European competition laws could provide an excuse for thousands of pubs to continue running irresponsible drinks promotions.
With doctors warning that binge drinking was leading to a ‘tsunami of harm’, the Beer and Pub Association had agreed to run a scheme where pubs would voluntarily limit their cheap alcohol offers.
But Ministers have reportedly spotted a clash with European laws banning businesses from entering into ‘anti-competitive agreements’, which could leave those pubs involved liable to legal action.
Conservative spokesman Jeremy Hunt said: “Large parts of the industry want to act responsibly and the Government should be helping them, not getting in their way.”
However, campaigners blamed the drinks industry. Frank Soodeen of Alcohol Concern said: “Recent developments make it quite clear that the trade’s commitment to responsible drinking can often be described as superficial at best.
“Successive reports have shown quite clearly that around the country a culture of complacency has set in, as voluntary codes have been shown to have no teeth.
“As we move towards the autumn, we hope that government will stand up its promise to introduce more robust regulation.”
The introduction of all-day drinking licences has been widely deemed a failure, with the promised continental-style café culture unrecognisable in police and council reports of late-night, alcohol-fuelled violence.
Last week, doctors urged the Government to take action on binge drinking in the light of alarming levels of alcohol-related health problems.
Professor Ian Gilmore of the Royal College of Physicians warned: “The Government are understandably anxious about being seen as a nanny state, but unless they take action their own figures suggest we are moving towards a tsunami of health-related harm.”