Sacred pint faces threat from within

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The hegemony of the British pint, which has already survived a threat from Europe, faces a new challenge from the Government's deregulation drive, writes Stephen Castle.

The Department of Trade and Industry's attempt to cut government red tape could mean abandoning rules which stipulate how beer should be sold. Alternatively, the law could be altered to allow half- litres to be served.

Britain won an exemption for the pint from European Commission directives harmonising weights and measures. And plans to impose legislation so that the head of a pint of beer was not included in the pint were never implemented.

New suggestions have now been sent from the DTI's Food Task Force to the brewing industry in preparation for the proposed deregulation Bill due in the Queen's Speech. The options are:

Abandoning the edict which insists on a full 'liquid pint'.

Deregulation, allowing publicans to sell beer in any measure.

A range of new measures to complement the pint, including half-litres.

Tim Hampson, spokesman for the Brewers' Society, said: 'We are a consumer-led industry and if consumers say they want beer in these measures, we are not going to stop them.'

Neil Hamilton, the trade and industry minister responsible for the exercise, is confident that the 'liquid pint' rule will be scrapped and wants to take deregulation further.

The DTI was embarrassed last year when a publican who introduced Continental-style measures was fined pounds 3,100 for breaching trading standards laws.