Minister warns of crackdown

04 April, 2008

Culture boss accused of sabre-rattling over drinks discounts and promotions

Graham Holter

Shops could be forced to avoid certain types of discounts and promotions to comply with licensing conditions, according to culture secretary Andy Burnham.

In a

statement assessing the progress achieved as a result of the Licensing Act, Burnham said: "The real cost of alcohol has fallen to historically low levels and there is already an emerging consensus that more needs to be done to tackle irresponsible promotions and deep discounting that can lead to antisocial behaviour.

"The government will begin immediate work with the licensing authorities and retailers, including the development of new codes on responsible sales and promotions which might be considered as a condition of an alcohol licence."

Bargain Booze joint managing director Matthew Hughes said such conditions would be anti-competitive, adding that "if that occurs in practice my view is that most retailers would challenge each instance using competition law as a defence".

Where magistrates upheld the licensing authority's stance, Hughes said a judicial review would be the next step. "The problem is that if smaller retailers who do not have the protection of a larger group get caught out with conditions like this being imposed on their licence, they may not have the financial wherewithal to defend their position robustly."

OLN legal editor Peter Coulson accused Burnham of sabre-rattling without understanding the legal position.

"You can only impose conditions which are relevant to the licensing objectives and during a review of the licence - and you've got to have a reason to review the licence," he said. "You can't just say 'we think these offers and promotions are rotten so we're going to stop them'."

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