Pub Tenants: 10th November 2015

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
5. What progress he has made on introducing a market rent only option for pub tenants. [902087]
 
The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
The Government published a consultation on the introduction of the market rent only option on 29 October. Our proposals have been drafted to strike a fair balance between pub companies and tenants, and we look forward to hearing views from across the industry during the consultation period.

Louise Haigh
The draft pubs code released by the Minister in late October was supposed to signal the end of the unfair practice of forcing tied tenants to buy their beer only from pubcos. In fact, the code seems to give tenants the freedom to buy on the open market only in exceptional circumstances. Does the Minister agree that the code will mean in practice that very few tenants will be free from the pubco profiteers?

Anna Soubry
No, I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s assessment of the consultation at all. The clue is in the name: this is a consultation. We are therefore, quite rightly, publishing our proposals, and I look forward to representations from everybody, including the hon. Lady.
 
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
I join the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and say that a number of pubs have closed in my constituency and those of my colleagues simply because property prices and rents are too high? I recognise that we need to keep the pubcos in business too, or we will not help anyone. Does my hon. Friend agree that exceptional circumstances would include any situation in which a pub would have to close because the rent was too high?
 
Anna Soubry
This is all very useful and helpful, and I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. I look forward to him putting his views into the consultation; a mix of views is critical to what I emphasise again is a consultation.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD)
Tenants’ groups and the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign have contacted me to say that they believe that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has acted in bad faith, and that the draft code of practice for pubs does not even abide by the legislation and entirely negates the market rent only option. They will be asking the Minister tomorrow to withdraw the code, which is entirely unacceptable, and engage with them to come up with something that accords with the will of the House as it was expressed last November.

Anna Soubry
I am very disappointed to hear all that. Let me make it clear that I have stood up against planned closures of public houses in my constituency and railed against companies such as Greene King. [Interruption.] Yes, I have, and I have fought for other ​pubs. Hon. Members can look on my website for details. That is not the point. It is really important that we strike the right balance on this issue. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the parallel rent assessment provision, which I know he has not always been in favour of—I think he changed his mind at the last moment—is not in the code.

Greg Mulholland
You don’t know what you are talking about, Anna.
 
Anna Soubry
Shouting from a sedentary position does not help at all. The new style of politics has not quite reached the Liberal Democrat Benches. The noble Lords have made their concerns very clear to Baroness Neville-Rolfe, and as a result of my conversations with her, that particular proposal will go into the second part of the consultation.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
The Minister’s so-called consultation scrapped the promised parallel rent assessment, so I am pleased to hear that she has put that back in. Will she do the same with all the provisions that were offered by Baroness Neville-Rolfe in the other House on 28 January and make sure that the vast majority of pub tenants are offered a fair deal when it comes to the market rent-only option? If she does not, she will be acting in bad faith and she will have betrayed the trust of thousands of pub tenants up and down the country.

Anna Soubry
As I keep saying, it is a consultation so we will listen to everybody. It is important that we strike the balance fairly between both sides of the argument, and that we understand and accept that there has been a great deal of movement to the betterment of tenants over the past few years. We must recognise that. I know from my own constituency work that pub companies such as Punch and Greene King have hugely changed their views to the benefit of tenants, and that must be welcomed.