Top MPs want beer tie referral 'immediately'

By James Wilmore

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Uk mps 2005-, Members of the united kingdom parliament for english constituencies, Public house

Senior MPs from across the political divide - including a government minister - stood united last night in calling for the beer tie issue to be sent...

Senior MPs from across the political divide - including a government minister - stood united last night in calling for the beer tie issue to be sent to the Competition Commission "immediately".

During a dramatic Question Time-style event in Parliament, licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe, his Tory shadow Tobias Ellwood and the Lib Dem's Don Foster all said the issue should be investigated now - instead of allowing pubcos until June 2011 to get their house in order, as the Business Innovation and Skills committe said.

Sutcliffe said "personally" he would refer the issue "immediately".

Ellwood said: "I would recommend to Ken Clarke that the answer is 'yes'."

And Foster also agreed the competition authorities should look at it now, but earlier pointed out it was the way the tie was being operated not the "principle" itself that was the problem.

The responses were greeted with cheers and applause by sections of the 150-odd strong audience, which included licensees, CAMRA members, campaigners, trade group representatives and MPs.

Impatience for the tie to be discussed during the hour-and-and-half meeting, orgainsed by CAMRA and the All-Party Save the Pub group, boiled over at one point when a heckler had to be shouted down by chairman Greg Mulholland MP.

Aside from the tie, the whole spectrum of issues facing the industry were covered by the MPs, prompted by questions submitted by audience members.

The issue of cheap supermarket alcohol attracted widespread criticism.

Ellwood said it was "morally wrong" that supermarkets were selling alcohol at a "lower cost than water".

However, he reiterated the Tories would ban below-cost selling of alcohol, instead of having a minimum price. "We are looking at the French model," he said, but added that it was a job for George Osborne.

Foster repeatedly hit out at the "pocket money" prices in supermarkets. "With pre-loading, you (licensees) are getting unfairly blamed," he told the meeting.

Sutcliffe shied away from minimum pricing, saying it would "bring more problems than it solves".

The concept of restrictive covenants was also attacked. Mike Benner, CAMRA's chief executive, said the practice was "anti-competitive". "It should be left up to the market," he said.

And Sutcliffe suggested some pubcos "just want to be in property development".

There was also talk of the need for a "viability test" to determine whether a pub should be sold off.

But Sutcliffe, who earlier suggested looking at the definition of a community pub in relation to planning law, warned: "The idea we should conserve every pub is not viable."

On the smoking ban, a vote was taken in the room on who wanted to see the legislation overturned. Only a handful wanted this. However at least half the room voted for the idea of having a separate room for smoking in pubs.

Related topics: Beer

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