Thursday, 13 October 2011

Getting alcohol laws right

Last weekend I did a stint working behind the bar at the Tyacks Hotel in Camborne. It was part of a project organised by the Beer and Pubs Association and it aimed to raise awareness of the issues affecting our pubs. I had a bit of a head start in that I used to occasionally do shifts behind the bar at Trevaskis Farm some years ago, although admittedly that was before the days of the sophisticated new tills that most establishments now use.

The local pub is an important part of many communities but many of them are facing difficult times with several thousand closing in recent years. We all have a role to play supporting them and there is truth in the adage that we should “use them or lose them” but we also need to get policy in this area right. There is no doubt that the smoking ban introduced by the last government did damage to many traditional pubs which sell drink rather than food. They have also been undermined by the advent of cheap alcohol sold by supermarkets.

Binge drinking and alcohol abuse is a problem but, if we are serious about tackling it then we have to start by picking the right target and it is wrong to target pubs. It is better by far to have people drinking socially and responsibly within a pub atmosphere than getting hammered on cider out on the streets. The evidence is also very clear that pubs are refusing to serve people who they believe to be underage or drunk in far greater numbers today than at any time before so they are taking their responsibilities seriously. And despite concerns about underage drinking, there is some evidence that more teenagers under 18 abstain from drinking now than was the case in the 1980’s. The problem is that some of those who do drink do so far more heavily than previous generations. It is a difficult balance to get right because introducing young people to a small glass of wine within the home over a meal on special occasions can help make them more responsible when they turn eighteen.

The truth is that serious alcohol abuse is often linked to other social problems such as social breakdown and chaotic lifestyles, so we need to start by dealing with those issues. A lot of problem drinking, including underage drinking, occurs outdoors on the streets and in the parks, so why don’t we take a tougher line on that? There have also been many studies which show that cheap alcohol sold in supermarkets has been a factor so perhaps it is time to increase duties on supermarket sales but reduce it for pubs so people can be encouraged to drink responsibly.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.