ALE February 1999 No. 293

Government Watch


Guernsey and Alderney have joined Jersey and most of the brewing nations of Europe in having a system of progressive or sliding-scale beer duty according to production quantity. Campaigning by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) persuaded the island's brewers to take up the matter with their own Customs and Excise officers, who could see no reason why such a system should not be introduced. Guernsey brewers who fall within the EU definition of small independent brewers will pay only 21 pence a litre beer duty as opposed to 32 pence.

So when will the rest of the UK get a sliding scale of duty, thus helping small breweries and the many jobs which depend upon them? It would also greatly reduce the cross-channel smuggling which has done so much harm to the pubs industry in the south east. The Parliamentary Beer Club (membership: 310) seems to be convinced of the merits so perhaps it's not so far off. Both Customs & Excise and the Department of Trade & Industry are reported to be convinced by the economic arguments. The Treasury still cites health concerns as an excuse for raising duty each year, even though high duty promotes the cross-channel trade and the resulting unregulated consumption of cheap beer at home.

SIBA campaign site

Full pints

There's no sign of any definite action on ending the scandal of short measure though the Government seems sympathetic. CAMRA's 1998 pub survey showed that only 10% of pubs serve full pints whilst the law is vague.


George Howarth, a Home Office Minister, has been hinting about possible action at last. He seems minded to retain magistrates courts as the licensing authorities, rather than risk the vagaries of politicians in district and unitary councils' licensing committees.

A review is under way which was due to result in a White Paper by the end of the year but now it seems that there'll be a Green Paper by the end of 2000, with proposals likely to be election issues for implementation in the next Parliament.

It's rumoured that opening until 4am for every New Year's Eve will be allowed via an order under the Deregulation Act.

Recently the Home Office issued new guidelines to try to encourage courts to make greater use of Children's Certificates. York, for instance, decided not to implement them at all.

Drink-driving limit

After the success of the usual Christmas campaign, backed up by much lobbying from the industry, there seems to be little enthusiasm to lower the limit. Instead targeting persistent offenders appears more effective. A recent move to force an EU-wide lower limit, supported by the Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock, was rejected in favour of states choosing their own limits.

The Brewery Tie

Colin Roberts of the Fox & Hounds, Kempston, Beds., lost his challenge of EU competition rules. He claimed he could get beer cheaper than via his Greene King tie, that "GK imposed a condition which infringed EU laws."

The EU Commission (the bureaucrats) ruled as follows (as reported in Ceefax 6/11/98 and The Publican 16/11/98).

Brewery's pub chain market share:

The ruling was thus that GK is too small and doesn't come under the rules.

Guest beer

As described in Pubco News, the compulsory guest beer for large brewery pub chains worked well but now that pubcos have taken most of those pubs, there are far less opportunities for guests, with all the knock-on effects for small brewers. The Government has been quiet on the issue. SIBA and CAMRA are campaigning for all tenants to be allowed a guest beer.

Support for rural pubs

Two trial schemes are under way, one in Lincolnshire and one in Devon, promoted by the Rural Development Commission plus local partners. It's estimated that 10,000 pubs are in danger of closing. South Norfolk District Council is offering a similar scheme. The schemes include: [See also Trading Standards]

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