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 911.

    Increasing the price of alcohol will make no difference to youngsters or heavy drinkers. They will still buy! I can't believe MP's are so thick to think it'll stop the problem. It'll just get them more Tax! What is needed is to raise the minimum drinking age to 21 then parents will have a duty to stop their kids and also show graphic photos etc of what happens inside the body of heavy drinkers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    An unworkable and punitive idea. Unworkable because under EU law it's illegal, ref Scottish attempts to do the same thing. Punitive because it punishes sensible drinkers and I remain to be convinced it will moderate the behaviour of the minority reprobates. Restrictive licencing hours did not work so why will this idea. Very pleased to see it dropped!

  • rate this

    Comment number 909.

    Its great reading the nonsense being espoused by the non-drinking community stop selling alcohol in night clubs (you are showing your age) and charge £5 per litre. Do you want everyone on illegal drugs or your house being robbed to pay for a ridiculous tax. Go annoy your cat and leave everyone else to have a quite beer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 908.

    Will this start with the ending of the HoC subsidised bars? Nope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 907.

    It will only lead to more booze being brought in from abroad, thus loosing the government tax income- Dave when will you learn?- to collect more you need to REDUCE tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 906.

    @Monkey's Bum

    "but thankfully they're not a majority. It's the tyranny of a health-fascist minority."

    Absolutely - they're just a tiny, miserable minority of puritans & Health Nazis haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere is enjoying themselves.

    The popular majority should put them back in their place by systematically sacking them all from their positions in the NHS, BBC and civil service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 905.

    We are both responsible drinkers as the majority of us are.We therefore welcome this news. Everything you touch is going up in price.Drink is costly enough without creating a minimum alcohol price. The irresponsible drinkers will purchase the booze whatever it costs as they would rather drink than eat! I do not think the majority of us should suffer because of the minority. Find another way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 904.

    @ 892

    bang on mate. these benefit types blow all the money we give them on booze, fags and lottery tickets. and they dont appreciate it....

    btw i dont thnk it will hit senseible drinkers pockets, i think most normal people who drink are paying above the min level anyway, its only the scroungers who buy super cheap that will be hit - not that they will care, its not their money anyway

  • rate this

    Comment number 903.

    David Cameron is an idiot and very out of touch with the British public...

    Why is he still in power? Cant we call a vote of no confidence or something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    Minimum unit pricing is unfair. I have sufficient means that I can happily go on getting drunk on Champagne, fine wine & cognac costing up to £10 per unit, while the less well off will see the the price of their cheap booze shooting up. Are only the rich allowed to get drunk?

    Also, I worry about people turning to crime to fund their drinking just as drug addicts have done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    Shows how stupid and gullible this government and all politicians have become.

    This will not deter the hardened Drinker, nor will it reduce alcohol consumption one little bit, all it will do is increase the burden on the poor and rich alike by increasing the price by an amount that will not deter anyone.

    Besides, whos going to cream off the extra money and it's extra tax ??


  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    I rarely drink nowadays but when I do it's always good wine, cask ales, or bottle real ale, I do it for the taste not to et waster.

    Why should I have to start paying more because of the idiots who drink far too much week in week out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 899.

    If it was left to us, the HYS mob, (because we’re so sensible, moderate etc) then:-
    Seat belts wouldn't be compulsory
    Drink driving laws wouldn’t be necessary
    Smoke allowed everywhere.
    Helmets only discretionary, for motor cyclists.
    What a happy world it would be!

  • rate this

    Comment number 898.

    This government (well all really) are not going to be happy until they have a council working in my bathroom waiting to wipe my bottom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 897.

    Dave will "deal with it"....

    I suppose that will mean 50p on a pint next week, and £2 on a bottle of spirits.

    Whatever the problem, this Government thinks tax is the answer, but the Nanny state will not stop me from having a drink under my own roof - as a responsible drinker I am no trouble to anybody.

  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    Biased BBC coverage again. 3rd article so called angry public want minimum pricing.

    3rd time absolutely wrong. Majority suffering again

    The guy who wrote this is pandering to his own editor or his agenda. Not the publics.

    Raising the price is the most illogical way to fix the problem. For example, you don't see junkies quitting on account of the price. They starve their families and rob people

  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    Believe it or not, this isn't the first time the socialists of the medical profession have called for restrictions on your civil liberties.

    Dr Sarah Wollaston MP's ilk actually called for a ban on kitchen knives based on the same reasoning. I kid you not:

    I can't believe we let these idiots into the pantry.

    876. Monkeys Bum

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    "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."

    Cameron might like to hold the party but we all know he isn't even capable of organising that himself. He wasn't even able to make a relevant joke or comment about cheap alcohol in reply.

    No wonder he needs Twitter bans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    The thing is, it's not 'cheap' alcohol. Go to most other European supermarkets/shops and the price of wine is cheaper than we pay. It's just another tax for the hard working British people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

    Why do the Government want to penalise the vast majority of sensible drinkers? Why do the Government/taxpayers continue to subsidise problem drinkers via benefits? Take a survey of heavy/problem drinkers and 50% will be on benefits.


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