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 871.

    840. GravityBeckons

    Try being teetotal when you live in student housing. That almost pushed me to breaking point.

    At parties, my flatmates were always trying to dilute my drinks with vodka whenever I wasn't looking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 870.

    Once pressure groups have the lever of minimum pricing available you can guarantee that every year they would be pushing for an extra 10p a unit "to save even more lives". Until eventually only people on six-figure salaries, like GPs, could afford a drink.

    Treat people like adults. Give them the information and let them make their choices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 869.

    Rather than punish all drinkers, like Salmonds Scottish Nazi Party, why not punish those who sell alcohol to young kids, remove their licences and impose huge fines, make it a big punishment that'll hit them in the pocket, the only thing they will pay attention to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 868.

    I am glad this stupid idea has been dropped. Why should 90% of us who drink responsibly be punished?

    The cost to someone drinking within the recommended guidlines would be pennies a week if anything, hardly punishment, the only people who would see a significant difference would be those drinking large quantities of low cost alcohol

  • rate this

    Comment number 867.

    This is Tyranny of the majority, plain and simple:

    There is NO right for a stranger, 100s of miles away, and outside a private transaction - to demand:
    "You must buy and sell product X for at least this price"!

    This violates our human rights of Life, Liberty and Property.

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    Reducing alcohol consumption just needs an end to supermarkets selling cheap alcohol. Put an upper limit on the floor space of any establishment wishing to sell alcohol. Not only would this exclude the huge floor space supermarkets with no licencee personally present it wold encourage the development of small off-licences where the licencee gets to know their customers and advises on consumption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 865.

    How about people being responsible and not go out planning to get drunk? Sorry, I forgot. Nobody must be held to blame or accountable for their own actions. The Government is there to fix everything and if it doesn't the evil Tories are to blame. It's the same when Labour is in. We have become such a useless nation. It's never us and it's somebody else's fault. We deserve failure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    People with serious drink issues will brew their own, price hikes won't solve anything.

  • Comment number 863.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    I am re-reading stories by Neil Munro at the moment. Interestingly he reports similar issues during the First World War. I doubt if Camoron will be any more successful than Lloyd George.

  • rate this

    Comment number 861.

    How about some figures of how much money is wasted to pay police to look after our streets, councils who have to clean up after, and hospitals that have A&E incidents when people are hurt from these yobs.
    Ban the stuff it's quite simple, that money can go on more important things like LOOKING AFTER THE OLD PEOPLE WHO BUILT THIS COUNTRY.

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.

    David Cameron - couldn't organise a p-up in a brewery!

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    No Dave , you won't deal with it.

    You deal with matters that line the pockets of your wealthy friends.

    Time for you to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 858.

    Let's face it . The Government doesn't really want people to give up / reduce alcohol intake any more than they really want people to stop smoking , there's too much revenue raised by both products .

  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    Don't punish the many hard working people who like a drink from time to time because of the actions of a very small percentage of the population that are irresponsible now and would be irresponsible no matter what the price per unit is.

    Sort out the small minority that cause the problems in towns and hospitals. Night in the cells might be a quick early stage cure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    Minimum pricing will make no difference to heavy drinkers. I know 'heavy' drinkers who when going out take £100, you can treble the price they are still going to do what they want to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    Alcohol abuse causes ill health, traffic accidents & domestic & other violence, as well as making the streets of many town centres nogoo areas for many people on weekend evenings. If you drink in moderation, you can afford to pay a little more. If this reduces alcohol consumption, we'll all benefit. Not least by not having the NHS blocked up with avoidable incidents & people unnecessarily harmed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.


    Ask a drinker what he gets from it, then ask them if they could not get that without the drink? They refuse to answer or say to be social. The usual excuse of "makes them more social" = it makes me as drunk as the others = circular peer pressure. They are just sheep following each other without thought to "why?". It's sad really :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    If alcohol was tapped freely to a standpipe outside my house I doubt I would drink any more than I do now. If currently controlled drugs were available in the supermarket I wouldn't buy them. If cigarettes were free I wouldn't start to smoke. Its about educating people to make informed choices, to respect themselves, their health, to respect the rest of society and not act in ways that harm others

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    If we assume for the sake of argument that increasing the price of alcohol can form part of a sensible approach to tackling problem drinking, we can then go on to ask how that should be done. Anyone with a grey cell functioning will realise that increasing the duty is the obvious way to achieve this. The increased revenue per unit sold would then offset any loss of revenue from reduced sales.


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