British Pubs

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:42 am on 23rd February 2010.

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Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby 11:42 am, 23rd February 2010

The fact that my brief speech follows those of two self-proclaimed non-beer drinkers, who spoke with such passion and insight about the future of the pub, underlines perhaps more than anything the hold that the British pub has on British people. Eighty per cent. of people visit a pub at some time in the year, and very few other institutions, even the Church or the Post Office, have such a reach. Perhaps only our most popular television channels have it in the course of a year. Mr. Evans has done the nation a great service in obtaining the debate. Our common aim must be to make the pub a general election issue.

The hon. Gentleman chided my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing as one of the few Members of the House who has survived to tell the tale following a News of the World exclusive. Obviously, as we come into a general election period, parties will seek political advantage. That is only natural. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend's appointment, together with the Liberal Democrat and Conservative proposals, will mean that there is something to debate. We have heard about leaders' debates, and I am sure that we shall watch them with interest, but I hope that an organisation such as CAMRA might have a debate on the future of pubs, with the various Ministers and shadow Ministers giving their views.

Time is limited and I want to rattle through one or two suggestions for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, but before that I want to mention managed pubs, which Greg Mulholland mentioned. The issue of tied pubs has been well rehearsed and we await with interest the report of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, the Government's response and now, again, the Office of Fair Trading report. However, let us not forget the role played by managed pubs in this country. One company whose model is under threat is Mitchells and Butlers, which has been taken over in all but name. I am not sure that the takeover panel has done a particularly good job on the issue. The new chairman has said that in 60 days he will produce new proposals for Mitchells and Butlers. An average Mitchells and Butlers pub-they have names such as All Bar One-employs 20 people, and the business employs 40,000 people. It has gone for a model of comparatively low beer prices but high quality, and highly staffed bars and pubs. There is a danger that, perhaps during the general election period, when the House is not sitting, Mitchells and Butlers will come up with proposals for big cost cutting, and the closure of pubs and bars. I urge the so-called independent directors who have been appointed to the board to speak out now, if they are truly independent. Otherwise they will be seen as the patsies for the offshore interests that have taken over Mitchells and Butlers. I just mention that in passing.

I shall rattle through the main issues, and as I do not want to repeat what has been said I shall try to pick one or two other ideas. CAMRA has suggested that rate relief, which has been a big boon to village pubs in recent years, should be extended more widely, to community pubs in suburban areas and small market towns. That needs to be considered. A proper definition of a community pub is obviously needed, but I think that local authorities would be well placed to judge whether a pub is a community pub. That would be a good way forward.

Various hon. Members have discussed putting a lower rate of duty on draught beer. I want to underline the fact that that is a current issue. The European Commission is reviewing the rules on duty now, and I hope that all three Front Benches will unite in what they say about this and that the British Government will argue-although we need allies, and potentially have them in such countries as Germany and the Czech Republic-that the European Commission should allow different nation states to impose a lower rate of duty on draught beer. That could do as much for pubs in the next Parliament as the lower rate of duty on small brewers has done for the expansion of micro-brewers in this Parliament.