While historically the Chancellor is the only member of the House allowed to drink alcohol in the Commons – during their Budget speech – it won’t just be teetotal Rishi Sunak abstaining after Parliament barred alcohol sales during the ongoing pandemic.
However, in light of Parliamentary prohibition announced on 15 October, Club Soda and a selection of alcohol-free drinks brands have lobbied Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP calling on the estate’s bars to back home-grown alcohol-free drinks producers.
The Westminster estate boasts bars including the Members' Dining Room, Adjournment, Smoking Room, Terrace Pavilion and Pugin Room.
The letter, which has been signed by the likes of Heineken, Sea Arch, Square Root, Lucky Saint, Big Drop Brewing Co and Real Kombucha, explains that in light of the Department of Health’s commitment to increase in the availability of alcohol-free products by 2025, it seems only right that Parliament should have more than the three non-alcoholic options available.
“Parliament has less choice for those not drinking than most pubs in Britain – it is just a poor show,” Club Soda co-founder Laura Willoughby said.
“Now is as good a time as any to address that and highlight the amazing innovation happening within the UK drinks industry, which is something, we should be very proud of.”
Rob Fink, founder & CEO of Big Drop, added: “You don’t need to look far to see that Britain leads the world in producing the best alcohol-free drinks.
“Parliament and its bars should be a showcase for that so we welcome the chance to be a part of it, whilst helping to keep MPs on their A game.”
Prohibition in Parliament
Discussing his decision to pull Parliamentary pints on 15 October, Hoyle said the measure would apply if “food is served or not”.
“Following the Government’s decision to move London into the tier two Covid alert category, I have asked the parliamentary authorities to introduce measures to bring the House of Commons into line with the national picture,” he said.
“As MPs represent different constituencies in different tiers – with the very highest level ordering the closure of pubs – I have decided to stop the sale of alcohol across the House of Commons end of the estate from this Saturday (17 October).
“This means it will not be possible to buy an alcoholic drink from any of our catering outlets for the foreseeable future, whether food is served or not.
“The House of Commons commission will be meeting on Monday to consider other measures needed to protect MPs, their staff and house staff, while maintaining our Covid-secure status.”
This isn’t the first time during the pandemic that a spotlight has been shone on Parliament’s pubs and bars.
Would you trust the PM to run your pub?
As reported by The Morning Advertiser on 28 September, Parliament performed a U-turn on an exemption for its pubs and bars from the 10pm nationwide curfew on the grounds that they were considered “workplace canteens” following a sector-wide outcry.
According to the Mail Online, taxpayers shelled out £4.4m to subsidise food and drink at Parliament’s bars and cafes in 2017, with reports revealing that drinks across the estate were found to be significantly cheaper than those charged in pubs and bars across the rest of Westminster.
What’s more, reports in The Guardian found that the taxpayer subsidised Parliament's exclusive bars and restaurants to the tune of £6m in 2013.
In August 2016, then recently appointed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was voted the politician most trusted to run a pub according to the Campaign for Real Ale – followed by second placed then UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
The figures, released at CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival, showed that one-in-five (22%) of those polled by YouGov on behalf of the beer body said they would trust Johnson to run their pub.
Club Soda’s letter to the speaker
Dear Mr Speaker
We are writing in relation to your announcement, on 15 October, that the sale of alcohol would be banned across the Parliamentary Estate. You said:
“As MPs represent different constituencies in different tiers – with the very highest level ordering the closure of pubs – I have decided to stop the sale of alcohol across the House of Commons end of the estate from this Saturday.”
“This means it will not be possible to buy an alcoholic drink from any of our catering outlets for the foreseeable future, whether food is served or not.”
We fully support your reasoning in banning the sale of alcoholic beverages. But we wondered if you’d considered the availability of alcohol-free alternatives?
As well as helping individuals change their drinking habits, Club Soda works closely with drink producers and licensed venues to promote choice in low and no alcohol drinks. With our support, there’s been encouraging growth in the range of alcohol-free drinks available in the UK, with more venues than ever offering high quality alternatives, and ensuring they are inclusive environments for all their customers, especially in these challenging times.
But there’s more to be done. And Parliament could take a lead in demonstrating the value that alcohol-free drinks can add to any licensed venue. So we were saddened to discover that there are only three adult alcohol-free drinks available across Parliament’s catering outlets. We would suggest that the current alcohol ban in Parliament provides an ideal opportunity to stock more alcohol-free drinks within the estate’s bars and restaurants.
We know there’s a thirst to support this growing sector. Last year, we hosted an event in Parliament with the APPG for Beer to celebrate the breadth of low and no alcohol beers being produced across the UK. The UK is seen as the leading global market for alcohol-free drinks, with many innovative producers based here, and the sector was recently boosted by the inclusion of alcohol-free drinks in the “Eat Out To Help Out” scheme.
We feel sure that MPs would want to demonstrate their commitment to supporting the Department of Health’s initiative to “work with industry to deliver a significant increase in the availability of alcohol-free and low alcohol products by 2025.” And we know that many would also want the opportunity to spotlight local producers from their constituencies.
As the UK’s mindful drinking movement, Club Soda represents over 50 low and no alcohol drink brands, as well as tens of thousands of consumers who are changing their drinking habits. If you need recommendations about the best alcohol-free drinks, we feel sure that any of the drinks company signatories of this letter would make a fantastic addition to the Parliamentary Estate.
Laura Willoughby MBE
Sarah Yates and Geoff Yates – co-founders, Sea Arch
Rob Fink – founder and CEO, Big Drop
Angela Appleton – senior brand manager, Heineken
Robyn Simms – co-founder, Square Root
David Begg – founder, REAL Kombucha
Emma Heal – managing director, Lucky Saint
Johnny Johnson – founder, UNLTD
Anja Madhvani – brand ambassador, Cloudwater Soda
Avnish Babla – founder, Savyll Beverage Company
Charlie Winkworth-Smith – founder, Saicho Drinks
Leon Mejiers – co-founder, Fluere Drinks
Paul Mathew – founder, Everleaf
Damien Egan – founder, the Mixology Collection
Craig Hutchison and Maria Sehlstrom – co-Founders, CEDER’s Alt-Gin and Celtic Soul
Zoltan Szucs-Farkas and Simon Rucker-Joint – joint CEO, Nine Elms
Fern McCoy – founder, Mockingbird Spirit
Richard Clark – founder and managing director, Drynks Unlimited
Mike Robinson, Mo Robinson, Steve Frehley and Louise Palmer – founders, Jeffrey’s
Sonja Mitchell – founder, Jump Ship Brewing
Claire Oxley – founder, Allotment Drinks
+ several individual Club Soda members