Scots 'tied pubs' overhaul is backed by MSPs

New laws which will reform the way hundreds of pubs are run in Scotland, aimed at giving tenant operators greater freedom from brewery owners, have been backed by MSPs.

Scots pubs have been hit hard during the Covid pandemic

The Tied Pub Bill was backed in principle by 107 votes to zero at Holyrood tonight after the Scottish Government announced it would be endorsing the overhaul. There were four abstentions.

The proposed changes have been criticised by industry chiefs who say it will choke off investment as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the hospitality sector.

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The new legislation has been brought forward by Labour MSP Neil Bibby. It will change the legislation surrounding so-called tied pubs - those owned by breweries where the tenants are required to buy beer from them.

His member's Bill proposes a statutory pubs code and an independent adjudicator in a bid to stop publicans from being locked into restrictive and unfair deals.

Mr Bibby said: “It is time to put power in the hands of consumers and tenants, not multinational pub companies.”

He added: "It is clear that there is cross-party consensus over the need for new, progressive tied pubs legislation.

“The Tied Pubs Bill would deliver fairness for Scotland’s tied pub tenants, more choice for consumers and action to protect jobs in the pub and brewing industries.

"A statutory Pubs Code providing a fair share of risk and reward to tenants would help local pubs keep more of the profit they make in the Scottish economy. It would also curb the unfair practices of those pub-owning companies (PubCos) who have taken more than their fair share from their tenants for too long."

The Bill must now pass two further Holyrood stages before it becomes law.

There are more than 700 tied pubs in Scotland, although a recent report by MSPs found there was not clear evidence that legislation was required and did not back the general principles of the Bill.

Scottish business minister Jamie Hepburn said it was a "challenging issue”.

"Whilst most landlord-tenant relationships are strong and effective, it appears to be that this is not always the case," he said.

"The Scottish Government will be supporting the general principles of this Bill and we look forward to working with its sponsor, Neil Bibby, and the Parliament on the next stages of the legislative process."

But Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, warned the move will be damaging for the industry.

“This decision today is absolutely devastating for the industry and comes at the worst possible time,” she said.

"This Bill is completely unwanted, unneeded and economically damaging. It does nothing to support the sector, whilst it’s going through the biggest crisis it has ever faced.

“We will, of course, work constructively with MSPs of all parties at stage two. However, there should be no doubt; by voting for this proposal, MSPs have added an enormous amount of uncertainty for business, which will only result in pub operators losing out on much-needed investment.

“Unless fundamental changes are made at stage two, pubs in Scotland now face being at a severe disadvantage to pubs elsewhere in the UK, risking the pace of recovery as we look to come out of the Covid crisis.”

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