Govt working with drinks industry on alcohol crackdown

Govt concerned about cheap drinks
Govt concerned about cheap drinks

Ministers are considering a further crack down on the sale of cheap alcohol, it was reported yesterday.

Home office minister Meg Hillier confirmed the government is in discussion with the drinks industry over pricing and promotion as part of its urgent review into alcohol abuse.

The joint review by the Home Office and Department of Health will look at how cheap alcohol and advertising and promotions can drive problem drinking.

However, the drinks industry is likely to avoid any harsh restrictions. Ministers have said promotions are a legiNtimate business tool while Gordon Brown does not want to drastically increase tax on alcohol.

The issue of problem drinking was reignited after the chief constable of Cheshire said underage drinking was fuelling anti-social behaviour. Peter Fahy said alcohol was too cheap, too strong and too readily available and argued the drinking age should be raised to 21.

Politicians and the drinks industry rejected the move, however.

The Portman Group, which represents the drinks industry, said increasing the drinking age is not the answer.

Chief executive David Poley said: "If 18 year-olds are allowed to smoke, vote and go to war, they should also be trusted to drink.

"Raising the drinking age could force more young people to drink unsupervised, increasing the risk of accidents and anti-social behaviour.

"We can curb alcohol-related problems through more effective education, greater parental responsibility and tougher enforcement of the law on underage sales."

The Liberal Democrats agreed the government should concentrate on enforcing existing regulations before it imposes fresh restrictions.

The Lib Dems revealed there were 67 prosecutions for shops selling alcohol to under-18s in a ten-year period, even though Home Office research shows many more are breaking the law.

Culture spokesman Don Foster said: "The government is burying its head in the sand. The reality is that since Labour came to power ministers have systematically failed to enforce the law on shops selling alcohol to underage children.

"It is hardly surprising that this problem is getting worse, especially when the law is not properly enforced. Labour was more interested in making wholesale changes to Britain's licensing regime than properly addressing the issue of binge drinking."

The Conservatives said the government had failed to take responsibility for rising anti-social behaviour, branding Mr Fahy's comments as a statement on "Labour's broken Britain".

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: "Conservatives realise that everyone has a role to play - parents need to do more to stop their children drinking, retailers need to be much more vigilant in preventing the sale of alcohol to those under age and local authorities should have control of licensing arrangements so that they reflect the wishes of the communities they are applied to.

"But the government must realise they have a responsibility to the British people, a responsibility they have consistently ducked."

The government has, however, launched a succession of initiatives designed to prevent underage drinking and curb binge drinking, including the National Alcohol Strategy, targeted at heavy drinkers, in June.


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