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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 05:00 GMT 06:00 UK
MPs call for minimum drink prices
Person drinking beer
Binge-drinking costs the UK 20bn a year, the government says
Councils should be able to use their powers to set minimum prices for alcoholic drinks in bars to help cut anti-social behaviour, MPs have said.

The home affairs select committee wants to end cheap drinks promotions thought to encourage binge-drinking.

The government estimates binge-drinking costs Britain about 20bn a year and MPs want pubs to pay more towards policing drink-fuelled disorder.

But pub industry groups said setting minimum drink prices would be illegal.

Planning 'needed'

Home affairs committee chairman John Denham said: "The attention on 24-hour licensing misses the point - problems of disorder are occurring now.

"The underlying problem is of too many people drinking heavily in small geographical areas."

The Office of Fair Trading has consistently stated that price fixing or minimum pricing is prohibited under UK and European law
Mark Hastings
British Beer and Pub Association

He said longer term policy should be on proper city planning "with diverse activities supported by adequate transport and other facilities".

The Home Office responded by saying it recognised "alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder is much too high".

It said it was looking into a wide range of measures to combat the problem and that the committee's recommendations would be taken into consideration.

'Other difficulties'

The committee's report said there was "no clear-cut evidence" on whether round-the-clock drinking introduced by the government would reduce the number of alcohol-related problems.

Differing closing times may reduce some problems but may cause other difficulties for the police, it said.

"The changes may make it more difficult for the police... to predict where and when officers need to be deployed," it said.

Drunk man
Councils should be able to prevent high concentrations of pubs

Crime and Society Foundation director Richard Garside said the report showed "evidence about anti-social behaviour is thin and the effectiveness of government strategies is unproven".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten described the effects of Friday and Saturday night binge-drinking as "unacceptable".

"Big night-time venues should make an up-front contribution to the costs of maintaining public safety," he said.

But Mark Hastings of the British Beer and Pub Association, which represents over half the pubs in the UK, rejected the proposal for minimum alcohol prices, saying such a move would be illegal.

"The Office of Fair Trading has consistently stated that price fixing or minimum pricing is prohibited under UK and European law," he said.

Education programme

Chief Police Officers president Chris Fox said providing transport and toilet facilities in pub and bar areas was essential.

"They should also be investing in a public education programme to help change the binge-drinking culture that exists," he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY
There should be a reduction in the price of soft drinks in pub
Fiona, Derby

On other types of anti-social behaviour, the MPs committee said Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) were working.

But it said moves should be taken to reduce the 42% which are currently broken.

Parenting orders - which demand mothers and fathers learn how to cope with rebel children - often were effective but were "under-used", it added.

The committee recommended help should be given to parents before situations reached crisis point.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the drunken scenes MPs want to prevent



SEE ALSO:
All-day drink licences available
07 Feb 05 |  UK Election 2005
Church concern over alcohol abuse
25 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland


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