Beer tie loosened after Bill amendment?

By Gillian McKenzie

IT has spanned several years, dividing opinion and polarising the industry; and, last week, the debate over the ‘beer tie’ took another turn which sent shockwaves around the UK trade – and stock market.
MPs in the House of Commons voted in favour of a last minute amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to introduce a ‘market rent only’ option for tenants of pubcos with 500 or more outlets.
The so-called ‘new clause two’ in the pubs code will give the tenant or leaseholder the right to be offered “such tenancy or lease in exchange for an independently-assessed market rent paid to the pub-owning business and, for the avoidance of doubt, not thereafter being bound by the tie”.
It’s a major change, which could effectively ‘break’ the beer tie.
Pub tenants have welcomed the move, which could pave the way for them to buy beer from any supplier.
Pubcos have criticised it, claiming it would “threaten investment and damage pubs”; the BBPA has highlighted what it described as “serious legal and competition issues”.
And the situation in Scotland remains unclear.
The proposed pubs code would currently only apply to premises licensed under the 2003 Licensing Act (England and Wales), although campaigners for pubco reform north of the border are calling on the Scottish Government to match Westminster’s plans.
The debate, it seems, is far from over.