The British Medical Association has opposed government plans to relax licensing laws in order to allow charities and voluntary groups to sell small amounts of alcohol at events.
Peers are this afternoon due to debate measures in the Deregulation Bill, which includes a new clause to be added to the Licensing Act 2003 authorising the sale of alcohol when it is ancillary to a community event.
But the BMA, the professional association for UK doctors and medical students, warned that relaxing alcohol licensing laws would be wrong, given that the cost to the NHS of alcohol-related incidents was already large.
Dr Andrew Thompson, a member of the BMA’s board of science, said: "Excessive alcohol consumption is continuing to destroy lives every day in the UK. Besides the personal damage it does, there is a serious cost to the NHS, which spends valuable, finite resources each year treating the after-effects of alcohol-related incidents and diseases.
"There is nothing wrong with moderate alcohol intake, but we do not need to be relaxing the laws on the selling of alcohol. We need a well-controlled licensing system that ensures alcohol is sold in appropriate circumstances."
Speaking in parliament about the bill last month, Norman Baker, the Minister for Crime Prevention, said the changes would be made with community groups with local memberships in mind, such as charities and not-for-profit organisations, which carry out small local events throughout the year and want to sell modest amounts of alcohol at them.
"Groups such as the Women’s Institute, thriving church organisations and other local charities are not just about 'jam and Jerusalem'; sometimes they might also be about a glass of warm beer or chilled Chardonnay," Baker told MPs. "No one wants to tie them down with unnecessary bureaucracy if we can help it."
Baker said the existing options for an alcohol licence were unsuitable for these events, because a licence for single premises cost between £100 and £1,900 a year, with the additional personal licence that is required costing about £75.
He said the existing regime, which includes restricting the number of events held at one venue to 12 a year, should not apply to community organisations.