The Morning Advertiser, the respected parish magazine of the drinks trade, reported last week that some over-zealous police and council officials are forcing to pubs to shut their doors if they find there is no "qualified licensee" on the premises.

Having no trained and experienced landlord in charge of a pub is a serious matter, you may think, and those found out without one should be shut before anarchy and disorder can break out.

Except that my idea of a qualified licensee (and, perhaps, yours) does not coincide with that in the minds of the police officers and town hall officials who now dictate what can and cannot go on behind the doors of our pubs.

What it means in their regimented, paper-strewn, bureaucratic world is a "personal licence holder", ie someone whose name is on the pub licence issued under the new Licensing Act that wrested control away from magistrates and put it in the hands of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport and its local agents in those temples to petty tyranny, the town halls.

One Barnsley landlord and his wife, the Advertiser reported, had to cut short a holiday when the local plods found they had left an experienced trainee manager in charge.

Experienced he may have been, but because his name wasn't on the licence he was ordered to shut up shop immediately.

Another publican was told he couldn't go holiday if he intended to leave his premises without "qualified" - as understood by the police and the local town hall - supervision.

"Unbelievable" and "completely over the top" are phrases wheeled out by a lawyer to describe such idiocy.

And idiocy it is.

For no landlord, who has been selected in the first place for his (or her) competency, honesty and commonsense, is going to jeopardise his (or her) reputation and livelihood by leaving a pub in the hands of someone likely to ruin the beer, burn the kitchen down, turn the place into a drugs den and run off with the takings.

But such is the chaotic state of "government" in Britain today that a measure designed to liberalise a social activity by allowing pubs to stay open 24 hours actually ends up being interpreted by zealous and overweening officialdom as meaning that landlords must be on the premises, not just for 24 hours a day but also, it seems, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. Another example of that legislative tank trap, the Law of Unintended Consequences at work, maybe?


But it's more likely a symptom of the trend of putting more and more power in the hands of those least likely to exercise it tolerantly and intelligently.

And it can only get worse. The EU, spreading its regulatory tentacles even further and deeper into everyday life, now wants to put a stop to England's anti-commutarian habit of serving beer and milk in pints.

How long before a landlord - sorry, qualified licensee - or a milkman, is hauled up before a stern and disapproving bench of magistrates for the crime of selling their wares in pints? ..SUPL: