Wales

Minister seeks control of alcohol licensing in Wales

Ministers in Wales could take charge of rules surrounding alcohol sales, including minimum price, licensing hours and advertising.

The Welsh Assembly Government has confirmed that Health Minister Edwina Hart wants to "take control and take action" over alcohol.

She will ask cabinet colleagues to request that the Licensing Act 2003 is devolved in Wales by the UK government.

The SNP, which wants similar powers in Scotland, has welcomed the move.

Mrs Hart has previously indicated that she would seek powers to act over alcohol if the UK government did not do the same soon.

According to a report by Public Health Wales, alcohol has a "substantial impact on health" in Wales.

The report said there was "particular concern" about drinking among young people and children, with 23% of boys and 20% of girls drinking at least once a week.

It also found that 4.3% of all male deaths in Wales were "alcohol-attributable".

An assembly government spokesperson said: "While we are investing in education and prevention, the main levers to tackle binge drinking and alcohol misuse remain with the UK government through the power to legislate on price, licensing and advertising.

"Health Minister Edwina Hart welcomes the UK government's indication that it is going to take action on these issues, but believes it is now time for Wales to take control and take action in this area.

"She has therefore written to cabinet colleagues seeking their agreement to request the devolution of powers in the Licensing Act 2003 to regulate the sale of alcohol.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further until the cabinet has made a decision."

Earlier this week, Prime Minister David Cameron backed a crackdown on the sale of alcohol at "below-cost" prices, and supported proposals by 10 councils in Greater Manchester for minimum prices, with each unit costing at least 50p.

Low-income families

Both the House of Commons health select committee and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence support minimum pricing.

But UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has voiced doubts on the grounds that it punishes low-income families.

The Department of Health said the government was committed to taking tough action over problem drinking but said demand and attitudes were also crucial factors, in addition to supply and price.

In June the Conservatives and Labour joined forces in the Scottish Parliament to back an amendment calling for minimum pricing plans to be struck from the SNP's Alcohol Bill.

Opponents of minimum pricing in Scotland disputed claims there was "overwhelming evidence" in favour, and said the case had not been made.

SNP MSP Michael Matheson, a member of the Scottish Parliament's health committee, said: "The coalition in favour of minimum pricing as an effective approach to tackling the worst damage done by alcohol abuse is growing by the day.

"The Welsh Assembly Government joins a chorus of expert voices in health, public order and the licensed trade who believe that the selling of alcohol at rock-bottom prices is one of the biggest problems facing our society and that we have to take action to stop it now."

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