It is a pleasure, Mr. Gale, to serve under your chairmanship again this morning. It is interesting to see that a cross-section of those who were here for the pensioner debate are here also for the public house debate. Both debates have been attended by the highest class of Member.
It has been a great pleasure over the past five years to attend debates secured by Mr. Evans and the various events that he has sponsored. He has been a stout defender-no pun is intended-of British beer and public house business. He looks thin and fit on it. It is important that we debate this subject, given that the British Beer and Pub Association said yesterday in its pre-Budget report that there should be a lower tax rate for beer.
It has been my habit in previous debates to refer to important totemic public houses in Croydon that have been closed. Perhaps today I should refer to those that are thriving-or at least struggling with the burdens of taxation and other requirements put upon them by the Government and still doing reasonably well. I took the opportunity yesterday to speak to a number of public houses. I shall not ascribe particular comments to particular public houses, as it might compromise them, but it will give an illustrative background in support of points made by other hon. Members.
Those public houses are the Half and Half, the Claret Free House in Lower Addiscombe road, The Royal Standard, The Ship, The Builders Arms and The Spreadeagle. I was not able to reach those other excellent pubs, The Surprise and The Sandrock. I would not want to give the impression that I had been running from one public house to another yesterday evening, as I was busy here with the business of the House. However, it was helpful to be able to talk about some of their problems. I previously met the landlady at The Cricketers.
It is hard, given business rates and Government taxation, to keep the public house business going in these difficult times. One publican spoke about the impact of the recession. His public house depends particularly on clients aged between 25 and 30, and he has seen reduced patronage as a result of their loss of employment. Public houses would very much like to see rates and taxation reduced, but the business rate is particularly troublesome.
One interesting comment is that it is impossible to keep up with the supermarkets as their beer and wine is sold at a cheaper price per litre than water. That brings home some of the challenges that are faced. Another independent provider found that duties were too expensive, which caused breweries to cut the alcohol content of some of their drinks. As well as business rates and taxation, another burden is the cost of energy, something that has not been mentioned today. Such burdens make it difficult for independent providers to compete with big chains such as Wetherspoon; indeed, some say about the chain beers that they cannot buy a tin for the same price, let alone the beer itself.
Publicans in Croydon have some interesting reflections on the impact of smoking, but expressing different views. Some felt that it was difficult to ban smoking near doorways for those public houses that do not have gardens, but others felt that the smoking ban had had no impact on the industry, given the attractions that they had to provide as public houses. The response of one provider was that smokers will arrive in rain or snow.