I was really surprised recently to read a well known legal eagleflying in the wrong direction by claiming that the use of credit cards for drinks was illegal. The Home Office has said that it wants to "change the law topermit purchases using credit cards" (White Paper, para. 84). I don't think the law as it stands actually prevents the use of credit cards, and apparently one or two judges think the same way. A great many pubs I know have a PDQ machine which they mainly use for the restaurant. Licensees are told that while they can use it for drink and food sales combined, they can't use it for bar sales alone. To my mind, that's a misreading of the law. It is, of course, strange to compare the situation in pubs with the regular acceptance of "plastic" in off-licensed premises, where there has never been any dispute that credit cards are legal. The problem seems to me to lie in the use of the word "credit". Readers may assume that any form of credit for drinks is illegal, under the terms of the Licensing Act. In fact, the wording in the section of the Act is more specific. It states that the drinks must be paid for at the time when they are sold or supplied. This effectively prevents the old practice of "the slate", where customers were enabled to accumulate debts with the licensee by obtaining drinks without payment. Of course, payment by credit card has been widely used in the restaurant and hotel trades for many years. This is because it is not illegal to pay for drinks after they have been "sold or supplied", if the payment is made in respect of a meal to which the drinks were ancillary, or in respect of hotel accommodation, where drinks and others services have been addedto the total bill. The matter of credit cards and their legality in this context depends on the construction put upon the words "paid for". Although it is clear that a promise to pay is not enough, the signing of a credit or debit card slip is clearly more than that. It could be seen as a recognition of a binding transaction, quite as good as a cheque, and probably in many cases more reliable. In one leading case, the judge held that the use of a credit card for a petrol payment satisfactorily discharged the debt. He was taking the realistic view that in today's world a card means money and a sale has taken place. In my view, that's just as true over the bar.