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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary September 1, 2009



Scottish Play

Scotland is a slightly different place today. A new licensing regime comes into force, largely modelled on the regime in England and Wales (you remember, the one that was going to cause the collapse of civilisation) but with a couple of significant differences. And they could cause chaos.

While promising them greater flexibility the law exacts a price on licensees by giving them greater responsibilities, enshrined in a set of ‘licensing objectives’. Failure to fufill these objectives could ultimately result in the loss of the licence and the business.

Licensing objectives are a cornerstone of English and Welsh law too. There are four of them broadly based on keeping order and unobjectionable. The Scots have added a fifth: “protecting and improving public health”.

This is a weighty responsibility for people who are chiefly there to sell alcohol and give people a good time. I can see the point of making sure pubs aren’t a festering health hazard, but there are environmental health officers who do that. And certain methods of promoting alcohol sales are ill-advised, but there are regulations coming in to limit those as well.

What bothers me is that second bit about “improving”. How on earth is a publican supposed to improve public health? Pubs are places of indulgence, whether it’s in drink, or food, or getting up on the karaoke and humiliating yourself. If people want to be more healthy they go to a health spa or a gym or somewhere boring.

Some pubs have healthier menu options, which is good, but is it going to be the law? And what about booze? There are bits and pieces of scientific evidence about the benefits of moderate drinking but there is also a current of medical opinion that says there’s no safe consumption level. Dr Peter Anderson, a scientist with big sway in the European Union, said as much in his submission to the latest consultation. Is this to be debated in licensing appeals?

And there’s another difference in the Scottish law. While you have to be a recognised authority (police, EHO etc) to object to a licence in England and Wales, north of the border anyone can do it. Including your friendly local temperance lodge.

All this legal stuff has to be tested in practice, of course. Hopefully good sense will prevail.


Drugs legalised. Sky stays up

Arguments around (illegal) drug policy are, I’ve noticed, conducted at a much higher level of sophistication than the arguments around alcohol policy. But even there, we’ve a long way to go.

Last week Mexico became the latest country to legalise the possession of all drugs. Other parts of Latin America are set to follow.  Portugal is more than a year into a similar policy and so far the sky hasn’t fallen in. A powerful lobby has emerged in the US against the so-called war on drugs and even Arnold Schwarzenneger has called for a debate on legalising drugs.

And also last week the UK banned ‘legal highs’. Hmm.


Pub Guide live now!

Coming to sunny Brighton? If you think you like the kind of pubs I like, a handy guide is now live on this very site. I’ll be adding pubs for the rest of the world when I get round to it. Don’t forget to drink responsibly. Whatever that means.

Phil's pub guide.

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