Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - May 2002

* Half a Loaf *

The government's climbdown on full measures may not be quite the victory that the pub operators think

It was disappointing, but not entirely surprising, that the government decided to renege on its election promise to legislate for full pints in pubs, and instead chose to declare that 95% would be quite sufficient. Somehow I suspect they wouldn’t be happy if I only paid them 95% of my income tax.

But half a loaf is better than none at all, and even these watered-down proposals still give much scope for improvement. While nationwide around a quarter of pints of draught beer fall short of 95%, that includes lager, which doesn’t tend to have a thick, creamy head. I would say that, in the North-West, well over half the pints of ale and stout, whether real or keg, fail to reach that standard. And it must be remembered that, under these plans, 95% is the minimum which every single pint must reach when presented to the customer, and the right to a top-up is over and above that figure.

95% of a pint, served in a brim-measure glass, should have a head no more than a quarter of an inch deep, whereas it’s not uncommon to see pints, particularly of Guinness and “smooth” beers, handed over the bar with heads three times as big. For the first time, Trading Standards will have a clear yardstick to use when enforcing measures, and a lot of pubs around here will have to think very carefully about how they serve their beer.

* Common Sense Prevails *

Retaining the UK's 80 mg drink-driving limit is good news for both pubs and road safety

Rather more welcome news was the announcement from Road Safety Minister David Jamieson that the UK’s 80 mg drink-drive limit was to be retained. This had been signalled in the government’s Road Safety Review in 2000, but that document had stated that a final decision had been put on hold pending a European Union review. However, it has now been confirmed that there is no intention to adopt a uniform 50 mg standard, something that will cause many British licensees and pubgoers to breathe a sigh of relief.

The Transport Department clearly do not believe that targeting drivers in the 50 - 80 mg range, many of whom will not be impaired at all, will make any worthwhile difference to safety, and may even detract from pursuing the hard-core offenders with alcohol levels way over 80 mg, who are responsible for the overwhelming majority of drink-related casualties.

Although a majority of other European countries have a nominal legal limit of 50 mg or lower, rather than 80 mg, most will only treat an alcohol level of just over 50 mg on a par with a minor speeding offence, and do not impose mandatory driving bans until levels well over 80 mg. Taking the level of penalties into account, the UK in fact has one of Europe’s tougher legal regimes on drink-driving, which has also been over the years one of the most effective in reducing casualties.

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