Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 28



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Made before the Backbench Business Committee

on Tuesday 22 November 2011

Members present:

Natascha Engel (Chair)

Mr Peter Bone

Jane Ellison

John Hemming

Mr Philip Hollobone

Ian Mearns

Mark Garnier, Andrew Percy and Justin Tomlinson made representations.

Q1 Chair: Right, what is your name and where do you come from?

Justin Tomlinson: Mark is a late substitution for Duncan Hames and Jenny Chapman, who sent us wonderful letters of support. Both are on trains heading in different directions at the moment, so Mark is our cross-party representative. To keep it very brief-

Ian Mearns: I don’t want to tell tales out of school, but I have just seen Jenny Chapman upstairs.

Justin Tomlinson: I meant different political trains. Our all-party group has 226 cross-party Members, making us the largest if you just count MPs. We have been calling for compulsory financial education in the national curriculum. We have carried out an eight-month inquiry on how we would like to see financial education made compulsory, which Andrew, as chair of that inquiry, will cover in a moment. Also, we were the fourth e-petition to pass 100,000 signatories, which was a campaign led by Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com.

Andrew Percy: I am Andrew Percy, the MP for Brigg and Goole-for now. It might be abolished. We ran the inquiry on sort of Select Committee terms. We had a cross-party representation split between Tory and Labour. We heard more than 900 bits of evidence from schoolteachers. We interviewed 50 different organisations. We had the banks and financial institutions in. We had young people, the teaching trade unions and the FSA in. The British Bankers Association gave evidence as well. We have done this over, as Justin said, the last few months. We are about to produce a report, which is why the e-petition has come at the right time. We are going to have a formal launch of the report here in a couple of weeks.

Q2 Chair: What is it that you are specifically asking for? Is it a Westminster Hall debate or a debate in the Chamber?

Justin Tomlinson: It is the main Chamber, but not till next year. We will publish the report on 12 December, and then we would like an opportunity to try to put as much pressure as possible on the Education Ministers to reflect the e-petition and try to get a firm response on that.

Q3 Mr Hollobone: Are you asking for a full day in the Chamber or a half-day?

Justin Tomlinson: Three hours.

Q4 Mr Hollobone: I understand that your request is for the next calendar year. In parliamentary terms, it is still the same year within the same Session. While we allocate the time for debates, the days of the debates are decided by the Government. There is no guarantee there will be days in the new year, but there should be. It is not a hard and fast rule, but given the pressure on Chamber time, certainly in the past, the Committee has looked more favourably on applications that have a hard and fast motion attached to them asking the Government to do something rather than just a general motion.

Justin Tomlinson: We have a draft motion.

Q5 Mr Hollobone: Would you read it out for the record?

Justin Tomlinson: We are happy for this to be tweaked by people who know more about the system: "Young people today grow up in an increasingly complex financial world requiring them to make difficult decisions for the future, often without the necessary level of financial literacy. Financial education will help address the national problem of irresponsible borrowing and personal insolvency. Teaching people about budgeting and personal finance will also help equip the work force with the necessary skills to succeed in business and drive forward economic growth. As such, the country has a duty to equip our young people properly through education to make informed financial decisions."

Andrew Percy: We may beef that up to request something of the Government in terms of changes to the curriculum to facilitate that, which would broadly be in line with the aims and terms of reference of the APPG.

Q6 Mr Hollobone: Presumably, your report, which the House is eagerly anticipating, will have some punchy recommendations.

Justin Tomlinson: Yes, it does.

Mr Hollobone: You may want to choose one of those recommendations as a motion.

Q7 John Hemming: One of the challenges of this Committee is not knowing when or whether we will get days in the future, or when will be the earliest point and whatever. We had a saga recently where a lot of people signed an e-petition about Barbar Ahmad, but by the time we made the decision, we did not have any Chamber time. You are saying specifically that you do not want to look at this until after you have announced the report. You are not interested under any circumstances in any-it may be that we suddenly get a lot of time because of what is happening in the House of Lords. You are saying specifically that, if an early debate of three hours was on offer, you would rather delay it.

Justin Tomlinson: The eight-month inquiry has produced this report. At the moment, most people would agree, but then there are ifs and buts and people saying, "Ah, but we’re streamlining the national curriculum," and so on. We have tried to answer all those questions in the report, and until that report is published, we think a debate would pre-empt it. I emphasise, however, that although we were grateful to get 100,000 signatures on the e-petition, the 226 cross-party MPs were the driver behind this. I am conscious that we have limited amounts of time, and it is important when you allocate that time that it is well utilised. Cross-party MPs will be lining up to speak, and we would be confident that the Chamber will be full.

