Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 6
Power to grant exemptions from Pubs Code
‘(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that the Pubs Code does not, or specified provisions of the Pubs Code do not, apply in relation to—
(a) the dealings of pub-owning businesses—
(i) with tied pub tenants of a specified description, or
(ii) in relation to tied pubs of a specified description;
(b) the dealings of a specified pub-owning business or pub-owning businesses of a specified description—
(i) with their tied pub tenants or tied pub tenants of a specified description, or
(ii) in relation to their tied pubs or tied pubs of a specified description.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular, specify a description of pub-owning businesses or tied pub tenants by reference to—
(a) the nature of the tenancy or licence, or
(b) the nature of any other contractual agreement entered (or to be entered) into by the tied pub tenant with the pub-owning business, or a person nominated by that business, in connection with the tenancy or licence.
(3) The regulations may provide for circumstances in which a tied pub of a specified description is to be disregarded for the purposes of section 64(2) and (3) (determining whether a business is a large pub-owning business).
(4) In this section “specified” means specified in regulations.” —(Jo Swinson.)
This amendment gives the Secretary of State a power to make regulations exempting from the Pubs Code dealings with a particular type of tenant, or in relation to particular types of pub premises. The regulations may set out circumstances in which a particular tied pub is not counted for the purpose of calculating whether a company is a “large pub-owning business”.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Pubs code: market rent only option for large pub-owning businesses—
‘(1) The Pubs Code shall include a Market Rent Only Option to be provided by large pub-owning businesses in respect of their tenants and leaseholders.
(2) A Market Rent Only Option means the right of the tenant, or leaseholder, of a pub owned by a large pub-owning business, to be offered such tenancy or lease in exchange for an independently assessed market rent paid to the pub-owning business and, for the avoidance of doubt, not thereafter being bound by “a tie”, meaning an agreement meeting, in whole or in part, Condition D as defined in section 63(5) of this Act (obligation to buy from the landlord, or from a person nominated by the landlord, some or all of the alcohol to be sold at the premises).
(3) For the purposes of this section, the definition of Condition D in subsection (2) is to be interpreted to include an obligation to buy or contract for goods and services other than alcohol.
(4) For the purposes of this section, the definition of a “large pub-owning business” is a business which, for a period of at least six months in the previous financial year, was the landlord of—
(a) 500 or more pubs (of any description); and
(b) one or more tenanted or leased pub.
(5) The Pubs Code may include provisions to permit a brewery which qualifies as a large pub-owning business to continue to require that specified brands produced by that brewery (required products) are sold within its tenanted or leased pubs—provided that such tenants and leaseholders are free to purchase such required products from any supplier.
(6) The Pubs Code shall contain provisions requiring that the offer of a Market Rent Only Option to a tenant—
(a) at the point of lease, tenancy contract or other agreement renewal, or at rent review or five years from the date of the previous rent review;
(b) when the large pub-owning business gives notice of, or imposes, (whichever is the earlier) a significant increase in the price at which it supplies products, goods or services (falling under subsections (2) or (3)) to the tenant;
(c) when a large pub-owning business implements, or gives notice of, a transfer of title;
(d) when a large pub-owning business goes into administration; or
(e) upon an event outside of the tenant’s control, and unpredicted at the time of the previous rent review, that impacts significantly on the tenant’s ability to trade.
(7) The terms of an offer under subsection (5) shall include provision for a 21 day period of negotiation, commencing from the tenant giving notice of an intention to pursue a Market Rent Only Option, in which the large pub-owning business and the tenant may seek to negotiate a mutually agreeable Market Rent Only settlement.
(8) Following the negotiation period under subsection (7) there shall follow a 90 day period of assessment. In this period—
(a) an independent assessor shall be appointed with the agreement of both parties by joint private instruction and on the basis of an equal apportionment of costs; and
(b) under arrangements and criteria that the Adjudicator shall establish, such an assessor shall be—
(i) independent of both parties; and
(ii) competent by virtue of qualification and/or experience.
(c) if the business and tenant cannot agree on an appointee then a person shall be appointed, on the application of either party, under arrangements established by the Adjudicator;
(d) the appointed assessor shall then assess the market rent for the property operating as a pub with no “tie” as defined in subsection (2) and submit to both parties the resulting sum for such a rent; and
(e) at the time of the three month assessment period, the tenant shall have the right to pay no more than the sum determined under paragraph (d) to the pub-owning business and, if previously one party to a “tie” as defined in subsection (2), shall no longer be bound by it.
(9) The Pubs Code shall contain such measures as ensure that—
(a) the Market Rent Only Option is conducted in accordance with timing provisions and procedures, in accordance with RICS guidance, as specified in the Pubs Code; and
(b) large pub-owning businesses are prohibited from acting or discriminating against any of their tenants who choose the Market Rent Only Option.
(10) The Secretary of State shall confer on the Adjudicator functions and powers in relation to the Market Rent Only Option, that include—
(a) determining what constitutes a significant increase in price, as mentioned in subsection (6)(b) in the event of a dispute between tenant and business;
(b) adjudicating in disputes concerning the process or outcome of the market rent assessment; including the power to set the market rent if the Adjudicator deems the process or decision to have been flawed; and
(c) receiving, investigating and adjudicating in relation to complaints made under subsection (9)(b).
(11) The Secretary of State shall make provisions for the implementation of the following measures in this section by regulations amending the Pubs Code. Such regulations shall be made under negative resolution procedure. The Secretary of State may make provisions changing the types of agreement that fall under subsection (2) by regulations. Such regulations shall be made under negative resolution procedure.”
Government amendments 29 to 41.
Amendment 5, in clause 6, page 47, line 19, leave out “tied” and insert “tenanted, leased or franchised”.
Government amendments 42 to 58.
I am glad to be able to get on to the debate on part 4 of the Bill, which is about pubs. There was considerable debate in Committee on the measures to introduce a pubs code adjudicator and a pubs code, and I am sure that we will have another lively debate today. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business and Enterprise has already mentioned, there is considerable interest in this matter in all parts of the House, and it is important that we have good scrutiny of the Bill.
New clause 6 ensures that the definition of a tied pub does not inadvertently capture restaurant or hotel premises, which was a concern raised in Committee. We are aware of one fish and chip restaurant chain that could meet the conditions set out in clause 63, and it is possible that there are others. We all know a pub when we see one, and we all know the difference between a pub and a fish and chip restaurant, but defining that in legislation can prove difficult, particularly given increased food consumption in pubs, which is in large part the result of the hugely successful smoking ban making the experience much more enjoyable. That is a new way in which pubs have diversified, and indeed increased their income, but it makes separating them by legal definition more complex.
New clause 6 therefore provides the Secretary of State with a power to exempt a particular type of tenant or premise from the pubs code in secondary legislation, so that we can ensure that it is only pub premises that are in scope. For the avoidance of doubt, amendment 58 sets out that regulations created through the exercise of that power will not be subject to the hybrid instrument procedure.
There are two other big issues addressed by the amendments in this group. Our discussions today obviously follow many years of consideration by the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, which has, along with its predecessor Committees, looked in particular at problems in the tied pub sector—I think that there have now been four reports. I would like to pay tribute to Mr Bailey, who I see is here, as well as to his Committee and its predecessors for all their work to ensure that the problems were heard, investigated, documented and addressed.
We heard concerns from Members on both sides in Committee about smaller companies and family brewers being covered by the statutory code and adjudicator. We also heard assurances, through the evidence submitted by smaller companies and family brewers, that they would continue to fund the voluntary regulation system, which I know many hon. Members feel strongly about.
Absolutely. We have been considering how best to respond to those genuine concerns. This Government have no wish to overburden small business. Indeed, we have done a huge amount to reduce regulation on business, particularly small business. Of course, this is a small business Bill. We are trying carefully to strike the right balance between helping smaller pub-owning companies and helping individual tenants and small business people who are struggling with some of the difficulties documented in the Select Committee reports.
We have listened to all the concerns put to us and, on further reflection, have decided not to press amendments 29 to 33, 41, 43 and 44, which were designed to reinstate smaller pub companies within the scope of the statutory pubs code, albeit with lesser requirements. Instead, we will bring forward amendments in the other place to change the exemption to those companies that own fewer than 350 tied pubs. We think that strikes the right balance between preventing overburdening of genuinely small family brewers and ensuring adequate protection of tied tenants in a way that is proportionate.
Toby Perkins made the point in Committee that a threshold of 500, which would have been set out in the Bill, would not have ended up capturing some groups that perhaps would have been expected to be captured. This change will ensure that the adjudicator’s attention, and indeed the costs of compliance with the measures, is focused on the largest companies in the sector and on the end of the market where most complaints originate.
I just want to clarify what the Minister said. I think that I might be seeing the deft hand of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business and Enterprise, who seems to be the only one in the Department who understands small businesses. Can the Minister explain to the House what the big difference is between 500 and 350, or is she just grabbing at a number that does not look like 500, which she said in Committee was the right one?
The hon. Gentleman could recognise and welcome the fact that the Government have responded to the concerns he raised and have moved on the issue, but he has chosen not to, given his comments about colleagues in the Department, with which I wholehearted disagree. We must ensure that we consider those concerns, but they were raised not only by his colleagues, but by my hon. Friend Stephen Gilbert, who was a member of the Committee, and by Opposition Members concerned about the issue.
That is a fundamental part of this. The Government lost the vote in Committee, and now they say that the Bill will go right through to
Third Reading as it is, but that they have some vague idea of doing something about the matter in another place. As we have been through Committee and are now on Report, that does not give this House much opportunity to debate whether we are happy with these eventual changes.
We have between now and 4 o’clock to have that discussion. What I have clearly set out is in line with what the hon. Gentleman wanted in Committee, which was for smaller companies to be excluded. As I have said, he made the very reasonable and rational point that there were some companies—this deals with the intervention from my hon. Friend Richard Fuller—that had in excess of 400 tied pubs, for example, and it might seem strange to people that such companies would not be covered. We listened in Committee and now propose that the threshold should be 350 tied pubs, rather than 500. I think that it is a positive thing that the Government have listened to the views of hon. Members and responded accordingly.
For the benefit of the House, can the Minister clarify how many businesses she believes will now be brought into scope that would not have been previously?
Three further businesses would fall into that category. It is obviously a fluid issue, because companies buy and sell pubs all the time, so that might change in future.
I am grateful to the Minister for listening to the will of the Committee. It is reassuring that the Government listen when amendments, such as the one that I tabled, receive cross-party support. Will she please clarify whether, when she talks about tied pubs, she is referring to tied pubs excluding managed pubs—in other words, short-term tenancies and leases excluding managed houses?
The definition is as set out in the Bill. Where a pub is directly managed, it does not meet the definition of a tied pub. I hope that gives the hon. Lady the reassurance she seeks.
As I have said, the Government have listened and recognised that the largest number of concerns originate at the end of the market with the largest pub companies, which is why we will focus the pubs code adjudicator on those companies. We recognise that there are concerns about other parts of the market, but clearly the House can return to those issues in future if it so wishes. We think that focusing the adjudicator’s attention in that way will resolve the vast majority of the issues that we have identified in the market.
We have listened to the concerns about smaller pub companies and family brewers. Of course, later this afternoon we will discuss another issue about which hon. Members from various parties have expressed strong views. It is clear from the number of hon. Members who have put their name to new clause 2 that there is a strong desire in the House for the statutory code to go further and to introduce the market rent only, or MRO, option.
We ran a consultation on that whole issue. As I pointed out in Committee, and as was said on Second Reading, it was one of the most popular consultations the Department has run in a very long time.
It received a huge number of responses because tenants, individuals and campaign groups take a great interest in the issue. Many representations were made on whether there should be a market rent only option and there was support from many quarters for that approach, but we recognise that there could be uncertain outcomes from such an approach. We would not want unintended consequences to harm the sector and the people we are trying to protect—
I will finish my sentence, then I will give way to my hon. Friend, who has such a strong record of campaigning in this area.
We recognise that many hon. Members worry that the pub companies need the very real threat of tenants going free of tie before they will offer their tenants a good tied deal. I can commit today that the Government will bring forward amendments in the other place to respond to this. Following the many Select Committee reports and the campaigning by my hon. Friend Greg Mulholland and others in all parties in the House, we have listened to those strong representations and we plan to add to the Bill a power to introduce a market rent only option after two years if a review concludes that the measures have not delivered sufficiently for tied tenants.
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work she has done. I will respond to that last point when I make my speech. She commented on the popularity of the consultation; two thirds of all who responded backed the market rent only option. None supported what the Government are proposing—a parallel rent assessment—so what was the point of the consultation?
The point of a consultation is to explore the issues and, if necessary, to make changes to the Government’s proposals in response. That is exactly what we have done. The parallel rent assessment responds to some of the concerns expressed in the consultation about the initial ideas that we had outlined. It is right that the Government should be flexible enough to respond to a consultation. If the Government go into a consultation with a set of plans and come out of the consultation with exactly the same set of plans, that means either that the plans were perfect—sometimes that may be the case—or that the Government refuse to listen. That was the point of the consultation on this issue.
My hon. Friend makes the point that there was great support in the consultation for a market rent only option. He is right. The Government recognise that. Although I appreciate that he will be disappointed that that will not culminate in the Government accepting his new clause 2, it gives a great fillip to campaigners who have worked on this issue and shows that the Government are serious. We think that the parallel rent assessment approach that we have outlined will deliver the “no worse off” principle, which we should all be able to agree is what we want for tenants. We will make sure that with the further power, the market rent only option is still on the table if, for any reason, the parallel rent assessment proposal does not deliver the intended outcome.
