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News - 16 May 2009

Mandatory code wins over minimum pricing on war against alcohol abuse

A ban on irresponsible drinks promotions including "all you can drink for £10", speed drinking competitions and "dentist's chairs" (the act of pouring alcohol directly down people's throats) are just some of the conditions of a proposed new mandatory code on alcohol sales launched for consultation by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

The proposed mandatory code of practice for pubs, clubs, off-licences and supermarkets is the latest step in the Government's plans to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder and harm to health which costs the UK up to £13 billion every year.

Previous proposals around minimum pricing on alcohol have been shelved for the time being.

The proposals take a two-tiered approach with a small number of mandatory conditions for all alcohol retailers, which will ensure consistent good practice alongside new discretionary powers for local authorities to tackle problem premises where irresponsible drinking could put individuals at risk and lead to crime and anti-social behaviour.

Any premises that breach the mandatory code or local discretionary conditions that have been imposed will face a range of possible sanctions including losing their licence, having additional tough conditions imposed on their licence or, on summary conviction, a maximum £20,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment.

The proposed mandatory code of practice includes;

  • banning promotions such as "all you can drink for £10", speed drinking competitions and "dentist's chairs" where alcohol is dispensed directly into the mouth of any customer. These promotions encourage people to drink quickly or irresponsibly, can lead to crime or antisocial behaviour and make it impossible for people to keep track of the units consumed;
  • ensuring all bars, pubs and clubs offer alcohol in both measures so customers have the choice between a single or double measure of spirits and a large or small glass of wine; and
  • requiring alcohol retailers to display information about the alcohol unit content of drinks and for supermarkets and convenience stores, the health impacts of alcohol under powers from the Food Safety Act. This allows customers to make an informed decision about how much they drink and the effects on their own health.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said, "Alcohol-related crime and disorder costs the UK billions every year in police and hospital resources, not to mention the effect it has on the lives of the millions of decent people who want to enjoy a night out.

"We do not want to stop the vast majority of people who enjoy a drink responsibly from doing so but this code will crack down on the minority of businesses whose irresponsible promotions fuel the excessive drinking that can lead people into crime and disorder or to risk their own or other's safety. It is not about penalising the majority who trade responsibly but the Government has a duty to tackle this issue which affects us all.

"We have consulted with the alcohol industry to ensure the conditions in the proposed code target the irresponsible practices that most people agree should not be allowed."

Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson said, "The alcohol industry has a responsibility to help reduce harm from alcohol. This code will give them the framework in which to live up to that responsibility.

"People must also be able to make informed choices about their drinking habits. Our Units campaign is already giving the facts about alcohol units. Today's proposals would see all alcohol retailers reinforcing this with information for their customers on the number of units in their drinks and the health risks of drinking too much."

Alcohol Concern Chief Executive Don Shenker said, "A mandatory code is a necessary step in the right direction towards cutting crime and health problems caused by alcohol.

"These measures are long overdue - for too long, the industry has failed to regulate itself. This new code will help people make healthy choices while further protecting communities from crime."

As well as the mandatory conditions there are also a flexible secondary set of conditions that can be imposed by licensing authorities on two or more premises in one area where they are clearly associated with alcohol-related nuisance and disorder.

These conditions will enable local councils to take tough action in areas experiencing particularly high levels of alcohol-related disorder by imposing strict conditions to stop irresponsible promotions or practices and to ensure that premises are responsibly run.

Additional conditions for alcohol crime hotspots include;

  • restricting happy hours or "pub crawl" promotions at particular times most associated with alcohol-related crime and disorder;
  • banning irresponsible bulk buy promotions where for example a consumer must buy more than one 24 pack of lager to obtain a discount to reduce the risk or people drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at home then going out already drunk and causing crime and disorder;
  • requiring staff to operate a Challenge 21 policy where anyone who may look under 21 must produce proof of age to buy alcohol;
  • requiring licensed door staff to conduct checks for weapons and drugs at times most associated with alcohol-related crime and disorder;
  • banning glass containers or ensuring glasses are collected at regular intervals to reduce the risk of violent incidents;
  • ensuring that CCTV is in operation at times most associated with alcohol-related crime and disorder; and
  • display information on the location of public transport links and taxi numbers to help people get home safely.
  • The Government has decided not to proceed with any national or local measures around minimum unit price as it would punish unfairly the sensible majority of moderate and responsible drinkers. However the consultation commits to developing further the evidence base in this area.

In addition the consultation asks for views on whether banning retailers from selling alcohol at prices below the level of excise duty paid, plus the VAT due, would further the Government's objectives in tackling alcohol-related harms in a way that does not unduly affect the majority of responsible drinkers and retailers.

Mike Craik, Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) national spokesperson for Alcohol Licensing, said, "Alcohol misuse impacts on every area of society. But long term sustainable reductions in alcohol misuse can only be delivered by influencing attitudes and behaviour. ACPO welcomes the announcement of the Governments' consultation today around a mandatory code of conduct for the licensing industry and looks forward to working with Government and industry to develop detailed proposals to address what is a significant issue for our society. We want to see an end to promotions that lead to alcohol-fuelled violence.

"Tackling those retailers who continue to trade without considering the effect of their actions on communities is a step in the right direction. However, just as not all people who drink do so irresponsibly, not all retailers trade irresponsibly and putting an end to irresponsible drinks promotion is not the only solution.

"We need cultural change, properly planned town centres, appropriate licensing decisions, courts handing down appropriate sentences and of course, continued enforcement activity targeted at problem premises and problem individuals."

The consultation invites views from members of the public as well as businesses, industry groups and interested organisations. It will run for 12 weeks and responses will be used to inform and develop the final set of conditions.

In deciding when to implement the Code, we will take full account of the views of the pub and drinks trade and the economic conditions affecting the industry at present. The Government will pay particular attention to minimising the impact on the great majority of responsible pubs, clubs and retailers and giving them enough time to adapt to mandatory provisions in the Code.

To request a copy of the consultation visit the Home Office website on

Read related items on:
Retail, pubs, clubs and restaurants
Anti-social behaviour
Codes of conduct
Government, Central
Craik, Michael
Johnson, Alan
Don Shenker
Smith, Jacqui

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