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 471.

    Instead of blaming the drinks industry or the supermarkets for people drinking to much, make people responsible for their own actions. Also, stop trying to use this as an excuse to introduce another stealth tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    This is the stupidest proposed law I've heard for a while.

    We should have a law limiting the number of numbskulls we allow to make laws over us. Clearly when they congregate in large number we get geniuses, like Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, trying to punish you for no crime on your behalf.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    As Homer* said:

    Ah, alcohol, the cause of and the solution to all life's problems.

    *Homer Simpson, not to be confused with some old Greek bloke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    Do the maths. Few people will even notice this measure. Do "responsible drinkers" ever even buy, for instance, a wine bottle for under £4.22?

    The only brands which will see (still small) price increases are cheap Lambrini, White Lightning, Special Brew, etc, types. And I don't suspect they are often "responsibly consumed"

    I for one will be please to see drinkers help pay for the cost the incur.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    There are some who use alcohol and some who abuse it.
    Knowing the difference is down to the individual and not the Govt.

    NHS should bill alcohol related admissions at the weekends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    400 - OMG indeed.How many people die in ten years for weight related problems.I think the government should introduce a minimum price for any item of food of £5.Nobody would be able to afford much food,we would all be much healthier and fewer people would die.QED

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    It's OK Miliband and the Labour Party jibing at Cameron over booze and peoples health.
    Who was it that opened the pub doors 24 hours a day. One of the biggest disasters to be inflicted on the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    I am heartily sick of doctors & governments espousing what is good for us & what is not. Probably the biggest problem the UK faces is an ever ageing population, resulting in unaffordable pensions & massive health issues. It strikes me that the endless quest to increase longevity should cease. Smoking & drinking are pleasures which these ghastly do-gooders want to end. I say leave well alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    1 Hour ago
    "The government should be banning alcohol altogether, and bringing Religious Education back, to stop the youth from getting out of control. Another embarrassing step down from Blair & his dreadful lot"

    Have you slept through the last 3 years then? Anyway what has religion got to do with anything? Being religious doesn't stop anyone being out of control!

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    Why cant they just mind their own business?

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    I may be a single male , fair , fat and 40 , but i dont drink or smoke.

    Drinking causes more problems for this country then overweight.
    I was never overweight upto my 30s when i dropped rugby and hockey.

    And overweight people will save the gov a fortune as they wont live to claim their pension. Besides the fact if i tried to drink the pints somepoeple do, i will be going to the bog alot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    It would be another tax on the poor. Those that say otherwise clearly have a healthier disposable income than many. .. 'A few extra pounds a week, that's nothing'. Well bully for you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    If the government is worried about the effects on its revenues it should impose a flat rate tax (eg, 25p per unit of alcohol) which, like a Minimum Price (and unlike an increase in % taxes), would have a greater effect at the bottom end of the price range. Alcohol would be less affordable for teenagers, but with the government getting the benefit (not, as with a minimum price, producers).

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    I know - why doesn't the government try something really novel and innovative - Stop deliberating and just try it for a period of time to see if it works!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    I am a social drinker. I often go weeks without a drink. Why should I be penalised for others flaws. I want an inexpensive drink. I am glad this didn't go through.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    Minimum pricing will not help problem drinkers who will find the money regardless. It will hit the poor who enjoy a budget drink occasionally. We already pay a lot for alcohol in UK. My favourite lager is 89p. Over in France the identical can costs 34p with comparable drinking habits price cannot be the whole story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    Why was the problem 'un-dealt' with in the first place?
    Surely we just have to re-enforce existing laws; i.e. shops, pubs & clubs loose their alcohol license if they sell drink to under-age people or to anyone already drunk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    Doctors wanted to introduce this as they feel it will help reduce the negative impact alcohol has on the nations health. MPs agreed.

    Industry did not like this. MPs agreed.

    In politics, he who speaks first loses

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    Shame on Cameron, and worse shame on May.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    Well done, they have listened...to the people this time.. not silly pompous Doctors who strut about like later day Gauleiters, a lot of whom give the impression they would struggle to diagnose an ingrowing toe nail!! It also stops the re introduction of the smugglers from Calais which make no mistake was a cover for drug smuggling which swamped Customs..Well done for once Mr Cameron


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