I will not dwell on the fact that the Minister is suggesting that a consultation is a success if the Government change their view and conclude that something that no one was asking for is the right answer. The industry is desperate for certainty. If we come out of the process proposing another review in two years which might change the whole landscape yet again, does the Minister agree that we will have failed to give the industry the certainty it requires?
We recognise that a significant number of companies appreciate the beer tie. For many tenants and companies it is a model that works well, as Members on all sides would agree. Therefore, we do not want to undermine it. There is a danger that that could happen under the market rent only option. Equally, I understand that many people advocate that as a market-based solution to deal with the issue. We are trying to forge a way forward that will have the confidence of the industry and will allow the market rent only option to be introduced two years after commencement of the Bill if a review finds that the parallel rent assessment is not working. It is clear that the “no worse off” principle is paramount and needs to be delivered. We believe that the parallel rent assessment will deliver that, but if it does not, we do not want to have to introduce another piece of primary legislation. We want the Government to be able to act swiftly.
I have listened with interest to the discussion of issues relating to new clause 2 and I agree that it is good to hear that the Government have moved on these matters. However, two years is a long time into the future. Another Government will be in office and a review would be toothless unless we are very clear about the criteria for judging whether the Government’s current proposals have succeeded. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify what she is proposing. It needs to be concrete and specific to have any value.
We are proposing a power for the Secretary of State to introduce the market rent only option following a review that finds that tenants are not sufficiently protected by the system that we put in place. An important point that should reassure my hon. Friend is that we are creating a pubs code and putting a pubs code adjudicator on a statutory footing, so there will also be a significant individual who is independent, who is an expert and who has great experience of dealing with disputes. If cases go to arbitration, the adjudicator may be involved in investigations as well. The pubs code adjudicator will have a substantial amount of information at his or her disposal. We will not be in the situation that we have been in up to now, where it would be more difficult to assess the position. The adjudicator will enable us to make that assessment and to have an independent voice to set out what may need to happen further.
Does the hon. Lady accept that, in an industry that employs thousands upon thousands of people and creates millions of pounds-worth of wealth for this country, there will be incredulity that amendments are to be made within hours of the Bill leaving this House? We have had four BIS Committee inquiries into this and years to discuss the issues, yet the Minister comes scrabbling to the Dispatch Box just a few hours before we are due to vote on the measure. How can that give the industry any confidence?
I regret the fact that my hon. Friend is disappointed, but he was often disappointed in the Public Bill Committee when we were not able to accept his amendments on a range of issues which, if taken together, would have undermined the purpose of the Bill. I know that he speaks up for his constituents and he represents one of the larger pub companies that has its base in his constituency, so I understand where he is coming from. His view of what needs to happen to address the problems and injustices in the industry is very different from that of many, and perhaps most, Members of Parliament. We want to make sure that we get the details right. We want to listen to the House. That is what a responsible Government do.
Perhaps I was unchivalrous earlier when I said that the Minister does not understand business. It is clear that the Government are on the run. This is the second issue on which they are proposing changes. What role has the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills played in these last-minute shenanigans?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman was unchivalrous and I am not sure he rescued the situation with that intervention. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business and Enterprise who is my fellow Bill Minister and I discuss these issues as the hon. Gentleman would expect, as we try to make sure that we give the right response to the concerns raised in Committee.
I would like to make a little progress, then I will give way to my hon. Friend.
We have set out in the Bill the parallel rent assessment process, which gives tenants the opportunity to request a parallel rent assessment so as to be able to ascertain—
I have said that I will make some progress and then I will be happy to give way.
The parallel rent assessment process will enable tenants to get the information they need to assess the deal that they are being offered by their pub company—to look at the figures and decide whether they are being offered a good deal or would be better off under a free-of-tie option. Of course, the pub companies would hope that if, as they say, they are offering a genuinely good deal under the tied model, then very many tenants will be very happy to continue in that vein. However, if the parallel rent assessments show that they are worse off, or if there is a suggestion that the parallel rent assessments are not being properly and accurately completed, then the adjudicator has the power to ensure that the assessment is done again or, if necessary, to provide for a different rent to be set. The parallel rent assessment has the potential to revolutionise the experience of tenants, and it should reassure them that we are serious about this. If the pub companies do not reform and their behaviour continues as it has, we will be able to legislate further to introduce the market rent only option to ensure that tenants get a good deal.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West and those supporting his new clause will be reassured by this commitment. It is right that we give the new system a chance to deliver a fair deal, with an added power for Government to introduce a market rent only option should pub companies fail to do as they should. I think that that will focus minds. I am keen to listen to the debate that will take place on this issue.
I will; I said that I would once I had made some progress. Perhaps that was not clear to my hon. Friend.
I wanted to intervene on a specific point, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for eventually giving way. Will she please confirm what dialogue she has had with the industry, since the Committee stage just a couple of weeks ago, about the new measures of which she is informing the House today?
This is not the first intervention that my hon. Friend has made, and I am obviously happy to respond to it. The industry has made significant representations in writing and had the opportunity to contribute at the public evidence session, which is an excellent, fairly new innovation in this House from which we all benefited in Committee.
In Committee, we had the opportunity to hear from and to have these discussions with the industry, as well as with campaign groups—we must recognise that both sides are important in this. Since then, written correspondence has taken place, to which I have responded to deal with some of the issues raised. Of course, as Minister, I will continue to do so.
Our concern is that a lot of pubs could close over two years. We want assurances that there has been lots of dialogue with the industry and with pub owners who are going through these difficult times to make sure that they are happy with the proposal that the Minister is now bringing forward.
During the process of developing this legislation, there has been significant dialogue and consultation on the whole area through the formal consultation that Government held, to which we had the response earlier in the summer. I have met, through various round tables, members of companies that own pubs, family brewers, and tenants’ groups.
Order. I appreciate Members’ interest in these matters, but it is a little unseemly for them to try to intervene on a Member—in this case, the Minister—who is already responding to an intervention. Timing is of the essence in these matters. Be patient—the Minister is a most gracious and accommodating Minister.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, my hon. Friend Jenny Willott—who did her job so brilliantly during the six-month period when I was on maternity leave—and I have had various face-to-face meetings and held round table and discussion events. I have met some of the individuals who have been through the PICAS and PIRRS— pubs independent conciliation and arbitration system and pubs independent rent review scheme—processes. We have had those meetings face to face. There has been significant correspondence—reams and reams of correspondence—between me, as Minister, but even more so, in terms of the level of detail and volume, between my officials and these companies and campaign groups. I therefore do not think that the hon. Member for Pudsey can suggest that there has not been consultation. Equally, it would be impossible for me to stand here and say that everybody is entirely happy with these proposals; that was never going to be possible. I am sure that even the BIS Committee would recognise that there are very strong views on this issue, often in contradictory directions. We are trying to find the right way forward that best protects tenants while not imposing unnecessary burdens on businesses.
I thank the Minister for giving way, because this is a very important issue. Investors will be looking at her statements today. This could affect the viability and the profitability of businesses, together with thousands of jobs. She has announced a brand-new element—the introduction of the free-of-tie option but with a two-year wait. Can she confirm whether she has spoken to a single member of the industry about the implications for their business of that two-year delay—to one person, yes or no?
I would like to correct the hon. Gentlemen’s characterisation of what is happening. He is saying that this is the market rent only option but with a two-year wait. To be absolutely accurate, it is a power for the Secretary of State to introduce the market rent only option after a period of two years if a review finds that that is necessary. That is not exactly the same thing. It is important to put that on the record.
Throughout this process, the Government have been engaging with companies and with individuals. The market rent only option was extensively covered and discussed within the consultation process. I have had very many such discussions with companies over the course of the past 18 months. As was put to us forcefully on various occasions, some large pub companies will not welcome this and are very opposed to it. At the same time, we recognise the issues that have been raised in successive BIS Committee reports about the tenants who are suffering and the need to do something about it. We think that our parallel rent assessment is a proportionate and sensible way forward that will deliver for tenants, but we are keen to make sure that if that does not happen we do not end up at this stage again; we need the ability to act swiftly to introduce a market rent only option.
Let me try to clarify this. In the last few moments we have discovered that there is to be a two-year review before fundamental change to the industry, leading to two years of uncertainty. Is the Minister saying that she has discussed a whole series of things over 18 months but has not spoken to anyone within the industry about the new development that she is presenting to us today?
I am saying that we have had plenty of negotiations and discussions about all the different options, but specific round tables have not been reconvened with the industry since the Committee stage. We know where the industry stands on this. My officials are in regular contact with the industry and with campaign groups, who have been making their cases fervently. Many Members represent tenants and also have pub companies and family brewers in their constituencies. Ministers have had many discussions with those hon. Members on behalf of their constituents who have raised these issues over the past couple of weeks since the Committee stage. Indeed, we also had such extensive debates in Committee. There has been plenty of consultation.
In relation to the Minister’s discussions with the Federation of Small Businesses, it estimates, according to the information that I have, that implementing the market rent only option would boost the economy by £78 million, and that over 90% of pubco tenants would have much more confidence to invest in their businesses, helping local economies to grow.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. As I have said, a range of different of views and issues have been raised and it is impossible to please everybody. Although some of the larger companies oppose the introduction of a market rent only option, organisations such as the FSB, as the hon. Gentleman points out, are campaigning to implement it.
I will give way once more before I move on, because the hon. Gentleman has not intervened yet.
The review was always built into the process, because we wanted to look at how the measure was working. What is new is the introduction of the power to introduce a market rent only option, and when that proposal goes before the other place, supporting documentation, such as impact assessments, will also be submitted. Clearly, different quarters have opposing views on what it will mean: some say it will be excellent for business, while others say it will result in concerns for business. People will not necessarily concur and agree about what the exact impact will be, but the Government will produce the documentation to go alongside that amendment when it is tabled in the other place.
The Government’s technical amendments—amendments 34, 35 and 55—deal with the particular issue of franchises. Clause 40 already makes it clear that tied pub agreements are in the scope of the pubs code where tenants pay some sort of fee, such as a turnover fee, rather than rent. Such agreements are often called franchise agreements and it is right that they are covered. The same potential for the abuse of a tie exists, and if franchises were not in scope there would be a sizeable loophole by which companies could evade the code.
Amendments 34 and 35 therefore ensure that franchises are covered by clause 42, which refers to rent assessment and rent review arrangements, which the Secretary of State may rule as void or unenforceable. Amendment 55 provides the Secretary of State with a power to define parallel rent assessments in regulations so that we can ensure there is appropriate flexibility in the approach to cater for franchise pubs. That will allow the final design of parallel rent assessments to take account of further engagement with the industry and public consultation, and through that we will ensure that those assessments are available to all tied tenants of large pub-owning companies.
Amendments 40 and 56 ensure that agreements where the tenant is tied for some or all alcoholic drinks are still covered, even when the tenant does not purchase those drinks from the pub-owning company. We are aware of some franchise agreements where the tenant does not technically purchase drinks from the pub-owning company. The tenant is still contractually obliged to sell those drinks on behalf of the pub-owning company and cannot source them elsewhere, so the amendments are important to avoid a loophole in the legislation.
The Opposition’s amendment 5 seeks to clarify that franchise agreements are in scope of the legislation. I absolutely agree with that view and hope the hon. Member for Chesterfield will be reassured by the Government amendments, which make that crystal clear and address the point by ensuring that no loopholes are being created.
Amendments 38, 39 and 47 to 53 seek to ensure that tied agreements are covered by the protections of the pubs code, whether the tenant occupies the pub under a tenancy or under a licence to occupy. This is another measure to ensure that all tied tenants are protected. Amendments 36, 37, 42, 46 and 54 are technical clarifications to ensure that the provisions of the Bill apply to pub-owning companies and any subsidiary companies they may own.
Finally, amendment 57 provides that all regulations under part 4, other than regulations under clause 61(1)(c), are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which, given the sensitivity surrounding the issues and the interest in them, is absolutely appropriate. I hope the Government amendments will be supported and that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be reassured by our commitment to make further changes in the other place in order to address any concerns.
It is always a singular pleasure for this House to gather to discuss what we can do to support our great British pubs, which are crucial institutions, bedrocks of our community and vital economic and social hubs, as well as really important employers, particularly of women and young people—two groups who are underrepresented in the workplace. Pubs and brewers also make an incredibly important contribution to the economy as taxpayers and employers, and our communities take tremendous pride in these institutions. The industry is watching this debate with tremendous interest and concern, in the hope that we in this place will do justice by everyone involved in it.
The Government are creating a spectacle by changing the Bill as we speak. These are incredibly important issues, but the Government’s attempts at debating this part of the Bill are rather like attempting to mount a moving bus: the moment we think we know what we are going to discuss, the debate suddenly focuses on something completely different. It is a complete and utter shambles.
If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the amendment we tabled and that the Government voted against and that they then adopted only to drop again, his description is rather uncharitable. He is right to say that the Government should listen to consultations and follow the right process for a Bill, but on Friday the Government tabled new amendments to undo amendments that were voted on in Committee and now, without any discussion or prior notice, they have come to the debate and said, “Actually, we’re going to drop the amendments we tabled on Friday to the things that were voted out of the Bill a couple of weeks ago. The Lords can talk about them, but Members of Parliament will not have the opportunity to vote on them.” I do not think that is any way to run a whelk stall, much less a really important industry about which we feel so passionately.
