David Cameron vows to end cheap alcohol sales


Dr Sarah Wollaston tells the House of Commons that "whenever alcohol is too cheap, more people die"

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David Cameron has told MPs he will "deal with" cheap alcohol being sold in supermarkets in England and Wales.

It comes after reports the government has ditched plans for 45p per unit minimum alcohol pricing.

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston called on the PM to stick to the plan, saying it would cut crime and early deaths.

Mr Cameron said the government was considering the outcome of a consultation but said sales of "20p cans of lager" had "got to change".

"There is a problem with deeply discounted alcohol in supermarkets and other stores and I am absolutely determined that we will deal with this," he told MPs.

Earlier, Labour leader Ed Miliband, who backs minimum alcohol pricing, attacked Mr Cameron over his "U-turn", asking MPs: "Is there anything he could organise in a brewery?"

The Labour leader's jibe reduced MPs, including Mr Cameron, to laughter at Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Cameron said he would like to hold a party in a brewery in his constituency to celebrate the continued presence of Ed Balls as shadow chancellor in Mr Miliband's top team.

Mr Milband replied: "He obviously couldn't tell us about his policy on alcohol, minimum unit pricing, Mr Speaker. I think the reality is he has just been over-ruled by the home secretary on this one."

'Death throes'

The PM has long supported minimum alcohol pricing but is reported to have clashed with cabinet colleagues, including Home Secretary Theresa May, whose department is responsible for the policy, Education Secretary Michael Gove and Commons leader Andrew Lansley on the issue.

Mrs May, who has been touted by some as positioning herself as a possible future Tory leader, took up a low key position in the Commons chamber - away from the front bench - during PM's questions.

Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable appeared to confirm the policy has been dropped in an interview with BBC Radio 4's You and Yours, saying it was a "good concept" he "would have liked" to have seen become law.

Mr Cable said his party was in a coalition and there would have to be compromises.

Ed Miliband: "Anything he could organise in a brewery?"

Reports that minimum pricing has been dropped have angered health campaigners and some Conservative MPs concerned about the health impact of drinking, although others have welcomed the news because they say it will avoid responsible drinkers being unfairly penalised.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said that while there had been no official confirmation the plans would be dropped, sources involved in the discussion said the policy was "in its death throes".

He said the chancellor was expected to set out the government's approach to alcohol pricing in next week's Budget.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, who backs the plan for a minimum alcohol price, told the BBC the rumoured shift was "more about politics than policy".

"I'm very disappointed to see that Theresa (May) has changed her mind on this policy," she said.

"This is about political manoeuvrings perhaps rather than actually looking at the long-term health of the nation."

The Home Office said it was considering all representations to its consultation on the measure and would report back in due course.

'Blunderbuss policy'

If a 45p unit price were to be introduced, a can of strong lager could not be sold for less than £1.56 or a bottle of wine for less than £4.22.

The department is also considering banning multi-buy promotions, such as two-for-the-price-of-one.

Minimum pricing had always seemed an odd fit. In opposition, neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems had been that vocal in calling for it.

In fact, Andrew Lansley, who was the health secretary for the first two years of this government, was opposed to it.

However, slowly but surely, it began to gather momentum. First, a 40p threshold was put forward and then - at the end of last year - 45p was proposed and consulted on.

That would have been ground-breaking. Along with Scotland, England and Wales looked set to become one of a very select band of countries to try to tackle problem drinking in this way.

Research has suggested a 45p minimum could reduce drinking by 4.3%, potentially saving 2,000 lives within a decade. This was why the idea had such strong backing from the medical profession.

But using price is a crude tool. As well as hitting problem drinkers, it would also influence those who consume alcohol in moderation. Dropping the plan may win ministers votes, but it won't make them popular with doctors.

Tory MP and ex-GP Sarah Wollaston told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she was "devastated" at reports minimum pricing would be dropped, describing problem drinking as "an absolute health crisis".

"We know that whenever alcohol is too cheap, people die," she said. "If the chancellor wants a message from me, it's that we're already paying a huge amount to clear up the cost of this - around £21bn a year just to deal with the crime, violence and medical costs of it."

She said any rise in alcohol duty would not tackle the problem of supermarkets discounting alcohol at very cheap prices, around 22p a unit, which was "causing carnage".

But fellow Conservative, former shadow home secretary David Davis described minimum pricing as a "blunderbuss policy" which would punish responsible drinkers on low incomes and pensioners.

He said there was no evidence minimum pricing worked because "alcoholics are not sensitive about the pennies". He called for more to be done to stop shops selling alcohol to under-age drinkers and make pubs deal with drunk people on their premises.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the British Medical Association, said she was surprised to hear rumours of the climbdown as she believed Mr Cameron was "quite clearly in favour of it".

She added: "[Mr Cameron must] be courageous. This is a once in lifetime opportunity to save lives and save the country money."

