Date: 24th June 2014
In the House of Commons today, Chair of the parliamentary Save the Pub group, Greg Mulholland MP, questioned Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, over his department’s refusal to say what discussions and meetings it has had with large pubcos and their lobbyists.
Mulholland originally submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request on 6th February 2014 to HM Treasury. In relation to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) consultation on introducing a statutory code for large pubcos, Mulholland’s FoI request included a demand to see all correspondence between HM Treasury, the British Beer and Pub Association, and Independent Family Brewers of Britain. He also demanded to see all documents where officials had discussed pubcos.
A reply from Treasury officials of 4th March deemed that there were “powerful public interest arguments for not disclosing the information that we hold”.
At the time, Mulholland called the decision “quite extraordinary, wholly acceptable and deeply suspicious” and lodged a formal review of the decision on 13th March. In his email demanding a review, Mulholland said there was “a strong case in favour of the public interest… particularly over how government may have been lobbied and influenced by external bodies”. With the Information Commissioner’s Office recommending reviews be completed within 20 working days, Treasury officials did not reply until 23rd May, over two months later, and again refused to comply with the FoI request.
In the House of Commons earlier, following the announcement in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month that a statutory code would be introduced to govern the relationship between pubcos and tenants, Mulholland said to the Chancellor that it was “very welcome that the Government are introducing a statutory code of conduct for pub companies, but it lacks the all-important market rent only option”.
Speaking further, Mulholland went on to say to Osborne that, “There is concern about the direct lobbying of the Treasury by the British Beer and Pub Association and the pub companies. When will the Treasury accept the freedom of information request from the all-party save the pub group?”
The Chancellor responded that he was “happy to look into the freedom of information request” following Mulholland’s long campaigning for transparency and for a fairer deal for pubs.
Speaking after the Treasury Questions session, Mulholland said:
“We know full well that there has been a concerted and well-funded secret lobbying campaign which has been peddling misinformation directly to the Treasury, to refuse a Freedom of Information request time and again is to engage in a deliberate cover-up. They must have something to hide and the Save the Pub Group will take this to the Information Commissioner to ensure this is in the public domain, as it clearly should be.”
1. For more information, contact Mo Saqib (Parliamentary Researcher to Greg Mulholland MP) on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 219 3833
2. The official record of Greg Mulholland and George Osborne’s exchange can be found here:http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown/140/