Accusations from British Pub Confederation chair and Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland that newly appointed pubs code adjudicator and Fleurets director Paul Newby will not be independent have been branded a ‘disgraceful set of slurs’ by business minister Anna Soubry.

Mulholland asked an urgent question in the House of Commons yesterday arguing tenants had been ‘astonished’ by the announcement and that Newby’s appointment made a ‘laughing stock’ of the adjudicator role.

“How can he be trusted to be independent given his salary for the past twenty years has been dependent on the companies he must now adjudicate?” he said. “How can have tenants have confidence in this appointment, why has a chartered surveyor been appointed instead of someone from a legal background? This appointment is very worrying and either shows complicity with pub companies or a lack of understanding of the issues.”

However, Soubry said the MP didn’t ‘understand how professionals worked’ and that she had no doubt Newby’s experience and skills were first rate.

“He has 30 years’ experience effectively representing both sides. He is an experienced arbitrator, and the great skills he brings to this position are not only his extensive experience of the pub trade but like many professionals, he has the absolute ability to be fair. The fact that he may have represented somebody does not mean he is in their pay.”

Pubs Advisory service head Chris Wright agreed that some tenants would struggle to see the appointment as independent.

“It is unknown just how much work Mr Newby did for tenants during his time at Fleurets but the minister for one is confident they saw more than enough evidence to tick the box in respect of the balance they required.

“We, like all in the pubs sector, await the publication of the code but with increased disquiet given the recent turn of events. That said whoever sits as the Adjudicator still has to deliver on Government policy (and the will of both houses) to “level the playing field and ensure that the tied tenants are no worse off than a free of tie tenant”.

Newby’s appointment has been welcomed elsewhere in the trade. BII licensee of the year winner Keith Marsden, who runs the Prince of Wales pub in Mosley, Birmingham, told the MCA’s sister title Publican’s Morning Advertiser: “This is a great appointment for the industry. Paul is somebody with the right sort of experience, he’s a man of fantastic integrity who will be both feared and respected by the pubcos, he has a very good and even-handed view and pubcos and publicans should be pleased.”

Marsden added concerns about Newby’s independence were misplaced. Trade consultant Phil Dixon said: “Here is someone who has always been prepared for as long as I have known him to give up his own time to make the industry a fairer place. I have been on the same side and opposite sides in rental disputes but whichever you cannot fail to respect his professionalism and integrity.”

Both the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and the British Beer and Pub Association commended Newby for his experience in property valuation.

ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “In order for the position to be a success, the candidate must be able to command the respect of the sector at large. Paul brings with him experience of working on both sides of the discussion and a good understanding of what is a very technical and complex issue.”

Soubry made a surprise announcement of Newby’s appointment in the House of Commons last night. Newby, who is on the Pubs Independent Rent Review Scheme (PIRRS) panel of independent experts, who will take up the role on the 2nd May and will be responsible for enforcing the new statutory code. He will be based in Birmingham and will control a budget of £1.6 million