It is to Parliament’s credit that it has debated and researched the issue of pub companies with incredible diligence. The issue and the industry are incredibly complicated and this Parliament has attempted to strike a fine balance that best meets the needs of the industry with minimum disruption. However, at a time when Parliament should be reflecting with some pride on its contribution to this debate, I think that the way in which the Government are operating leaves everyone unsatisfied. There are Government Members on both sides of the argument—some think the plans go too far while others think they do not go far enough—but I do not think that the way in which the Government are operating the process of the Bill gives anyone any confidence that they know what they are doing.
The Minister for Business and Enterprise made a fleeting visit to our debate on the programme motion a few moments ago: he popped in to tell us that everything was going swimmingly and that there was plenty of time for debate, and then he dashed out again. We are told that he raced around last night attempting to convince Conservative Members not to vote with Greg Mulholland and the other 90 Members who are supporting new clause 2.
Unfortunately, the Minister for Business and Enterprise did not hang around long enough to listen to the debate, or even to hear this Minister tell us that the principles in new clause 2 might be brought forward at some point if we could only be a little more patient and hang on to see whether what the Government are now proposing actually works.
The Minister reflected on her communications with her colleagues. She was somewhat hazy about whether the Secretary of State has had any involvement in this shambles. She certainly described her conversations with the Minister for Business and Enterprise. I only hope that they took rather longer than his contribution this afternoon. Frankly, I feel that she has been very badly treated. He has given her very little support either in this debate—as a minimum, he should have stayed until the end of her speech—or in relation to the position she has taken.
I like the hon. Lady—not as much as some—and I feel that she has been left swinging in the wind. She has attempted to make a case for the Government having moved on a variety of difficult issues, but has been left in splendid isolation on the Front Bench while doing so. I do not think that that shows quite the coalition spirit that the new politics was supposed to presage.
As will become clear during the debate, one subject on which almost the entire House agrees is that pubs are part of what makes Britain great and that we should do all we can to support them. The series of votes that we expected to face today—they are disappearing in front of our eyes—mark a historic, watershed moment in the licensed trade.
Surely at the very kernel of any amendment is the fact that we are losing pubs every week right now. As a consequence, the Government clearly need to focus much more on that aspect of the problem, so that it does not continue to recur, as it very regularly does in all our constituencies.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point and precisely expressing the passion which so many of us feel for the pubs in our communities. It is precisely because so many of us are concerned about the changing face of the pub trade in our communities that the issue of the contribution of pub companies to pub closures has been so fiercely debated. It is because so many of us believe that the model under which pub companies operate is the cause of many of the pub closures that the Opposition have brought this matter to the House on many occasions, and many other Members have made that case. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this debate is all about the strength of the industry, but it is also about having a sense of what exactly is being done to support it, and the question of pub companies is a key part of that debate.
I suspect that much of this debate will be about what divides Members, but there is real value in reflecting on what we are all agreed about, including the fact that this Government Bill contains provisions for a pubs code. The very fact that we are debating an issue that for so long seemed destined to elude this Parliament is a tribute to the dogged work not just of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, but of Parliament itself. Today still has potential to be a great day for this Parliament.
In reflecting on the contribution that Parliament has made on this question, notwithstanding my reservations about how the Government are handling this incredibly important debate, I want to pay tribute to the many hon. Members whose work has brought us to this point. In no particular order, those who deserve great credit include Sir Peter Luff and my hon. Friend Mr Bailey. They have both chaired the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which produced diligent research on this issue in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In 2011, the Select Committee finally came to the conclusion that the industry had had enough time to get its house in order and that the time had arrived for a statutory code with an independent adjudicator, open market rent assessments and a free-of-tie option. It is disappointing that it has taken more than three years to get from the Select Committee’s conclusion to the Bill before the House. It will be an even greater disappointment if we have to move away from the Bill and are told that there will be a further review in two years’ time to debate the whole thing again and decide whether we then need the free-of-tie option. What is more important than anything else is that Members do not let the opportunity to take real action through the Bill pass us by.
I want to acknowledge other Members. My right hon. Friend John Healey was the pubs Minister who empowered the Select Committee to be the arbiter of when the time for action had arrived. The hon. Members for Leeds North West and for Northampton South (Mr Binley) and my hon. Friend Grahame M. Morris led a cross-party campaign to ensure not only that we had a pubs code, but that it would make a real difference for tenants and create competitive pressure on pub-owning companies to ensure that they offered their tenants a fair deal.
I also want to recognise the Minister’s contribution. Notwithstanding what I said about how the Government have handled this Bill and how she has been badly let down on a Bill that appears to be changing in front of our eyes for what appear to be political considerations, the fact is that she did at least end the prevarication—at least, that is what I wrote down in my speech—that we endured under her predecessors. If this was Prime Minister’s questions, I would be told off for writing my script in advance, but that helps when we are going to be on our feet for a while.
To be charitable for a moment, at least we are here to debate the pubs code. The fact that the Minister’s predecessors constantly pushed for review after review and did not take action, while she came forward to say that there would be something in statute, is a source of tremendous credit. It is a shame that she has unfortunately been forced to come to the Dispatch Box to propose a review in two years’ time, with all the uncertainty that that will create. However, she has at least made an effort to get something on the statute book.
There are many other such hon. Members, but the strength of this campaign has been due to the fact that the push inside the House very much reflects the broad coalition in favour of the measures outside it. The case that we and other hon. Members are making today has been supported by a tremendous range of organisations, almost all of whom come under the Fair Deal for Your Local banner.
Just listen, Mr Deputy Speaker—not that you would ever not listen while in the Chair, but perhaps you will do so with particular attention—to the breadth of organisations that support this case. Such breadth makes the case more powerfully than anything else. The organisations include the Federation of Small Businesses, which does not usually demand regulations or that the business relationship between two parties should be put on a statutory footing; the all-party save the pub group, which is so ably chaired by the hon. Member for Leeds North West; the Campaign for Real Ale and the Fair Pint campaign; the trade unions Unite and the GMB; and the Guild of Master Victuallers and the Forum of Private Business.
There are also two support groups, Justice for Licensees and Licensees Supporting Licensees, which were set up to support licensees affected by what had happened in their relationship with the pub company. Such licensees have often been bankrupted or are facing bankruptcy as a result of having chosen to pursue their dream of running a pub. Who would have thought that a support group needed to be set up for people who have chosen to pursue a particular profession or work in a particular industry?
In some ways most significantly of all, the Punch Tenant Network, made up of tenants who run pubs owned by Punch Taverns, has come out in support of new clause 2. Those tenants’ business success hinges to a large degree on the strength—or weakness, depending on how they see it—of their relationship with their pub company, and they are saying that the hon. Member for Leeds North West and 90 other Members are right that the code should be put on a free-of-tie basis. If the network believed the scare stories that the industry is putting about—that the proposed changes will lead to an increase in pub closures, less choice for punters or increased unfairness in the industry—it would hardly be calling on hon. Members to support the new clause.
The House has heard in recent years from literally dozens of Members who are desperately trying to support pubs in their communities that are under threat—all victims of the great pubco scandal.
The shadow Minister has listed many people who have been involved in the debate on one side or the other. Now, at the moment when the Government are reversing the policy that they had in Committee, does he think that it odd from the point of view of protocol that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is not here to explain that change in Government policy?
The hon. Gentleman has a valid point. We have all received a huge number of representations from members of CAMRA; from pub licensees; from many different organisations, some of which I have just listed; from the pub-owning companies themselves; and from the British Beer and Pubs Association. They have all been lobbying us in support of, or in opposition to, what they thought would be in the Bill. The Minister, whether by her own choice or because of the hand she has been dealt today, has had to say to the House, “Forget all the speeches that you have prepared and all the letters and considerations you have received on this complicated issue, because we are ripping up a lot of the amendments you thought you would be voting on. We’ll discuss some of them later; and on another one, we thought we might lose, so as a bit of a sop we’ll come back to it in two years if there’s still a problem.” It is a shambolic way to present a Bill.
I wish to be conciliatory and work constructively on the issue, but it reflects no credit on the Government or the House when people come to watch our debate, or watch it on television, and suddenly discover that the issues they have been lobbying their Member of Parliament on have been totally changed. It is an absolute shambles. I have some sympathy with the view that the Secretary of State should have been here to explain why the changes have been made. The Minister was unable to tell us whether he has been involved in the discussions—maybe she will want to clarify that now.
However, this is the point that we have arrived at, and I think we all recognise that when the Government are under pressure they will sometimes take the opportunity to discuss with Members in the run-up to a debate what form amendments will take. Let us make no mistake, though—this debate was scheduled for next week, so the Government could have had another week to consider what should be debated. For reasons best known to them, they decided to bring the debate forward and table last-minute amendments. Now, on the day of the debate, they stand up and say, “Forget all those amendments, we’re not doing any of that”. Richard Fuller may well be right to apportion some responsibility to the Secretary of State, but either way, something that should be a source of pride to the House is now a source of embarrassment. I deeply regret that, because this is an important issue on which there is considerable agreement.
I do. You will be glad to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I will come on to new clause 2 in more detail in a moment, but I basically agree with my hon. Friend’s point. His constituents in Sefton, who feel strongly about their local pub industry, will be glad to know that he took part in debates in the Public Bill Committee and has signed new clause 2.
That brings me nicely on to the contributions that a variety of Members from throughout the House have made on the subject in recent years. John Glen told the House about the landlords of the White Horse in Quidhampton, alleging that Enterprise Inns had
“signed them up to a lease on a false prospectus and…made their business completely uneconomic and unsustainable”.—[Hansard, 13 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 476.]
“unsustainable rent demands...from Enterprise Inns”.—[Hansard, 13 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 476.]
Caroline Nokes wrote to Enterprise Inns to inform it that the Abbotts Mitre public house in Chilbolton was
“under threat largely due to unrealistic rents and changes in terms and conditions”.
Charlotte Leslie wrote to Enterprise Inns asking it not to close the Lamplighters in Shirehampton, and Martin Horwood has bemoaned Enterprise’s decision not to save the Little Owl. As a Sheffield United fan I am not generally in favour of saving the Owls, but in this case it would have been important. He said that
“a big company has failed to recognise a pub’s value to the community.”
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”.
Robert Neill 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 hon. Gentleman is giving a terrific roll-call of his party’s MPs who are apparently now standing up for pubs, but he completely forgets what happened to pubs over the 13 years of the Labour Government. Thousands of them closed all over the country under their regime. This is an extraordinary moment of amnesia, is it not?
I think the moment of amnesia is the hon. Gentleman’s, because all the Members I have listed so far are Conservative Members—in fact, many of them are sat behind him. I was not seeking to make a party political point. Sadly I do not have in my speech—as it is currently drafted, although we know these things are subject to change almost on the spur of the moment—a reference to a contribution that he has made to saving a pub, but he might well want to tell us either now or sometime in the future about what he has done to support pubs in his local area.
The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that I launched a strong campaign some months ago to save the Ridge and Furrow in Abbey. It is an ongoing process, and I am confident that we will win in due course. I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to make that point, so that the residents of Abbey ward in Gloucester can hear it loud and clear.
I am glad I was able to facilitate that magic moment.
The list of pub-saving parliamentarians is long. My right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan joined the campaign that successfully saved the Wheatsheaf, and my hon. Friend Ms Buck was busy trying to save The Clifton and The Star. My right hon. Friend Mr Denham campaigned to save the Bittern, and my hon. Friend Mike Kane joined the Legh Arms campaign for community pubs—the list goes on. Eventually, however, comes the time to put up or shut up, and many people outside this House will be looking to see what we do.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one way we can all support local pubs, whether in urban or rural areas, is by supporting the Government’s planning reforms, and allowing pubs—whether tied or not—to expand restaurants or develop bed and breakfasts? We should back those pubs to grow their businesses on brownfield sites wherever they can.
The hon. Gentleman mentions planning and whether pubs can expand, and it is important that pubs have that opportunity. However, the biggest planning issue currently facing pubs is the fact that big supermarkets can come in and change a pub into a supermarket without any reference to planning law. In my constituency we have a significant campaign to try to save The Crispin—I was not going to mention it, but the opportunity now arises. A pub that currently operates perfectly successfully under Enterprise Inns will be closed because the lease has been signed to Tesco. Indeed, Labour’s planning proposals would increase restrictions on pubs that are turning into supermarkets, and deal with many of the concerns that I have already raised. Hon. Members gave many examples of pubs that are being closed to become supermarkets.
The hon. Gentleman has treated us to a tour of the country and listed some 30 or 40 MPs who have done something to save pubs. It has all been very interesting, but we have not heard what he will do to save pubs. Rather than packing his speech with such examples and filling time, will he get on with telling us what he is going to do?
Many contributions that hon. Members have made are important to their constituents and they will consider it pretty disrespectful for the hon. Gentleman to say that I am filling time. I do not think I am—this is a significant issue. We can all get the press release out or attend packed public meetings, and we can all rail against unfairness and talk about how a pub company sold a false prospectus and failed to consider the needs of the community, but today is the day for talking to finish and for us finally to act. People will reflect on whether, when given the opportunity to act, Members of Parliament stood up in the Chamber to complain about the situation or actually took action.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous with his time, but earlier he did not address my question. I was not asking about pubs that have not succeeded and therefore a change in use to retail has been suggested to the local authority; I was asking about successful pubs that want to expand further, to build bed and breakfasts, hotels or an extra restaurant. The question is about successful pubs and whether the hon. Gentleman and Labour Members support the Government’s planning reforms on permitted development rights and change of use, for example, to make those successful pubs flourish even more.
