A mandatory code is set to be introduced in the UK later this year

A mandatory code is set to be introduced in the UK later this year

Drinks industry leaders have offered a lukewarm response to the UK Government's plan to introduce a mandatory code on alcoholic drinks sales in the country.

After months of wrangling over details, the Government announced today (19 January) that it will implement the five-point code in different stages during 2010.

So-called "all you can drink" offers will be banned, tap water must be available free to drinkers and bars must provide "small measures" of beers, wine and spirits, the Government said.

Age verification policies must also be in place and the so-called "dentist's chair" - where drink is poured directly into consumers' mouths - will be banned.

Breach of the code carries a maximum GBP20,000 fine and up to six months in prison, said the Government, which says that alcohol-related harm costs the UK health service GBP2.5bn every year.

Drinks trade bodies gave a mixed response to the code today (19 January).

Lobbying efforts have already succeeded in watering down its length and delaying its implementation.

Industry leaders have privately admitted that some sort of code is a "hit" producers and outlets must be prepared to take on the chin.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said it is concerned that the code focuses too much on bars and pubs and not enough on cheap alcohol in supermarkets.

"We have consistently supported legislation to crack down on irresponsible promotions in pubs and supermarkets," said BBPA CEO Brigid Simmonds.

"However, with nearly 70% of all alcohol now sold through supermarkets, the pub-centric measures announced today are lop-sided and unbalanced."

Drinks producers support Government measures to tackle irresponsible consumers and companies, said Jeremy Beadles, CEO of the Wine  Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

But, he added: "In most respects the Code enforces best practice that is already met or exceeded by the vast majority in the trade." He reiterated that the WSTA would like to see "strict enforcement of existing laws designed to prevent alcohol misuse".

It remains unclear how the code will play out in practice, with the rules on serving size and age verification not set to be introduced until October.

There must be a General Election in the UK before June and the current Government trails the main opposition, the Conservative Party, by around ten points in opinion polls.

Last week, the Conservatives unveiled their own plans to tackle alcohol misuse.