The Health Committee said it does not believe that participation in the Responsibility Deal, which involves a series of pledges such as providing more alcohol unit information and reducing the strength of drinks, should be optional. It backed minimum pricing but called for a greater evidence base ahead of its implementation and a sunset clause on the measure.
The Committee was responding to the Government’s Alcohol Strategy, released in March, which called for measures such as minimum pricing and improved powers to stop sales to drunks, and gave support to the Responsibility Deal.
The Health Committee report said: “The Committee does not believe that participation by the alcohol industry in the Responsibility Deal should be regarded by anyone as optional – we regard it as intrinsic to responsible corporate citizenship.
“We do not believe that reducing the alcohol in some lagers from 5% to 4.8%, for example, will have any significant impact. If the industry does not bring forward more substantial proposals than this it risks being seen as paying only lip service to the need to reduce the health harms caused by alcohol.”
Committee chairman Stephen Dorrell MP said the industry is doing the bare minimum. He added: “We don’t think the industry has a sufficiently well-developed sense of what it needs to trade responsibly.”
The report said the alcohol industry needs to acknowledge that its advertising messages do have an effect on attitudes to alcohol and on consumption if it wishes to be seen as a serious committed partner in the Responsibility Deal.
“The challenge to the industry is to stop explaining that advertising does not have an effect on broader market perceptions of alcohol,” explained Dorrell. “It clearly does. If advertising doesn’t create a positive impression around a brand, why is the shareholder spending money on the advertising?”
The Committee recommended that Public Health England, acting independently of the Government, should evaluate the effectiveness of the Responsibility Deal.
The Committee supported minimum pricing but said it recognises that there is little evidence about the effects of different price levels. It calls on the Government to build its case for the policy by establishing direct links between pricing and alcohol harm.
Dorrell said: “The Committee supports the decision to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, but the Government needs to recognise that setting the price is not a one-off event. A transparent process must be put in place in order to ensure that the price level is evidence-based and is monitored over time to assess its effectiveness.
“We also recommend that there should be a ‘sunset clause’ on the implementation of a minimum price so that it only remains in place if it is shown to be effective in reducing harmful drinking.”
Portman Group chief executive Henry Ashworth said: “Whilst we are pleased the Committee commends the Responsibility Deal approach, it is deeply disappointing that they have failed to understand the significance of the innovative unit reduction pledge, supported by all major producers, retailers, and leading wholesalers who have committed to lower the alcohol content of leading brands, and introduce new ranges of lower alcohol products.”
Wine and Spirit Trade Association chief executive Miles Beale said: “It is premature to pre-judge the impact of voluntary commitments made as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal when the evidence suggests the industry is making good progress towards fulfilling the voluntary labelling initiative and significantly reducing the quantity of alcohol units sold through the UK market.”
Strategic affairs director for the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), Kate Nicholls, said: "We are pleased that politicians of all parties have now finally woken up to the fact that it is the plethora of pocket money priced alcohol promotions which are the real problem.
"With 70% of alcohol now bought and consumed at home, and widespread loss leading, punitive measures against pubs and bars are not delivering either Government’s public policy objectives on health and crime and disorder.
"We are disappointed, therefore, that the Committee has not taken the opportunity to press for a wider balanced package of measures to tackle unregulated supermarket sales.
"What we need is not only measures to make it more expensive to drink at home, but also action to remove the horrendous regulatory and tax burdens which are crippling the pub and literally pricing many out of the market."
BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “In broad terms, this is a balanced report. The Committee is right to stress the importance of evidence based policy making, and the Government should garner more evidence before proceeding with a minimum pricing policy and a proposed ban on multibuys.
“There are some issues on which we differ from the committee, but there is a mutual recognition of the need for partnership between Government, producers and retailers – and with local authorities and the police at the local level. In recent years, we’ve seen total alcohol consumption falling, and binge drinking is also down. Measures aimed at those who need help with alcohol misuse, rather than at the population as a whole, will deliver the best results.”