Plans to weaken alcohol licensing laws are unnecessary and could make Britain’s drink problem worse, doctors and local councils have warned.
The Deregulation Bill, which had its first reading in the House of Lords this week, would make it easier for community groups and B&B owners to sell restricted amounts of alcohol.
But the British Medical Association has criticised the proposals, saying that excessive alcohol consumption “is continuing to destroy lives every day in the UK”.
Dr Andrew Thompson, a member of the BMA’s board of science, said: “Besides the personal damage it does, there is a serious cost to the NHS, which spends valuable, finite resources each year treating the after-effects of alcohol-related incidents and diseases.”
He added, “we do not need to be relaxing the laws on the selling of alcohol. We need a well-controlled licensing system that ensures alcohol is sold in appropriate circumstances”.
The Local Government Association commented that the plan “could be said to increase the availability and accessibility of alcohol, contributing to the high levels of alcohol-related harm that exist”.
The Director of Balance, an alcohol awareness group, said the planned licensing law changes could cause more children to be hospitalised after too much drinking.
Colin Shevills said: “If this legislation is implemented it will effectively mean that the government is encouraging more alcohol consumption rather than less.”
And Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, questioned the need for the changes.
“At a time when alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths are on the rise, we need to ask: is it sensible to encourage people to drink more?” she said.
Norman Baker, the Minister for Crime Prevention, told MPs when the Bill was debated in the Commons in May that local groups could avoid paying for an annual licence fee to sell alcohol under the scheme, and that it would increase the number of events a year at which alcohol can be sold.