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Sale of Wine (Measures)

Volume 471: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2008

I beg to move,

That leave is given to bring in a Bill to require licensed premises which sell wine by the glass to offer measures of 125ml.

The current regulations state that wine that is not pre-packed must be sold by the bottle, by the glass in measures of 125 ml, 175 ml or multiples thereof, or by the carafe. The Bill would simply require all licensed premises to offer a 125 ml measure in addition to the other sizes specified in the legislation. That is important because there has been a move in recent years to serve only larger sized glasses of wine in bars and pubs.

I used to work in marketing, including for several leading marketing agencies, among whose customers were several leading pub companies, including bar and pub chains, so I know from my own experience that some of them made a deliberate policy decision to get rid of the 125 ml size and serve only the larger 175 ml and 250 ml glasses. Increasingly, therefore 175 ml has become the standard size or—awful word, but now often used in our increasingly Americanised language—regular size. The 250 ml measure then becomes a large size.

The introduction of the larger glass sizes has had something to do with changing wine-drinking habits, as wine drinking in pubs has become more popular, and indeed we have seen the quality of wine improve dramatically in the licensed trade, which is a very good thing. But it is of course also about money. If people can be persuaded to “trade up”, to use the business term, bigger glasses equal higher prices and greater profit.

The psychology is clear. People do trade up. Often people order “large” as the default measure—a group of young women egging each other on Friday night after work, a boss not wanting to look stingy buying drinks for his staff or a man wanting to impress on a first date. The trend is not universal, and 125 ml glasses are still served in many individual licensee pubs and in many community pubs, but the serving of only the larger measures has become standard practice and actual policy. The introduction to the “The Good Pub Guide 2006” says:

“This year we have spotted an unnerving trend for pubs to push up the size of their wine glasses, and of course the price of what’s inside them. A standard glass of wine was 125ml...Now, many pubs use a 175ml glass as standard…To them, a large glass is 250ml, or a third of a bottle. This isn’t generosity, it’s just a way of getting more money into their tills, leaving many customers drinking more than they want to, and perhaps if they are driving, more than is safe. We suggest all pubs selling wine use the 125ml glass as their standard size.”

There are two issues at the heart of this Bill. The first relates to alcohol awareness and health, and the second is consumer choice. The 2006 survey by the Office for National Statistics said that 36 per cent. of people who had heard about the Government’s guidelines on drinking could not say what they were. About a third of frequent beer drinkers and a quarter of frequent wine drinkers are not aware of the number of units that they are drinking.

The rules of thumb, on which people used to rely, have become increasingly outdated. People often wrongly assume that a glass of wine is about a unit. That was based on a 125 ml glass, but when that is not offered, people think that a glass of wine is the standard measure available, now usually 175ml.

Wine is also stronger than it used to be. A new way of representing alcohol consumption has been introduced, and that is a positive step. Now, a 125ml glass of 12.5 per cent. wine is deemed to be 1.5 units, a 175ml glass of the same wine is 2 units and a 250ml glass is 3 units. However, when the smaller glass sizes are not on offer, people fall into the trap of thinking, “I just had a few glasses of wine last night,” when, in fact, if they had three large glasses, they had a whole bottle of wine. Alcohol Concern backs that up, saying:

“Given the wide range of volumes provided on licensed premises… this creates a great deal of scope for confusion and accidental harmful drinking. A possibility that is now all the more likely given the normalisation, in many establishments, of large glass sizes”.

In the context of recent surveys and figures showing increasing health problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption, particularly of wine, women are of particular concern. Sixty-nine per cent. of women in this country drink wine and 55 per cent. of wine purchased in pubs in the UK is bought by women. Women are drinking more than ever before and it is having an effect on their health. Cases of liver disease in women aged 25 to 34 have doubled in the past decade. Alcohol Concern suggests that drinking two to five units per day increases the risk of breast cancer to 41 per cent. The incidence of breast cancer has increased by 12 per cent. in the past 10 years, with alcohol related to 4 per cent. of cases.

The Bill is also about choice. If a wine-drinking customer wants to have only a small glass of wine, just as someone may want only half a pint of beer, he or she will be able to do so. If customers want the larger sizes, they will be able to have them, but at least they will have the information that they are larger. Consumer education is also important, and many pubs and bar chains clearly advertise how many units are in each glass size, which is to be commended.

Let me say what the Bill is not about, lest there be any misrepresentation of it. It is not a means to stop licensed premises serving larger glasses, or to say that customers should not be offered a choice of sizes. It will not require pubs and bars to invest in new glasses: a 125 ml measure can be, and indeed often is, served in a 175 ml glass. Nor will it—or should it—stop customers who wish as a group to buy a bottle of wine, with a glass for each of them; that might give them the choice of having six 125 ml glasses, rather than four 175 ml. The Bill is not about decreasing choice for customers; it is about increasing choice for customers, as well as giving them better, clearer and more standardised information about what they are consuming.

I am delighted to have the support not only of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, but of related organisations. Tacade, which promotes the health and well-being of children and is at the forefront of alcohol education, fully supports the Bill, saying:

“Selling wine by the 125 ml glass would help enable people to have a better understanding of units of alcohol and adhere to the government’s safe, sensible drinking guidelines”.

Alcohol Concern states:

“In our view it is reasonable to demand that, as responsible vendors, licensees provide genuine choices for their customers by offering both small and large glasses. As such, we urge you to support it into a second reading.”

The editor of “The Good Pub Guide”, Fiona Stapley, says

“We absolutely agree with the sale of wine measure bill.”

I believe that this House and, indeed, the Government are committed to encouraging responsible drinking and to tackling the problems that arise when the guidelines are not followed. I therefore hope that the Government will genuinely embrace my Bill. There is no quick fix for the problems that we have seen recently in our towns and cities, but the Bill proposes a simple measure that could contribute to better awareness of alcohol consumption and the need to monitor it. That problem has already been highlighted by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Dawn Primarolo), who said:

“Larger glass sizes and higher alcohol content of wine in particular over a number of years mean more of us are drinking more than we think.”

I hope that the Government will listen to the organisations that have backed the Bill and to the various experts from the licensed trade and the health sector, and that they will seriously consider incorporating the Bill into the Government programme.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Greg Mulholland, Dr. Richard Taylor, John Thurso, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Mr. John Grogan, Lorely Burt, Peter Luff, Mr. Don Foster, Dr. Howard Stoate, Kelvin Hopkins, Mr. Nigel Evans and Peter Bottomley.

Sale of Wine (measures)

Greg Mulholland accordingly presented a Bill to require licensed premises which sell wine by the glass to offer measures of 125ml: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 June, and to be printed [Bill 64].