“If supermarkets are not prepared to act responsibly it is time they are forced to do so.”
Many supermarkets are selling alcohol such as spirits at such low prices – as ‘loss leaders’ – that the retail price does not even cover the cost of Duty and VAT (see attached document).
Nick Clegg revealed the proposal today in a speech at the Sheffield Alcohol Conference. It forms part of a paper on alcohol and licensing that the party’s Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Don Foster, will publish in October.
Nick Clegg said:
“It is unacceptable for retailers, especially big supermarkets, to run a coach and horses through alcohol duties in order to sell alcohol well below its cost.
“The immediate effect of below-cost alcohol is to tempt people to buy a lot more alcohol than would otherwise be the case.
“As a rule, I don’t believe governments should set prices, but when retailers are deliberately distorting the market we need to take action.
“That is why we should now look to the example of Ontario in Canada, where a socially responsible minimum price for alcohol has been successfully implemented.
“Alcohol related violence, disorder and illness is now one of the biggest problems we face. If supermarkets are not prepared to act responsibly it is time they are forced to do so.”
Pub happy hours should be banned and supermarkets stopped from selling alcohol at a loss in order to combat drink-fuelled disorder, MPs have said.
The Home Affairs select committee said reckless drinking was placing a heavy burden on police resources.
One possible solution for England and Wales, MPs said, would be legislation setting a minimum price on alcohol.
Their call comes in a report on challenges facing police forces in the 21st Century.
Scotland’s new licensing laws include powers to fix alcohol prices to stop cut-price promotions and happy hours, and ministers in Edinburgh say they might seek to set minimum prices for drink.
Ministers said they would “look carefully” at the report’s recommendations.
The report also said police faced a host of pressures, including public expectations over minor crime, rapid population change, and the number of murder suspects released on bail.
But it added that evidence showed the biggest problem faced by police forces was violence and disorder caused by excessive drinking of cheap alcohol.
It said one force had reported that its shift patterns were dictated by the need to have enough officers available to deal with the fall-out of weekend bouts of drunken disorder.
Drink-fuelled crime meant that many forces could not meet the public’s expectations of high-profile visible policing at other times, despite currently having record numbers in uniform, the report said.
Violence: 45% of victims say their attacker had been drinking
Increased police powers to tackle drunkenness were not working and powers to review or revoke premises’ alcohol licences were not being fully used, it said.
Almost half of all violent crime victims report that their attacker was under the influence of alcohol, according to official figures.
Other official figures on the cost of goods over time show alcohol has become much more affordable in the last three decades.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said retailers must end a “pile it high, sell it cheap” culture around drink.
He accused supermarkets of flouting the spirit of a voluntary code on alcohol sales.
“We cannot have, on one hand, a world of alcohol promotions for profit that fuels surges of crime and disorder and, on the other, the police diverting all their resources to cope with it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“At the moment you have a situation where so much of police time is taken up dealing with alcohol related crime.
“Happy hours lead to unhappy communities. Loss leaders in supermarkets cause real misery to city centres on a Saturday night.”
This report is right to highlight how mistaken the government has been to try to run policing through Whitehall targets, which have proved an expensive disaster
Chris Huhne, Lib Dem MP
Richard Dodd, from the British Retail Consortium, told BBC Breakfast that supermarkets were being unfairly demonised.
“Supermarkets believe in responsible drinking, too, and they do an enormous amount to achieve that, in terms of know-your-limits unit labelling and preventing underage purchases of alcohol, but there’s an awful lot of nonsense talked about this idea of below-cost selling.
“Because, if you just stop and think about it for a minute, no business could survive – let alone thrive – if it was routinely selling large amounts of product at less than it was actually paying for it.”
Do not penalise everyone who enjoys a sensible drink just because the sentencing for drunken louts is pathetic and there is no deterrent
Phil, North Wales
But Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said the sale of cheap alcohol in supermarkets was a real problem.
“By the time [young people have] gone out, they’re completely drunk, they’re much more at risk of having an accident, of being a victim of a crime and that’s causing around £7bn worth of cost to the police.”
The report said MPs remained sceptical about whether recently introduced Alcohol Disorder Zones could work.
These force pubs and clubs to contribute towards the costs of policing drink-related crime.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We know the police and the public remain concerned about alcohol-related disorder.
“We have given the police, licensing authorities and trading standards officers a range of tough powers to tackle alcohol-related disorder, including on-the-spot fines, confiscating alcohol in public places and closing down premises that flout the law.
“Alongside this, the Department of Health has commissioned an independent review on the effects of alcohol price, promotion, consumption and harm which will be published shortly.”
Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: “[The report] is a shocking indictment of Labour’s reckless approach to extended licensing and the top-down target-driven approach, which has resulted in perverse outcomes.”
He said the Conservatives would reverse Labour’s approach to 24-hour drinking, replacing it with “appropriate application at local discretion”.
“We would ensure that laws passed to deal with alcohol-fuelled disorder are actually enforced – and take robust action to prevent loss-leader sales targeted at the young.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “This report is right to highlight how mistaken the government has been to try to run policing through Whitehall targets, which have proved an expensive disaster.”
Paul McKeever of the Police Federation of England and Wales said the report recognised many challenges posed for police by “binding red tape and targets”.
He said he hoped the Home Office would use it as a wider base for review and reform than recently attempted in the Policing Green Paper.