Licensing laws in England will be "torn up" and supermarkets will be banned from selling alcohol below cost if the Conservative Party wins the UK General Election, expected next year.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling outlined the opposition party's policy on alcohol during a speech to the Conservative Party Conference today (7 October).

"We will tear up this Government's licensing regime," said Grayling, adding that there will be "tough new rules" and "strict penalties" for anyone who breaks them.

Drinks industry leaders are following Conservative Party policy closely, given the party's strong long lead in all opinion polls. There must be a General Election in the UK by May next year.

Under Conservative plans, local councils in England will be given powers to limit the number of licences in an area, as well as opening hours for bars and clubs, said Grayling.

"Right now, virtually anyone can get a licence to sell alcohol," he said.
 
For bars, retailers and clubs which do want to open later into the night, councils will be able to charge outlets for the costs of extra policing.

In the off-trade, Grayling said: "We will ban supermarkets from selling alcohol at below-cost price."

He also outlined plans to more than double excise tax on superstrength cider, as well as raise tax on so-called 'alcopops' (RTDs) and four-packs of superstrength lager. "We will make sure that we protect local products, but we'll call time on the drinks that fuel antisocial behaviour."

One drinks industry source, speaking to just-drinks, questioned whether a selective tax regime on drinks, levying a fee on outlets and a ban on below-cost selling will be "workable" from a competition and legal perspective. 

Separately, a spokesperson for the British Beer and Pub Association said today: "With 50 pubs closing per week, the Conservatives should appreciate that any increase in regulation, red tape and tax will put community pubs under considerable further pressure leading to more closures and job losses - something I am sure they would want to avoid.

"At the same time, the clear signal that they intend to use existing laws with greater vigour to crack down on problem people and premises is welcome news to the industry."