and that the first review period will end on 31 March 2019. I note what she says, but if the regulations turn out to have an unanticipated undesirable effect, is there a mechanism in place to allow her to review the code earlier than 2019?
I see no reason why not, unless somebody from my excellent team says otherwise. I pay tribute to all the people who sit next to me; they have worked remarkably hard. The Government and I, as the lead Minister, have been absolutely adamant that we must do the right thing by everybody. We are doing what Parliament clearly intended should be done in that controversial decision. We are reflecting what Ministers and Back Benchers from both sides of the House said. That has been absolutely at the heart of what my officials and I have done. We want to be sure we are true to the will of Parliament. That is incredibly important.
It is also important that we are fair to both sides. Unfortunately—I would like to think that this is no longer the case—there have been two sides: the pubcos on the one side and the tenants on the other. We have been absolutely clear that we must do the right thing for both sides. Once Parliament accepted MRO, we had to get on with it. Frankly, the pubcos have got to grasp the reality and do the right thing by the tenants. I am happy to report that we will keep the code under review. I give my word that, if I am still in this job in the forthcoming months, I will make sure we do that.
Other changes to the regulations following their initial withdrawal were mainly made in response to the JCSI’s comments and queries, for which I thank it. I confirm that the regulations deliver the requirements of the provisions of the governing legislation—part 4 of the 2015 Act. They reflect the commitments made by Ministers at the time and the will of Parliament.
As the regulations suggest, the relationships between tied-pub tenants and pub-owning businesses are not always straightforward. Let us be honest: they have not always been fair. I believe that the pubs code is proportionate and balanced in its approach, and that it will allow pubs to operate in a fair environment so they can thrive. They are all, of course, small businesses, and as the Minister for Small Business I want them to do well—[Interruption.]
I think that is the first time an Opposition Member has asked me not to rush through a speech. In the steel debate earlier, which the hon. Member for Sefton Central and I both attended, I observed that I could end up on the Back Benches. That may not be welcomed by Opposition Members, because I could end up on a few Select Committees and they would not want that.
I think the pubs code is proportionate and balanced in its approach. It will allow pubs to operate in a fair environment so they continue to play an important part in all our lives and provide a positive experience to many visitors to this country. As we know, the pub is at the heart of most communities. We want good pubs to continue, not just for the sake of our economy—as I say, they are great small businesses that employ people—but because they are so important to so many communities. Soap operas are the stuff of fiction, but it is interesting that there is a pub in every single one. That is a serious point, because it reflects the reality of modern life—and, indeed, traditional life—in our country and is a recognition of the hugely important role that pubs play in communities up and down our land.
The Government have worked hard to ensure that the pubs code is fair and proportionate and can be enforced effectively. We want to ensure that tied tenants of the largest pub-owning businesses are no worse off than free-of-tie tenants and there is fair and lawful dealing between pub-owning businesses and their tied tenants. We must ensure that we deliver those principles without placing undue burdens on business, and I believe that the regulations achieve that balance.
The regulations set out the processes for the MRO option and confer functions on the Pubs Code Adjudicator relating to disputes about that option. This is an extremely complex area, but I believe that in implementing the MRO option we have successfully balanced the interests of tenants and pub-owning businesses. For example, the draft regulations provide that the right to an MRO option at rent assessment is not dependent on an increased rent being offered. That represents a change in policy from the original proposal, which would have had the unintended consequence of preventing significant numbers of tied tenants from receiving an MRO offer. It was the will of Parliament that tenants should be able to have such an offer, and we were keen and determined to be true to the wishes and the force of Parliament.
We have also delivered the ability for tenants to have a rent assessment and MRO option in parallel and have not imposed a requirement for a separate parallel rent assessment, and we have delivered an exemption from the MRO for fairer pub franchise agreements while ensuring that that does not result in a loophole exempting them from all code protections.
