Happy hours to be banned in alcohol 'problem areas'

Happy hours and supermarket deals would be banned in areas plagued by binge drinking and alcohol-related crime under a plan being considered by ministers. Three government departments are in talks over the proposed scheme to tackle binge drinking "hot spots", The Independent has learnt.

A source close to the talks said ministers were considering banning loss-leading deals on alcohol in supermarkets as part of the scheme. Focusing new measures on problem areas will help allay MPs' fears that an attempt to push up the price of alcohol in the financial crisis would be unpopular.

"Ministers have to consider the current climate when they take action over this," a source close to the discussions said. "They want to work closely with the drinks industry on measures, rather than impose rules on them."

The source said ministers would make an announcement "in the near future". Discussions are taking place between the Home Office, Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which deals with licensing laws.

The source said so many government departments were involved so ministers could devise a "creative" way of tackling binge drinking.

But critics said a localised approach would allow determined drinkers to find ways around the system, leading to difficulties of enforcement and problems in areas near a targeted area.

Alcohol has become 69 per cent more affordable since 1980, as competition has driven down prices and disposable incomes have increased. Figures revealed yesterday that a child under 10 is admitted to hospital every three days with an alcohol-induced problem. The number of 16- and 17-year-olds admitted to hospital with alcohol problems has risen to 12,500 a year, a 95 per cent increase since 2002.

The Government has come under increasing pressure from MPs, the police and a struggling pub trade to take action against Britain's drinking culture and loss-making alcohol deals.

A group of MPs will ask the Government for a nationwide ban on pub and shop alcohol promotions. The Home Affairs Committee makes the recommendation in a report published today. The committee was influenced by testimony from police forces. Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, said a scheme in specific areas would not fix the problem. "The danger is that there are ways around local measures," he said. "Every town centre is a hot spot at midnight. Happy hour needs to be over – everywhere."

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