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He says he has been spat at, cussed at, and denied public services. When he sits down on the subway, nearby passengers often get up or move away.

Once, he saw an intoxicated woman unconscious in the middle of the road. He carried her to safety, and ran into a convenience store to buy her water. When he came back out, he says police who thought he’d drugged her shoved him against a wall and slapped handcuffs on him, before witnesses came to his defense.

The problem, he says, is the color of his skin.

“I’ve always considered Hong Kong my home, but I’ve always felt like an outsider,” said Vachha. “Being a person of color in Hong Kong, you get looked down on, no matter what. … The darker you are, the worse you’re treated.”

Non-profit organizations and community groups, particularly those representing darker-skinned South and Southeast Asians, have long complained about discrimination in education, employment, and housing — allegations supported by a number of studies over the years, including some conducted by government bodies.

“I’ve always considered Hong Kong my home, but I’ve always felt like an outsider.”Zaran Vachha

Hong Kong enacted an anti-racism law in 2008, after pressure from international organizations, including the United Nations. But activists say it’s a flawed, toothless piece of legislation that fails to hold authorities accountable.

“These are the ways in which we see quite clearly that there’s racial discrimination, and it’s everywhere,” said Puja Kapai, a professor of law who researches minority rights at the University of Hong Kong. “We’re supposed to be Asia’s World City, we’re supposed to have this multicultural system, but we have a great problem.”

Racial homogeneity

Hong Kong has a global reputation for being an international hub — but, in reality, it’s a particularly racially homogenous city, with ethnic Chinese making up about 96% of the population, not including foreign domestic workers. That’s a far cry from other major cities like New York, where Whites are the largest group, but make up less than half of the total population.
Hong Kong’s immigration laws make it harder for certain groups to naturalize and build second- and third-generation minority communities. For instance, foreign domestic workers are not allowed to gain residency; in one highly publicized case in 2013, a Filipina domestic worker was denied permanent residency despite having worked in the city for 27 years.
Maggi Leung, an associate professor at Utrecht University who used to lecture and research in Hong Kong, criticized the city’s immigration and citizenship policies as “discriminative.” The system “gives special privileges to the ‘desired’ individuals while restricting the rights of others who are framed as unskilled, disposable and a burden,” she wrote in a 2016 article in the journal Migration Letters, pointing specifically to the residency ban for domestic workers.
Of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities, defined as all non-Chinese groups, about 43% in 2016 were South or Southeast Asian, according to the legislative body’s research office. This includes Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Filipinos, Indonesians and more.
Pakistanis, Indonesians and Thais tend to have disproportionately high poverty rates. For instance, more than half of all Pakistanis in Hong Kong live below the poverty line without any interventions, according to a 2016 government report. The poverty line is defined as earning half or less of the median monthly household income, which ranges from 20,000 to 59,900 Hong Kong dollars (about $2,580-7,729) depending on household size.

Whites, other Asians and “Others,” which are largely wealthier groups, make up the rest of the ethnic minority population, according to the research office, which doesn’t offer any further ethnic breakdown within those categories.

The census’ income data is based on respondents’ ethnic self-identification. It doesn’t distinguish between migrant workers — who often end up in lower-paying jobs like construction or manual labor — and minorities who were born in the city.

Disadvantage in the classroom

For those minorities who do gain residency and raise their children in Hong Kong — or those like Vachha who are born there — the system can feel stacked against them from the start.

Minority children whose families speak non-Chinese languages, such as Tagalog or Urdu rather than Cantonese, can face a language barrier that exacerbates structural challenges in education, setting them back once they enter the job market.

