Absolutely. The matter was flagged up by the previous Executive, and this Government will continue to move in the same direction.
The fact is that we have to change perceptions, which brings us back to Mr Whitton's point that alcohol has become no different to other products in shops. Where breaches of conditions occur, I will expect the licensing board to take tough action in determining whether the premises involved should continue to enjoy the right to sell alcohol.
At a recent meeting with a number of licensing board conveners, I re-emphasised that very point and set out our expectations with regard to tough and effective enforcement. As part of the culture change, the licensed trade must recognise that selling alcohol is a privilege, not a right. It must face up to its corporate social responsibilities and recognise that it is part of the problem, as well as being part of the solution.
Of course, moving alcohol to one part of a store will not affect how it is priced and promoted. We are all aware of the rising trend of front-loading, in which people buy a large amount of alcohol to consume at home before setting out for the pub or club. There have been many calls for meaningful action to prevent problematic off-sales promotions. We are all familiar with the multibuy offers that slash the price of alcohol to incredibly low levels and encourage people to buy incredibly large amounts. Recent promotions in which beer has cost less than water have been described as offering great value; however, in my view, they can also be described as irresponsible. Is it any wonder that people front-load when a pint can cost 43p at home but £2.50 in the pub? There has been speculation about a cut-price bonanza this Christmas to shift piles of extra stock that have been left unsold after the poor summer. That could mean prices being cut to the lowest possible levels.
Although retailers are to be congratulated for their efforts through initiatives such as challenge 21—which is increasingly becoming standard practice—I am not convinced that anything other than a regulatory approach will change for the better the promotion of alcohol.