Despite widespread ridicule, the Government has persisted with the previous Government’s barmy proposal to introduce a 2/3 pint measure for draught beer and cider. Under the pretence of “removing unnecessary red tape”, it has actually resisted calls for genuine deregulation.
In October 2008 the National Weights and Measures Laboratory consulted on both fixed package sizes and “specified quantities” for alcoholic drinks in draught. (We analysed these proposals in an earlier article “BIS sticks with pints of beer (but only on draught)” in November 2009.
Amazingly, the absurd proposal to permit an additional 2/3 pint (379 mL) size of beer glass (a mere 95 mL more than half a pint) still appears in the proposals – which apparently are now going to be enacted. This was the BIS Department press release, dated 4 January 2011.
“Regulations banning the sale of different unwrapped bread sizes and small measures of wine are set to be scrapped, Science Minister David Willetts confirmed today.
Current laws restrict bakers to producing loaves of unpackaged bread in set sizes while licensed premises are limited to selling alcoholic drinks in certain measures.
These rules were aimed at protecting consumers but have not taken account of changes to trade practice or consumer demand in recent years. The Government plans to update the rules to introduce greater flexibility and to scrap those that are no longer needed.
Under current regulations unwrapped bread weighing more than 300g must be made up in quantities of 400g or multiples of it.
Wine cannot be sold in measures less than 125ml while beer must be sold in thirds, halves or multiples of half-pints. Fortified wine must be sold in the same quantities as normal wine.
Under the government’s changes, premises will be able to sell wine in measures under 75ml, beers can be sold in ‘schooners’ which are two-thirds of a pint while fortified wine will be sold in smaller sizes of 50ml and 70ml.
Fixed sizes for unwrapped bread will be scrapped so bakers will be free to innovate.
Science Minister David Willetts said:
“This is exactly the sort of unnecessary red tape the government wants to remove.
“No pub or restaurant should break the law by selling a customer a sample of wine.
“We have listened to consumers and businesses. They have called for fixed quantities to be kept but with greater flexibility. That is what this change will deliver.
“We are freeing businesses so they can innovate and create new products to meet the demands of their customers.”
A Statutory Instrument introducing these changes will be laid before Parliament during the coming session.”
Reading through the propaganda, what this all means is that pubs and restaurants will still be denied the “flexibility” to serve a 300 mL or 500 mL measure of beer (unless of course it is sold in and poured out of a bottle). So much for “freeing businesses to innovate”.
The proposal to allow “sampling” of wine below a de minimis level of 75 mL, is welcome – but why didn’t they extend that to beer (as UKMA advocated in its submission to the consultation)?
Above all, why do we need “specified quantities” at all (provided that the quantity and alcoholic strength are stated and the unit price (per litre) is quoted)? (The excuse offered is that without fixed imperial sizes for beer, drinkers would not be able to calculate their alcohol intake – although of course metric units are alright for wine and whisky. In reality, the arithmetic is much easier with rounded metric quantities than with imperial units).
With regard to unwrapped bread, UKMA argued that if it is deregulated, it should be treated in the same way as any other “loose goods” – that is, the loaf should be weighed at the point of sale and the price calculated from the unit price (per kilogram). There is no mention of this in the BIS press release, so we await the details.
There is no logic, consistency or intellectual integrity to the proposals. Perhaps when they come before Parliament as a draft statutory instrument, a public spirited MP or peer will object, so that they will have to be properly debated and the Government forced to try to defend its indefensible position.