UK: Drinks trade mandatory code concern

19 January, 2010

UK: The drinks trade has branded the Government’s proposals for mandatory conditions on the sale of alcohol as ‘unbalanced’.

The new conditions will come in to force later this year and the trade has accused the Government of targeting on-premise outlets and ignoring the problem of cheap alcohol in the off-premise.

New rules include a ban on ‘all-you-can-drink’ offers, a legal requirement to check young-looking drinkers are over 18, and free tap water.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “We have consistently supported legislation to crack down on irresponsible promotions in pubs and supermarkets.  However, with nearly 70 per cent of all alcohol now sold through supermarkets, the pub-centric measures announced today are lop-sided and unbalanced.  
“Pubs are struggling and the country is in recession.  This is not the time for the Home Office to be burying business in yet more unnecessary red tape. All the powers needed to deal with problem premises already exist.  The trouble is poor enforcement of the current laws.  Just adding to that pile is unhelpful.

“As a population, we should be encouraging young people to drink in properly supervised premises like pubs. What we need are targeted policies which deal with personal responsibility, aimed at the 10 per cent of the population who drink 40 per cent of all alcohol.”

Simmonds expressed specific concerns over plans to make Challenge 21, the successful and voluntary proof of age scheme, mandatory: “Challenge 21 was devised and implemented by our industry two years ago and has been operated rigorously since then. Every month, more than one million people are refused service in pubs, either because they have no ID or are underage.  Ninety per cent of 18-24 year olds say they are aware of the scheme, which clearly shows how widely it is used.  

“We might question whether the law should require you to have such a policy, as the fact is that the pub industry already operates such a policy and it has been hugely successful in tackling underage drinking in pubs.  

Simmonds also says that laws that force pubs to stock particular glass sizes are not needed: “Drink measures have always been driven by consumer choice.  We’ve always supported that choice, which is why we have successfully campaigned for the introduction of smaller measures for beer, in addition to the iconic pint.  We have no problem in offering a wider choice of measures, provided there is flexibility. Pubs should be able to offer other measures, without the compulsory purchase of hundreds of thousands of new glasses.”

Responding to today's Mandatory Code Proposals for the sale of alcohol, Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) chief executive Jeremy Beadles said: "We've always questioned whether the Mandatory Code would address the real issues associated with alcohol misuse but we share the Government's objective of tackling irresponsible businesses and consumers.

"However, new rules and legislation will achieve little unless there is strict enforcement of existing laws designed to prevent alcohol misuse and associated anti-social behaviour and a policy focus on problem drinkers."

"We need the carrot and the stick. The Campaign for Smarter Drinking, funded by the drinks industry and supported by Government, is challenging the culture of excessive drinking amongst a significant number of young adults.  Let's also ensure the laws in place to tackle alcohol misuse are rigorously enforced.

"In most respects the Code enforces best practice that is already met or exceeded by the vast majority in the trade.

"It makes sense to ask retailers to provide customers with water and a choice of measure size for their drink.

"Retailers led the way by introducing Challenge 21 in 2006 and last year saw the widespread adoption of Challenge 25 as part of our members' commitment to combat underage purchase of alcohol."