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Lib Dems: radical reform for tie

By John Harrington , 04-Mar-2010

Foster: thinks the tie has got out of control

Foster: thinks the tie has got out of control

The Liberal Democrats would radically reform the "one-sided" beer tie that has gone "out of control" and is hastening pub closures. It would be part of a package of measures to help pubs that include scrapping rises in beer duty.

The Liberal Democrats would radically reform the "one-sided" beer tie that has gone "out of control" and is hastening pub closures.

 

It would be part of a package of measures to help pubs that include scrapping rises in beer duty and letting councils grant 50% rate relief for sole pubs in villages.

 

The Lib Dems are the first of the major parties to pledge action on the tie. Their view could prove significant, particularly if they hold the balance of power in the event of a hung Parliament after the general election.

 

Lib Dem licensing spokesman Don Foster said the party's policy on the sector is still subject to final agreement. But he gave an indication of its probable content in an exclusive interview with the Morning Advertiser.

 

Action would include new laws that allow tied tenants to opt out of the tie. Pubs would be allowed at least one guest beer, and there would be bans on upward-only rent-review clauses and restrictive covenants on pubs being sold.

 

Foster, MP for Bath, said: "I have tenants who have been to see me to discuss the difficulties they are in because of their relationship with their pubco. I've seen pubs in my own constituency close."

 

Out of control

 

He said there's nothing "intrinsically wrong" with the tie. "Well managed, it can provide real benefits to the pub and those people who use those pubs.

 

"But we think the thing has got out of control, that it's a very one-sided bargain. That's why we want to redress the balance."

 

Foster also gave more details of the party's plan to tackle "pocket-money" alcohol from supermarkets. Sales below the combined cost of production, tax and duty would be banned, then a minimum unit price would be set by an unnamed independent body.

 

He said it was "wholly and absolutely wrong" to blame alcohol-related disorder on pubs and clubs, adding: "Pubs are not the villains."

 

Foster also hinted about action around machine tax, pointing to the "hugely damaging" prospect of replacing amusement machine licensing duty with duty based on gross profits from machines.

 

But a ban on smoking in pub doorways "goes a step too far at this stage".

 

Foster said Lib Dems would not reverse some policies enacted by this Government. For example, the mandatory alcohol retailing code is "not a significant burden" and the tobacco vending machine ban is needed because the machines are "very difficult to supervise" to stop underage sales.

 

Lib Dems' plans for pubs

 

• Tie/pubcos: Pubs allowed to opt out of tie; tied pubs allowed at least one guest beer; upward-only rent review clauses and restrictive covenants outlawed; no pub to be demolished without public consultation. (Some edicts won't apply to companies with less than 500 pubs.)

 

• Beer duty: No increases

 

• Rate relief: Councils given powers to grant 50% relief for last pub in the village

 

• Supermarket pricing: Ban on sales below the cost of production + tax + duty. A minimum price per unit would then be set by an "independent body"

 

• Live music: Reintroduce the Live Music Bill, removing the need for music licences for sub-200 capacity venues and reintroducing the two-in-a-bar rule

 

• Mandatory code and tobacco vending machines ban: No changes

 

• Smoking ban: No extension to doorways

 

• Underage sales: Every test purchase failure leads to a licence review

 

• Progressive beer duty: Scrap thresholds and use a sliding scale of relief

 

• Pubs minister: Will keep the position

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