From 2006 to 2013, the government funded a number of local schools that admitted a “critical mass” of non-Chinese speaking students. The program aimed to expand Chinese language learning programs, as well as give educators more experience teaching minority students, which they could then share with other schools.
However, the program was met with international and local criticism, with a UN committee calling it “de facto discrimination” that led to minority and Chinese students attending largely separate schools. While the government suspended the program in 2014, unofficial segregation appears to be continuing, with research showing it can be difficult for minority students to get admissions interviews — which are typically required for most schools — at historically Chinese schools.
As of 2016, more than 60% of all ethnic minority students attended just 10 schools out of nearly 840 public primary and secondary schools that serve the city of almost 7.5 million, according to the non-profit organization Hong Kong Unison.
In a 2016 statement, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said it had revised the program to “avoid over-concentration” of non-Chinese speaking students in a limited number of schools” and “remove the misconception arising from the ‘designated school’ label, which is in fact a misnomer.”
A document released by the legislative council’s research office this year acknowledged that “this language barrier might present a challenge for (non-Chinese speaking) students in adapting to the local education system and progressing to further studies or employment,” and reiterated the government’s commitment to “ensure equal opportunities in education for all eligible children in public sector schools.”
The language barrier can be a roadblock for children during admissions interviews for local schools where Chinese is the primary language of instruction. However, this hurdle makes it even more difficult for them to learn Cantonese or Mandarin unless they can afford extracurricular tutoring, which in turn can prevent them from pursuing jobs that require Chinese proficiency.
“Parents want their children to receive a (Chinese medium of instruction) kindergarten education but report being turned away from some kindergartens simply because of their race,” said a 2018 report by The Zubin Foundation, a local think tank that focuses on ethnic minorities.

The report cited similar experiences from a number of minority families, with one unnamed person saying: “Our Cantonese level is too basic. This is a hurdle for us. It’s not that we don’t want to learn — it’s that we are not given the opportunity to learn.”

For wealthy immigrant families whose children don’t speak Chinese, there’s an easy but expensive solution to the language barrier: private international schools, where students speak and are taught in English. But these schools can cost up to 266,000 Hong Kong dollars (about$34,330 ) a year, which is far out of reach for most families; the city’s median monthly household income was 35,500 Hong Kong dollars (about $4,580) in 2019 for households with at least one resident in the workforce.

These expat students are largely from more privileged ethnic groups like Whites and Koreans, which generally face less severe racial discrimination. This greater societal tolerance, and the students’ relative wealth, can cushion them from the disadvantage of not knowing Cantonese.

Some less privileged minority students do gain Cantonese fluency, through school classes, tutors, or social learning with peers — but sometimes it still isn’t enough.

In a comprehensive 2015 report, Kapai found some minority members would have no difficulty speaking during telephone job interviews using their fluent Cantonese. Yet Kapai said that “when they met the employer in person, the employer would put up excuses to turn them down.”

When local schools do allow both Chinese and minority students, racist micro-aggressions can also emerge.

C.J. Villanueva, 22, is ethnically Filipina but was born and raised in Hong Kong. She remembers local classmates joking that all Filipinos were domestic helpers, a reference to the estimated 200,000 Filipino domestic workers in the city.

“Sometimes when they joke around … they’d pretend to be cleaning, and say, I’m just like C.J., I’m like a domestic helper,” she said. “It was in good fun for them, but it was offensive for me and my Filipino friends.”

Policed and profiled

Everyday racism appears to be so prevalent in Hong Kong that everyone who spoke to CNN had their own range of discrimination stories.

For a while, Vachha worked late-night shifts that ended long after the subway stopped running. “All I’d want is to get home, and no taxis would stop for me,” he said. “I’d have to get someone else to stand on the street and get the taxi — I’d literally hide behind a pillar, then get in the taxi when it stopped.”

Being denied taxi service “happens quite a lot,” Villanueva said. When she was about 17, one driver told her “he does not serve people of my skin color.”

Finding housing is just as hard, Vachha added. A few years ago, he was about to sign the contract on an apartment when the landlord met him in person. Later, as Vaccha was standing next to the real estate agent, the agent got a text from the landlord saying he no longer wanted Vachha in the building.

China says it has a 'zero-tolerance policy' for racism, but discrimination towards Africans goes back decades
Underlying these types of discrimination are stereotypes of darker-skinned minorities as unclean, dangerous or untrustworthy, said Villanueva and Vachha. Experts and researchers say these stereotypes are reinforced by media reports that emphasize and sensationalize crimes committed by ethnic minorities, while offering no such emphasis on Chinese-committed crimes.