I take issue with the idea that the only pubs that are being closed and turned into supermarkets are unsuccessful ones. The Crispin in Chesterfield is a successful pub that makes good profits, but it does not offer Enterprise Inns the 25-year lease that Tesco is willing to offer, and that is why it is being shut down. Pubs that are turning into supermarkets should not necessarily be described as unsuccessful.
I thought that I had responded to the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I will do so again. Of course we are supportive of steps to support larger pubs, and we think that is important. The specifics of the Government’s proposal and whether it has implications on the right of a community to have its voice heard on such issues is a matter that my hon. Friends in the communities and local government team will consider at greater length. Of course we support pubs that are successful and want to expand, but we also want to defend pubs that have a future in the community but often fall victim to the vagaries of pub companies’ operations, particularly when pub companies close pubs that are successful.
In response to Andrew Griffiths let me turn to the specifics of new clause 2. When debating pub tenants we are talking about a group of people who often work as many hours as anyone, but who earn less than they could legally be paid by an employer on the minimum wage.
Andrew Griffiths asked my hon. Friend what he is doing to help, and he was just starting to explain. My hon. Friend supports the market rent only option in new clause 2, so that is exactly how he, and the 91 hon. Members who have put their name to the new clause, are supporting pubs in our communities. When mentioning those Members who have referred to pubs in their constituencies, I hope my hon. Friend also expects them to support new clause 2, as do I.
I certainly do. The hon. Member for Burton had the unrivalled pleasure of listening to a day and a half of debates to which I made a fairly significant contribution—I appreciate that he cannot get enough of my contributions on pubs, but he has had a significant opportunity to hear my thoughts on the matter.
Pub tenants are those who clean their pub and get it ready for the next day’s trade. They are working at the bar, handling supplier relationships, generally keeping a cheerful presence, wearing the mask, and closing up long after most people have finished work, and all the while they know that the unfairness of their relationship means that the whole day’s work has been for nothing financially. Latest figures show that more than half of tied licensees work for less than £10,000 a year. Indeed, during the recent mini-recess I spoke to three pub tenants in my constituency who run pubs owned by the big pub companies, and none of them was taking a wage out of the business. By voting for new clause 2 and amendment 5 we can take a significant step towards preserving pubs for the next generation, and hardwire fairness into that longstanding business relationship.
Amendment 5 is simple but important and should reassure people who have concerns about these complicated issues. The Minister attempted to say that she believes the Government have found a different way to achieve broadly the same thing, but the specific wording of our amendment leaves a lot less potential for businesses to get out of saying that they are covered. To my mind, there are two ways in which the pubs code could fail to deliver what we want—first if the code is too weak and allows pub companies to comply with it while continuing unfairly to disadvantage their tenants; and secondly if we end up with a code that strikes the right balance for our expectations about the behaviour of pub companies, but is drafted in a way that allows pub companies to exempt themselves, or creates confusion as to who is covered.
Already the big pub companies have attempted to create confusion over definitions. The Government were right to acknowledge that they dropped a clanger with the phrase “tied pubs”, which in their definition is supposed to mean those on a tenanted or leased model in England, Scotland and Wales, although the code would need to be enacted separately in Scotland. The phrase “tenanted, leased” is the type of tenure clearly defined and easily established. We remain of the view that amendment 5 will provide the greatest clarification on exactly who should be covered by the Bill.
The Minister raised the issue of a fish and chip restaurant—perhaps a Harry Ramsden’s restaurant—that could be tied for its beer. She is right to say that we can all understand when a pub is a pub and when a restaurant is not a pub, but it is important to get definitions right. Our contribution takes a significant step forward on that.
The Government have said that they do not intend to press amendment 41 to a vote, but deal with it in another place. There is a real danger that important progress may be undermined by a sense that the Government have not been entirely straightforward in their dealings. Small pub companies—family brewers and so on—had no reason to expect that they would be brought into the scope of the code. Indeed, the Secretary of State, on one of the occasions when he was able to be here, said in a debate:
“we propose to deal with the larger pub companies—those with more than 500 pubs. We will be consulting on that”— he was specific on what the consultation would be about—
“but that is the approach we intend to adopt.”—[Hansard, 9 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 353.]
Our Opposition day debate in 2014 referred to the 500 pub limit as the point at which measures for pub companies should be introduced. It was therefore a major shock for family breweries, microbreweries and other small pub-owning companies to find not only that they had been brought within the scope of the Bill, but that many onerous requirements would be visited on a group of businesses that had been given every reason to expect they would not be involved.
I did not want to take many more interventions because many other Members wish to speak. However, if the hon. Gentleman feels that it would add a huge amount to the debate I will give way.
The shadow Minister is making an absolutely crucial point. I think he will have heard, as I did, the Minister say that three companies will be captured by the reduction from 500 to 350. Is the shadow Minister aware of what those three companies have done to incur the wrath of the Secretary of State to be included in the regulation?
I am not sure that I would necessarily accept that we are suggesting those companies are wrath-deserving. We are attempting to create a regulatory framework that is reliable, so that businesses know where they stand. The limit of 500 is arbitrary, as is the 350 limit. I suspect this is more about attempting to save political face than save the actual companies. Suddenly bringing smaller pub companies into the heart of the Bill is seen as an act of bad faith by the industry. Having lost the vote in Committee, and having then voted against almost exactly the amendment that they then attempted to bring back, which, for the avoidance of doubt was the one that is now not being brought forward, is a pretty shabby way to treat an important industry.
Members and the many thousands of CAMRA members who have written to us all in such impressive numbers in the very short period of time during which there has been an awareness of new clause 2 will be aware that the Opposition supported a free-of-tie option for pubco tenants. [Interruption.] Goodness me, this is a magical moment for the House! I can now say I was there when the Minister for Business and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock actually attended proceedings on his own Bill. I can tell my grandchildren, “I was there!” He is here, Mr Deputy Speaker. Goodness me.
And I can tell the hon. Gentleman that he is running out of time.
I have just been waiting for the right hon. Gentleman to arrive, Mr Deputy Speaker. The debate barely seemed worth getting on with until he was here.
The people who have written to us in such numbers will be aware that we have supported the introduction of a free-of-tie option for pubco pub tenants at the date of renewal ever since the Business, Innovation and
Skills Committee concluded that the industry had had its last chance and that the time was right. That was back in September 2011, and in debates in January 2012, 2013 and 2014 the Opposition sought the support of the House for that viewpoint. It will therefore come as no surprise to Members that it remains the view of Opposition Members that the time for the mandatory rent-only option is now.
I am delighted that a cross-party group of Members has tabled new clause 2. In a time of great cynicism with politics, the fact that Members of four different political parties have added their names to it shows that there are things more important than naked party political advantage. It shows that this House can work in the finest traditions of democracy in a collective voice in support of our pubs, not because there is necessarily party political gain but because it is the right thing to do. I pay tribute to all those who added their names and to everyone from any party who votes for it today.
I look forward to the contribution of Greg Mulholland. I hope he considers that yet another review is not the right step for the industry. It appears to be a political solution to a political problem at a time when a serious industry needs a serious response from this place, and needs to be able to conduct its matters with real certainty knowing what it will face in the future. I think that anyone bought off by the review and the suggestion that the issue will be looked at in two years’ time if today’s measures are not considered to have worked was never really serious about supporting it in the first place. The House should vote in support of new clause 2 and repeat the unanimous support it gave to the motion in the January 2012 Backbench Business debate.
In conclusion, I said on Second Reading that the Government had introduced a Bill that expected too much of family brewers and not enough of pub companies. I also said that I hoped the Bill would leave the Committee and Report stages in a stronger shape that it arrived in. Already, thanks to the hard-won amendment brought by the hon. Members for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) and for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and others, it could do that. Supporting the two other substantive amendments before us today would mean that we were finally on the way to repaying the debt the House owes to Britain’s publicans.
By supporting our amendment 5 and ensuring that large pub-owning businesses with tenanted, leased and franchised models are exempted, by continuing to reject any amendments that bring family brewers under the scope of the Bill and by backing new clause 2 to ensure a free market solution in this most important of industries, with an industry regulator, the House can unite in support of Britain’s pubs and ensure that the pub sector enters a new, better and more optimistic period free from the restrictive practices that have been allowed to dominate, with faith in the market to choose who is offering a fair deal. That will allow our pubs to offer one of the greatest of all Britain’s great inventions, the simple pint of ale, for many hundreds of years to come. I commend our amendment to the House.
I am delighted to speak at this important stage of this important Bill. I commend my hon. Friend the Minister and her colleagues for their work in bringing measures forward not only on pubs, which is an area of particular interest, but other positive measures.
I will concentrate my comments on new clause 2, which I am delighted to introduce on behalf of myself, as the chair of the all-party save the pub group and co-ordinator of the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign, Mr Bailey who is the Chair of the Business, Innovations and Skills Committee, and my hon. Friend Mr Binley the president of the save the pub group and a member of the BIS Committee. Unfortunately, he cannot be here today because he is becoming a freeman of Northampton. I am sure we all congratulate him on that. I am also speaking on new clause 2 on behalf of the 91 colleagues who put their names to it and the many others who have said they will support it.
Over the past few days, in the limited time between Committee and Report, more than 8,000 e-mails were sent by CAMRA members up and down the country and several thousand by members of the Federation of Small Businesses, licensees, organisations and trade unions, urging the Government to take the sensible, obvious, market-based action to resolve the issues that have been a problem in the leased and tenanted pub sector for too long.
So that Members are clear, new clause 2 is the cross-party solution from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee introduced first by Sir Peter Luff, then ably continued by Mr Bailey, and supported by all colleagues on the Select Committee at all stages in this and the last Parliament. It is also backed by the FSB, the Forum of Private Business, the Pubs Advisory Service, Justice for Licensees, Licensees Supporting Licensees, CAMRA, Licensees Unite the union, the Fair Pint campaign, the Guild of Master Victuallers, the GMB and now the Punch tenant network, which represents Punch tenants and is giving an honest and a very different picture of the Punch model from that which Punch Taverns has been trying to communicate to MPs.
To remind the House, the problem is a simple one, despite the complexity of the sector: the large companies went on a reckless acquisition spree, buying up pubs using borrowed money, and got themselves into grotesque amounts of debt—more than £4 billion in the case of Punch Taverns and more than £3 billion in the case of Enterprise Inns—and with nothing to stop them charging unlimited prices for beer and unlimited rents, both of which have gone up and up and up. The beer tie, which was always operated responsibly, has been abused. It used to offer lower rent in exchange for higher beer prices and genuine support for small breweries, but the pub company model does not do that.
What, then, is wrong with the proposals as they stand? I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues in both coalition parties for having the courage to bring forward the statutory code of practice that the Select Committee first recommended so powerfully and clearly in 2009. As drafted, however, the proposed statutory code will not deliver the Government’s two key principles: fairness and the principle that a tied licensee should be no worse off than a free-of-tie licensee. The problem is that there is no direct mechanism to stop the double overcharging that I have mentioned.
As I have already said, not a single respondent to BIS’s extensive consultation thought that the Government’s proposed parallel rent assessment was the right solution, whereas two thirds said that the Select Committee was right. The assessment would need considerable participation from the adjudicator—in fact, the proposal confuses the adjudicator with the rent assessor, as the adjudicator is there to adjudicate disputes, not to survey and set rents. Without the direct mechanism, the basis on which the adjudicator is set up is currently weak.
Furthermore, the Government made the fundamental mistake that the shadow Minister has pointed to already. The Fair Deal for Your Local campaign and the Select Committee are clear that this measure must not apply to smaller companies—those with fewer than 500 pubs—because that is not where the majority of the problems are. A “large pub company” must be defined as any company with 500 or more pubs of any type, with the measure applying to its leased and tenanted pubs only, not to tied pubs.
The issue of tied pubs is a legal minefield, as the Government have realised, with the absurdity that Harry Ramsden’s, a fish and chip shop restaurant, could have been categorised as a “tied pub”. There are different forms of the tie in the UK—some free houses opt to be tied to a brewer in return for soft loans and business support—and how would we categorise “part tied” and “fully tied”? It is a nonsensical way to categorise. We need to define a “large company” simply as a company with 500 or more pubs, some of which are tenanted and leased pubs, and then apply the measure to the tenanted and leased pubs only. That way, there would be no question of the large managed companies, such as Wetherspoon’s and Mitchells and Butlers, being caught any more than there would be of a restaurant chain being caught.
At the moment, the Bill and code do not deliver what the Government have set out, courageously, to deliver. Do not take my word for it; take the word of one of the two companies lobbying particularly vociferously against the code. In its own prospectus for potential investors, dated
The hon. Gentleman hit the nail on the head when he called this a matter of fairness. Whether it is zero-hours contracts, the minimum wage or, as we saw on “Dispatches” last night, the fact that the 3,000 top earners in the UK earn as much as the bottom 9 million, we are talking about the abuse of economic muscle. My concern is that the contract models used in England are rolling into Scotland, meaning that publicans and licensees are being hit hard in Scotland. Will he expand on that a little?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It was Punch Taverns’ acquisition spree that took the leased pubco model to Scotland—it brought up pubs simply as a way of artificially increasing the value of the company—although there are other tied leased pubs in Scotland as well. The only way to get justice for Scottish licensees is for Westminster to pass new clause 2 today: I had a meeting last year with Minister Fergus Ewing, and he said that if that happened, the Scottish Government would consider enabling legislation to take it forward in Scotland. So it is vital for Scottish licensees, as well as for English and Welsh ones, that we vote for new clause 2.
