Alcohol trade 'must act on UK drink problem' or face government action

Home Office demands strategy to combat low pricing, super-strength brews and pubs on motorways

The UK drinks industry has been ordered by the Home Office to produce plans to tackle the sale and promotion of cheap super-strength beers and cider by the summer or face government action.

Crime Prevention minister Norman Baker said that some alcohol producers and sellers have tried to ignore the Home Office's demands for a strategy to crush problem drinking in the hope that the policy will be ditched after the general election next year. Mr Baker has also asked his officials to find ways of combating the "inappropriate" opening of pubs at motorway service stations, as pioneered by low-cost pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

Since he joined the Home Office in October, Mr Baker has been shocked by the scale of alcohol-related crime, which costs England and Wales £11bn a year. About 15,000 people die every year from alcohol-linked illnesses. The Home Office told the industry last year that it needed to set up voluntary commitments, such as minimising alcohol advertising and confining displays and promotions to single areas.

However, a voluntary strategy has yet to be produced, though the Portman Group, which represents producers including Diageo, and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association have agreed to take the industry lead on proposals. Mr Baker recently met both groups, as well as other interested parties including the Association of Convenience Stores, warning them that they must speed up the development of a voluntary code as it is now one of his ministerial priorities.

Mr Baker said that high street and local shops should internally "outlaw" in-store promotions. He added: "The problems come with the availability of super-strength and low-price alcohol in supermarkets and corner shops. I'm challenging the industry to come up with a strategy. They've got to make a plan. They're not going to just drift to 2015. I want to get action on this before the election."

Norman Baker has condemned the new M40 pub Norman Baker has condemned the new M40 pub The Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes in East Sussex warned that he would hit the industry if it failed to come up with a set of proposals he approved of within the next few months. Mr Baker declined to comment on what this action would be, but the Government could revisit plans shelved by Home Secretary Theresa May last year to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol in England and Wales.

Last week, Mr Baker launched 20 specially designated local alcohol action areas, which will help communities suffering from particularly high numbers of booze-related problems and provide them with support from the Home Office and the Department of Health.

A senior drinks industry source who met Mr Baker said the minister had made it "pretty clear that he wants some progress" over the strategy soon. The source added that it was more difficult to get commitments from smaller chains that produce their own brand of strong lagers and ciders, but that most of the major industry representatives were keen to meet the Home Office's demands.

Mr Baker also condemned JD Wetherspoon for opening the country's first motorway pub, the Hope & Champion at Buckinghamshire's Beaconsfield services on the M40, last month, with plans for more. The £1.2m pub is open 4am to 1am, seven days a week, which drink-driving campaigners argue will only lead to more deaths on the roads. Other pub chains are thought to be looking at the Hope & Champion's fortunes with interest.

"It is inappropriate for motorists to be sold drinks before they're about to get back in their car," said Mr Baker. "I've asked officials for advice."

However, JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin hit back at the Home Office's criticisms of his motorway pub, which, he argued, will serve far more food than booze. He said yesterday: "Every pub is on a road, so there is a certain lack of logic here. The key thing is that alcohol is already available in motorway services."

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said that voluntary agreements were starting to be firmed up. He added: "We are working hard with Norman Baker and his officials to move forward with proposals that meet some of the concerns that he has. I would hope to have something out by the summer; otherwise it would slip into the pre-election period and that won't be helpful to anyone."

Portman Group chief executive Henry Ashworth said: "Last summer, the Home Secretary laid out four areas of challenge to the alcohol industry, encouraging us to deliver further voluntary action through the Public Health Responsibility Deal. The industry has welcomed the challenge, as we believe that partnership working is the most effective way to make progress, and since then we have been co-ordinating a meaningful industry-wide response which will soon see further public commitments to tackle harms."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power