Thursday, 14 May 2009

Government plans for pubs in England and Wales less bad than feared

Having followed the increasingly mad neo-prohibitionist statements uttered by representatives of both the current Scottish Government and the previous one over the last few years, it was actually quite refreshing to read the proposals that are being put forward for England and Wales.
* Banning promotions in pubs and bars such as “all you can drink for £10”, speed drinking competitions and “dentist’s chairs” where alcohol is dispensed directly into the mouth of any customer.
* Ensuring all bars, pubs and clubs offer a 125ml measure of wine and a 25ml or 35 ml measure of gin, rum vodka and whisky
* Pubs must offer free tap water to customers "where it is reasonably available"
* All alcohol retailers to display information about the alcohol unit content of drinks and for supermarkets and convenience stores, the health impacts of alcohol under powers from the Food Safety Act
These all sound eminently reasonable to me. I find it actually quite breathtaking that you apparently can't take it for granted in every pub to be able to get a small glass of wine, a single measure of spirits or a glass of tap water.

The practices mentioned in point one are things that only shitty drinking barns (of the there's-a-free-cocktail-for-the-first-girl-to-take-her-top-off type) do anyway, although I expect the bams who go to those will still manage to find their way into the gutter on Sauchiehall Street without the aid of such promotions.

Points two and three, well, good pubs do those already. I sympathise with those publicans who will correctly point out that water rates and bar staff time aren't free, so it costs them money to serve a pint of tap water. But come on. It's quite clearly socially beneficial to have people able to get water. People should be encouraged to drink water between beers, or to switch to water if they've already had enough booze. If there's a disadvantage to the pub, what about the government arranging a reduction in their water bill (or an equivalent tax break) in return?

The only point I have reservations about is the fourth. Again, good pubs already display information about the alcohol content of their drinks – this just skips the mental arithmetic. It's the "information about the health impacts of alcohol" I'm not sure about until it's more clearly defined. Although this is only for the off-trade at present, I can see a future of pubs festooned with poorly designed posters reading "Drinking Kills" in the attractive style of the health warnings on cigarette packets. We might be better served by putting the public health warning on beer mats, which are more likely to be read than any number of posters.

The neo-prohibitionists who dominate local and national government in Scotland could really benefit from considering such proposals which target actual binge drinking, rather than their current practice of trying to make drinking more expensive, more difficult and more unpleasant for everyone.

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