Ministers to call time on cheap drink

Home Secretary urged not to clamp down on pubs and bars in bid to cut drinking
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Drinks industry bosses urged ministers to back away from tough new regulation of pubs and clubs as the Government prepared to clamp down on alcohol promotions that are blamed for drunken lawlessness on Britain's streets.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is expected to focus on ending "happy hours" and all-you-can-drink promotions in pubs, clubs and bars when she publishes a long-awaited strategy on alcohol reduction next week. The plans are understood to include proposals for a statutory code of conduct for the drinks industry, also giving local authorities greater powers to tackle price promotions in pubs and clubs. But she is likely to put less emphasis on regulating drinks promotions in supermarkets, despite warnings they may fuel excessive drinking at home.

Senior Whitehall sources said ministers wanted to target "problem" bars and clubs, rather than drive up retail drink prices. One source said: "This is primarily aimed at young people drinking to excess, not at people trying to stock up for Christmas".

A strategy document to be published early next week will include a number of proposals for public consultation. A report by the University of Sheffield, also due to be published next week by the Government, is understood to have concluded that reducing promotions will cut consumption, particularly among 18 to 24-year-olds. It will also say that making alcohol more expensive will deliver a long-term improvement to the nation's health by reducing the incidence of cancer and strokes, and reducing violence and the numbers of accidents. Yesterday, drinks industry representatives warned ministers not to penalise millions of customers for the misdeeds of a minority, warning of "chaos" if police are given powers to ban promotions in local areas.

They insist alcohol consumption is falling and, most drinkers do not cause problems. Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: "With tax hikes this week and new regulations next, the Government will make drinking even more expensive this Christmas.

"It makes little sense to pass a raft of regulations when current laws go unenforced. We urge the Government to do what voters want: enforce laws we have and encourage responsible attitudes to alcohol." Mark Hastings, a spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association, said he backed action against irresponsible promotions – so long as it also covers supermarkets and off-licences. He said Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, had already damaged the industry in this week's Pre-Budget report, adding: "The economic pressures are escalating, so we would not welcome more regulation."