Villanueva remembers seeing such reports while growing up. “Locals have a fixed image on ethnic minorities,” she said. “Like, they think Nepalis are all gangsters, or South Asians like Pakistanis or Indians are members of gangs. In the news, they’ll always say, this robbery happened, it was a South Asian who did it.”

Unfair treatment extends to the workplace; across a range of jobs, employees who are members of ethnic minority groups report experiencing longer working hours, lower wages, unfair dismissals, and a lack of opportunity in career advancement, according to Kapai’s study.

A particularly pervasive form of everyday racism can also come with police profiling. In Hong Kong, ethnically Chinese residents can go their whole lives without being stopped and searched by police on the street, whereas non-ethnic Chinese people of color say it’s a common reality for them.

“How can you invite these people to come to your country and work for you, then arrest them or stop them for their skin color, the way they look?”Leo Verceles-Zara

Leo Verceles-Zara, a Filipino American who moved to Hong Kong in 2017 for a job in hospitality, said there was a period when he was stopped by police at least once a week. One time, he didn’t have his identification, and he says he had to bring the officers back to his apartment to show them his passport.

“Sometimes I’d just be leaving a restaurant and I’d be stopped,” he said. “It wasn’t overtly racist, but it was like, what am I doing? I’m just walking out of a restaurant, that’s not suspicious activity.

“How can you invite these people to come to your country and work for you, then arrest them or stop them for their skin color, the way they look?”

The Hong Kong police force doesn’t keep statistics breaking down stop-and-searches by ethnicity or nationality, so it’s difficult to measure the extent of racial profiling. But the sheer frequency of these searches has come under scrutiny — the police conducted “checks” on 1.76 million people in 2018, almost a quarter of the entire population.
To put that into perspective, in New York — a city with almost a million more people than Hong Kong — police conducted 13,459 stops in 2019, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Battling racism with comedy, Hong Kong-style

In a statement to CNN, a police spokesperson said that current laws allow police to stop, detain and search anybody “who acts in a suspicious manner.” The spokesperson added that all officers receive anti-discrimination training and attend seminars to “enhance their understanding” of ethnic minority cultures and languages.

“The Force is committed to promoting racial equality, fairness and respect,” said the statement. “In delivering quality services, the Force is determined to ensure impartiality in all dealings with members of the public, irrespective of their ethnic background.”

An insufficient law

Hong Kong’s Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO), enacted in 2008, is supposed to criminalize racial discrimination or harassment. But critics argue that loopholes allow harmful practices to continue, and that it focuses too much on individual cases rather than addressing systemic racism.

Critically, the RDO doesn’t cover discrimination by law enforcement. The government is bound by the law in areas of employment, services and provisions — but not in exercising “functions and powers.” Police operations fall under this category, meaning the law doesn’t apply when officers conduct stop and search, arrests and detention, or criminal investigations.

Activists and experts voiced concerns as early as 2006, when the RDO was being drafted. They argued that it didn’t provide strong enough protections for already vulnerable minorities, who may fear retaliation if they file complaints. At the time, the government promised to take these remarks into consideration for future revisions.

“Now, 14 years later, they continue to drag their feet,” said Kapai.

Ethnic minority members in Hong Kong protest racial discrimination at the entrance of Chief Executive's Office in January 2017.

In a statement to CNN, the government’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) said the government was committed to racial equality. The Basic Law — the city’s de facto constitution — already includes language protecting fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to equality before the law.

“It should therefore be emphasized that acts of racial discrimination on the part of the HKSAR Government have in any event been proscribed according to the Basic Law, that the Government must act in accordance with the provisions thereunder when performing or exercising its functions or powers,” said the statement, which added that the RDO had been created to “better protect” people.

But Kapai pointed out that the RDO has only been used in court a handful of times as evidence of its inadequacy.

In one well-known 2011 case, a 11-year-old Indian boy who held permanent residency bumped into a Chinese woman at a subway station. An altercation followed, in which the boy alleged she grabbed and swore at him. When police arrived, they arrested and detained the boy — but sent the woman for medical treatment. The boy’s family sued and lost; the judge ruled there was no evidence that police treated him differently due to his race.

