- MP campaign to target availability of cut price alcohol and protect local pubs
The Government must overhaul its "ineffective and incoherent" policy on alcohol if it is to get to grips with the UK's drink problem, reduce the long term social and health impacts of alcohol, and protect the hospitality trade, said the Green MP today.
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, has tabled an Early Day Motion (1) asking the Chancellor to look at options such as minimum pricing and differential rates of VAT in order to reduce the availability of ultra low price alcohol.
The MP believes that pricing measures to prevent supermarkets from offering heavy discounts on booze would alleviate the pressure on the licensed trade and help to protect local pubs.
In a second Motion (2), Lucas also highlights a loophole which allows super strength white cider - which is often sold cheaper than bottled water - to dodge the stricter tax regime that applies to high strength beer.
The MP, who is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug and Alcohol Harm Reduction, said:
"Alcohol has become such a common feature of everyday life that it's easy to underestimate the profound impact it has on our society. But it's clear that the UK does have a drink problem - with excessive drinking being a key factor in many crimes ranging from violent disorder and antisocial behaviour, to domestic violence and sexual assault.
"The costs of alcoholism in terms of lost productivity at work, together with the bill for criminal justice and health, are a vast burden on the budgets of local authorities and on public services across the country.
"In Brighton and Hove, home to my constituency, we face an annual bill of £100 million for dealing with the impact of alcohol abuse. But while good work is being done at the local level to open up a debate on the problem - such as the Alcohol Programme Board's Big Alcohol Debate which kicked off in Brighton last week - the Government is stalling on an effective national alcohol strategy."
Caroline Lucas MP continued:
"The Motion I've put down this week directly targets the ultra low priced alcohol in supermarkets and off licenses which fuels our binge drinking culture. Pricing measures to prevent irresponsible retailers from offering heavy discounts would also reduce the pressure on the licensed trade and help to protect local pubs from closure.
"I'm also calling for super strength white cider to be brought under the same tax regime as beer, and for local authorities to be given far more control over licensing. Such moves can help reduce the long term financial burden of dealing with serious alcohol abuse - and end the misery of those whose lives are blighted by it."
1) Early day motion 2264: AFFORDABILITY AND AVAILABILITY OF ALCOHOL AND RELATED HARM: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/2264
That this House believes there is a link between alcohol-related harm and the availability and affordability of alcohol; believes that urgent action is needed to reduce the assaults, noise and ill health that results from over-consumption of alcohol; notes that the cost to the economy of lost productivity at work, together with the bill for criminal justice and health, are a vast burden on the budgets of local authorities and on public services; welcomes the Big Alcohol Debate in Brighton to address the £100 million annual bill the city currently faces from the impact of over-consumption of alcohol; supports reducing the affordability of alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets to tackle the problem of 'pre-loading' on cheap drink before a night out; further notes the Guardian newspaper investigation published on 16 February 2011 that showed that on 4000 price promotions just one of them would be affected by the Government's policy to bar selling alcohol below the rate of duty and VAT; and therefore considers Government policy ineffective and urges the Chancellor to report to Parliament on the potential for taking further steps, including the options of minimum pricing and of a differential rate of VAT, higher for the retail sector and lower for the hospitality sector, to curtail retailers ability to sell alcohol irresponsibly, whilst allowing our local pub trade to thrive.
2) Early day motion 2265: SUPER-STRENGTH WHITE CIDER: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/2265
That this House notes the announcement in the 2011 Budget that new duty rates would apply to low strength and high strength beers and that these new rates took effect from 1 October 2011; queries why the Government did not take the same action to tackle super-strength white ciders; notes that professionals working with homeless and dependent street drinkers, as well as young at-risk drinkers, have expressed concern for many years that white cider is often sold cheaper than bottled water and has a particularly damaging effect on the health and behaviour of the people they work with; is concerned that the high-strength white cider industry is benefiting from the tax breaks and low duty intended to boost the development of traditional cider apple orchards; and therefore, as a first step, calls upon the Government to apply the same tax regime to differentiate between low strength and super-strength strength ciders as it has recently done for beer.