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Volume 646: debated on Tuesday 11 September 2018

Pubs are a vital part of our local communities and the Government are committed to supporting them, which is why I froze all alcohol duties in the 2017 Budget. That freeze, and cuts in alcohol taxes since 2013, mean that a typical pint of beer is 12p cheaper than it would otherwise have been.

Pubs are also benefiting from recent wider reforms of business rates that will be worth £10 billion by 2023, including the doubling of rural rate relief to 100%, the switch from retail prices to consumer prices indexing, reforms in small business rates relief that have taken 600 small businesses out of rates altogether, and the introduction and then the extension of the £1,000 business rates discount for pubs.

Will the Chancellor join me in congratulating the Friends of Haden Cross, a pub in my constituency? Will he, in particular, join me in congratulating Tim Haskey and Jim Mumford, who rescued the pub when it was on the point of closure, and who, working with new management, have seen a 500% increase in takings since November? Does he agree that the Government should continue to provide good fiscal support for pubs, given their importance to our local communities?

My hon. Friend has detailed a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of a pub. I congratulate the Friends of Haden Cross on that success, and on making such good use of the “assets of community value” scheme to save their local.

The Government remain clear about the fact that local pubs are instrumental in facilitating the support networks and social interactions that are such a vital part of local communities. We will continue to protect them, and it is welcome news that pubs such as the Friends of Haden Cross are benefiting from the measures that we have taken.

Will my right hon. Friend join me on a pub crawl in Shrewsbury? [Laughter.] I am buying.

My right hon. Friend has mentioned some very positive figures relating to Government support for pubs, but I should like him to come to the Salopian Bar, my local in Shrewsbury, and hear at first hand about the extraordinary rises in business rates with which some pubs have had to deal. I should like him to gain first-hand experience, by talking to landlords, of some of the financial pressures that they are under.

Provided that I can have it in writing that my hon. Friend is buying, I am very tempted to consider his offer. I will negotiate with him.

I understand the pressure that pubs and many other traditional businesses are facing. Pubs in Shrewsbury have benefited from recent cuts in alcohol duties and business rates, but of course we recognise the challenge that many smaller businesses face, and we will keep that challenge very much in mind as we formulate our policies.

The Chancellor is obviously very welcome to join me in a pub crawl around Darlington as well. I always stand my round.

Many of us who represent towns are fighting very hard to support our high streets, and the business rate pressures that have confronted retail businesses are exactly the same when it comes to pubs and catering outlets. In my town, there are so many anomalies in relation to pubs and business rates that such anomalies have become almost normal. The situation needs to be looked at as a matter of urgency. Will the Chancellor investigate the way in which smaller pubs are particularly disadvantaged by the business rates system?

It is true that pubs are assessed in a different way from other retail premises for business rates purposes. We looked into that recently and concluded that the current system was in fact the best system for pubs, but I shall be happy to look into it again.

We all recognise—every single one of us, whichever part of the country we represent—that high streets are under pressure, primarily because the behaviour of consumers is changing. I think that our challenge is to support the high street as it undergoes that process of change. We cannot simply turn our backs on a change that is driven by consumer behaviour, but we must support businesses as they make it.

I am sure the Chancellor will agree that there is a need to encourage entrepreneurs and small business start-ups, including the setting up of new pubs. Will he agree to follow the lead of the Welsh Labour Government, who have set up a micro small business fund that provides up to £500,000 a year to enable small businesses to protect and create jobs? A UK-wide scheme could protect a great many small industries, including the pub industry.

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have the start-up loan scheme, which provides support for entrepreneurs starting small businesses, and the Government will continue to encourage small businesses to be established and then to grow.