UK: MPs call for minimum alcoholic drinks prices, promotions ban
Minimum prices for alcohol, an end to promotions in bars and a new mandatory code of practice are three main pillars of a new Parliamentary report examining alcohol-related harm in the UK.
Supermarkets should be prevented from selling alcohol "below cost", according to MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, who today (10 November) published the results of their 11-month investigation into policing the streets.
The report focused on excess drinking as a major issue facing the country's police forces, and will be influential in the government's preparation of an alcohol strategy for England and Wales.
In addition to minimum pricing, MPs called for stringent restrictions on Happy Hour promotions in bars and a new mandatory code of practice for the industry, which would replace the current self-regulatory system.
The Committee pulled back from recommending a ban on under-21s buying alcohol in the off-trade, as was put forward by the government in Scotland earlier this year.
Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), rejected calls for minimum pricing. "Calls for Government to set the price of alcohol or raise prices for everyone are simply unfair, particularly in the current economic climate, and will do nothing to stop the small minority who misuse alcohol."
It remains unclear how the government could make minimum pricing work, both in practical terms and within competition law. A special clause exists that would allow ministers to override competition law on pricing, although such a move is only intended for matters of exceptional public interest.
On a mandatory code of practice, just-drinks understands that the industry would accept a shift away from self-regulation on drinks promotions, and might accept the wider use of fines for those behaving irresponsibly.
Industry leaders have spoken to ministers about the possibility of "co-regulation", which would include a new national code of practice agreed by industry and the government.
One high-level industry source told just-drinks that there is frustration in some quarters that a small minority of industry players continue to blight the reputation of the whole sector on promoting responsible consumption.
The WSTA has long campaigned for more enforcement of police powers under the 2003 Licensing Act. "There are more than enough laws to deal with alcohol related disorder but the police do not have the resources they need to enforce them," said Jeremy Beadles.
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