Q8 Jane Ellison: A quick point about your motion: one of the other options that people have sometimes chosen with Back-Bench motions is use it to frame a time scale in which they hope a response might be given. Rather than hard and fast recommendations, you might say, "We would look to get a response to our report by a certain time." I would think creatively about how you might use your motion.

Andrew Percy: A maths curriculum review is going on at the moment, which we would tie in. That is where the timing element would come from.

Q9 Mr Bone: When will the report be published?

Justin Tomlinson: Monday 12 December.

Q10 Mr Bone: There is the possibility of a debate in the House on 15 December.

Chair: The issue is that because a lot of Government stuff is in the House of Lords, we have got quite a bit of time in the Chamber between now-well, provisionally we may have more time than usual in the Chamber.

Justin Tomlinson: We could be very flexible.

Andrew Percy: Any time. We wanted to come early-we thought we would be helping by asking for the debate in January, but if you are saying December, we would be delighted.

Q11 Jane Ellison: But in principle, you are very positive about this, as long as it happens after 12 December.

Justin Tomlinson: Yes-15 December would be like an early Christmas present in effect, because it would be fresh in people’s minds.

Q12 Chair: That is really helpful. Thank you very much.

Mr Adrian Bailey and Greg Mulholland made representations

Q13 Chair: This is Adrian Bailey and Greg Mulholland for a debate on the statutory code for pub companies and your Select Committee report. Is that right?

Mr Bailey: That’s correct, yes. We would like a three-hour debate in the Chamber, preferably not on a Thursday, so that we can maximise attendance, although I appreciate that that is a matter between you and other parties. This issue is of enormous significance. Over the past eight years, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has held four inquiries into pub companies and their relationships with their tenants, and over the years, it has come up with a remarkably consistent range of recommendations that basically amount to, "Put your house in order," and the implementation of a code that would, if you like, provide a fair balance between the authority of the pub companies and the trading position of the tenants in their pubs.

The progress on a voluntary basis has been absolutely glacial. The previous Committee under the chairmanship of Peter Luff made recommendations. In their response to those recommendations, the Government said that, if by the time of the next report the industry had not put its house in order, they would do a consultation to have a statutory code. Well, the Committee under my chairmanship has carried out a further inquiry. It is obvious that no progress of any significance has been made. As a result, we have asked the Government to introduce a statutory code of conduct after a period of consultation. The Government are due to give their response on Thursday and, unusually, they are giving it in the form of a Command Paper.

What we as a Committee would like, and I have to say it has been backed up by vigorous and very vocal support from the all-party beer group, is a debate in the Commons on the Select Committee recommendations and the Government’s response to them. While it would be wrong to anticipate the response, it is a matter of huge importance and concern within the industry and for many Members in their constituencies, having to deal with pub closures taking place day by day and the social consequence that arises from them. I will bring in Greg to talk about some of the detailed issues, but that is the Select Committee perspective.

Greg Mulholland: Thank you, Adrian. I am obviously here representing the save the pub group, as the chair of that group of a large number of Members of all parties in both Houses. It is something that we have been campaigning very strongly on for the last two and a half years and working with a number of other organisations. The work of the Select Committee has been absolutely exemplary and the research that has gone in has been something that the whole pub industry has respected and noted, perhaps with the only exception being those people who don’t like the conclusions. The Independent Pub Confederation, which includes Camera, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, the Federation of Small Businesses and a plethora of organisations, all very clearly back the calls for a statutory code of practice, which includes, crucially, a genuine free-of-tie option, accompanied by an open-market rent review and a guest beer right for tenants who choose to stay inside the tie.

What is absolutely critical, Natasha, is that on two separate occasions, Ministers in BIS have said that they would stick to the plan laid out by the last Government in March 2010, which clearly said that if the Select Committee laid out that progress was not forthcoming then the Government would intervene. Ministers in the coalition Government are on the record as saying that they would back that. So what we are essentially asking is for the opportunity to have a debate on the Floor of the House on a votable motion-

Q14 Chair: Do you have that votable motion?

Mr Bailey: We have not yet drafted the motion, because we want to see the Government’s response before we do so.

Q15 Chair: And that is on Thursday?

Greg Mulholland: It is on Thursday, but this is a very significant piece of business.

Chair: Okay. I think we have an idea of what the issue is and the kind of motion you are talking about.

Q16 Mr Hollobone: Is it going to be a wishy-washy motion, or are you going to ask the Government to do something specific?

Greg Mulholland: Good question. We are going to ask the Government to do exactly what they said they were going to do, which is crucial.

Q17 Mr Hollobone: How long do you need the debate to be?