As well as the MRO, the code addresses many other important aspects of the relationship between tied tenants and pub-owning businesses. For example, it ensures that tied-pub tenants receive the information that they need to make informed decisions about taking on and operating their pubs, which I think we would all agree is critical. Many of us will know from our constituency work that some people who have taken on a pub tenancy should have had much better, honest information about what they were taking on and the consequences of not having the support or the ability to run that pub. That is an important part of the regulations.
Tied pub tenants can also ask to have their rent reassessed if they have not had a review for five years, and can expect fair treatment in dealings with pub company business development managers. People in the sector will know—I am not stereotyping, because some breweries in particular are very good, as are some of the pubcos—that it is really important that such companies ensure that they have good, competent people right the way through their managerial structures so they can properly advise those who want to take on pubs. Many people still have that dream, but as those of us who have ever had any experience of pubs know, taking on a pub is an almost seven-day-a-week and sometimes more than 12-hour-a-day job. It is a proper hard job, a real commitment. We should always remember that and pay huge credit and give our thanks to all the tenants who take on that work. I know they get a reward from it, but my goodness, they don’t half put the hours in.
In all those areas, transparency is essential—both parties must be fully aware of what is involved and what they are committing to—but that transparency must be backed by the enforcement of fair dealing. A tenant who believes that a pub-owning business has breached the code therefore has the right to refer that alleged breach to the independent Pubs Code Adjudicator, who is empowered to award redress.
As you may know, Mr Hanson, some people have been a bit controversial, and in my Twitter timeline—I think that is what it is called—there are still a few tweets that I have received, although they are not quite as vile as some of the other tweets that I have received. We do not need to go into all that. I believe with almost a passion that in Paul Newby we have appointed an adjudicator who will do an excellent job. He has 30 years’ experience of the pub sector and has acted on behalf of tenants and pub company landlords during his career. I am confident he will do an excellent job as the adjudicator and ensure that the statutory code achieves its objectives. We must now ensure that the code comes into force as soon as possible.
As I have come to learn, the debate around the pubs code has been polarised and sometimes it has not been the most pleasant of debates, although I think it is at its core, because there is a desire to do the right thing to ensure fairness and a thriving pubs business.
I know that there may still be points on which one side or another might not be perfectly happy and they could wrangle on about that, but I genuinely believe we have now achieved regulations that reflect the will of Parliament and that are balanced and proportionate. The time has come to put differences and bitter arguments to one side and to get on and implement the code as soon as possible, so that we can get on with what we all want: a successful, thriving and fair pubs industry. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I welcome the Minister introducing the pubs code regulations, in the spirit of cross-party support that has been in evidence for some time. I am pleased that we are where we are. I express my thanks for the cross-party support there has been over the past two years and more, and for the fine work done by the Campaign for Real Ale in support of the code and by others, including the British Pub Confederation, who deserve much credit for getting us to this stage.
The Minister talked about the importance of the code. I completely agree that it is about creating a level playing field, a fair market and the right balance between pub-owning companies and the tied-pub tenants.
I have a number of questions to ask, but first, the Minister was right to apologise for the delay in the implementation of the code, and I thank her for that. We are talking about the right of tied-pub tenants to the MRO option, so that they are no worse off as a tied tenant than if they paid only a market rent. That is a really important step forward in this sector for community pubs, which are at the heart of all of our communities.
The Minister also mentioned the Pubs Code Adjudicator, who has been in post for some time. We have had the rather absurd situation of an adjudicator without a code to adjudicate on. We have debated that a few times. He is in post, however controversial and however many concerns there are about the potential for conflicts of interests because he acted overwhelmingly for the pub-owning companies in the past, and we must wish he is a success now that the code is coming into place.
Will the Minister answer these questions? She said the code would be in place as soon as possible. What does she mean by that? Does she have a date in mind? She mentioned 26 May as the date the code was supposed to come in. According to CAMRA, some 13,000 tied tenants due for rent reviews since 26 May have not had the MRO option available to them. What can she say to those 13,000 tenants and any others who will be delayed until the code is up and running? What support can she give them?
