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Debate in Parliament shows overwhelming support for pub company reform

CAMRA's campaign to end the Great British scandal closing pubs and win a fair deal for publicans took a huge step forward yesterday as overwhelming support was shown from MPs on the call to introduce pub company reform.

MPs from all parties attended a Parliamentary debate to press Business Minister Vince Cable to stick to the Government's promise to introduce reforms before time runs out and more pubs close.

Shadow Business Minister Toby Perkins MP scheduled the debate and called for legislation to introduce a Pubs Watchdog and open market rent reviews. He also called for publicans to be given the option to go free-of-tie and buy their beer on the open market.

Calling on the Minister to urgently act in the face of the "great pubco disaster", he declared: "If the Government does not introduce a Bill on this issue in the Queen's Speech [in May], it is impossible to imagine that there will be sufficient parliamentary time to pass one in this Parliament".

CAMRA's Chief Executive Mike Benner said: "Yesterday's Parliamentary debate demonstrated overwhelming Parliamentary support for the introduction of a Pubs Watchdog.

"MPs from all parties spoke strongly of the need for Government action after ten years of slow industry progress on introducing meaningful self regulation.

"We were pleased that the Secretary of State reconfirmed the Government's view that self regulation has been inadequate and promised that a decision would be made very soon."

In perfect timing to coincide with the Parliamentary debate CAMRA's petition (www.pubscandal.org) which presses Government to introduce reforms reached over 30,000 signatures. There was fantastic support and campaigning demonstrated from CAMRA members to help reach this number of signatures and an excellent running commentary on the debate was held on twitter. 

The next step in the campaign is to keep pub company reform in the public domain and to increase the pressure on Vince Cable to announce his department's intentions for the reforms soon so that this issue can be a central part to next year's legislative programme.

Key Quotes from the Debate

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): May I offer an example from my constituency to support the motion and illustrate the urgency of the matter? A constituent of mine moved into her pub a few years ago with the promise of significant investment being made in the property. Those repairs have never been carried out.

Does not that illustrate why the motion is so important—particularly the part about rent-only tenancies—and why we need action now? Tenants such as my constituent cannot afford to wait any longer for action.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I recently met a landlord who has managed to turn around a failing pub and increase the turnover. His reward is for all the extra money to be taken away in increased rent. That destroys the incentive for people to work hard and bring these pubs back.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Does he share my disappointment that as long ago as last January he brought a debate to this House during which the Government performed a U-turn saying they would seek to introduce a statutory code, which is absolutely necessary, and we had a lengthy consultation, but very little in terms of the legal framework has changed 12 months on?

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): With 26 pubs closing every week, a few hundred must have closed in the four months in which we have been waiting for the consultation on pub company reform. That is deeply concerning.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The failure of the pub companies to self-regulate underlines the need for an adjudicator, as does the fact that a number of pubs are closing. 

Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): As a member of the Select Committee, I urge the Secretary of State to take action as soon as possible, but I do understand the need to listen to the consultation.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend believe that the pub companies whose business practices force out committed publicans such as Claire will be dealt with effectively by some sort of adjudicator?

Vince Cable (Twickenham) (Lib Dem):

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the Government were still reviewing the responses to the consultation, and Ministers were weighing up the evidence to deliver a decision in due course.

Cable concluded by reassuring MPs and those desperately waiting for the outcome of the consultation that: "We are trying to get this absolutely right and we want the intervention that we make to be proportionate and properly targeted.

"There is no attempt to kick this into the long grass. We are trying to do this properly".

Debate Vote

At the end of the debate the following was voted on:

That this House notes that two years have passed since its resolution on pub companies of 12 January 2012; remains of the view that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee was right to state in its Fourth Report, on Consultation on a Statutory Code for Pub Companies, HC 314, that only a statutory code of practice which included a mandatory rent-only option for pub companies which own over 500 pubs, an open market rent review and an independent adjudicator would resolve the contractual problems between the big pub companies and their lessees; further notes that pub closures are increasing, and believes that the Government should by July 2014 bring forward legislative proposals to introduce a statutory code of practice of the kind recommended by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

This motion was tabled by Labour as it was an opposition day debate. The motion was defeated by 311 votes to 244 but this is not unexpected as the Government have a majority in Parliament. The point of the debate was not about the vote but to keep the pressure on Vince Cable and to show the cross-party support for this issue.