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Only here for the 'beerage'

Larry_Whitty.jpgLarry Whitty on Conservative shenanigans over the rights and choices of tied tenants

A year ago, in the House of Commons, an amendment tabled by LibDem MP Greg Mulholland was carried to the government’s Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill giving rights to tied tenants of large pub chains to move towards an untied ‘Market Rent Only’ relationship.  

When that Bill reached the Lords in January of this year, Ministers claimed they recognised the will of the Commons and were now supporting the principle of the amendment but that it needed to be made ‘workable’. Last Thursday, eleven months on from the Commons vote, the Business Department (BIS) issued a related consultation document.

The document claimed to be the basis for bringing forward the intention to provide the Market Only Rent option and a process for assessing the choice for tenants. In fact, it is a complete travesty that dilutes and distorts the intentions of the Act. So the charge against BIS has moved from one of deliberate delay on its part to the serious one of bad faith.

Some of us in the Lords were suspicious back in January of the government’s amendment. Others meanwhile, seemed more to reflect the views of the big breweries. Either way, the assurances given by Ministers convinced Peers to accept the government’s good intentions. Talks were offered with representatives of the industry to get something through secondary legislation, so the House did not oppose the proposals.

In the immediate aftermath this faith seemed justified, as representatives of both tied tenants and pubcos were consulted by BIS civil servants. But then came the general election and ministerial changes within the department; along with some changes among key civil servants within the relevant policy area. Almost inevitably, this led to delays in producing the consultation for the regulations. Communications meanwhile, with tenant organisations and campaigners virtually ceased.

So, after months of silence and with no discussion beforehand, the consultation document was issued to a generally astonished sector. Not least as it appears to negate the intention of the original Commons amendment by limiting the triggers for the right to a Market Rent Only and the deletion of the provisions for a Parallel Rent Assessment. This is all clearly contrary to the assurances given back in January.

Now, there has of course been a change of government since the Act was passed and there is no longer a LibDem Minister in BIS or a LibDem Secretary of State. But that is no excuse for the new Conservative government to revert to earlier eras – as the Party not of small business but of big brewers, supported only by the ‘beerage’ in this House.

Lord Larry Whitty is a backbench Labour Peer

Published 4th November 2015

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