The new clause has been carefully drafted with the help of expert surveyors, lawyers and publicans. It is a new clause that works, and I pay tribute to all who helped to draft it and to the Clerks in the Bill Office who assisted with the process. It would make for clear primary legislation specifying how the market rent only option would work in practice and exactly what it would be, and crucially—this is why Members can give it their support—it would come in gradually over five years and be triggered only at certain key points in the cycle of a lease or tenancy. It would be triggered at five-year rent reviews, on lease renewal, on the sale of the property title, if there was a substantial change in prices—mirroring BIS’s own clauses—which would be for the adjudicator to decide, or if there were a change of circumstances, such as the opening next door of a Wetherspoon’s offering cheaper beer prices, which should lead to lower rents, but often does not under the pubco model. The new clause would give the large pubco tenant the opportunity to go to the adjudicator to plead that it was a significant change in circumstances.
The process is clearly laid out in the new clause, and there can be no confusion or suggestion it would come in straightaway: a tenant serves notice requesting an independent assessment of the market rent; there is a 21-day period of negotiation to allow the two parties to come up with a new deal; if they do, there is no need for it go further; but if they cannot agree within the 21 days, they must agree to appoint an independent surveyor to set the rent; if they cannot agree, the surveyor is appointed by the chair of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, as is standard practice, following RICS guidance, and in conformity with statutory guidance for tied pubs. At the end of the 21 days, the rent assessment is done and presented, and then there is another period of negotiation for both sides, at which point the company should come forward with attractive, fair tied agreements to keep them buying beer through them, but offering genuinely lower rents and genuine business support.
That is a reasonable, gradual process that will simply bring back market forces into a sector that has become grotesquely anti-competitive. It is closed to many smaller breweries, it is not working for publicans or those communities losing their pubs, and frankly it is not working for the large companies either.
I am a little confused. The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the economic impact that his free-of-tied proposal might have on small family brewers. Has he done any work on the financial impact on family brewers, such as the one owned by my constituent James Staughton, who rely on selling their beer far and wide across the UK?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has raised that issue. So let us all be clear; the clause, in primary legislation, cannot and will not apply to a single family brewer. All the family brewers—members of the Independent Family Brewers of Britain—have fewer than 500 pubs. The clause—in primary legislation to ensure that it cannot be changed—will not apply to them. The simple answer is that it will not and cannot affect them in any way. Surely Conservative MPs above all would like to see more competition and more ability for all brewers—regional and small microbrewers—to compete and to get their beer into pubs if it is good enough and if people want to drink it.
That is helpful but I shall make it clear; the point of new clause 2 is that it is a stand-alone clause and has no bearing on that matter. I understand the position of those hon. Members with family brewers. They can support their family brewers if they wish by opposing new clause 6, but they can still support new clause 2, which, as I say, will not apply to a single family brewer and only to the large pub-owning companies. We have defined that very deliberately, which is something the Government failed to do despite us telling them that they should. A Member can vote for their family brewer by voting for new clause 2. To be clear; it is primary legislation and cannot then be changed without other primary legislation. It is not being put into the statutory code—secondary legislation—as some measures are. That is precisely why we have done it.
There has been a shameful campaign of misinformation against new clause 2 and the market rent only option from the usual suspects; the large pub companies and their mouthpiece, the so-called British Beer and Pub Association. In reality it is the big brewers and pubco association. They have been lobbying vociferously, making a whole stream of utterly baseless comments. It is simply scaremongering to suggest that somehow these companies offering a fair commercial rent to their tenants would cause collapse, chaos and closures.
Let me finish my point and I will give way. The Select Committee said:
“The BBPA (British Beer and Pub Association) has shown itself to be impotent in enforcing its own timetable for reform and the supposed threat of removing the membership of pub companies who did not deliver was hollow.”
Just last year the chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association misled the Select Committee and said two things that were factually untrue, as well as presenting a series of baseless evidence.
Finally, before I give way, I will read what the Select Committee said in its 2008-09 report:
“As is noted elsewhere in this Report…in evidence to us both Mr Thorley of Punch and Mr Tuppen and Mr Townsend of Enterprise Inns made assertions which, on investigation, proved to give a partial picture, or on one occasion were positively false.”
Members on all sides of the House can know exactly how to take the absurd and baseless claims from those organisations.
Like Sheryll Murray, I am seeking clarification on small family brewers. I, too, am confused by the effect of the legislation on J.W. Lees brewery in my constituency, which has fewer than 500 pubs but has a strong retail arm. I am concerned—as is the brewery, which asked me to raise the issue during the debate—as to the effect it will have on a family brewer with fewer than 500 pubs but which has a strong retail arm.
I thought I had given clarity. I ask the hon. Lady and all hon. Members to read this detailed new clause, as this is precisely why all of us who have been involved in writing it have done so. Let me read new clause 2(4):
“For the purposes of this section,” meaning the market rent only option,
“the definition of a ‘large pub-owning business’ is a business which, for a period of at least six months in the previous financial year, was the landlord of—
(a) 500 or more pubs (of any description)”.
That cannot apply to any family brewer, and because it is in primary legislation, it cannot be changed in the future.
I will briefly, but I have covered the point. I do not think I could make it any more clearly, but I will give way to my hon. Friend, whose work I respect.
The point is not so much about whether the specific paragraph excludes microbrewers and small family brewers; the question is whether they support this proposal. It is interesting that the microbrewers’ trade association does not. It is concerned that it leaves the doors open for greater domination by foreign-owned brewers like Carlsberg and AB InBev. The issue is not the hon. Gentleman’s integrity or the value of his drafting work on the paragraph, but the unintended consequences of new legislation. I should declare that my family has a pubco. It is a very small pubco, with two pubs, but we would not be in favour of the amendment.
I will put on record strongly that there are many small pub companies and breweries that run their pubs exceptionally well and, interestingly, are doing very well and are expanding rather than contracting, but here is the rub: I speak directly to my Conservative coalition colleagues. The question I put to them is this: “Do you believe in competition? You all say you do. If you do, you should not be afraid of allowing brewers of all sizes to compete.” The reality is that small microbrewers do not have adequate, fair and direct access. They cannot turn up at thousands of pubs and say, “We would like to sell our beer to you because we believe it is good.” They are prevented from doing that.
Let me tackle the issue directly; this will be controversial. SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, has a direct delivery scheme that used to be part of the solution to the pubco closed shop. It is now part of the problem; many small independent brewers have contacted the save the pub group to say that. Incidentally, there was a U-turn in SIBA’s position. SIBA was a member of the Independent Pub Confederation, which supported the market rent only option. Seemingly without consulting its members directly, SIBA suddenly decided that it was against it; that is what SIBA members have told me. It no longer represents the majority of microbrewers on this key issue.
I wish to reinforce the hon. Gentleman’s point that new clause 2 is precisely about a free market option, and that to defend the status quo is to defend a restrictive practice, which should be absolutely anathema to any Conservative MP; if they vote against the new clause, they will be voting for a closed shop and against an open market.
I share the shadow Minister’s bafflement about that, and I am delighted that we have a strong group of Conservative colleagues who, having heard the reality of the situation from their local branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, their local pubco publicans and their local Federation of Small Businesses branches, are fully supportive.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is quite extraordinary that there seems to be such a strong voice for preventing new market entrants from moving into the brewing industry? Those are important small businesses that want to make progress. The message I hear from microbreweries is that they are prevented by this archaic and extraordinary system that we have endured for far too long.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I repeat that if we believe in competition, an open market and entrepreneurship, we cannot defend the closed shop of the leased pub sector, which is dominated by these large companies.
The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way and I appreciate that, especially as he knows that I will not necessarily speak in support of his new clause. The crucial point is that hundreds of new microbreweries have been springing up over the last few years; the microbrewery in my family’s pub sprang up last year. This will make no difference to them whatever.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. I can send him the e-mails I have received from microbreweries—cider as well as beer producers. They are desperate to get more direct access, so that they can knock on the door of the pub 2 miles down the road and say, “We believe our beer is great and that your customers would like to drink it. We would like to sell it to you at our brewery price, rather than you having to go through the SIBA-directed delivery scheme, which has a considerable mark-up, or get on a pubco list,” as the pubco outrageously demands an incredibly low price that many microbrewers simply cannot afford to brew at, and then marks up prices by 60% to 70% to sell the product to their own so-called business partners. Is that seriously a model that Conservative MPs can support? I remain baffled by that.
Let me remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, of the reality of the pub company model. As I look round, I see hon. Members who have family and smaller brewers in their constituency and want to support them; I respect their position, and I am at one with them on that, which is why the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign has always said that the provision should apply only to companies with over 500 pubs.
Let us look at the reality of what the big pubcos have done to skew the traditional tied tenancy model. Punch Taverns, a pub company that does not brew a single pint of beer, made a profit over 10 years—these are its figures from its own annual report—of £2.271 billion, all from on-selling beer to its own so-called business partners. Frankly, in any other country, that would be called a protection racket. It is extraordinary and unjustified, which is why it is right for us to try to deal with it.
If Members do not believe that this is an anti-competitive model—I know that some colleagues behind me do not, for their own reasons—they should listen to former Punch licensee Alison Smith, a Conservative activist who has e-mailed all colleagues today to tell of the reality of the pubco business model, and how it stifled her and her partner, preventing them from being able to create a successful pub. Even though they were doing well and improving their business, the draconian terms of the pubco lease meant that that was simply not possible.
What do hon. Members think these large pub companies are? They are not pub companies at all; unlike the traditional brewers, these are people who do not really care about our pubs or our brewers. There was a huge rush in the City when people saw this “get rich quick” scam, a way to inflate the value of companies artificially by basing it on what they could overcharge their own tenants by—their tenants for 25 years on these outrageous, new, long-term, fully repairing and insuring leases.
Let me give the example of what happened to the excellent Sir John Barleycorn in Hitchin. The community, I am delighted to say, applied to use powers introduced by this coalition Government to apply for community value status; they applied for the pub to be an asset of community value. There were objections. The most vociferous one said:
“the current use of the premises as a public house…does not itself further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community and therefore is not land of community value.”
Who said that? Was it someone living down the street who was anti-pub? No, that objection was from the so-called pub company Punch Taverns, which was seeking to get rid of this pub and sell it off after forcing out the licensees. That is what is going on.
If there is any doubt that this model is closing pubs, let me read out the stark evidence of the figures. These figures, collated by CGA Strategy for the British Beer & Pub Association and CAMRA, showed that there was a much greater drop in the number of leased and tenanted pubs than in the number of free houses between December 2005 and March 2013. The number of non-managed—that is, tenanted and leased, mostly tied—pubs fell by 5,117, whereas there was a fall of only 2,131 free-trade pubs. All pubs have issues—there has been a difficult recession—but the difference is clear and stark.
We could also look at the pubco trade association’s own figures—figures that it has frankly been keeping very quiet about. Its own figures show that over 10 years, the number of non-managed—in other words, tied, tenanted and leased—pubs decreased by 8,000, while the free-trade sector expanded by 1,600 pubs. I repeat: that is its own figures. Between 2008 and 2012—just four years—the two giant pubcos, Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns, collectively disposed of over 5,000 pubs—a third of all their pubs in just four years. Can any Member seriously stand up and say that this is a business model that is working for pubs?
The hon. Gentleman is hitting on a really important point. These big pub companies are often heralded for employing so many people, but they, of course, inherited these pubs and employees, and what they are doing over a long period is laying people off and shutting pubs, not the opposite.
Absolutely. The debt level is still in the billions, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the extraordinary restructuring that has left Punch shareholders owning only 15% of the company. Meanwhile, the Punch tenant network expressed its serious concern about the effects on them of the company’s instability.
My hon. Friend mentions the high number of pubs that have closed, but there is also the personal tragedy: a whole succession of tenants went into business with really high ambitions, and found that they simply could not make a living out of the existing model. That is personal tragedy for them and their families.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Every pub is a story about a community, and a story about the people who are running it. There have indeed been many tragedies. I had one in my constituency; a pubco tenant died of a heart attack a week after closing his pub. There are awful stories of human misery here. It comes down to the simple problem I outlined at the beginning: the over-charging. These companies continue to take more than is fair. It can often be 70%, 80%, 90% or even 100% of the pub’s profit, meaning that licensees cannot make a living.
Most revealing of all, I have asked Punch Taverns—in writing, and to its representatives’ faces—four times why it is so afraid of the market rent only option, the simple option to give tenants the right, at certain trigger points, to be offered a fair commercial market rent, and it has failed to answer four times. That, Mr Deputy Speaker, tells you all you need to know. It tells you that this business model is precisely based on taking more than is fair and sustainable. The only solution is the market rent only option.
Let me deal finally with the Government’s suggestion of a compromise: “Perhaps we can include a reference to the market rent only option or the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee option being built into the Bill, but only after a review two years after the statutory code comes into force.” I understand why this is being said, because the will of this House is clearly in support of the market rent only option, with 90 coalition MPs signed up to the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign, which calls for that option. I understand why the Government Whips are getting so worried: they realise that they might lose this vote today.
