Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 12:06 UK

Coalition policy: Alcohol loss leaders ban proposed

A man drinking a pint of lager
Alcohol pricing: Wider review planned by government

The UK's coalition government has pledged to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price in an effort to cut binge drinking in England and Wales.

The plan is likely to ban retailers from running loss leader promotions on lager, wine and alcopops.

The coalition said that it would also review alcohol taxation and pricing and strengthen licensing powers.

The British Retail Consortium said irresponsible drinking was a question of culture, rather than price.

The moves to control the price of alcohol mirror similar plans that are already before the Scottish Parliament.

Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat general election manifestos pledged to take similar steps on the price of alcohol, proposals that went further than those in Labour's document.

At the heart of the coalition's plan is a ban on selling alcohol for less than it costs the retailer to buy from the industry - a move that is directly aimed at curtailing the widespread availability of very cheap drinks on the High Street.

Major retailers regularly use "loss leader" promotions on a range of products to compete for market share.

Supermarkets, for instance, are currently preparing summer promotions of cheap lager as part of their football World Cup sales campaigns. Other examples would include heavy discounting of bulk wine sales or "buy two get one free" offers.

But health campaigners say that loss leader strategies should not be applied to alcohol because it encourages binge drinking.

Police officers frequently report that some of the young people they deal with arrive in pubs well on the way to being drunk thanks to cheap alcohol bought and consumed earlier in the evening.

Andrew Opie, food policy director of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Irresponsible alcohol consumption is not about price, it's a cultural issue.

"Below cost selling is simply not the widespread practice portrayed but we are happy to discuss this with politicians should they wish to pursue this further.

"A definition of below cost selling is a complex issue and we would want to ensure it applies sensibly and bears in mind the impact on the vast majority of consumers who buy and drink alcohol responsibly."

The policy programme also says: "We will review alcohol taxation and pricing to ensure it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries."

The former Labour government introduced 24-hour licences in an effort to modernise the system, partly based on the idea that it would prevent a build-up of tension in inner cities after pubs closed at 2300.

But within a year of the change, many police chiefs were saying that the new arrangements had simply moved trouble to later in the night. Labour then introduced a measure to allow people to lobby a local authority to rescind a licence where there was evidence of trouble.

The coalition programme says that it will go further, pledging to "overhaul the Licensing Act to give local authorities and the police much stronger powers to remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to, any premises that are causing problems".

The government says that it will also allow councils to charge more for late-night licences to pay for additional policing.

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