Over the weekend there was renewed discussion of what the Conservative Party might do about Britain’s ‘drink problem’. Speaking on Andrew Marr’s Sunday AM programme, Shadow Home Secretary David Davis agreed that price was definitely a factor in binge drinking but he preferred shops and landlords exercising social responsibility rather than a political rush to use tax as a solution. Iain Duncan Smith’s social justice policy group called for higher alcohol tax last year as a way of discouraging consumption and for funding more treatment of people with addiction problems. The relative price of alcohol has declined markedly over recent years but the idea was unpopular with Tory members and the right-wing media.
This morning’s Sun highlights voluntary arrangements between Westminster council and certain supermarkets and off licences to tackle the problem of street drinking.
Tesco, Waitrose, Budgens, Londis and Threshers are among the stores to have voluntarily agreed to stop stocking super strength lager and cider drinks (including Carlsberg Special Brew, Tennants Extra and Diamond White) in certain parts of the borough where there have been problems with street drinkers plus associated problems with drug dealing, begging and street urination.
Councillor Audrey Lewis, Cabinet Member for Community Protection and Licensing, said:
“We need to address the very real social problems which alcohol causes and contributes to, and we have found supermarkets and off-licences are increasingly prepared to join us in taking firm action to help their local community. They are willing to do this if they know that their competitors will be doing the same. Cheap, super-strength alcohol is aimed at alcoholics, drug users and some of the most vulnerable and needy members of society. This scheme has drastically reduced the number of street drinkers in these areas, and while it is by no means a panacea, it is a valuable common sense tool local authorities can use to help tackle not just street drinking itself, but also help improve the quality of life for all residents and visitors. Westminster is not alone in having to deal with the effects of the indiscrimate sale of alcohol, which blights towns and cities around the country. There is no reason why this scheme can not be rolled out to areas with the greatest need, and I would expect supermarkets to want to play their part.”
Sir Simon Milton, the leader of Westminster City Council, and also Chair of the Local Government Association, said:
"We should be treating the sale of alcohol in the same way we treat tobacco with all the relevant pricing restraints and health warnings. The Government needs to get a proper handle on this and come up with a robust national policy to deal what is a rapidly growing problem. It is also high time for the drinks industry to accept its own moral obligations. Tesco has already added its voice to calls for tighter legislation around the sale of alcohol and now is an opportune time for the Government to heed these calls that we, and people in the industry, are making.”
A press statement from Westminster Council also notes: "As well as the voluntary restrictions on the sale of strong lagers and ciders, Westminster Council uses group dispersal zones under the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003 to break up groups of people in public places. It also enforces a borough wide Controlled Drinking Zone and actively confiscates alcohol from street drinkers."
Good thoughts btw from John Redwood’s blog on this subject. Here’s an extract from his post of yesterday:
"If people want to drink in public places, there does need to be some regulation, as we need to think of the neighbours and the town centre dwellers who will be affected if things get out of control. I don’t think putting the hours of the pubs back to what they were would abolish the problem of drunkenness in towns, but nor can we say the changes to the hours has done what it said on the tin. Controlling drunken and rowdy behaviour will take much more patient work and effort by many who care about society. It is only when many more people get pleasure from other ways of life that they might wish to curb their own drunken excess. If your sense of pleasure is to get plastered once or twice a week, only to have to suffer the after effects that night and the next day, then there is much missing in your life."