Let me say clearly on behalf of the campaign and all the organisations that have expressed this view that the last thing we need is yet another review. We have had four exhaustive Select Committee reports. In 2011, when the Government were supposed to act, we had a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills review, and BIS decided not to act. What was supposed to be the last chance became a second-last chance for the pub companies. When people realised that nothing had changed, there was a further review. We have had four reports and two reviews. The simple reality is that we need action and need it now. I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to grant a vote on new clause 2; I think that you will agree that it is the will of the House to vote on it, given the support for it.
The simple message from all the Fair Deal for Your Local campaigns, thousands of tied publicans, and all who believe in pubs, publicans, communities and fairness is “No more delays, no more reviews, no more excuses.” Please let us solve this problem at last, properly, once and for all. Please let us all vote for new clause 2 today.
I have a sense of déjà vu as I rise to speak about this subject yet again. I shall confine my remarks to new clause 2, because that very well-researched clause is consistent with nearly 10 years of successive recommendations from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and because I feel that it will address an issue that all the other proposals have failed to address: the unfair relationship between the pubco and the tenant. That unfairness, and the need to redress it, were spelt out to me in a letter that I received from a tenant, who wrote:
“The pub company wins all the time, they get a share of the Games Machines, the pool table, the Rent and they also put £30-£50 on top of each barrel so we pay a lot more for our beer than buying it off a wholesaler or warehouse.”
I realise that the Minister and the Government have moved a long way in the last two years, from insisting that a voluntary code would be sufficient to deal with the problem to recognising, following a long consultation, that it was necessary to introduce a statutory approach. However, I feel that, in its current form, that approach is lacking.
Let me begin by responding to the Minister’s reference to a possible Lords amendment postponing the implementation of the Government’s proposals until after a review and a ministerial decision. I oppose that course of action for a number of reasons, some of which were mentioned by Greg Mulholland. The industry has already been consulted to death. As the Minister said, the Government’s last consultation received an enormous number of responses, and it took them a long time to reach their conclusions. I therefore see no grounds for any further consultation.
The issue here is the deeply entrenched position of the British Beer and Pub Association, which represents the pub companies and which, over the years, has consistently paid lip service to the BIS Committee recommendations for the introduction of a voluntary code while dragging its feet and procrastinating at every stage of the procedure. Indeed, our last report referred to “glacial” progress. There is no reason to believe that any further consultation over the next two years will make any difference whatsoever.
Does not the history of pubs and beer in this country show that the unintended consequences of legislation over the years have frequently proved almost disastrous?
I understand that argument, and I have some sympathy for it. However, the hon. Gentleman referred to unintended disastrous consequences. I think that many people would describe the closing of 27 pubs a week, which is happening at this moment, as a pretty disastrous scenario. I do not pretend that all the closures are a direct result of the beer tie or that all the pubs are owned by pub companies, but those are undoubtedly major factors in a high proportion of the closures. Given the current rate of closures, if we delay for two years the industry will have been greatly slimmed down even within that time.
The Minister did not make clear whether the Government would adopt a “big bang” approach to implementation of the market rent only option following the consultation and the two-year threshold, or the incremental approach proposed in new clause 2. I think that the “big bang” approach would cause a degree of uncertainty in the industry which we could well do without. As for the incremental approach, the Minister suggested that we would wait two years for a decision. Given that most rent reviews take five years, it could take a further five years for the reform to be fully implemented, and I do not consider that acceptable. I think it sends a message to the industry that the Government are not serious about implementation.
I believe that, while the market rent only option will not solve all the problems by itself, it is an essential part of the regulatory machinery that could potentially do so. The proposals for a code and an adjudicator are welcome, and I pay tribute to the Government for them, but without a mechanism such as market rent only, they will not be sufficient in themselves to change the fundamental imbalance in the relationship of which I spoke earlier. The parallel rent assessment mechanism, which is bureaucratic and cumbersome—and my consultations with pub tenants suggest that few are aware of it anyway—will not do that either, and there would be no measures to make its implementation compulsory even if a tenant considered it adequate to rectify the problem. The market rent only option, as spelt out by the new clause, provides a mechanism that should give some reassurance to the industry while also addressing the core problem.
Richard Graham spoke of unforeseen consequences, and I saw his point. As he said, the history of brewing has not been without such consequences. I also understand the Government’s circumspection about introducing a “big bang” approach, given that such a mechanism could potentially undermine pub companies and lead to even more pub closures, to the detriment of the industry as a whole. I personally think that it would give more entrepreneurial bodies an opportunity to buy pubs and run them more successfully, but I agree that there are no certainties in this debate. I do believe, however, that the well thought out, incremental and graduated approach proposed in new clause 2 will enable the market rent only option to be introduced in a way, and over a period, that will give the industry a good chance of adapting and making the necessary changes. I believe that it will preserve the essential core of the industry, while at the same time addressing the worst excesses of the injustices that are currently endemic in it. That is why I support the new clause.
The situation of so many tenants has been well spelled out by other Members. We have 27 pubs closing every week. CAMRA estimates that 57% of pubco lessees earn less than £10,000 a year. The surveys I have carried out in my area would seem to substantiate those figures. If the pub companies reject them, they have never come forward with any hard evidence to counter them. These figures are themselves bad enough, but we know that behind every closure there is a personal story, often heart-rending, of people investing their life savings and working all hours and then having to close their businesses because the imbalance in the fundamental economic relationship between them and the pub company was so unfair that they just could not keep going. If we add to the personal tragedies that are happening in our constituencies every day of the week the loss to local communities of much loved pubs, which are community hubs, we realise that there is a problem that has to be sorted, and this is our best ever chance of sorting it.
This new clause is not only vital for the future of thousands of pub tenants who will be watching this debate knowing that their future could depend on the outcome of it, but it is also potentially, as my hon. Friend Toby Perkins said, a milestone in our democracy. That is because this debate has arisen out of a very long process of campaigning against an injustice at large in our country. Those campaigns have been built up around campaigning bodies and have been recognised by MPs and bodies as diverse as the Federation of Small Businesses and trade unions as well as the, as it were, beer-supporting bodies. It has been a grass-roots public campaign and the fact that it is being debated in Parliament today demonstrates the ability of ordinary men and women up and down the country successfully to raise an issue that greatly concerns them and from which legislation may arise.
The cause has been taken up by MPs and tribute has been paid to a number of them. I want to commend the hon. Member for Leeds North West on his tenacity in pursuing this over a number of years and many of my colleagues in the appropriate parliamentary bodies, particularly in the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, who over a number of years have assiduously devoted their time to this issue, especially my Committee colleague Mr Binley, who is unable to be here.
This debate is a reflection of our parliamentary democracy working, and every Member today has the opportunity to keep faith with the public—the electorate—and to demonstrate that Parliament does work on their behalf, and to support this legislation against Government recommendations that in the past were based on inertia but are now based on a certain nervousness. The opportunity is here today.
I close with another quote from the pub tenant:
“In short, pubco wins every time, highly inflated beer prices for tenants and we can’t get out of it unless Government breaks these types of contracts NOW!!!”
We do need to break them now. I hope for support from Members on both sides of the House, as they have demonstrated in the past, to achieve that today.
I can reassure the House that I will not be speaking for 40 minutes, nor will I be reading off a list of pubs that have been saved or want to be saved around the country. I just want to get to the nub of the point.
I begin by telling the Minister that I want to help her today. In fact I want to help her so much that I have sent my researcher off to WHSmith to buy two packets of Benson & Hedges, not because I have taken up smoking or I think her nerves are bad, but just in case she wants to write two new policies while we are having this debate and she needs something to write them on.
We have debated this issue for many years and today the Minister comes up with an amendment that was cobbled together within the last couple of hours. This is an important industry. It employees thousands of people across the country. Livelihoods depend on the decisions we make today, and I am deeply concerned that there has been no consultation whatsoever with the industry about her proposal today to have this two-year stay so that we can assess the situation. There has been no impact assessment, and there have been no discussions.
I have the same aims as the hon. Members for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland). We want to see pubs prosper. We want to see pubs thrive. We want to keep the community pub. We want publicans to do well and to be profitable. It is how we achieve that that is key. The hon. Member for West Bromwich West mentioned unintended consequences. I have heard that said a number of times over the last 24 hours or so. I would bring the House back to the fact that we find ourselves in this situation because of the beer orders. A Conservative Minister decided, with the best of intentions, that the Government should interfere in the market; the Government decided that they should split up the big brewers because they were acting in an uncompetitive way and the consumer was not getting a good deal. They broke up the big brewers. The reality is that that decision set us on this path we are on today with the pub companies. We should therefore be careful and cautious—and afraid—of unintended consequences. The hon. Gentleman said that there is no certainty. Of course there is no certainty, but as politicians—as legislators—we have to act with caution when we are interfering in business and in the marketplace and in people’s livelihoods.
A little bit of the beer orders story is conveniently forgotten, which is that it was not the Government’s decision; it was the industry lobbying to stop there being a limit on non-brewing companies that led to the creation of the large pub companies. The lesson is to not listen to that sort of self-interested industry lobbying and instead get the legislation right.
Once again the hon. Gentleman talks about big business as if it is a bad thing. I like big business. I like small business. I like successful business. Just because a business is big does not mean it is acting inappropriately.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking for big brewers and I understand his perspective, but what about consumers? If a tenant is paying 60% or 70% more for the product, surely the consumer is getting a bad deal as well?
The hon. Gentleman has read up on this subject. I refer him to the Office of Fair Trading report of 2009 and its recent interventions in this debate—it has said this has had no impact on consumer costs and the price the consumer is paying for a pint. In fact it could be argued that, because of the big distribution models, beer is actually cheaper. The statistics show that beer across the country is cheaper in a tied house than in a free house. I hope I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s concern.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is an enormous inequality of bargaining power in the brewing industry between the big businesses that he supports and the small businesses that I am sure he also supports?
I support big and small businesses. The hon. Gentleman should note that the Society of Independent Brewers, which represents the smallest breweries across the country, is opposed to the scrapping of the measure—
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it is true. The hon. Member for Leeds North West tries to undermine decisions made by any organisation that disagrees with him, but the Society of Independent Brewers is clear that this provision would disadvantage the country’s smallest brewers, and I will tell hon. Members why. The society believes that guest pumps would be taken over by lagers from foreign-owned breweries, which would come in and offer massive discounts, so that rather than having micro-brewers selling beer in our pubs, we would have foreign brewers selling lager.
Of course; this is a market and there is always going to be an inequality of bargaining power. If I am buying 10,000 items, I will have greater bargaining power than if I am buying only one. The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether the publican, the tenant, is being treated fairly.
Order. Order—[Interruption.] Mr Graham, do not pull a face. It does not help. Mr Griffiths is the person who is speaking, not Mr Lucas, so please address Mr Griffiths.
I thank my hon. Friend for making a good point. When we are talking about scale, it is true that there is a difference between those who are buying in bulk and those who are buying in small quantities. I want to return to the point I was making earlier, which was that we want our publicans to get a fair deal. We want to ensure that they pay a decent amount of rent and a decent price for their beer, so that their businesses can be successful.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I do not defend the fact that there have been bad practices, that some people have been dealt with unfairly and that some of the pubcos have acted incorrectly. The point is that this Bill, as set out by the coalition Government, will address that by bringing in a statutory code that will provide protection for tenants. For the first time ever, tenants who feel that they are paying too much rent or paying too much for their beer or spirits will have some redress in law.
Will my hon. Friend explain the difference between contracts that are negotiated at the outset and assignments, which can sometimes be guilty of putting the pubs we are trying to protect out of business?
My hon. Friend has shown great interest in this issue. She has done a great job in standing up for family brewers, and she has demonstrated that she understands the complexities of these matters. She asks about assignments. These occur when someone who has previously taken over a tenancy assigns it to someone else. Some of the most egregious cases of mistreatment that we have seen have involved such assignments. The problem is that the pubcos have no control over them; they cannot, by law, interfere in how an assignment takes place.
To return to my point, if we want to protect our tenants and ensure that they pay fair prices and fair rents, we have the power to do so in this Bill. For the first time, there will be an adjudicator to whom tenants can take their concerns. If they feel that they are paying too much rent or paying too much for their beer, they will be able to go to the adjudicator, who will be able to intervene and ask the pubco to change its pricing. The adjudicator will also be able to fine a pubco if it is acting inappropriately or unfairly. That will provide great support for those tenants, and it will go a long way towards addressing the concerns that hon. Members have expressed.
I have a connection with a tied house that is run by a family member, and I have looked into this matter carefully. Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important thing to get right is the contract at the beginning of the arrangement? Far too many people are desperate to get a pub, and they do not look properly at what they are getting themselves into. That is the area in which a lot of guidance is needed.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As he says, some people are desperate to get a pub. They have a dream of being a publican, and there have been instances of pubcos waiting for the next sucker to come along and take on a tenancy. There has also been an element of rinsing—of passing people through the system. I do not support that; it is wrong and we should stamp it out.
The hon. Gentleman is being incredibly indulgent to the queue of Members trying to intervene on him. May I take him back to his point about the brewing orders? They undoubtedly had unforeseen consequences, but the proposals in new clause 2 are nothing like the proposals in those orders. The new clause proposes a graduated, incremental approach that would give the industry a chance to adapt and to see how the new arrangements were working.
