Beer review is postponed

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PLANS by the Government to review the effects of the Beer Orders, which became law last November, have been postponed indefinitely.

A review of the controversial legislation, which required the big brewers to cut direct ties with 11,000 pubs, was due at the end of this year.

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, yesterday announced the decision in reply to a question in the House of Commons from Richard Page, MP for South-west Hertfordshire, asking him if he would review the 'operation of the Beer Orders'.

Mr Heseltine gave a more detailed account of the postponement to a select committee chaired by Sir Jeremy Wiggin, who called the move 'a startling turn of events'.

There was mixed reaction in the industry. Allied-Lyons and Whitbread said it was good news, but some smaller operators felt a review was needed, particularly over the issue of whether the big brewers' control over the industry had increased.

Anthony Fuller, chairman of Fuller Smith & Turner, the small brewer and pub-owner based in west London, said: 'I am intrigued they are not going to review. There are one or two things that need looking at.'

Mr Heseltine said the decision had been taken because the main thrust of the law only came into effect last November. He told the committee it was 'only possible to make a preliminary assessment of the effects. And the effects of the impact can only be taken in the longer term.' He said it was not easy to differentiate between the effects of the Beer Orders and damage caused by the recession. He said he could not be 'specific' about when or if a review would take place.

Richard Alexander, committee member, then asked him whether, if he was starting from scratch, he would now have made the same changes to the industry.

'I am where I am,' Mr Heseltine replied, indicating that he could do little or nothing about the situation he had inherited from decisions taken by Lord Young, the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

'A full-scale review later this year would prolong the uncertainty,' Mr Heseltine said.