Will the Minister say more about the parallel rent assessment and how the code will ensure that that process happens without the formal element, as requested by so many during our previous deliberations? She rightly talked about the opportunities that we now have. There is a waiver period available as well, in which a tied tenant can waive their right to MRO, on the basis that they are going to receive investment from a pub-owning company. What can she say about guaranteeing to those tied tenants that, if they waive their rights, they will receive that investment? How can she ensure that the adjudicator, if it is his responsibility, will ensure that that investment happens?
I welcome reaching this point today and I look forward to the Minister’s answers. I am sure that this will not be her last appearance on the Front Bench. Somehow, I cannot see that happening— [Interruption.] I have been known to be wrong in the past, and this may well be my last Front-Bench appearance. Who knows what the future will bring? I say no more than that.
The Minister said that the time has come to put bitter arguments behind us, although I do not think that she and I had any bitter arguments over the issue. However, the time has come to enjoy a pint of bitter together.
Likewise, it is a great pleasure to serve under you, Mr Hanson. I want briefly to add my welcome to the regulations on behalf of my constituency and the Furness branch of CAMRA, which, as hon. Members may be aware, has as its logo a cask of beer converted into a submarine, which is fitting. I also welcome the regulations on behalf of all the independent pubs in the Furness area, which are doing so well in gathering together, having beer festivals and promoting their trade, although they find themselves struggling against the big corporations.
I am a frequenter of Wetherspoon’s The Furness Railway. A certain point is reached on a Friday or Saturday evening when some of my constituents want to take selfies and I have to take on good faith the door policy of not admitting anyone under age, in case they turn up on Facebook the next day. I am all in favour of fair competition. What the Government are doing, albeit slowly, is really welcome. To finish, I shall quote one of the founders of CAMRA all those years ago, Michael Hardman. Recently on BBC Radio, he urged people, “Come to Barrow-in-Furness and taste heaven in glass.” That will be made a little bit easier by the regulations, which I am delighted to support.
A great danger in such debates is hon. Members from all parties standing up to give the most blatant plugs—not only to the various pubs that they enjoy, but to the great brewers in their constituencies. Never one to miss an opportunity, I have to say that there is no debate: the Blue Monkey Brewery is one of the most outstanding craft breweries in the country. No doubt other hon. Members might want to intervene, but we will not go down that route.
We should genuinely pay tribute to Britain’s beer industry, because we brew the most outstanding beer. I was interviewed recently by one of the trade newspapers, and I think the interviewer was quite shocked at the number of pubs that I clearly frequent and the number of beers I have, in my past, enjoyed, most notably Jennings, which is an exceptional ale from the part of the country represented by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness.
However, the Whip has reminded me that we are not here to discuss ale. Instead, we are here to ensure that we protect our great British pubs. The hon. Member for Sefton Central asked a number of questions, but I will have to write to him in response to some of those. However, he might have put the comma in the wrong place, as it is not 13,000 tenants who have missed out, by any stretch of the imagination. According to my excellent officials, 13,000 would amount to more than all the pubs in scope. We do not doubt that, unfortunately, a small number of tenants will have missed this opportunity over the past two months, but certainly not such a number.
The hon. Gentleman asked what “as soon as possible” means. The timetable anticipates that everything will be effectively finished by the time the House rises next week. That is certainly the aim. [Interruption.] I have helpfully been passed a note about the waiver period. The code sets out the requirements for an investment agreement, which includes protections. Disputes about the assessment, when not agreed, can be referred to the adjudicator, which is where he really comes in.
On the parallel rent assessment, I assure the Committee that when tied tenants request an MRO option they may also consider a tied-rent assessment at the same time. In other words, they can look at that in parallel to this. I express my thanks for all the contributions made and hope that the motion will be agreed to by the Committee so that the regulations can progress and come into force before the House rises next week.
Question put and agreed to.