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An MP's mail can be a useful barometer of parliamentary and public opinion, says John Grogan My parliamentary mailbag this month has been dominated...

An MP's mail can be a useful barometer of parliamentary and public opinion, says John Grogan

My parliamentary mailbag this month has been dominated by two topics previously highlighted by the Morning Advertiser. There has been a significant new twist to the debate concerning supermarket pricing of beer. I am now receiving half a dozen letters a week from licensees urging me to sign the motion I myself tabled in the House of Commons on the subject!

It is clear that my colleagues are coming under similar pressure and 142 MPs from all parties have now added their signatures.

My childhood hero was Geoffrey Boycott, whose first thought when he scored a century was about the next 100 runs to be scored. Pub industry lobbyists are showing similar determination, and I am confident that we will be approaching 200 names by Easter.

For the first time in my experience of tabling such motions, senior Ministers, some closely linked to the Gordon Brown camp, are ringing my office, expressing sympathy for ideas outlined within the motion and expressing regret that as office holders they cannot sign.

Of equal importance to the letters from licensees has been the contact from small brewers and niche suppliers of beers and alcohol products from around the world. Ultimately their objections could prove most significant in persuading the Competition Commission that they have to act to correct loss-leader pricing of alcohol. This is because their particular stance is based purely on market and competition issues that come directly under the remit of the Competition Commission.

Small producers of high-quality British beer and importers of international lagers retailing at £4 to £5 for four bottles just cannot compete with supermarket prices such as 20 cans of Stella for less than £10. This is a subject I intend to highlight when I address the annual conference of the Society of Independent Brewers in Leeds this week.

The other continuing topic in my correspondence from licensees is televised sport. Now that Setanta has announced that it will be offering residential viewers of Freeview the chance to watch Premier League football matches live by paying a subscription, they are asking whether there will be a similar offer to licensed premises. On their behalf I intend to write to media regulator Ofcom asking them to intervene and ensure that Setanta and Sky compete for pub business as the European Commission intended, rather than open themselves up to accusations of collusion.

For the first time in many years, Ofcom is already investigating the over-mighty Sky on a number of fronts. Trade & Industry Secretary Alistair Darling this week asked Ofcom to undertake a full public interest inquiry into BSkyB's acquisition of a 17.9% stake in ITV. Moreover, Ofcom is also investigating Sky's decision to withdraw free channels from Freeview and replace them with subscription channels.

Perhaps the tide of public opinion is beginning to turn, not only against over-dominant supermarkets, but also against the over-dominant Rupert Murdoch.

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