The BBC, favourite news outlet of the neo-prohibitionists thanks to its relentlessly uncritical reporting, has an article on the new code of conduct that will be introduced for pubs later this year. It contains the usual dodgy statistics and quotes from self-serving moral guardians (including pronouncements from the odious arse Don Shenker), but let us look at the guidelines that the BBC mentions:
- Bar staff and retailers will be legally required to demand proof of age of anyone who looks under 18 – to be introduced from September
- Banning “irresponsible” promotions such as all-you-can-drink offers, women drink free deals and speed-drinking contests
- Banning the dentist’s chair game, which involves pouring a steady stream of drink down a customer’s throat*
- Free tap water for customers
- Pubs must make small measures of beers, wines and spirits available to customers. To be introduced from September
The first guideline is worthless. Given that under-eighteens are not allowed in most pubs and not allowed to buy alcohol anywhere, how much difference will this really make? Supermarkets are the leading booze-merchants in the UK, how many have you been into that are not plastered in signs saying they’ll ask for ID if you look too young to be buying alcoholic drinks? None that I’ve frequented.
The second and third guidelines sound quite reasonable. However, pubs and bars are legally not allowed to serve customers who they think are drunk. If a bar with an ‘all you can drink’-promotion serves people after they are already drunk then they can be prosecuted under existing legislation. So these guidelines already exist in practise and adding them once again to the statute books is another pointless piece of legislation-creep.
Number four: big freaking deal. It’d be a pretty rotten boozer that wouldn’t give someone a glass of water. I used to have views on drinking tap water in boozers, demonstrated by this anecdote: Many years ago when I met my good friend ‘Non-Stinky’ Jeff for the first time we had a couple of Bloody Marys at The French House in Dean Street (at the time they made the best BMs in Town, how the mighty have fallen…). When it came to round of drinks number three he said, “I should get back to work soon, can you get me a glass of water?” I refused point blank to order water in one of my then favourite boozers; it’d ruin my reputation with the other regulars. He went to the bar and asked for a glass of tap water which was presented to him with no complaints by the bar staff. In fairness to NSJ it was his first week of his first job in England, so understandable that he did not have three or four large BMs for lunch. I’ve mellowed a bit since then to the point that I once ordered a lime and soda for myself in a boozer; in my defence I was very, very ill at the time.
The fifth point again seems reasonable. However, given that most measures of spirits in UK bars are an already miniscule 25ml and that a half-pint of beer is also a quite small measure of what is generally not a strong drink, this is another example of unnecessary legislation-creep.
These additions to alcohol-mongers rules are backed up with a £20,000 fine or six months in the slammer if they are transgressed. Since we have established these new rules cover areas which existing legislation controls, making them worthless, the only real changes are the increased bureaucracy booze-vendors will have to deal with and the increased size of stick they provide to beat offenders. These seem slightly hollow reasons for adding new laws.
*Has anyone every seen this happening in an English pub? Present some evidence here and win a book by the 2009 beer writer of the year.