Landmark bill could free tied pubs in Scotland to buy more beer

Mary Moriarty, one of the best known landladies in Edinburgh before her retiral in 2009, pours a drink at the Port O Leith bar. Picture: Justin Spittle/TSPL
Mary Moriarty, one of the best known landladies in Edinburgh before her retiral in 2009, pours a drink at the Port O Leith bar. Picture: Justin Spittle/TSPL
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A landmark bill which could radically alter the centuries-old practice of pub landlords being forced to buy supplies from their owners has been supported by the vast majority of those who responded to a consultation.

Labour MSP Neil Bibby had lodged a private member’s bill to create a statutory “pubs code” to regulate the relationship between tied tenants and their pub-owning landlords, with an independent adjudicator appointed to enforce the code.

The interior of Captains Bar on Edinburgh's South College Street in November 1981. Picture: Bill Stout/TSPL

The interior of Captains Bar on Edinburgh's South College Street in November 1981. Picture: Bill Stout/TSPL

Tied pub tenants in Scotland would gain similar rights to those in England and Wales, with restrictions eased on the range of drinks they can stock.

There are around 1,000 tied pubs in Scotland, but the majority of licensed premises in the country are freeholds unlike south of the Border.

The bill is backed by a broad coalition including the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (STLA), the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), GMB Scotland, the STUC and the Federation of Small Businesses. Bibby’s consultation was backed by 93 per cent of respondents, including 87 per cent who described themselves as ‘fully supportive’.

But trade body the Scottish Beer and Pub Association claimed the proposal would cost jobs and investment and urged MSPs to reject the bill.

READ MORE: War of words intensifies in Scottish pub fight

“This proposal is about fairness, choice and jobs,” said Bibby, a list member for West Scotland.

“Fairness for tied pub tenants, choice for Scotland’s pub goers and jobs in the pub and brewing industries. My bill would reset the relationship between tied licensees and their landlords, giving tied tenants in Scotland similar rights to those in England and Wales, and it would make it easier to bring locally-brewed products into the tied pub sector.

“Too often tied deals are one-sided and uncompetitive. With a broad coalition behind the Bill and backing from an overwhelming 93 per cent who responded, this consultation has demonstrated very clearly that the sector has to change.

“I have now formally lodged my proposal and I am asking MSPs of all parties to work with me to deliver a much-needed change in the law and a fairer deal for Scotland’s tied pubs and the brewing industry.”

Licensed trade body the SLTA claimed that tied pub reform would end “the discriminatory, unfair and uncompetitive marketplace”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The vast majority of pubs in Scotland are freehold, rather than tied tenancies, unlike in England and Wales. A study last year could not find evidence that any one part of Scotland’s pub sector was unfairly disadvantaged in relation to another. We have been engaging with stakeholders, as well as Mr Bibby himself and will consider carefully any proposals in this area – as well as the outcome of the consultation exercise - before coming to a view as to the scale and nature of the challenge that it is proposed to remedy and whether Mr Bibby’s Bill is the best means to deliver the objective.”

Brian Davidson, president of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association said: “We would strongly urge Neil Bibby to rethink this proposal and instead focus on helping to secure meaningful support for all 4,900 pubs in Scotland, not just the 17 per cent which the current bill is unfairly aimed at.

“Pubs are of vital importance to the economy and communities across the country, so we welcome that they are on the agenda at Holyrood. Our sector faces multiple challenges, and the support of politicians is essential to ensure the pub market remains vibrant and diverse.

“But we believe this Bill seeks to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”