November 10, 2008 / 10:00 AM / 11 years ago

UK MPs want ban on cheap supermarket alcohol

LONDON (Reuters) - Supermarkets should be banned from selling alcohol below cost price and time called on pub “happy hours” to halt a torrent of booze-fueled violence, a parliamentary committee said on Monday.

The level of alcohol-fueled disorder at weekends is distorting police shift patterns as resources are diverted to cope, the Commons Home Affairs Committee said.

In a report on policing, the MPs blamed the availability of cheap alcohol for the level of violence on the streets and called for a minimum price for booze.

It said alcohol is 69 percent more affordable now than in 1980, while 45 percent of victims of violence said their assailants were drunk.

“The main responsibility in my view rests with the supermarkets, who compete with each other to sell alcohol at the cheapest level,” committee chairman Keith Vaz told BBC radio.

“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.”

The committee said a lack of clarity over competition law — which aims to prevent price-fixing — is impeding effective action.

“We recommend the government establish as soon as possible a legal basis for banning the use of loss-leading by supermarkets and setting a minimum price for the sale of alcohol,” the committee said.

It said most provinces in Canada, for example, set regulated minimum alcohol prices for retailers and bars.

Concerns over competition law have also led to the British Beer and Pub Association withdrawing a voluntary restriction on happy hours and cheap drink promotions, it said.

“The government should clarify whether competition law really does prevent such safeguards, if necessary by bringing a test case,” it recommended.

The Conservatives said they would cut back on 24-hour licensing, introduced by the government as part of a liberalization of drinking laws in 2005.

But Vaz said police and local authorities had told the committee that that longer drinking hours were not to blame for alcohol-led violence and disorder.

Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Steve Addison

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