Tuesday, 19 January 2010

So it begins

The first shots have been fired in the great War on Drink, with the government announcing the introduction of a mandatory code of practice for pubs and bars. All you can drink promotions and speed drinking competitions will be banned from April, and pubs required to provide free tap water, while from October smaller measures of beer, wine and spirits must be offered and any customers appearing to be under 18 must be asked for identification. Now, I’m not going to rush to the barricades to defend all you can drink promotions, but taken as a whole these measures represent an unprecedented degree of interference in the way licensed premises are run, which will impose new burdens on responsible and irresponsible licensees alike.

While in reality I can’t see it happening very often, requiring pubs and bars to offer free tap water opens up the opportunity for bloody-minded people to occupy space and use glassware while contributing nothing to the overheads of the establishment. If you were running a pub in the Lake District and a party of eight thirsty hikers came in and demanded eight pints of tap water with ice you might not be too impressed.

I’ve no problem with requiring pubs and bars to offer 125ml glasses of wine, which after all are roughly equivalent to a half of 5% beer or a 35ml measure of spirits. But I’m puzzled as to what they mean by requiring them to serve smaller measures of beers and spirits. Do any pubs actually only serve beer in pints? Or do they mean they’re going to make pubs offer nips, which will involve a costly investment in glassware and possibly dispense equipment to meet a negligible demand? And, likewise, does it just mean pubs will have to offer single measures of spirits, or that a single must be defined as 25ml rather than 35ml, which will require all those pubs that have gone over to 35ml to replace all their optics?

To his credit, on the radio Home Secretary Alan Johnson expressed scepticism about minimum pricing, making the point that it had the potential to penalise reponsible drinkers on modest budgets while leaving the comfortably-off unscathed. But I can’t help thinking that this package marks the first stage of a long process that will be fraught with problems and unintended consequences and won’t in practice do anything to create a more healthy and responsible drinking culture. And, sadly, the Conservatives and Liberal (sic) Democrats seem to be engaged in a bidding competition with Labour as to who can crack down hardest on the Demon Drink.


  1. If you remove the hysteria and look at the merits of the proposals, there is sense.

    Standardized measures, closing rough gaffs with a record of trouble. Thumbs up.

  2. Smaller measures of beer available? What the hell do they think the half pint is for?

    Can English spirit measures actually get any smaller? Whenever I would go tot he UK from the Czech Republic I would have to order a triple vodka just to equal a Czech measure.

    As ever the government is ripping off one plaster to apply a new one, whilst ignoring the actual problem.

  3. Can we have confirmation whether this is your pal Clarkey and if so an explanation of where his beard and tankard are?


    Methinks Whorst is pulling a fast one.

  4. Want to bet that the new rules will include provision for them to be modified as the Home Secretary thinks fit, without further recourse to Parliament?

    This is the camel's nose, poking its way into the tent.

  5. That's the thing – they start off with restrictions that may not seem that unreasonable, and when those have been accepted, they come back for more. And more. And more. It's the classic technique – which we have seen in spades with the assault on smoking.

    Another factor that I didn't pick up on before is that licensees who break this code may be liable to fines of £20,000 and up to 6 months in gaol. For failing to give someone a glass of tap water...

  6. Yes, I can confirm that is Clarkey - no beard, no tankard (although in the past he did have a moustache).

    I don't have a beard or a tankard either, I'll have you know :P

  7. Isn't any piece of law/legislation possibly the "only the start" ? if you believe in such conspiracies, you would never enact any change to the law.

    Why not assume the law proposals are just that, what they are,not the start of an erosion of liberty and judge them on their merit.

    On that score, some of the proposals are poor, yet some are not. Isn't it better to know if you buy a large scotch what the amount is? A standard measure makes sense. There is no issue with a smaller glass of wine, it might even make a lunch time drink a little more acceptable.

    It's a good thing they are not putting the kybosh on my cheap boxes of lout.

    The glass of water proposal is a bit daft, so criticise it, but to suggest it is the beginning of something darker, well keep looking out for the black helicopters.

  8. Oh, make no mistake, Cookie, they'll be after cheap lout before too long.

    Not that I suspect you really drink too much of it anyway :P

  9. "Isn't it better to know if you buy a large scotch what the amount is?"

    Yes, this is a desirable thing. But is it so desirable it's worth putting someone in prison for?

    The most desirable thing is to stop drinking when you have had enough. But that would, of course, involve individual responsibility, something that has no place in modern society.

  10. With respect, Mr Curmudgeon sir, my family have been licensed victuallers for most of my life.

    In those 30 years, pubs and clubs have always been required to make free tap water available to anyone who wants it, vexatious requests notwithstanding.

    If an establishment refuses, a call to the local licensing authority will lead to environmental health and other council jobsworths descending on the licensee.

  11. Is that possibly different in Scotland from England, as there is certainly a widespread perception that pubs and bars aren't obliged to provide free tap water (hence its inclusion in the mandatory code)?

    It would be good if motorway service areas had the same obligation.


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