“If the law signals that a specific group of perpetrators like police, immigration officers, the government more broadly, are exempted from the law, then it signals … that there’s nothing wrong with that kind of discrimination,” said Kapai.

Ethnic minorities protest against racial discrimination in Hong Kong in July 2006, as the government drafts the Race Discrimination Ordinance.
Another case was just this June, when a Chinese parent won a lawsuit against a German-Swiss school over a dispute requiring board members to speak fluent German.

The Equal Opportunities Commission, which oversees the implementation of the RDO, told CNN it had formally recommended in a 2016 review an amendment to make it “unlawful for the Government to discriminate in performing its functions or exercising its powers.”

The government took the list of recommendations into consideration, and implemented a number of amendments this June. Conspicuously missing was any amendment regarding discrimination by law enforcement.

In their statement, CMAB said the government would continue to “study the remaining recommendations of higher priority in detail, including the recommendation of bringing all government functions and powers within the scope of the RDO.”

Denying accountability

The international community has long put pressure on Hong Kong to change its approach to racism. In a 2018 report, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the government to amend the RDO to include government powers and law enforcement. It criticized the government for dismissing the issue, adding it was “concerned by the statement of Hong Kong, China, that racial discrimination is not a prevalent or serious problem there.”
Months afterward, the government pledged more than 500 million Hong Kong dollars (about $64.5 million) in initiatives supporting minorities in sectors including social welfare and education. These initiatives include additional funding for all mainstream public schools that admit non-Chinese speaking students with special needs, and partnerships with NGOs to expand minority employment opportunities.
In a speech about the initiatives in 2018, the city’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, asserted that “ethnic minorities are members of the Hong Kong family.”

“Systemic racism is deliberate, and that means we all have a part in it.”Puja Kapai

Yet Kapai says that even if government leaders genuinely want to help, they sometimes don’t grasp the root of the problem.

When she presented her 2015 report to Lam, who at the time was Chief Secretary for Administration, Kapai said the panel of officials agreed minorities were important to the city — but didn’t acknowledge that racism was an institutional issue. Kapai explained the government seemed to suggest that the “experiences [of minorities] are misunderstandings, not racial inequality.”

It signaled a fundamental failure to understand the ethnic majority’s role in perpetuating racism and upholding discriminatory systems, she said. The burden often falls on non-ethnic Chinese people of color as a result, some of whom simply decide to leave — like Vachha, who eventually moved to Singapore and says he feels freer than he ever did in Hong Kong.

Thousands around the world protest George Floyd's death in global display of solidarity

This summer’s Black Lives Matter movement across the United States has sparked similar reckonings with race around the world, with dozens of anti-racism protests and calls for police accountability in countries ranging from Australia to Brazil.

“In other countries there are clear movements — but in Hong Kong, there’s a continuous apathy and complicity because we don’t want to believe we could be contributing to racial discrimination,” said Kapai. “Hong Kong’s racism does not model the trajectory of racism in the West, but we have our own story of how we perpetrate racism.

“Misunderstanding cannot explain systemic racism. Systemic racism is deliberate, and that means we all have a part in it … so denial is not an acceptable response.”

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Lawmakers to Biden: ‘Step it up’ on Cabinet diversity

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“We’re very, very concerned as a community, as a Latino community,” said Texas Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who called last week for at least five Latinos to be appointed to Cabinet-level positions.

Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates and officials are warning the Biden administration, in writing, it will be “deeply disappointing if several AAPIs are not nominated” to Cabinet positions. They’re growing increasingly convinced the president-elect will not match President Barack Obama’s total of three Asian Americans in his first Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus is urging Biden to choose a Black Defense secretary and up the number of African Americans leading departments overall.

Together, the criticism highlights the challenges the Biden transition faces in satisfying expectations for a historically diverse Cabinet. And it underscores the growing demands for equal representation after a presidential election in which Asian Americans were difference-makers in Georgia, Latinos boosted Biden in Arizona, and Black voters propelled him to the nomination and ultimate victory.

