A former boss of Midland brewer Marston’s recently blamed Britain’s growing Muslim population for the collapse in pub numbers.  Tory peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts made the claim in a debate on whether to grant more freedom to landlords tied to big firms. During a House of Lords debate, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who was a director of Marston’s brewery in Burton Upon Trent for 12 years, said “socio-economic factors” such as a growing number of teetotal Muslims living in Britain, played a much bigger role in the decline in pubs than “rapacious” chains.  As Robin Hodgson, the politician was MP for Walsall North for three years until he lost the seat at the 1979 general election. He joined the Lords in 2000 and was a director of Wolverhampton-based Marston’s from 2002. MPs voted through a cross-party amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, which would allow tenants to opt out of being required to sell only alcohol provided by their pub company.  Business minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said the Government would accept the principle of the amendment and seek to make it workable. But Lord Hodgson said he was “very disappointed” the Government was not going to consider overturning the Commons defeat. The Tory peer said the issue was not as “simple and straightforward” as MPs thought and the pub sector was “under serious strain” for other reasons.  Referring to his career at Marston’s, he said: “Twenty-five years ago, the company of which I was a director would have operated probably a dozen pubs in Kidderminster, the home of the carpet trade. “The carpet trade has gone and there are three pubs left.” 
In some areas of Nottingham, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham the increase in the Muslim population who don’t drink leads to many pub closures. Hodgson confessed: “It is exceptionally hard for a publican who has put ten years of his life into trying to build up a business to accept the inevitability of these tides of history.”  Lord Hodgson also said that this issue was one of the three main reasons pubs were going out of business, along with the “inexorable rise of regulation” and the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets. He added: “The reasons for closure may be portrayed as rapacious owners increasing rent wishing to profit by turning pubs into houses or corner stores, but the tide is running against the ordinary pub.”  The man said there was a danger companies would not invest in improving pubs if landlords could opt out of tied arrangements. “No pub owner is going to invest many thousands of pounds, hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases, if the tenant can then walk away from supplier agreements,” he said. He said removing the tie would remove the “ladder” by which many people could become self-employed landlords.  Muslim rights activists were fast to condemn his statements. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, said: “It is quite ridiculous to blame Muslims for the closure of pubs when in fact the consumption and marketing of alcohol has also changed over time. What is also clear is that some pubs have been successful and others have not been able to generate customers and clients.”  From this point, Fiyaz Mughal said, “What next? Muslims to be blamed for a fall in pork scratchings sales? We have come to a stage where it is easy for those in prominent positions to make their points at the expense of Muslims. This will only reinforce a perception of bias and disconnect with the wider society of politicians generally, and his party in particular”.  Hodgson later told the Independent that his critics were being “slightly over-sensitive” and that his speech listed many other reasons why pubs are in decline in Britain, including issues over business rates. “This is not a criticism of Muslims. I thought nearly all Muslims don’t drink, but maybe some do.”  Hodgson pointed out that his speech listed many different reasons why British pubs were in decline, including issues over business rates, the “de-industrialisation of Britain”, tougher licensing laws and the influx of cheap alcohol from supermarkets.