Punch Taverns has labelled the Government’s plans for a statutory code for the pubco-tenant relationship a breach of its human rights.
The controversial claim is disclosed in a range of documents released after a stream of Freedom of Information requests, which in-clude correspondence about the plans between Government officials and senior pubco executives, and emails sent to Government ministers from distraught licensee.
A letter from Stephen Billingham, executive chairman at Punch, dated 26 March, said that the pubco has considered the “legal implications” of the introduction of a statutory code. Billingham wrote: “[The code] is unnecessary in that there is no ‘mischief’ or ‘detriment’ requiring statutory intervention.
“As currently envisaged, the code would also deprive pub companies of their property rights in a way that is unjustified and disproportionate — in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights; and lead to very serious adverse consequences for employment, consumers and the wider economy.”
He added: “By depriving pub companies of a future revenue stream and severely restricting their rights as owners, the proposals could also constitute a breach of Punch’s right to protection of its property enshrined in Article 1, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
A meeting on 19 April between Punch executives and officials at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), was attended by three lawyers from top law firm Slaughter & May acting on behalf of the pubco. Partner Michael Rowe claimed there was “no sound legal basis for the introduction of a mandatory free-of-tie” option — a key pillar of the new code.
A letter of complaint on 13 June from Andy Slee, external affairs and central operations director at Punch, added that the consultation is “inadmissible as a basis for any legislation”.
He accused the Government of making pre-judgements and misleading statements in the consultation document. “It is clear from a review of the consultation documents that Government was biased in reaching these conclusions since it did so on the basis of no reliable evidence,” he wrote.
Punch also submitted a letter that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wrote in support of a code, which he sent to one of the pubco’s employees, as evidence of bias. Clegg had commented: “Vince [Cable] is right to step in and stop unscrupulous pubcos who often overcharge pubs by 40% or 45% for their beer.”
The company further claimed a video on the BIS website featuring business minister Jo Swinson and Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) chief executive Mike Benner was proof of prejudice as “Mr Benner is a leader of the anti-pubco coalition”.
Documents also reveal Enterprise Inns’ unhappiness with the code consultation.
In a letter dated 13 June, chief executive Ted Tuppen said he was “astounded” by the Government’s approach and wished to complain in the “strongest possible terms”.
He said the Government had refused meetings with individual companies, and said that this was in “stark contrast” to the opportunities that CAMRA had. Tuppen claimed CAMRA was able to use its links with MP Greg Mulholland to use a House of Commons committee room for a rally.
He added Enterprise has had to raise more than 250 Freedom of Information requests to access evidence on the Government’s decision.
BIS said it expects to issue a response to the consultation in the coming weeks.
A Punch spokesperson said: “Punch has played an active role in setting out its views in response to the Government’s proposals, which — we believe — will do serious damage to Britain’s pubs. Our hope is that the Government will think again.”