Norwich pub landlords call for fairness in binge drink crackdown

Tracey GrayPub landlords in Norwich today welcomed measures to tackle binge-drinking, but insisted a wider focus was needed to tackle the issue of cheap alcohol being sold by shops.Tracey Gray

Pub landlords in Norwich today welcomed measures to tackle binge-drinking, but insisted a wider focus was needed to tackle the issue of cheap alcohol being sold by shops.

The government has announced plans to bring in, from April, a new mandatory code to ban promotions such as 'all-you-can-drink offers and speed-drinking contests.

The code also includes forcing bar staff and retailers required to demand proof of age of anyone who looks under 21 and offer wine in small 125ml glasses, as well as the more common 250ml measure, and provide free tap water.

Any licensees flouting the laws could be faced with a �20,000 fine or six months in jail.

Pub landlords in Norwich have said they welcomed any moves to stop under-age drinking, but were worried what problems banning drinks promotions could bring, and asked for the government to ensure supermarkets that sell cheap drink were also targeted.

Phil Cutter, who runs The Gardeners Arms and The Murderers, in Timberhill, Norwich, said: 'We already have the Norwich City Centre Licensing Forum operating in the city, which has its own challenge 21 scheme that advocates checking people's ages.

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'Anything that promotes stopping under-age drinking can only be good in my eyes.

'In our pub we do promote having a sensible attitude to drinking, so if we are selling higher volumes of alcohol, they would be higher priced.

But he added: 'Pubs have to have these drink promotions to entice in customers, especially with the way things are for the pub trade at the moment.'

The code does not include a ban on supermarket bulk buys and also avoids an outright end to 'happy hours' where drinks are sold cheaply for a certain period of time.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has said that focusing only minimum-pricing of alcohol would not solve the problem of binge-drinking.

Instead, local authorities will have wider powers from the end of this month to impose a ban on happy hours in individual pubs.

At a meeting of Norwich City Council on Tuesday , liberal democrat councillor Judith Lubbock is to put forward a motion asking the council to write to Mr Johnson to endorse proposals for a minimum price for alcohol sold in Norwich.

The motion also asks Norwich Licensing Committee to consider, along with Norfolk Trading Standards, to develop a strategy in the city for dealing with irresponsible drinks promotions by licensed premises and shops selling alcohol (including supermarkets).

Nick De'Ath , who runs The Lawyer and the Unthank Arms in the city and is vice-chair of the Norwich City Licensing Forum, said: 'Under-age drinking needs to be looked at, but I do not think it is the pubs where these people are buying the drinks from; it is the supermarkets.

'I am totally against cheap promotional deals, but as well as being against irresponsible licensing, they should be against irresponsible retailing and pricing by supermarkets.'

The British Beer and Pub Association said it had been asking for legislation to crack down on irresponsible promotions in both pubs and supermarkets.

But spokesman Mark Hastings said: 'What with 70pc of all alcohol sold through supermarkets and widespread concern about their promotional prices, the measures announced by the Home Office seem lopsided and unbalanced.'

Parliament will debate the code within the next few weeks, but the measures dealing with irresponsible drinking and making tap water available will come into effect in April, before the general election.

Measures on age verification and ensuring that smaller measures are available to customers will come into force on October 1.

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