My Early Day Motion to save the Great British pub!

At 8.40 pm on 2nd December, I took up my position just outside the Commons Chamber. It has become something of a tradition for me to be first in the queue to table Early Day Motions when the doors open at 10am the following morning.

Having queued for 13 hours during the night, I was delighted to table ten EDMs that morning. Three months on, by far the most popular among fellow MPs has been the one supporting the ‘Axe the Beer Tax – Save the Pub’ campaign. It has tapped into a huge well of concern over the fate of much-loved local pubs, which are closing at unprecedented rates, up and down the country.

A majority of Lib Dem MPs have signed, but the support is cross-party, with 74 Labour and 26 Tories backing the campaign. It is the 7th most popular EDM out of almost 1,000 tabled.

As the EDM says, five pubs are closing every day, with beer sales at their lowest in 40 years. As well as taking the heart out of many communities, this is terrible news for jobs, as the pub trade employs 650,000 people in every part of the UK. Yet the Government plans ever more punitive tax rises on the sector, with an ‘escalator’ on beer duty due to be introduced in the Budget. This will send more pubs to the wall.

That’s why I have supported the aims of the ‘Axe the Beer Tax- Save the Pub’ campaign. Already, 40,000 have joined the campaign on the website at, or on Facebook. Over 13,000 have lobbied their MP via the site’s interactive tool, and I would urge you to do the same.

There is a key meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group in Parliament on Wednesday, where five Government Ministers are expected to attend. We need to show them the strength of feeling over pub closures, just as we did over Post Offices!

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  • Mark Senior 3rd Mar '09 - 12:09pm

    All those illiberal who votes for the smoking ban in pubs and clubs have to take their share of the blame for the pub closures and loss of jobs in the industry .

  • Mark Senior 3rd Mar '09 - 12:10pm

    oops – insert MP’s after illiberal .

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Mar '09 - 8:47am

    I could not find anywhere on the web-site quoted which told me whether this “beer tax” was on all beer or just on beer sold in pubs. It does however have the words:

    To end the irresponsible promotion of alcohol in supermarkets, pubs and elsewhere

    which I might have thought someone like Tom Papworth would oppose on the grounds that it’s a paternalistic attempt to impose on organisations a moralistic attitude on how they should promote the sale of certain goods.

    Given that the price of beer is relatively low compared to what it has been historically, if it’s simply a matter of a tax on all beer, that cannot be the real issue. If the intention is to tax beer more highly when sold in shops and less highly when sold to be drunk on the premises, then the campaign would make sense, but I cannot find anything in its material which tells me whether this is the case.

    Since there has been an overall increase, not decrease, in the consumption of alcohol in this country in recent years, the real issues seem to be:

    1) People are switching their preference in alcoholic drinks to drinks other than beer.

    2) People are switching their preference from consuming these drinks on the premises where they are bought to buying them and consuming them elsewhere.

    These changes have happened because of a liberalisation of both laws and attitudes. I would have thought someone like Tom would recognise this and note the decline of pubs as being simply what the free market through people’s preferences dictates.

    I am certainly happy to agree to measures which attempt to save the pub, but I do feel if these measures are to work there has to be some paternalism in them, such as decreasing tax on beer sold for consumption on premises while increasing it on beer sold for consumption off premises. But would people like Tom be happy to go along with that?

  • Mark Senior 4th Mar '09 - 9:10am

    Matthew , you maintain that the decline in pubs is the result of the free market response of people’s preference to consuming drinks at home rather than in pubs but of course we do not have a free market .
    The preference of many people until recently was to go down the pub with their mates to watch the football match and have a few drinks and smoke . There was then a free market choice between doing that or buying beers from a supermarket and going round someone’s house and doing so . The smoking ban has distorted that free choice and many have switched from pub to home for their social gatherings and of course have not been replaced by all those non smokers who we were told were ready to go to pubs once they were smoke free .

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Mar '09 - 10:33pm

    Mark, my understanding is that the decline of the pub and the rise in home consumption of alcohol was something well on the way before the smoking ban.

  • Frank Davis 8th Mar '09 - 12:42pm

    It’s simply nauseating to read about this MP’s attempt to save the pubs that he was instrumental in grievously damaging. Bob Russell voted for the smoking ban.

    I voted Lib Dem for 25 years. But I only really realised that they weren’t in the least bit ‘liberal’ when 95% of Lib Dem MPs voted for the ban. That’s even more than the 90% of Labour MPs who voted for this despicable ban.

    I used to go to my local pub every day. Now I no longer go. And I know a lot of other smokers who do the same. The pubs started to close their doors in the months after the ban came into force. They won’t re-open until the ban is amended or repealed.

  • As a regular pub user I’m obviously delighted that at least some of our elected representatives are prepared to try and do something to reverse the decline of the pub which is one of our greatest public resources. However, like other posts, I must point out the elephant in the room – and I’ve never smoked in my life!

  • The only way to save pubs is by drinking in them. There just aren’t the customers out there. The problem is that pubs were kept profitable by people who drank a lot. I mean 5 or 6 pints a night. More often than not, they are smokers and standing in the cold becomes miserable after the novelty wears off. I stopped visiting pubs after the smoking ban. When you pay £2 for a drink, you are obviously paying for something more than the liquid in the glass. For me, it was a warm place to sit and think, or talk to a couple of friends, while smoking. The smoking ban brought this home to me. Buying a drink in a pub would now be like flicking coins into the gutter. I don’t think you can get smokers back. Maybe young lads who are chasing girls, and think that standing in the cold is a price worth paying, but not the middle aged. You need to try something radical. As they are apparently overrun by children now the air is pure, why not concentrate on making them attractive to “hard working families with kids”? Make them into indoor playgrounds. Perhaps sell crayoning sets. I haven’t got any other suggestions. I think it’s a lost cause unless pubs are allowed to provide smoking rooms or designate themselves as “smoking”. To get around the obvious problem that the smoking pubs would be full, and most of the others empty, smoking licenses could be auctioned, creating a “level playing field”.

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