But appeasing everyone may be a nearly impossible task, especially given the zero-sum reality of Cabinet jockeying and the limited slate of top-tier positions.

Latino lawmakers and outside groups, for example, are pushing New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for Health and Human Services secretary — but tapping her over former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is Indian American, could anger Asian American advocacy groups.

“It’s no secret that as you look at the number of people that have been appointed … we don’t see too many Asian Americans there, do we?” said Bel Leong-Hong, chair of the Democratic National Committee’s AAPI caucus.

Those lobbying the transition team say there is still time for Biden to meet his lofty diversity goals. But some Democrats are pessimistic after seeing the first rounds of personnel picks.

Biden’s core White House team will be mostly white, including his chief of staff, communications director, press secretary, legislative affairs director and one of his top economic advisers. And two of the so-called “Big Four” Cabinet positions — atop the State, Treasury, Justice and Defense Departments — have already been filled by white candidates.

“A true way for Biden to make history would be to nominate a person of color for one or more of those ‘Big Four’ positions, and now they’re down to just two,” said Janet Murguía, the president of UnidosUS and a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. “So there will be enormous scrutiny from both the Black and Latino community for the remaining two jobs — DoD and Justice — and rightfully so.”

A Black House lawmaker, who requested anonymity to speak more freely as Biden fills positions, put it more bluntly. “He’s got to step it up,” the lawmaker said, noting that Kamala Harris’ selection as vice president doesn’t give Biden an excuse to appoint fewer African Americans to head key departments.

The Biden transition team says the president-elect will have a diverse administration when all is said and done. “His success in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges will be clear when our full slate of appointees and nominees is complete,” a Biden-Harris transition official said in a statement.

It’s true that, as the transition official pointed out, Biden has “announced several historic and diverse White House appointments and Cabinet nominees.” He appointed an all-female senior communications team, for example, as well as the first woman of color to lead the Office of Management and Budget and the first female nominee for Treasury secretary.

But in 2020, the bar for diversity has been raised well beyond the seven women and 10 nonwhite officials in President Barack Obama’s first Cabinet.

Senior AAPI officials highlight huge increases in voter turnout among Asian American voters in the 2020 election — including in crucial battleground states he won, such as Georgia and Arizona — as one reason they should be well-represented throughout the administration. Early and absentee voting among AAPI voters rose nearly 300 percent in battleground states this year, according to the Democratic data firm Catalist.

The Biden transition announced Monday that Neera Tanden, an Indian American woman, will be nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget. But some AAPI officials said they still fear Biden is unlikely to meet the benchmark set by Obama, who appointed three AAPI candidates to Cabinet positions at the start of his term.

“We just want to make sure that the Biden administration — and we’ve conveyed this from Day One — has a diverse representation, and that diversity includes AAPIs,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), vice chair of the DNC. “That’s not always fully understood.”

The influential Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also mounted an active pressure campaign.

In phone calls and letters, the lawmakers pointed out the transition’s agency review teams are roughly 11 percent Latino and their COVID-19 Advisory Board is about 15 percent Latino — each less than the roughly 20 percent share of the U.S. population Latinos represent.

And though they cheered the nomination of Cuban American Alejandro Mayorkas to run Homeland Security — the first immigrant and first Latino to hold the position, if confirmed — it does not come close to representing the breadth of Latinos across the country, they say.

“When we talk about diversity, we also need to talk about diversity within the Hispanic community,” said California Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz. “The vast majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are Mexican Americans, so it would be important and helpful to have them represented in nominations. The Puerto Rican and Cuban American and Dominican American experiences are also important and should also be reflected.”

Gonzalez, the Texas Democrat, said he’s warned Democrats about the surge in support for Republicans among Mexican American communities in South Texas and other battleground states.

“When Republicans are coming into our districts saying, ‘what have the Democrats done for you?’ And we have a Democratic president with a low showing or low representation of Latinos in his Cabinet and government, it is a tough response,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t want to have to defend that.”

