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The Markham Case: Legal Implications

Volume 431: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1982

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2.37 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what advice or instructions they will now give to trading standards officers in the light of the judgment in the case brought by the West Yorkshire Trading Standards Office against Mr. Dennis Markham which appears to cast doubt on the legal definition of a pint of beer.

My Lords, it would not be appropriate for Her Majesty's Government to give advice or instructions on such matters to trading standards officers, who, as the noble Lord is aware, are employed by local authorities. It is for the courts to decide what is the legal definition of a pint of draught beer and for local weights and measures authorities to enforce that law.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that somewhat grudging reply, may I ask him whether, as he is apparently unmoved by the consumer argument against serving beer in short measure, he would bear in mind that whenever a barman serves beer in short measure, he defrauds not only the customer but also—because of the way by which duty is levied on beer—the Customs and Excise? Does the Minister find that argument sufficiently compelling to require beer to be served in an oversized marked glass instead of by the brimful measure from which it pours over the sides, which is not really an entirely appropriate vessel from which noble Lords could drink a toast to the new Royal baby?

My Lords, the noble Lord first asked me about short measure. I would draw to his attention the fact that duty on beer is paid at the brewery on the volume of the beer brewed; and if the publican, barkeeper or employee were to give short measure, the publican pays more VAT on the same volume of beer simply because the amount of VAT is determined by his income from sales. I hope therefore, even at this time, that the noble Lord will see that the Revenue is not defrauded in that respect.

The noble Lord then mentioned the question of differing sizes of glass, be they with a line or a brim measure. Perhaps the House should not be reminded that when the noble Lord last mentioned this subject, in December 1976, he said:
" Beer can also be served in a plant pot, flower vase or such ".
The noble Lord is a doctor, so I wonder whether he has also considered other receptacles which are used in hospitals, but I do not know whether they have measurements for liquids.

Perhaps I might clarify the supplementary I asked in relation to duty, my Lords. I was referring to duty and not to VAT, and the duty is levied on the barrel at so much per percentage point of specific gravity. If a landlord is able to extract more pints of beer from a barrel than there are actually in the barrel—which he can do by serving short measure—he then collects more duty than he pays and he pockets it.

My Lords, I think the noble Lord and I are on the same line in that I do not believe the landlord is able to pocket the difference because he will pay more VAT, as I pointed out. Secondly—I am sure noble Lords are aware of this—a pint of beer varies from one part of the country to another according to custom. I understand that in the region where there is at present a law case outstanding, the custom is that a pint of beer should have a certain collar or head on it, whereas in other parts of the country that is not necessarily the custom. I am sure noble Lords do not need me to tell them that a pint of beer contains the liquid together with the head or collar or whatever else goes with the beer.