Ministers ‘save face’ over drinking laws

A plan to target binge drinking by imposing new rules on the alcohol industry is simply a ‘damage limitation’ exercise after the failure of 24-hour licensing, critics say.

The proposals from the Department of Health and the Home Office are designed to address growing problems associated with alcohol, which causes 15,000 deaths a year according to recent figures.

Ministers have drafted a new compulsory code for the drinks industry, replacing the existing voluntary one.

Under it, pubs and clubs would be banned from giving away free drinks and encouraging heavy drinking through games and events. Health warnings and clearer information about measure sizes on glasses could also become mandatory.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Although no final decision has been made, the Government’s initial belief is that the code should be revised with a view to making it mandatory in retail premises that sell alcohol.”

However, critics say that the moves are an attempt to “limit the damage” caused by the introduction of 24-hour drinking. Since the law changed, crime levels and health problems associated with alcohol have increased.

The emergency services say too much of their time is spent dealing with late-night violence fuelled by alcohol, while doctors have urged the Government to shorten opening hours.

Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said the new draft code was “an admission that the Government’s decision to recklessly unleash 24-hour drinking on our towns and cities has failed”.

According to leading article in The Sunday Times: “The government has got itself into an almighty mess over drinking.

“A naive attempt to turn Britain into a café culture has failed and ministers are desperately trying to save face.

“They won’t rescind legislation but will try to limit the damage.”