But the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said recent figures showed alcohol consumption was falling and there was little evidence showing that a minimum price would reduce problem drinking.

"Minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers and treat everyone who is looking for value in their shopping as a binge-drinker," said the body's chief executive Miles Beale.

Devolution has meant different strategies have been developing to tackle rising rates of problem drinking across the UK.

In addition to the 45p consultation in England and Wales, in Scotland a 50p price is set to be introduced.

Northern Ireland is yet to put forward a specific proposal, although it is reviewing pricing.

Alcohol priced at 45p per unit

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  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    1.FishOnADish "Remind me again which government introduced 24 hour drinking ? Well, my word, if it wasn’t the Labour Government."

    It wasn't actually because I moved house in 1991, driving past a pub, and remember seeing people taking advatage of it, but don't let facts get in the way of a good rant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    Miliband was correct there is nothing this government could organise in a brewery!

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Increasing prices does work. I believe this has already been demonstrated in Canada. Furthermore, since cigarette pricing was increased dramatically, smoking - particularly in the young, has decreased rapidly. Therefore as I see it, this would still be a very sensible policy.

  • Comment number 448.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    I heard Sarah Wollaston on Today this morning and was surprised to hear that implementation of these policies would mean that we would live forever. I hadn't realised that by paying more for alcohol we would be granted eternal life.
    I no longer consider this a gross violation of my social contract with the state and think a return to prohibition is called for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    I 'd say always be wary of claiming anything is "simple". There is no evidence this will do anything but affect poorer, sensible drinkers. Addicts will still drink, middle class alcoholics won't even notice. I feel the BBC has been disingenous: it seems the BMA and a tiny minority of "health campaigners". If they insist on punishing everyone they could at least actually benefit the few!

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    Its all about DC doing a quick fix when it is really about culture change and that takes a lot longer than the next two years. Open all hours, drink as much as your body will take and not locking up drunks is culture.
    My MP tells me drink costs £20B a year in problems. If he knows that, it needs some positive actions to change culture and price is not a factor. Do MPs not have the bottle ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    Ok as usual good comments and opinion is ruined by extreme points of view.
    Out pricing moderate, occasional or heavy drinkers will drive "illegal" avenues to open. Yes you can make your own and those types of offences re bootlegging will increase but no government will be able to control the enormous shift ordinary law abiders to consider illegal booze buying.
    Q who benefits from minimum prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    Someone please tell me where you can buy a can of lager for 20p. Please. They don't exist. And you can't count that supermarket own brand stuff, it's like 2% you couldn't get drunk off it if you tried.

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    Why? Why deal with cheap alcohol? This is supposedly about criminal behaviour and health. Why not leave cheap alcohol alone and deal with the reall issues????

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    Dear meddling hand wringing types, i get taxed on all the salary i earn, i then get taxed when i buy alcohol already and then pay 20% Vat as well, if I'm in a pub i pay a higher amount at the till as its a business. At no point does this stop me buying it.... leave us adults alone to do what we want with our hard earned pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    Who will stop the poor from enjoying themselves now!!! This is a travesty! blah blah bah death rates blah blah non legal drugs blah blah blah! Leave the poor alone they've got it bad enough!

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    I'm off down the Winchester 'till this all blows over, there are enough drinks & snacks to keep me going for months, and there's a real gun behind the bar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    If they realy want to do something make hopsital admission for being drunk out of your skull on a friday/saturday night not covered by the NHS. Once they've had to pay for the treatment a time or two given how expensive it would be a lot of people would become more sensible about it. And all without punishing everyone else. But no, the liberals want their pet projects based in a fantasy world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.


    If the price of a pint was put up, do you think it would stop your mate blowing all his money down the pub? Not in a million years, he just wouldn't get as drunk blowing it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    These angry health campaigners need to sit down, chill and have a nice glass of red to celebrate a common sense decision. I am sick to death of "experts" telling me what to eat or what to drink. The binge drinking culture of our young people is what needs to be altered, concentrate on that, don't penalise the majority of sensible drinkers with higher prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    It seems that the case for minimum pricing on alcohol is quite strong, personally I think they should get on with it.

    However it is ridiculous if every time the government talks about doing something then for whatever reason does not do it they get accused of a U Turn. Consultation should mean just that finding out if it is a good thing to do now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    Any talk of legislation and price increase of alcohol just smacks of heavy handedness. It like saying because we have a problem with shoplifting everyone should be followed by security guards. Go after premises that create disorder and those who clogg the A&E wards and police cells (the irresponsible who should pay for the time they waste) and leave the average responsible drinker alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    The Government needs to stop trying to control our lives by tax and pricing policies.
    Moderate drinkers may cut down a little.
    Binge drinkers will carry on as before but cut down on other expenditure to cover the price rise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    "20p cans of lager" has "got to change".

    I suggest he looks to much of Europe where that is the price. Here it is more than double that for 2.1% "value lager" that if it was 0.1% weaker would be legally a soft drink.


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