In addition to Lujan Grisham, Latino lawmakers support either DNC Chair Tom Perez or California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Justice Department. Ruiz’s name has also been floated by some members of the Hispanic Caucus as a potential addition to a Biden administration, given his health care background as a physician.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been pressuring Biden’s transition team on an individual level, according to multiple members. Many take their cues from Clyburn, who is pushing for Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge to be selected as the first Black female Agriculture secretary.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said he’s keeping a close eye on who Biden names to lead Housing and Urban Development, pointing out that Democrats have not nominated a Black man to lead HUD since 1965, when the department was created by President Lyndon Johnson. And he echoed other CBC members who are saying former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s “name needs to be in the mix” for Defense Secretary.

“I’m not ready to panic,” Cleaver said of representation within the administration, adding that members see Biden as someone who understands their demands and the “delicacy” of keeping a diverse party happy.

“The philosophy of those of us who’ve been in the civil rights movement is that even if it’s friends, you know, you don’t let up in your expressions of anticipation,” said Cleaver. “We’re anticipating that he does the right thing.”

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Everything You Need To Know About #ScotchEggGate And “Substantial Meals”

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The vexed issue of whether a scotch egg constitutes a ‘substantial meal’ has consumed the political discourse in recent days (PA)

8 min read

As the second lockdown ends and England enters the new tier system of coronavirus restrictions, the government has found itself embroiled in a bizarre row about scotch eggs and whether they constitute a “substantial meal”.

That is not a sentence anyone would have expected to have read this time last year, but for pub landlords and bar owners struggling to stay afloat amid the pandemic it is serious business.

The rules, which are due to come into force on Thursday, say that any hospitality venue placed into Tier 2, which will cover 57.3% of the country, can only serve alcohol if it is alongside “substantial meals”.

But just what that entails has become a massive source of contention, which despite Number 10’s repeated assertions that it has made it clear, continues to cause confusion.

The Question Of Cornish Pasties

1606884949 432 Everything You Need To Know About ScotchEggGate And Substantial Meals

If all this sounds familiar, then that is because it was first raised as an issue when the previous tier system was introduced earlier this autumn.

The communities secretary Robert Jenrick suggested a Cornish pasty would not count as a substantial meal unless it was served with chips and a side salad.

“If you would expect to go into that restaurant normally, or pub, and order a plated meal at the table of a Cornish pasty with chips or side salad or whatever it comes with, then that’s a normal meal,” the minister said.

That did not clarify things entirely, but as the country soon went back into lockdown and hospitality was closed altogether the matter drifted out of the discourse.

The reason it matters though is that many pubs in tier 2, of which there are more than 20,000, cannot simply re-tool as full restaurants, and unless they can serve full meals they will have to remain closed in the crucial pre-Christmas period and potentially much beyond that.

They therefore need to know with a great deal more clarity than there has been so far on what they can serve to customers and fulfil the requirements in the regulations and remain in operation.

And crucially without that clarity it puts the onus on local councils and the police in each area to decide what constitutes a full meal, meaning a pub on one street in one borough might get away with serving a scotch egg, while one street over into a different borough another pub might face a fine for doing the same.

This exact issue played out in Manchester back in October, when pubs were forced to serve a substantial meal with alcohol when the city was placed in the old tier 3.

Staff at Common bar say police told them serving single slices from a 22-inch pizza didn’t count, only to later backtrack and deem that it was sufficient to be a full meal.

It’s co-owner Jonny Heyes said at the time: “It’s just a bit of a joke. I don’t want to say anything bad about the officers because they had obviously been sent round to check everyone was serving food and adhering to the guidelines.

“But they don’t have any information about what actually constitutes a substantial meal. They’re just winging it.

“As far as I can tell there is no proper guidance. The government policy is just so woolly, there’s no clarity.”

So with less than 48 hours until pubs and bars can re-open their doors it has roared back into the news, kicked off by a question to environment secretary George Eustice on Monday morning about the now infamous scotch egg.

“I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service,” he said.

“And often that may be as a starter. But yes, I think it would.”