Mr Bailey: We have asked for three hours. If you want to give us more, I think we could fill it. Just on that point, it will be a strong motion. Feeling on the Committee runs very high on this, because we were given an unequivocal assurance by the Minister when he was asked in front of the Committee that they would abide by the decision of the previous Government in their response to the then Select Committee, and we believe that it is necessary to hold the Government to account on it.

Greg Mulholland: In a nutshell, Philip, basically if on Thursday the Government do not lay out that they are going to do what they said they were going to do, and what the Select Committee has advised, this motion will be a vote to make them do it. It as simple as that.

Q18 John Hemming: I agree that it is a very important issue but is the motion essentially likely to endorse the Select Committee’s proposals?

Mr Bailey: Yes.

Greg Mulholland: And to point out the commitments the Ministers have made and call on them to fulfil those very clear commitments.

John Hemming: Do what they said they would do-sounds good.

Q19 Jane Ellison: We are obviously interested in lively debates that go back and forth. Greg, you and I have spoken about this before-other interests are represented in this House. Would some of that be teased out in a three-hour debate? In other words, rather than it being just a succession of speakers all saying, "We support the Select Committee report," would we have a bit of back and forth?

Mr Bailey: I would represent the Select Committee perspective. I cannot second-guess what the balance of contributions would be. It is fair to say that the evidence that has been submitted to successive Select Committee inquiries encompasses a range of evidence that would provide a basis for anyone wishing to take a particular position to do so.

Greg Mulholland: Constituency MPs will want to use this as an opportunity to raise the clear examples of injustice that their lessees have faced in the current environment, but there are MPs in the House who have different views on how this should be solved. You have raised with me the issue of family brewers. One thing about the Save the Pub Group that is slightly different from the Select Committee is that we support the Independent Pub Confederation 500-pub limit for the statutory code, which would mean that none of the family brewers would be affected by it.

Jane Ellison: I am getting a sense that the debate would be something more than just a procession of people saying the same thing; there would be some nuance to it and some genuine discussion about the way forward.

Q20 Mr Bone: You don’t know what the Government are going to say, but if they said, "Yes, we agree entirely with the Select Committee and we are going to do it," would there be any point in having a debate?

Mr Bailey: As I said, we cannot second-guess the Government’s proposals, but they are first to go out to consult with those parties to the industry. I still think there is scope for a very lively debate to bring in constituency experience and the sorts of issues that Greg has outlined-whether you should have a 500-pub limit and so on-which the Committee did not address. There are areas that could legitimately be teased out during the course of a Commons debate that would inform the Government’s final proposals.

Q21 Mr Bone: When is the Government’s response coming out?

Mr Bailey: Thursday.

Q22 Mr Bone: This Thursday?

Mr Bailey: Yes.

Q23 Mr Bone: When people come before us for the first time, pitching for a debate, sometimes we say, "Come back the following week." I suggest that you come back next week after you have seen what the Government have published on Thursday, and you could say, "This is absolutely hopeless-here’s the motion," or "It’s rather good, and we would rather have a general debate." That might be a way forward.

Mr Bailey: I am entirely in the Committee’s hands. I am quite happy to do that.

Q24 Chair: That would be really helpful. As we said, provisionally, we have more time than we would usually have between now and the Christmas recess, so unless you are desperately pitching for our next available day, which is 1 December, it might be helpful if you wait until Thursday. I am assuming-in fact I know-that there has been at least one Adjournment debate on this subject in recent history in Westminster Hall. Was that an over-subscribed debate? Was it yours, Greg?

Greg Mulholland: No, it wasn’t. It was in the previous Parliament and it was very well attended. But obviously, that was going back-

Q25 Jane Ellison: It was last year-9 December.

Greg Mulholland: But not on this specific issue. There have been other debates, but I am pretty sure that the last one on beer-tied pub companies was in the last Parliament, so it has been a while. However, it was very well attended.

Q26 Chair: Would you be happy to come back or is there a particular urgency for 1 December?

Greg Mulholland: I think Peter’s point is a very good one. Clearly, if the Government say, "Yes, we will do exactly what the Select Committee says," we would want a debate on what we have been talking about-some of the detail and how that is pushed forward and not kicked into the long grass. If it is not that sort of response, it will be a votable motion to make the Government do what they said they should. That, I sincerely hope, would not be on a Thursday.

Q27 Chair: We possibly have the tail-end of 6 December, which is a Tuesday.

Mr Bailey: That would be preferable.

Q28 Chair: Why don’t you come back next week after you have had a look at the Command Paper with the Government’s response, and bring either a votable or a general motion to the Committee?

Mr Bailey: Fine. Thank you very much.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming.

Prepared 23rd November 2011