Scotch egg counts as 'substantial meal' in Tier 2, says minister

Harry Yorke
Homemade British Scotch Eggs 
Homemade British Scotch Eggs

A scotch egg is a "substantial meal", a Cabinet minister has claimed, raising hopes that hundreds of traditional pubs across England could still reopen on Wednesday under the regional tiers system

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said serving the snack alongside alcohol would meet the requirements for hospitality businesses located in Tier 2 areas. Under the Government's guidance, all businesses in this category are only allowed to serve alcoholic drinks with meals.

Household mixing is also banned, with venues operating table service only, meaning many "wet" pubs are facing closure for the foreseeable future. 

However, Mr Eustice – whose family farm in Cornwall sells scotch eggs, sausage rolls, pork pies and quiches – signalled that some venues could open if they served larger pub snacks. 

"I think a scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service," he told LBC.

"Often that might be as a starter... but this is a term that's understood in licensing. You can have the concept of a table licence for alcohol that also requires you to serve a substantial meal. That is the model that is being followed."

Mr Eustice's comments were echoed by hospitality leaders and Conservative MPs, who pointed out that existing English case law dating back more than half a century appeared to support his interpretation of the rules. 

In a private exchange on the messaging service Whatsapp, one MP cited a case from the 1960s in which the High Court ruled that a sandwich accompanied by pickles and beetroot could be considered a "table meal" as opposed to "a mere snack from the bar". 

A similar case a decade earlier also ruled that sandwiches and sausages on sticks met the definition. 

Separately, the Local Government Association has suggested in previous guidance to members that a sausage roll or pork pie could be considered "substantial" if it is served with sides such as vegetables, salad or potatoes.

However, the lack of granular detail in the guidance about what constitutes a meal has already led some councils to begin issuing their own conflicting guidance. 

This has led to confusion over what constitutes a meal and whether people can continue to drink alcohol once their meals have been cleared by a waiter. 

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, called on ministers to set out detailed national guidance for the hospitality industry to prevent local authorities and police forces from "making it up as they go along".

Speaking to The Telegraph, she said: "The guidance at the moment says that pubs must operate a restaurant. I've never been to one where they take my glass of wine away the moment I've finished my meal. 

"Now this is backed by law we cannot leave it to local interpretation. It will mean that you get very unfair and arbitrary decisions being made. We need to have some pragmatism and common sense here."

Asked for clarification, the Prime Minister's spokesman refused to say whether scotch eggs, sausage rolls or pork pies would meet the threshold for opening. 

He told reporters: "It's a principle that's well established in the hospitality industry and it's something they've been applying for some time. We introduced the rule that you can only provide alcohol along with a substantial meal along with the first set of tiering. That remains the case under this set of tiering."