The Bar Man, December 5, 2014: Let’s toast victory

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One of the major campaigns run by CAMRA over the last 10 years is to ensure that landlords of pubs pay a fair rent and therefore can afford to stay open.

Since the beer orders were published in 1989 there has been a move for the brewers to sell off what were their tied houses to pub owning companies such as Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns. They collect their rent in two ways. A dry rent which is for the buildings and which traditionally was lower than the market value, and a wet rent which was an agreement that the brewery or pub owning company would be the sole supplier of drinks sold in the pub (a tie). Research by CAMRA in 2013 established that the price paid for the drinks was substantially higher than on the open market, for example 11 gallon keg of Foster’s lager costing £150.22 as opposed to £84.99 on the open market, a mark-up of 77 per cent

Over the years, the dry rents have increased to a point where many pubs have become unviable and CAMRA have campaigned for legislation to protect landlords so that they can negotiate a market value rent and also be allowed to buy drinks free of tie. This campaign culminated in a motion put to the House of Commons on November 17. This was an amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill put forward by Liberal MP Greg Mulholland who was aiming to “bring back market forces into a sector that frankly has become grotesquely anti-competitive”.

CAMRA has been aware that this amendment was to be proposed and in the weeks leading up to the debate over 8,000 members contacted their MPs asking them to vote in favour, however, despite being at first sight the embodiment of free trade, this amendment was opposed by the Government and MPs were requested by chief whip Michael Gove to vote against. But 15 Conservative and 24 Liberal MPs defied the whip and the amendment was passed 284 to 269. It is thought that this is the first time ministers have been defeated on a commons bill and the government chief whip was subject to taunts of ‘resign’ when the result was announced. Full details of the debate and the votes of the MPs can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141118/debtext/141118-0002.htm Disappointingly, West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham, who has been in the past very supportive of CAMRA’s campaign voted against the amendment as did other local MPs Elizabeth Truss and George Freeman. As with the campaign to end the beer duty tax escalator, it was a campaign that nobody thought we could win, and indeed the headline on the BBC News website Publicans hail MPs’ beer tie vote as “minor miracle” gives an indication of the magnitude of the victory.