The pubs code and responsible ministers came under scrutiny in the House of Commons this week, following the launch of a private crowdfunding initiative and the first publication of arbitrations by the pubs code adjudicator in December.
Kelly Tolhurst, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy and minister responsible for overseeing the enforcement of the pubs code, faced questions on its effectiveness from Labour MP and All Party Parliamentary Pub Group chair Toby Perkins.
The debate was held after the launch a crowdfunding campaign to mount a High Court challenge to pubcos and the pubs code adjudicator over the beer tie by a north London licensee in December - which at the time of writing had raised £7,930 of a £10,000 target.
Public arbitrations welcome
Asked by Perkins as to what assessment she had made of the effectiveness of the pubs code and the pubs code adjudicator, Tolhurst chose to welcome the recent unveiling of Ei Group and Punch rulings by the adjudicator in December – the first arbitrations to be made public.
“We will be undertaking a statutory review of the effectiveness of the pubs code and the pubs code adjudicator,” she said.
“I welcome the recent publication by the adjudicator of arbitration decisions, which will increase transparency in relation to how the code is working in practice.”
Perkins, who attended a meeting with MPs from both parties, pub campaigners, the Forum of Private Business and the Brighton and Hove Licensees Association, in December, said: “At a recent meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on pubs, we heard from many tenants who had attempted to avail themselves of the market-rent-only option under the pubs code, but whose attempts had been frustrated.”
He asked: “Will the review to which the minister has referred involve a full and open consultation to which members of the public will be able to contribute, and which we will all be able to read afterwards?”
Tolhurst replied: “We are currently working out how we will carry out the review, and, under statutory regulation, we need to do that by the end of March.
“Of course we understand some of the concerns that have been raised by people who have been affected; we will take account of their views, and I will ensure that those views are heard.”
The deadline for a review of the pubs code is on 31 March 2019.
Happy to discuss ’72 pints campaign’
Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee and MP for Totnes in Devon, asked whether Tolhurst would meet with her and constituents to discuss the ’72 pints’ campaign stating that “there is a long-standing grievance about a discrepancy between the amount of drinkable beer in a cask and the volume of the cask itself”.
Tolhurst responded that she would be “happy” to meet Wollaston and her constituents to discuss the matter, explaining: “We recognise that a number of issues affect the pubs community. The Government has taken some important measures relating to beer duty and business rates to help pubs, but I should be happy to meet the honourable lady and her constituents to discuss the position.”
‘Industry in free fall’
Highlighting that 33 pubs a week closed between April and September 2018, Gill Furniss MP described the pub industry as being in “free fall”.
Stating that communities were suffering as a result, she asked: “what strategy, if any, has the Government to secure a long-term sustainable future for the industry?”
Tolhurst chose to highlight the recent freeze in beer duty, arguing that the step had made a pint of beer 2p cheaper than if duty had been increased in line with inflation.
She added: “We have offered the business rate discount to retail properties, and we estimate that 75% of pubs will be eligible for it. That has cut pubs’ bills by a third for two years.”