I understand the intentions behind the hon. Gentleman’s new clause, but its fundamental aim is to break the tie. There have been many investigations of the tie, and it has been proved lawful. It has also been proved not to be anti-competitive. What we want to stamp out are the abuses, where the tied model is being abused by companies that treat their tenants badly. That is what the Bill will do, without the addition of new clause 2.
The most fundamental dishonesty is the suggestion that the new clause would abolish the beer tie. It absolutely would not; it would simply give an option, at certain trigger points, for people to choose between a tied agreement and a rental-only agreement. That would make the tie work properly and ensure that we got back to what the beer tie used to be.
I think I found a question in the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Given that he spoke for only 40 minutes earlier, I quite understand why he wanted to have another go.
I should like to get back to the point made by my hon. Friend Mr Robertson that people often find they have signed up for things that they did not expect. They find that they have been hoodwinked because they were not given all the details, and that they have not got a fair deal. That is what we want to outlaw. I want briefly to consider what, under this legislation, someone wanting to take on a tenancy today would have to do. First, they would have to have a business plan, which would have to be assessed. They would have to have an accountant and a lawyer, and they would be told what they are paying for their rent, their beer, their whisky and for everything else. They would also be told how many barrels of beer and bottles of whisky the pub sold in the past year, in the previous year and in the past five years. All that information would have to go before their accountant before they could sign. I do not know what other Members think, but I think these people are grown ups and business people. If they are provided with all that information calmly and clearly so that they can make a decision, it is not for government to intervene to tell them they cannot engage in a business agreement that is perfectly legal.
I have given way enough, so I will move on, because I want to make the following point to allow colleagues clearly to understand what new clause 2 would do. Let us suppose I am a tenant with Marston’s in my constituency, a company that brews magnificent beer and would be affected by this legislation. Let us suppose I go to Marston’s asking to become one of its tenants and I go through all the procedure—it could take up to six months to do the due diligence on me—to take on that pub. Let us suppose I do all that and sign on the dotted line. Under new clause 2, I could then say to Marston’s, “Excuse me, Marston’s, I have changed my mind and decided I don’t want to sell Marston’s beer. I want to sell Greene King beer so I would like to go free of tie. Not only am I not going to sell your beer, but I would like the Government to tell you what rent you can charge me.” That is what is being proposed. To all those who have signed new clause 2 and are thinking of backing it, I say that that does not sound like a Conservative proposal to me. I do not know what some of my colleagues think, but it does not sound like a very Conservative approach to business. I want protection and clarity, but I do not want mummy state interfering and telling people how they can run their businesses. That is very important.
We have heard a little about people being able to buy their beer elsewhere under new clause 2, so let me just enlighten the House as to what it would do. New clause 2 states that brewers could still stipulate the sale of their brands but the tenant must be free to buy them from someone else. I could stipulate that people had to buy Marston’s, but they would be able to buy it from anywhere. In essence, Marston’s would no longer be able to sell its beer at a lower rate to large wholesalers who are buying 10,000 barrels than to the Dog and Duck which is buying 10 barrels—and this would come with full brewery technical support and reduced dry rent. This new clause is a serious market intervention; we would be interfering in a market in a way unlike anything that happens in any other industry in this country. These are the unintended consequences that colleagues need to consider when they vote for this new clause.
Let me discuss the facts. They are that the industry is desperately concerned about the implications of new clause 2 and this free-of-tie provision. We are talking not only about the pubcos, which people might hiss at and not like, but about the family brewers, who will be exempt. We are talking about the micro-brewers and the Society of Independent Brewers; the people who are not even affected by this legislation are concerned about the knock-on effects and the consequences for the industry and the market. We should be desperately concerned about that. The Minister will know that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills commissioned a report from London Economics, which estimated that if we scrapped the tie and introduced something like this new clause, 1,800 pubs would close and 8,000 jobs would go. Nobody here wants to see that happen to our pubs. We saw what happened under the previous Government, when 52 pubs a week were closing and the hated beer duty escalator increased duty by 48%. We have seen the consequences of legislation for our industry. We should hold our nerve. We should vote for the statutory code and for the adjudicator, and we should give power to our publicans, but we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater—we should not vote for new clause 2.
I rise to support new clause 2. It was interesting to listen to Andrew Griffiths and, for about two and a half seconds, I felt sorry for the pub companies. Are they really the great bastions of competition? No, of course they are not. They have lost the confidence of not only the landlords who are their tenants, but this House of Commons and the general public. That is why I congratulate the Government, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Jo Swinson and her boss, the Business Secretary, on coming up with the pubs code of conduct and the adjudicator. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Bailey and his predecessors, the various Chairs of the Select Committee, all of whom agreed that change was absolutely necessary. On each of the three occasions we have debated this issue in this House of Commons there has been no vote against the basis of the debate: to ensure that there was change with regard to pub companies and how they treat their tenants.
On the new clause, the market rent only option was central to all those debates and to the reports of the Select Committees, because it highlighted the fact that the pub companies take far too much profit for themselves and leave very little for the tenants who run their pubs. The pub companies charge excessive rents and their beer prices are inflated and, as a result, their landlords are often impoverished. Is that competition? It is a cartel and a monopoly; it is nothing to do with competition—it is all about greed. The key principle outlined by the Select Committee reports and others is that the tied licensee should be no worse off than the licensee who is free of tie. That is central to today’s debate and to the decision this House of Commons must take within the next hour.
There are those who argue that new clause 2 would bring doom and disaster upon the industry, with thousands of people losing their jobs and hundreds upon hundreds of pubs closing. That is all scaremongering; it is all tactics to try to ensure that Government Members and some other Members who feel strongly about these issues should vote in a certain way within the hour. Greg Mulholland spoke eloquently, as always, referring to the fact that new clause 2 would mean that the market rent only option would be introduced gradually; it would not suddenly fall upon the pub companies, but would happen in a piecemeal way, bit by bit and with sense.
Secondly, the new clause would not affect small family brewers. As we have all heard, it applies only to companies owning more than 500 public houses. Yet time and again in this debate people have been bringing up the idea that somehow or other companies such as Brains from south Wales, which is active in my constituency, will suddenly disappear from the face of the earth because of new clause 2, which does not affect them.
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned Brains, because I understand that it does not support the free-of-tie proposal. Will he understand that although family brewers may not be encompassed by it, they will be affected by it, because they supply their beer to the pubcos and through their pub chains and distribution network? So it is not true to say that family brewers will not be affected; they are deeply concerned by these proposals.
The concern is not warranted. If new clause 2 came in and tenants were able to choose what beers and ciders they had in their pubs, perhaps in addition to the pubs in south Wales that currently serve Brains beers, other pubs that do not but that are linked into the pubcos could do so. Far from hindering the progress or in some way destroying the profits of Brains, this liberating measure would mean that public houses could serve Guinness, Brains and other local beers and ciders as well.
My constituent, the owner of the fantastic St Austell Brewery, has recently told me that if new clause 2 goes through, he will be affected financially—that comes straight from the horse’s mouth. I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman has got his information from, but I have taken the trouble to go and speak to my family brewers and find out how the measure will affect them.
No, I will not. The hon. Member for Leeds North West made it clear that the detail in new clause 2 was specifically designed to exclude small companies such as Brains and others. It is possible that those companies were frightened by the tactics of some hon. Members and others, or, worse, that they were frightened because the pubcos had told them that they wanted friends to defend their own position. I do not believe for one second that small companies in my constituency, or anywhere else, would be adversely affected if pub companies allowed their tenants and landlords to earn a living wage—what is wrong with that?—to have a variety of cheaper beers, including those of the small companies, and to ensure that the profits are shared. Nothing in that could be said to be anti-competition. On the contrary, it probably means that they would do better in their pubs if they were allowed to earn more, to share their profits properly and to sell beer and cider from the microbreweries that exist in many of our constituencies. No, this is all about scare tactics.
It has already been said that Brains has misgivings about it. I am saying—[Interruption.] Of course it has written to me. It has written to other Members in South Wales. I am saying that those companies are misguided—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman contain himself while I answer him? Brains and others believe— because they have been frightened into believing it—that new clause 2 will affect them adversely. That is not the case. At the end of the day, those companies will benefit from the new clause.
I know that it is unusual for an Opposition Whip to speak in a debate, but Brains is actually based in my constituency, and I have had many conversations with it. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the major concern of Brains and many other family brewers is over the Government amendments, which reverse the gains that we made in Committee? That is the primary cause for concern.
That is a useful piece of information from my hon. Friend whose seat includes the headquarters and the brewery of Brains.
Finally, I understand the tactic that the Government are using. They think they will lose the vote today, because there are so many Members who believe in the things that we are talking about and who will join us in the Lobby. I am not sure that a review is the answer. A review will simply push the argument and debate further down the road. Oddly enough, those who oppose new
clause 2 do not like the idea of a review, and those who support it do not much like it either. It reminds me of Aneurin Bevan who said, “When you are in the middle of the road, someone will knock you down.” I sincerely hope that the Government amendment will be knocked down and that Members from all parts of the House will support new clause 2, as it will have the greatest effect in every single one of our constituencies.
We have had a fractious debate today. The responsibility for that can be placed firmly at the door of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills who has treated the House in a very shabby way. He has brought forward last-minute amendments and asked this House to take on trust that he can singly make massive and sweeping changes to this industry and that we should just trust him that his word is sound. He is proposing to affect an industry that has long been a mainstay of economies up and down this country.
I have very little confidence that the Secretary of State understands the industry on which he singly wishes to intervene. It is rather poor show that he has not come to this House, but has instead left a very capable, but nevertheless junior, Minister to outline why the Government are retreating on one set of amendments, and looking to make changes in another set of amendments. That is no way for the proposed changes to be put to this House.
I speak on behalf of family brewers when I say that it is incredibly important that the Government keep the promise that they gave at the start of the consultation that those brewers would not be included in respect of the pubs code adjudicator. I was very pleased that my Conservative colleagues, along with the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, voted to oppose the Government’s attempts to impose those regulations on small family-owned breweries. Today, the Minister has offered half a loaf back. She has said, “Well, we won’t do it for those who own 500 or fewer. We will do it for those with 350 or fewer. Just trust me, we will make it happen in another House.” I am happy that she is not pressing amendments 41, 43 and 44 today, but I am still at a loss as to why there is an in-principle difference between 500 and 350. If it is a fact that just three family brewers are impacted by that change, there is a very serious issue about whether this is ultra vires legislation that is being felt by certain family businesses but not by others. I think the Minister will find that she will also have severe problems in the other House.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s analysis about plucking the figure of 350 out of the air. Does he share my concerns that this is a recipe for disaster, as we are bound to have legal challenge after legal challenge about what is a competition matter?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is one of the problems of trying to make policy on the hoof. Small businesses in this industry up and down the country will be looking aghast at the actions of the Secretary of State. Serious business people run these breweries. They have to make long-term investment decisions that affect themselves, their employees and their customers. To have a Secretary of State who makes his position clear on a Friday, but changes it by Tuesday and again when it goes to the upper House sends an incredibly poor set of signals to an industry that has to make those long-terms decision. To be quite honest, a Secretary of State for business should understand that and should have the decency to be here—
I am sorry, I should not say that. It would have been preferable if he had been here today so that he could explain his rather unforced flip-flop at the last minute, because these are unprecedented changes that he is putting forward.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful and impassioned speech. Does he not recognise that the Ministers have tried at least to find some element of compromise? For those of us who had some concerns about this—I share the concerns, as they have been put to me by Fullers brewery in Chiswick—the change to 350 provides a reasonable compromise, and it will now go to the other place to be determined.
My hon. Friend, with his emollient and soothing words, makes a fair point. The Minister has done a fantastic job in presenting these compromises. However, they raise severe questions both in terms of the specificity of the number of companies that will be affected by this additional change and the fact that they were presented to this House at the last minute on a “trust us, we will change it” basis. Yes, it is a step in the right direction, but would it not have been so much better to have this sorted out before and to have included the proposals in the Bill or in the amendments so that we could debate them here today in this House?
This issue shows some of the problems with Government intervention into industry. Essentially, anyone who runs a business knows that they cannot trust the politicians. They cannot trust the politicians to keep the guidelines for the industry safe and secure if we have an interventionist as Business Secretary, and we certainly have that. They cannot trust the Government if they know that they will change the rules one week so that the next week they will affect the industry.
On Second Reading, I likened the Secretary of State to Saruman, the all-seeing wizard in “The Lord of the Rings”—somebody who in his quest for order and discipline found his own downfall. That is the fate of all of us in this House. We believe that because we are politicians we can somehow magically understand what makes an entrepreneur and what makes an industry work. There are times when industries fail and when intervention is required, but they are far less frequent than we in this place would like to think is the case and we should be modest in our efforts to change things that are working. We should be precise about the regulations we seek to impose and we should listen intently to those who are affected by the changes we make. Today, as my hon. Friend Mark Field has said, the Government have made modest changes, but as someone who believes passionately in small business I do not want us to relent. I fear the reach of the interventionists in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
We have today raised the standards of the family brewers: the lion rampant of Camerons brewery in Hartlepool; the black swan of Donnington’s of Stow- on-the-Wold; the griffin of the Fuller’s brewery of Chiswick; and, most notably of all, the eagle of Charles Wells of Bedford. To these standards, to my Conservative colleagues, to the principles of family and small business, I say be steadfast and stand against Saruman. Let us ensure that our principles are firm and yield not one quarter in defence of family businesses.
