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Draft mandatory code of practice is revealed

Published:  09 October, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: By Shirley Webb 

The Government has given the strongest indication yet that it is considering a mandatory code of practice for the whole drinks trade in a bid to curb what it perceives to be a binge-drinking culture. TextEXCLUSIVE: By Shirley Webb

The Government has given the strongest indication yet that it is considering a mandatory code of practice for the whole drinks trade in a bid to curb what it perceives to be a binge-drinking culture.

Harpers has seen a confidential Home Office draft code, which has been circulated to health officials and drink companies to encourage response to consultation on the next stage of the Government's national alcohol strategy, which ends on Tuesday.

The 26-page document indicates tough new legislation placing restrictions on the packaging, promotion and sale of alcohol. It also includes a raft of mandatory and targeted conditions on what should be included on the labels of alcoholic drinks.

The conditions outlined would become either "mandatory licence  conditions" or "standalone criminal offences".

The draft also indicates that a central regulation authority - possibly the Food Standards Agency - will take control of the code, with trading standards officers and the police monitoring and enforcing it on the ground.

In addition to the code, new laws concerning price and promotions are likely to be outlined in a Health Bill due out in the autumn of 2009. The subject of promotions falls outside the remit of the Licensing Act 2003, under which part of the code will be introduced.

If enacted, the code would make the Portman Group's voluntary code of practice redundant and could lead to the group's demise, industry sources have indicted.

A Portman Group spokesman denied the speculation: "The Government has praised our code and we will be arguing there is no public interest in duplicating something that works."

Tell your MP what you think of the proposed legislation by writing an open letter to your MP. Find out more and download our template letter here.

A new policy paper due to be released by Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, next month, is also expected to back the Government's proposal for a mandatory code and curb on prices and promotions.

Key points:

Retailers must display the sensible drinking message statement at point of sale

A ban on promotions that offer free drinks

Labelling must include: the sensible drinking message; a the number of units contained in the drink; and the chief medical officers recommended guidance on consumption

Retailers must ask for proof of age if buyers look under 21.

This article has been taken from this week's issue of Harpers magazine, which is available by subscription only. To subsribe to Harpers, please click here.

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