Pubs Code for Scotland given thumbs down by Holyrood Committee

A Pubs Code Bill for Scotland whose own author admitted could result in pub closures has been voted against by MSPs on Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee.

Labour MSP Neil Bibby said in the consultation document for his Tied Pubs (Code and Adjudicator) (Scotland) Bill that pubs could close as an indirect consequence of the legislation that seeks to strengthen the position of Scotland’s tied tenants in their dealings with pub owning companies.

He has called the vote a ‘slap in the face for Scotland’s tied publicans. ‘

A similar code was introduced in England and Wales in 2015 and its Scottish counterpart will now be debated in the main chamber at the Scottish parliament in the coming weeks.

If it is voted down it will be thrown out for good.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, has welcomed the decision of the committee and has called for the Scottish parliament to agree and reject the Bill at stage 1.

She said, “We are pleased that after reviewing the proposal and all the evidence, the committee has reached this conclusion. The proposal was an attempt to replicate Westminster legislation, despite the huge differences in the Scottish pub market. It simply wouldn’t have worked and would have seen Scottish pubs lose out on millions of pounds of investment at a time when the industry needs it most.

“Scotland’s pubs are struggling at the moment. They need all the support they can get from both Holyrood and Westminster. Adding extremely costly and burdensome regulations is the exact opposite of what should be done to support our sector through this crisis.  Indeed, the current crisis has served to highlight the strength of the tied pub model in terms of the crucial additional support provided by pub companies to their tenants through this period.

“We now call on the Scottish Parliament to agree with the Committee’s recommendation and reject the Bill at Stage 1.”

But not all trade bodies are in agreement on this, with Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) spokesperson Paul Waterson calling the vote “unforgivable”.

He said, “The SLTA are bitterly disappointed by the Economy Committee’s report. We don’t see how anyone can justify opposing legislation in Scotland when there was cross-party support from the SNP, Conservatives, Labour and others in Westminster for legislation to protect tied licensees in England and Wales.

“Failure to support Scottish tenants at a time when the whole industry is in crisis is unforgivable and Scottish tenants are very much the poor relations.”

Six members of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee voted for a recommendation to reject the principles of the bill, including four SNP members and two from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Two MSPs, one Labour, one from the Scottish Greens, voted against the recommendations. One Conservative MSP abstained.