The Thin Line Between Snack And Dinner1606884949 986 Everything You Need To Know About ScotchEggGate And Substantial Meals

Asked to clarify if that was the case, Downing Street only served to blur the issue by failing to set out the where the line is between a snack and a dinner.

“It’s a principle that’s well established in the hospitality industry and it’s something they’ve been applying for some time,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said.

“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.”

But so far nobody in government can point to anything in the Licensing Act or any other legislation, either during Covid or pre-pandemic, which defines what exactly is substantial or not.

The Licensing Act 2003 contains a clause which permits 16- or 17-year-olds to consume beer, wine or cider with a table meal if they are accompanied by an adult, infamously depicted in an episode of the TV show The Inbetweeners.

It goes on to define a “table meal” as a “meal eaten by a person seated at a table, or at a counter or other structure which serves the purpose of a table and is not used for the service of refreshments for consumption by persons not seated at a table or structure serving the purpose of a table.” 

This is the same definition adopted by Parliamentary Counsel which drafted the tier system, but while the regulations say pubs “remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant – which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal”, there is nothing to say what size “a main lunchtime or evening meal” is.

Pork Pies and Ploughman’s

It led to the PM’s spokesman being pressed on whether the new rules extended to sausage rolls, pork pies, or a ploughman’s lunch counting as a substantial meal, to which he said: “I’m obviously not going to get into the detail of every possible meal.

“But we’ve been clear: bar snacks do not count as a substantial meal but it’s well established practice in the hospitality industry what does.”

That sounded rather like Number 10 was coming down on the snack side of the debate, which appeared to be backed up my Michael Gove this morning, who told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “As far as I’m concerned it’s probably a starter.”

Later on LBC he appeared to harden his stance on scotch eggs, the Cabinet Office minister saying: “A couple of scotch eggs is a starter as far as I’m concerned.”

But by the time he spoke to ITV News shortly afterwards Mr Gove appeared to have performed a volte face, he said: “A scotch egg is a substantial meal.”

Pressed on whether it was actually a bar snack, he replied: “I myself would definitely scoff a couple of scotch eggs if I had the chance, but I do recognise that it is a substantial meal.”

But the issue of whether under law it really is a meal, and crucially, whether a pub can serve it with a pint and not be in breach of the legislation and face racking up thousands of pounds-worth of fines, remains undefined.

And the issue over lots of other things a pub may be able to serve without having to upgrade or instal a kitchen, and all the regulations that entails, is also unclear and seems to be placed in the hands of publicans to make the call themselves and risk falling foul of the law.

Perhaps even more bizarrely, this is far from the first time this particular issue has been raised, with the previously obscure 1965 legal case of Timmis v Millman thrust into the public eye.

That involved the defendant and a friend caught in a hotel bar at 11.30pm consuming light ale and stout outside of permitted drinking hours.

But the-then Lord Chief Justice decided their meal of a “substantial sandwich” served with pickles and beetroot constituted a “table meal”, and not just a “bar snack”, which allowed them to stay within rules which allowed for an extra hour after the end of the ordinary permitted drinking time as long as it was for finishing their supper meal.

And that built on the court ruling in Solomon v Green a decade earlier, where sandwiches and sausages on sticks were found to constitute a meal.

Whether any enterprising landlord will attempt to use such case law to justify serving cocktail sausages on toothpicks to thirsty drinkers remains to be seen, but if they do then the obliqueness of the current rules may work in their favour.

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Delhi sees deadliest month amid raging pandemic


India has the second highest number of Covid cases in the world. November was the deadliest month for the capital Delhi, which has been struggling to contain the virus, with more than 100 deaths on some days.

The death toll has overwhelmed the Indian capital’s crematoriums, where many families say goodbye to their loved ones in ancient rituals.

A lack of social distancing at the city’s markets has been blamed for the recent uptick. Some hospitals have run out of ICU beds – with pollution and cold weather adding to the burden.

Cases are starting to fall, but doctors warn that if people don’t take care, the situation could get worse again, as the BBC’s South Asia correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan reports.

Produced by Kunal Sehgal, Shalu Yadav and Greg Brosnan.

Filmed and edited by Varun Nayar.

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