A new, irrelevant code of conduct for pubs

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:

    1. Bar staff and retailers will be legally required to demand proof of age of anyone who looks under 18 – to be introduced from September
    2. Banning “irresponsible” promotions such as all-you-can-drink offers, women drink free deals and speed-drinking contests
    3. Banning the dentist’s chair game, which involves pouring a steady stream of drink down a customer’s throat*
    4. Free tap water for customers
    5. 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.

[image image_id=”2383″ align=”left”] 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.

  • Peter

    I doubt most people we know go to the kind of pubs where they play the dentist chair game. On the other hand, remembering when I was 18 or 19, I think at that age I would have given it a go.
    Yes, there are rules already in place to stop public drunkeness. Yet clearly some boozers are flouting them. So toughening up the rules against irresponsible behaviour by some publicans is surely not a bad idea. As you point out, all the proposed rules are quite reasonable. I think rules such as these are the way to go, and should be encouraged. They are targeted at the foul “drink til you fall over and puke” culture that has become so pervasive, and at those publicans who, flouting existing laws, encourage it through schemes such as “drink as much as you can”, “two for the price of one” etc. Such rules, targeting the real problems of alcohol abuse, are what are needed, not rules, such as price hikes, that hit everyone who just likes a tipple.

  • David Strange

    As I said, most of these new rules do seem a bit pointless to me as they are basically covered by existing law. However, I agree that if alcohol-mongers flout these existing laws by selling to under-age drinkers or by allowing customers to get obscenely drunk they should be beaten with a rather large stick. Consequently, I suppose I agree with the toughened sanctions that can be used against transgressors. I certainly agree with you that the majority of sensible drinkers should not be inconvenienced by unnecessary, scatter-gun legislation that is poorly targeted.

    I do think we have to be careful when talking about ‘Britian’s drink problem’. If I may quote from this article by Pete Brown (2009’s beer writer of the year):

    All the evidence above suggests that Britain’s drink problem – while still undeniable and in need of addressing – is either stable or declining. It takes years to effect a cultural and habitual change around drinking. Nevertheless, since the introduction of relaxed licensing laws (and the commensurate crackdown on problem drinking by police) every useful measure suggests our relationship with alcohol is becoming marginally less problematic.

    It is an excellent blog post, well-worth reading.

    As far as the hard-core alcoholics go they do not drink because booze is cheap, tastes nice or is just there, they have more fundamental problems. This small group of dysfunctional people need more help, support and better incentives to do something about their problems. Providing such help and support for this unfortunate section of society would be a better way of dealing with problem drinkers rather than blanket laws which restrict the liberties of the majority of healthy drinkers.