The way tied tenants are being treated by pubcos is an "absolute national disgrace" — that was the savage attack launched on the pubcos by vociferous MP Greg Mullholland.
The All Party Save the Pub Group chair was speaking at the Fair Pint Lobby Day, where around 100 licensees met at Westminster for discussions with their MPs.
"The message is very simple," said Mulholland. "What is going on is politically unacceptable, economically absolute madness and morally bankrupt."
He added: "Big companies have lost their way. Their economic situation has become so appalling that they are screwing and now destroying small businesses."
The Lib Dem hailed the damning Business and Enterprise Committee report into pubco power as a "big step forward". He said it would help "expose the myths and lies" of the pubcos.
"When we hear the bleating from the pubcos about pub closures, let us not forget it is them and the tie, which is responsible for closing pubs."
He also praised the Fair Pint campaign. "What you have achieved in a short space of time is very special.
"Times really are changing."
Labour MP for Stroud David Drew hit out at the way pubcos negotiate with their tenants. He cited the example of a friend in Gloucester whose business had been wiped out following the floods two years ago and asked for a rent reduction. "I have been an MP for over 12 years and had dealings with all manner of companies — and not all have been terribly nice — but the response of the pubco was utterly unbelievable."
He urged tenants to get the message out to the general public and customers. He added: "Pubcos are on a sticky wicket as they have no moral standing whatsoever."
Clive Davenport of the Federation of Small Business voiced concerns over how quickly the Government would act as licensees were struggling to stay afloat.
Iain McNicol of the GMB called on MPs to re-visit the beer orders to stop big companies "exploiting" the tie.
Rick Muir of the Institute of Public Policy and Research, who wrote the Pubs in Places report, said the tie was "one of the most significant problems" in pub closures.
Finally, Nicky Francey a founder member of the Fair Pint group thanked everyone for their hard work over the year and urged them to continue the fight.
George Scott of the Punch leased Eastcote Arms near Northampton met his MP Tim Boswell of the Conservatives.
"My MP said he felt the balance of power was unfair and he would consider supporting the call for a Competition Commission referral. He is also going to help with my local campaign to save my pub."
Calling time on the tie
Fair Pint launched a new report, which calls for the Government to:
• Refer the pubco model and the tie to the Competition Commission
• Urgently review the fairness of contracts between licensees and pubcos
• Establish a statutory code of practice which allows tenants to choose to operate free of tie when leases are renewed
• Ensure fair and transparent rents
• Insist on full disclosure of mark-ups on beer prices from pubcos
• Establish a fully independent and low cost arbitration scheme