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Retailers face stricter enforcement on alcohol sales

Published:  23 July, 2008

The government's review of the Licensing Act will mean retailers face a "two-strikes-and-you're-out" approach if they are caught selling alcohol to under-age teenagers.

Andy Burnham, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, also plans to beef up the action police can take against rowdy drinkers in public places, which would see the extension of Acceptable Behaviour Contracts for young people caught drinking in public.

Burnham's review of the Licensing Act, introduced in 2005, says the new liberal laws have not led to the widespread problems some critics feared.

Overall, crime and alcohol consumption are down, but alcohol-related problems have risen in the 3am to 6am period.

He said the powers to tackle problems were included within the Act, but some authorities do not enforce them and "crack down on irresponsible behaviour".

Action by the government will be mainly targeted at the pub and bar trade, but the off-trade has also been warned about its future behaviour.

"We will change the offence of persistently selling alcohol to a person under 18' from three strikes' to two strikes' in three months. This means that any seller who twice sells to under-age drinkers and is caught doing so will immediately lose their licence," Burnham said.

Licensees who breach their licensing conditions are also faced with either a "yellow card" warning or a "straight red" - when their licence would be withdrawn.

The fine for anyone not obeying an instruction to stop drinking is being increased from 500 to 2,500, a move that could impact on crowds of youngsters hanging around retail outlets.

Burnham said the government was even prepared to change the law if necessary to make it possible to disperse anti-social drinkers.

Young people caught drinking and issued with Acceptable Behaviour Contracts would also be required to attend a session with a trained worker, along with their parents.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has welcomed the findings of the review.

WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles said: "We welcome the government's recognition that 24-hour licensing has had a largely positive impact. The review is a balanced assessment of a policy that has given the vast majority of us a freedom enjoyed elsewhere in Europe for years.

"As an industry we're committed to playing our part in addressing what is a cultural issue and we will continue to work with government to encourage responsible drinking," he said.

"The Licensing Act gives police and local authorities a wide range of powers to deal with alcohol misuse. Let's make effective use of them to tackle problems where they arise."