The Conservative MP for Dartford has failed to support local publicans in their fight for survival against the predatory practices of large pub owning companies.
Last week Gareth Johnson voted against a new clause to the Small Business Bill which had cross party support, and which offered new protections for small publicans against the predatory practices of the large pub owning companies (known as pubcos).
Many pub companies force their licencees to buy limited products at inflated prices, making it more difficult for publicans to make a living. Labour has been campaigning alongside a broad coalition of groups in the industry – including the Federation of Small Businesses, CAMRA and trades unions to call for greater protection for local pubs and put a stop to unfair treatment and restrictive practices by pubcos.
The government’s provisions to regulate pubcos in the Small Business Bill, were debated in Parliament last week, but fell some way short of Labour’s plans and campaigners’ demands. Labour therefore supported a cross-party clause which would strengthen the proposed legislation and offered a better deal for small pubs.
The amendment, which was passed by MPs, would give pubco licensees the right to choose between a tied agreement or a rent only agreement, allowing them to buy beer on the open market.
But despite several of his Tory colleagues defying their whip to vote for this new clause, Gareth Johnson voted against the clause.
Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Dartford, Simon Thomson said “we know many publicans are finding it increasingly difficult to make a living. Several pubs have shut locally in the last few years, including the Fox and Hounds in Darenth, The Morning Star in Swanscombe and The Horse and Groom in Wilmington. And other publicans are struggling to keep going.”
Simon Thomson added, “27 pubs close every week and more than half of all landlords, who are tied to a large pubco earn less than £10,000 a year. But Gareth Johnson decided to support the big pub companies instead. The government should adopt this amendment to the bill as soon as possible.”
Toby Perkins, Labour’s Shadow Pubs Minister said: “Labour has led calls for a proper statutory code with teeth on pub companies, giving tenants the protection they need and putting an end to the unfair treatment they’ve received from large pub companies. Our plans have won support from a broad coalition of campaigners including CAMRA, the Federation of Small Business, trade unions and the cross-party BIS Select Committee.
“Over the past three years ministers have been dragged kicking and screaming every step of the way on this issue, and now they have been dealt a resounding and humiliating defeat in the House of Commons. Ministers must now act immediately to ensure there is a proper statutory code with a free-of-tie option to protect local pubs, and must not ignore the will of the House of Commons, after their desperate and shambolic attempts to stave off defeat have failed.”
- New Clause 2 was passed by 284 votes to 269 at 4pm on 18/11/2014 despite the government whipping against it. It delivers a mandatory free of tie option (also known as the market rent only, or MRO, option) which allows publicans to buy their beer on the open market. The BIS Select Committee concluded that this was the only way to ensure that landlords would be no worse off than if they were free-of-tie as it would force pubcos to offer tied tenants the best deals.
- The government’s own response to a consultation on a statutory code, printed in June, concluded that a mandatory free of tie option: “is popular with many tenant groups and might arguably offer the simplest way of ensuring a tied tenant is no worse off than a free of tie tenant” – but for reasons known only to themselves they decided not to pursue this.
- Under the original Bill, licencees would merely have the right to ask their pub company to show them how much their rent would be under a free of tie scheme. This was problematic as all the information would be held by the pubcos, all the calculations crunched by their accountants and all the final estimates would be made by them – and then even if they revealed that the landlord would be better of free-of-tie they would have had no legal right to demand this option.
Simon Thomson is Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Dartford
He can be contacted via:
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