I do not know whether I can take on one of the characters from “The Lord of the Rings” and better that finish from Richard Fuller.
I want to speak in support of new clause 2, and I declare an interest as vice-chair of the all-party save the pub group. I pay tribute to my fellow officers, Mr Binley, Greg Mulholland, who has done such a sterling job of researching new clause 2, and Caroline Nokes. Like other Members, I acknowledge the important role played by Fair Deal for Your Local, the Campaign for Real Ale, the Fair Pint campaign, my union Unite, the GMB, various support groups for tenants and the Punch tenants’ network.
New clause 2 is about stopping exploitation by large pubcos of pub landlords up and down the country. The situation has not come out of the blue. We have been discussing the issue for some years now, and it has been known about for a long time. Andrew Griffiths gave an example from his constituency, and the point I sought to make, although there was not time for me to do so during his speech, was that I can think of many cases in my constituency where a tenant of one of the large pubcos has effectively invested their life savings, and often their redundancy money, in taking over a business and turning it around. They have built it up and taken on additional responsibilities, such as opening a restaurant or providing bed-and-breakfast rooms, but when the review of the tenancy has come around, the pubco has doubled the rent, so that it is not viable for those people to continue.
I think that I was pretty generous in giving way. The hon. Gentleman has done a lot for beer and pubs, and I acknowledge his support in scrapping Labour’s hated duty escalator. I agree that it would be absolutely unfair of a pubco to do what he has described, but does he not accept that under the statutory code, the tenant could take the case to the adjudicator, who could rule on whether it was fair, and get the decision overturned? The tenant would have protection under the code.
I think that the best protection is offered by new clause 2, with the market rent only option. Time is short, but I shall try to explain why. We have heard from the respected Chair and former Chairs of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills. We have had debates, and the all-party save the pub group is certainly aware of the four reports produced by the Committee that concluded that there had been abuse of the tied system, and that recommended time and again the market rent only option.
During her opening remarks, the Minister was harangued by Government Members with prophecies of doom about the consequences for local economies and regional brewers, but in truth the Federation of Small Businesses suggests that there will be a considerable benefit to the economy of offering this option. CAMRA estimates that large pub companies force their tenants to buy beer at prices that are inflated by as much as 50% or 70%; that is on top of rent that is already excessive. Anyone who believes in fairness would support new clause 2, which would correct that.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. Does he agree that tied tenants, such as those of the Monkwood tavern in Rawmarsh, The Crusty Pipe in Goldthorpe and The Bull’s Head in Cortonwood, simply want a fair basis on which to run their pubs as a business for them and their families?
Absolutely. All we are arguing for is fairness—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Burton asks from a sedentary position why this has not been done before. We have an opportunity to do something now, and I cannot be answerable for things that happened before I was a Member of this House.
As a result of excessive behaviour by the pub companies, an estimated 57% of tied landlords earn less than £10,000 a year. That is a disgrace. Anybody who, like me, frequents pubs regularly will realise what an incredible effort goes into running a public house—the hours put in bottling up after customers have gone home, the huge commitment it takes, and the toll it takes on the owners’ personal life. For them not to have the opportunity to earn a decent living is a disgrace.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the tied pub concept is old-fashioned and antiquated in the 21st century? We had the same issues with tied housing in the past. Surely big brewers inflicting on landlords a certain label of ale, for want of a better term, is one of the factors that led to the demise of the working men’s club. Those clubs ended up in a lot of debt.
The demise of the Club and Institute Union, and the working men’s clubs, is a huge issue, certainly for me. New clause 2 does not propose the end of the tie; rather, it seeks to make it work more effectively and fairly. If a pub landlord agrees to a tied arrangement in relation to the purchase of alcoholic drink from the pubco, they should get a lower rent, especially if they are paying as much as 70% over the top for those beverages. That is the way the tie should work. If the landlord does not want to be tied to a company in respect of beverages, they should pay the market rent, or have that option. I am not suggesting that the tied system should be done away with—just that it should work in a manner that is fair to both the pub company and the tenant. At the moment, it certainly does not.
Members have suggested that the impact is not huge, but there are lots of villages in my constituency of Easington, such as Hawthorn and High Heselden, where only a single pub is left. These communities are really feeling the effects. If landlords are compelled to pay as much as 70% more for their alcoholic beverages, despite what the hon. Member for Burton says, the tenant will be absorbing some of that cost, but when there is only a single pub in the village, it is basically passed on, and the customers pay a lot more than they need to.
It is no coincidence that thousands of pubs have closed in recent years. In some cases, profitable, popular pubs, beloved by local communities, have been sold off by big pubcos to developers and supermarkets. Pubcos have sought to cash in on the real estate or land value, with little or no thought for local people, or the effect of the loss of a community hub. As the hon. Member for Leeds North West pointed out, that is often because these pubcos have saddled themselves with huge debts. There is a suspicion that the rents they charge are deliberately high to get rid of landlords, so that it is easier for them to sell.
Those landlords who opt for the market only rent can purchase drink supplies from elsewhere, leading to better and fairer access to the pub market for smaller local brewers and cider producers. It would also increase the choice for all our constituents. I would like Members to support new clause 2 because it would help to deliver increased licensee profitability, increased investment in pubs, greater consumer choice and fewer pub closures. If avaricious pubcos are stopped from exploiting their tied landlords, hiking up rents and charging up to 70% more for a pint, the price of a pint can only fall. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members on both sides of the House and their constituents—I certainly speak for myself and my constituents in Easington—when I say that such a move would be warmly welcomed. For that reason, for fairness and for the benefit of the economy as a whole, I commend new clause 2 to the House.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for not pressing amendments 41, 43 and 44. However, I want to put on record my surprise that the amendments were tabled by the Secretary of State as recently as
“This amendment, and amendments 43 and 44, reverse amendments made at committee and bring pub-owning businesses with fewer than 500 tied pubs back into the scope of the Pubs Code.”
The Secretary of State has continually led the House to believe that it was his intention not to include small family brewers with fewer that 500 tied pubs in the statutory code. When the Bill appeared, it included those small family brewers, with top-heavy bureaucracy.
I thank my hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris, who is no longer in her place, my right hon. Friend Sir Hugh Robertson, my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller), for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), and Toby Perkins and his colleagues on the Opposition Benches for seeing sense and supporting my amendment, which would simply have put back into the Bill what the Secretary of State has always led the House to believe he intended to have in the Bill.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said today. I would like her to confirm, with a clear yes—I will give way if she does not intend to speak again—that if the
Bill goes unamended to the other place, and an amendment is tabled there to reduce the number to 350, the wording will be either “350 tied pubs, excluding managed pubs”, or “350 short-term tenancies and leases, excluding managed pubs”. The industry can have no faith in a Secretary of State keeping his promise, after what we have seen over the past few months, and indeed the past few days. It needs and is seeking that reassurance from the Minister today.
I thank Members for listening to this contribution. I completely agree that small family brewers should get some reassurance that they will see in the other place what they were led to believe would be included in the Bill, but is not.
We have had a lively debate on the various amendments before us. Toby Perkins made the point that today has the potential to be a great day for Parliament. Given all the detailed discussions we have had—that is what we do on Report—getting into the specifics on thresholds, family brewers and new clause 2, I think it is easy to lose sight of quite how far we have come and what a real change this Bill will mean for tenants who have been arguing for such a long time for action to be taken to improve their situation.
We have heard hon. Members make contributions of various lengths—significant, in some cases—and we have heard more make interventions, on both sides of the argument, about new clause 2, and we have heard speeches from those who powerfully oppose it. I want to respond to some of the specific points made by Richard Fuller about family brewers and the Government’s proposed threshold of 350. He was right that earlier I confirmed that three companies would be included. An important fact to put on the record is that none of those three is a family brewer. Those who have been arguing for the exclusion of family brewers can rest assured that, with the reduction in the threshold from 500 to 350, that exemption will remain, as I think was the will of the Committee, which the Government have listened to and recognised should be reflected in the Bill.
I take issue with the suggestion that those companies are all small businesses. Of the three that will be included by changing the threshold from 500 to 350, one has a turnover of £758 million a year and some 16,000 members of staff. I do not think that it is accurate to say that we are necessarily talking about small companies in that sense. Liz McInnes, who is new to the House, asked about the brewery JW Lees in her constituency. I am happy to confirm that with fewer than 350 tied pubs, it will not be affected by the measures.
In his comments about family brewers and the changes we have introduced, my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford indicated a certain lack of confidence that the commitments made here by the Government will be implemented. We have set those out in clear words, which will appear in black and white in Hansard if he chooses to read it tomorrow. The amendments will be made in the other place but this House will have the opportunity to vote on them as well. The situation is not necessarily good versus evil, as he outlined it. I began to worry that he was being a bit uncharitable towards me at one point, until he compared my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary to Saruman, who was a pretty evil and nasty piece of work. I do not think that comparison is warranted, but perhaps I should just be pleased that my hon. Friend did not reach for Sauron instead.
New clause 2, which was introduced by my hon. Friend Greg Mulholland, seeks to introduce a market rent only option requiring pub-owning companies with more than 500 pubs of any description and one or more of those being a tied pub to offer their tied tenants the right to go free of tie. It is widely accepted in the industry that tied tenants should be no worse off than free-of-tie tenants. It is one of the key principles underpinning the Government’s proposals and goes to the very heart of the measures we have set out in this Bill. There was an attempt in Committee to take that principle out—a probing attempt, apparently, but none the less an attempt—by some of the Back-Bench Members who have spoken today. It is a vital principle that underpins the impact that we are trying to have.
The hon. Lady to some extent predicted what I am going to say. People who listened to Andrew Griffiths might want to reflect on the fact that he attempted to introduce an amendment in Committee that would have removed the principle that tied tenants should be no worse off than tenants free of tie. It may be valuable for hon. Members to consider in that light everything else they have heard from him.
Indeed. I am glad that that amendment did not ultimately form part of the Bill, as that principle, which we have set out from the beginning, is crucial. We looked at various means of achieving it. One of the things we consulted on was whether the market rent only option should be included in the pubs code. We looked carefully at whether to introduce that. It might seem a straightforward way of strengthening the negotiating position of tenants, because if they are faced with a compulsory free-of-tie option alongside market rent only, pub-owning companies will arguably work much harder to offer a tied deal which represents a fair share of risk and reward.
The freedom to choose the supplier and the likely lower costs of supply could mean that free-of-tie agreements could offer greater potential profits for tenants wanting to maximise the benefit of those terms. Those would be the most experienced and entrepreneurial tenants. It would not necessarily help others, whereas the parallel rent assessment will do that. It was interesting from the consultation, and almost unique in such a polarised policy area, that concerns were expressed by people on all aides of the debate about the impact of introducing that provision and the consequences it could have on the tied model as a whole. There would be some uncertainty and unpredictability, especially in relation to pub-owning companies and how they would respond.
The parallel rent assessments that we are introducing provide a way of making sure that the prime principle that a tied tenant should not be worse off than a free-of-tie tenant can be enacted and made real. That is why we are proceeding with the arrangement.
I can give an assurance that the review will be rigorous and that, in response to it, there will not only be this power for the Secretary of State, but, if he finds that there is insufficient protection for tenants as a result of the parallel rent assessments and the system is not working as it should, a requirement for him to bring forward the market rent only option.
The Minister is attempting to straddle a very difficult line. She claims that we should believe that the measures proposed by the Government today are likely to work, but if not, there is an alternative process that is her party’s policy for which she will argue going into a general election. Why do we not just do away with all that nonsense, give the industry some certainty, and support new clause 2?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it would be Liberal Democrat policy. Clearly, we are in a coalition Government rather than a Liberal Democrat Government, and people will make their decisions when it comes to the general election in which we will all be campaigning and voting in a few months’ time.
We have before us a Bill that will improve the lives of tenants and makes real the principle that a tied tenant should be no worse off than a free-of-tie tenant. The hon. Member for Bedford suggested an analogy with “The Lord of the Rings”. Perhaps I can posit an alternative scenario. I think that what we have had on this issue over the past few years is a rather intrepid fellowship—a group including MPs from all parties in all parts of the House, tenants, Select Committees, business groups, and campaigners. I will leave hon. Members to make up their own minds about who among them would be deemed to be hobbits, elves, dwarves or men—[Interruption]—and, indeed, who has been Gandalf at their head. The members of this intrepid fellowship have campaigned hard. In some ways, they probably feel that they have been on an epic journey, battling against the unfairness that has been repeatedly highlighted in Select Committee reports.
We need to recognise that the result of that campaign by all those individuals has been to achieve a great success. What we have is proposed legislation with a statutory code and a pubs adjudicator who can make that code a reality and ensure that if it is not abided by there can be arbitration, investigations, and ultimately, if necessary, penalties with real teeth. We also have the parallel rent assessments to make sure that the system bites. Now, going even further, we have the power to introduce the market rent only option if all that is ultimately unable to work. That is a huge success for campaigners who have worked on this issue for many years. I think that people should welcome what has happened.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West will recognise that success, see how far he has come, and think twice about putting his new clause to the vote. In the Bill before us, we have a solution to the issue identified in the Select Committee reports and a way to make sure that if that does not work we have the ability swiftly to implement a market rent only option. I commend this part of the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 6 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.