A spate of alcohol research briefings produced by the House of Commons Library have recently been released, suggesting continuing Government interest in alcohol's impact on society. Whilst alcohol policy is unlikely to form a significant feature of any campaigning in the forthcoming general election, an expectation of the need to tackle alcohol harms now seems further embedded amongst the general population.
The recent House of Commons Library briefings include:
Alcohol: minimum pricing
The recent Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) briefing [pdf] sets out a brief history of MUP in the UK, highlighting:
'The Government has said that MUP “remains under review pending the outcome of the legal case between the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Government, and the impact of the implementation of this policy in Scotland”.
The Coalition Government introduced a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price from 28 May 2014. This is one of the licensing conditions of the mandatory code of practice that applies to licensed premises.
The Coalition Government’s alcohol strategy (March 2012) had included a commitment to introduce MUP. A consultation (November 2012) on the strategy recommended a price of 45p per unit. The commitment was dropped in July 2013 – the then Government claimed that its analysis of consultation responses showed there was not enough “concrete evidence” that MUP would be effective in reducing the harms associated with problem drinking without penalising responsible drinkers.'
The briefing further review the details of recent policy developments, including the long-running Scottish Government's effort to implement MUP in face of successive legal challenges and appeals by sections of the alcohol industry. A final conclusion to the saga is expected this year, which should it result in implementation will be likely to increase pressure on any Government in Westminster to make commitments pending positive outcomes. Wales and Ireland meanwhile take the view the evidence is already conclusive enough and are seeking MUP irrespectively.
Alcohol taxation and the pub trade
Often tied in with MUP debates, debates over the potential for taxation as a pricing lever can be equally hard fought. A newly released briefing on taxation and the pub trade [pdf] extensively details some of the key issues including the way alcoholic drinks are taxed, Labour's introduction of a 'duty escalator' in 2008, and reported concerns in the pub trade over the impact of the policy. It further considers the Coalition Government decision to remove the duty escalator in two stages in 2013 and 2014, and the current Government's approach to the taxation of alcohol.
Indeed the growing price gap between off and on-trade sales has been charged with the shift towards home drinking and continued decline in pubs. Whilst multiple factors are likely to be at play, many are concerned that cheap off-trade sales fuel heavy drinking in unregulated environments and 'pre-loading'. A current consultation on changes to white cider may have some effect down the line, but will not address many of the broader public health concerns.
Alcohol: mandatory licensing conditions
A briefing on the mandatory licensing conditions [pdf] has also been released, detailing the amendments made to the Licensing Act intended to address 'irresponsible drinking'. A mandatory condition in 2014 introduced the controversial 'below cost ban' - an alternative price floor following the MUP u-turn, but in reality thought to affect few if any drinks on sale to the public.
Existing mandatory conditions introduced in 2010, which too may have been of questionable impact or unknowns over national levels of adherence, include:
- ban irresponsible promotions
- ensure free potable water for customers
- ensure that small measures of beers, wine and spirits are offered and that customers are made aware of them
- ensure that all those who sell or supply alcohol have an age verification policy in place requiring them to ask anyone who looks under 18 for proof of age
Children in pubs
A new briefing relating to children in pubs [pdf] sets out the various legal and policy considerations for this rather complex area. Whilst the Licensing Act includes the protection of children as one of its four main objectives, children can attend most pubs if accompanied by an adult and within certain hours. However certain other laws and circumstances exist, as well as important considerations around age checks, employment and other issues.
Alcohol: drinking in the street
A recent briefing on issues pertaining to street drinking highlights that whilst consuming alcohol in public places is not illegal per se, a range of legislation and controlled zones exist which can authorise confiscation or arrest related to public space consumption. Since their introduction, powers of confiscation, dispersals or penalty notices have been significantly utilised and are likely to have contributed to falls in arrests for drunk and disorderly or being drunk in a public place. Street drinking however remains a concern in many areas; a toolkit for 'Tackling street drinking' was released last year, intended to help 'reduce the incidents of, and burden from, street drinking and to improve the interventions provided to street drinkers themselves.'