It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate Mr. Evans on securing it. The hon. Gentleman and friend is a fellow executive member of the all-party parliamentary beer group and a member of the all-party parliamentary save the pub group, of which I am chairman. Let me make it clear that I am speaking on behalf of both the Liberal Democrats and my all-party parliamentary group. Part of the reason for that is to give other hon. Members a chance to contribute to the debate.
I have a little bit of news for Mr. Grogan. CAMRA and the save the pub group are hosting an event to which all three parties are invited. It will either be on
I am pleased to be speaking in this debate, but frustrated to be still talking about the same issues. I am sick of always getting warm words-I prefer my beer cellar cool and not warm-and no action. I warmly welcome the Government's decision to appoint John Healey as Minister responsible for pubs. I look forward to working with both him and the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr. Sutcliffe to get some action in the remaining few weeks of this Government. However, I would have preferred it if such an appointment had been made some time ago.
Let me rattle through a few of the important issues. We need to consider the level of beer duty and the way in which it has risen. We want the Minister to tell us that the duty will now be frozen, and we want to see the abolition of the beer duty escalator that has caused so much damage. I also agree that we should consider a lower rate for draught beer, which is something that both all-party parliamentary groups support. I should like to explore the possibility of a lower duty for real ale. Cask-conditioned ale is more costly to produce, store and serve, so I agree that we should take the fight to Europe. We should also consider minimum pricing, which the hon. Member for Selby also champions. However, let me add a note of caution. People talk about putting the level at 50p, but an independent body should assess the level so that responsible drinkers, either at home or in the pub, are not penalised. Such a scheme will help pubs to compete, especially as they offer that uniqueness that we all know about.
We need to consider live music in pubs. The Live Music Bill is going through the other place, but I ask the Government to review their exemption level of 100 people because it is not sufficient. The Bill stipulates 200 people, which would do more to help pubs as well as encouraging more live music.
Rate relief is another area of consideration. The community pub inquiry report stated that there was no recognition of the contribution that pubs make to the community, which was also mentioned by Anne Main. Pubs make vast contributions to charity and offer a hub to the community, but that is not reflected in the rate system.