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Madam Deputy Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the further motions relating to Committees.


Environmental Audit

19 Jul 2001 : Column 521

Wolverhampton and Dudley Brewery

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Phil Woolas.]

6.16 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I am delighted that so many hon. Members are in the House to hear the opening of the debate. I am particularly grateful to Mr. Speaker, who is of course a renowned teetotaller, for choosing the subject of this evening's Adjournment debate, because it is, of course, Mr. Speaker's choice on a Thursday.

I raise a subject of great importance, particularly to those of us who live in the west midlands, and I am delighted to see the three hon. Members representing Wolverhampton in their places. I hope that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South–West (Rob Marris) will be able to make a brief contribution to the debate because the main brewery to which I shall refer is in his constituency.

This is really a story of capitalism. I am a great believer in capitalism, but I believe in responsible capitalism, and in people who are in a position to control others' lives because of what they own doing it responsibly. The Wolverhampton and Dudley brewery is an excellent example of responsible capitalism. The company is in the top 300 in the country; it is the country's leading regional brewer. It has pubs as far apart as Alnwick in the north, Weston-super-Mare in the south-west, Corby in the east and Aberystwyth in Wales in the west. It owns Marston's in Burton, the Mansfield brewery and Camerons in Hartlepool, but the heart of the company is in the heart of England, in the black country in the west midlands. It is a thriving, well-run company and has been a cornerstone of local community life since 1890.

The present managing director is the fifth generation of Thompsons to have had a prominent position in the Wolverhampton and Dudley brewery. The company has contributed greatly to the life of the local community. There are two charitable trusts which have education as their particular objective. It has grown over the years, but its growth by acquisition has been based on success and a sense of responsibility. It is a fiercely independent company in an industry that is increasingly dominated by a few big breweries. It has 1,800 pubs spread around the country, most of them concentrated in the west midlands.

In my constituency there are pubs like the Dudley Arms in Himley, the White Hart in Kinver, the Greyhound in Swindon and the Plough in Trysull—all wonderful English names for good English pubs, each one of them different from the others, each with its own distinctive character and ambience. That is what we mean by an English pub. The plastic uniformity of the theme pub is not for any true Englishman. I would resist to the end the development of pubs in that direction.

The company is now threatened by a hostile and aggressive takeover by Pubmaster, a company that is entirely foreign-financed. I am not a little Englander—I am a great believer in our place in Europe—but that does not diminish my fierce local pride and patriotism, and I do not want the Wolverhampton and Dudley brewery to fall into the hands of foreigners who neither know nor care about the English pub.

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What is worse, we know that if Pubmaster acquires the company, it will sell off the breweries and keep the pubs. The ales that people enjoy would then be at risk. There is no guarantee that the breweries would all survive, and if they did, they would certainly be swallowed up by one of the big conglomerates. That is where the Minister comes in. I am most grateful to her for being here. She should carefully consider referring the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East): The hon. Gentleman has spoken eloquently about the uniqueness of the pubs associated with the Wolverhampton and Dudley brewery, and they are indeed wonderful pubs, but I declare my interest as a dedicated Banks's boozer drinker. It is not the pub but the booze that attracts me. The beer is wonderful. The uniqueness of the beer brewed at the Park brewery at Wolverhampton is at great risk. Not only the beer and the pubs but 1,700 or 1,800 jobs at the breweries are at risk. We really must keep our beer—Banks's beer, Marston's beer—brewed where it has always traditionally been brewed.

Sir Patrick Cormack: That seems to have been a mini-speech in the middle of mine. I have a great affection for the hon. Gentleman and I agree with every word that he says, even though he has stolen some of my best lines. He probably knows more about beer than anyone else in the House, and I hope he will soon be reincarnated as Chairman of the Catering Committee.

If the hostile bid succeeded, there would be asset stripping of the worst sort. Furthermore, the pubs themselves, which Pubmaster says it wants to keep, would be threatened by the plastic uniformity of the theme pub, with everything, including the menu, the same in every one. That is the negation of the English pub, which is unique to this country and is already under threat. There are far too many villages and parts of towns where the pub is at risk or has closed. The figures are frightening.

We are talking about a thriving company, not one that needs bailing out, yet it is at risk. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) talked about jobs. The total number of jobs involved is 17,000, and the number of jobs at risk in our part of the world—I checked the figures this afternoon—is 4,500, if we take into account the drivers and all the others involved.

Pubmaster's unscrupulous approach was seen this week when the brewery had to take legal action over Pubmaster's divulging of information to potential buyers of breweries when it has bought the pubs.

We are dealing with a real human story that is repeated in many homes in my constituency and those of all the hon. Gentlemen attending this debate. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over many lives. In some cases, we are talking about families who have given two, three, four or five generations of service to this local company and have been well treated, showing a wonderful corporate spirit in return. I spoke about the charitable doings of the trusts established by the family, but the workers give enormous sums of money to the Compton hospice. They have a corporate and community identity and spirit, and it is at risk.

I appeal to the Minister to consider a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, because of the threat to the breweries. I also wish to appeal through the

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Minister to the institutional shareholders. There is no doubt that if the individual shareholders had their say, the sale would never take place. However, the final outcome of the hostile bid will be determined not in the homes of Wolverhampton or south Staffordshire but in a few boardrooms in the City of London. I wish to say to those institutional shareholders, "You have a thriving company here in which many people take great pride. You have jobs that are secure and a product that is appreciated and enjoyed. You have pubs that are visited by people who regard them as their locals and who enjoy going there. Do not put all that at risk for the sake of a quick buck".

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East): The hon. Gentleman speaks well. He said that he supports the notion of capitalist means of production, which has indeed brought great wealth across the world. However, he speaks like a socialist and that is welcome. On a serious note, the danger of international capitalism of the type that he has eloquently described is that it can be completely disconnected from its localities and become hostile to the very people who ensure results for the shareholders. Will the hon. Gentleman make a personal appeal to the institutional and other shareholders to recognise that their profits are at risk if they continue with that folly?

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