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 1251.

    I agree with most,increasing the pricing will not change anything. Many people that consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol do so becuase of social probems they are experiencing.We need to aim sevrices at the root root of these problems! Also, it will cause some black market to emerge where other more dangours products may be consumed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1250.

    I'd like to volunteer to help him deal with all that cheap alcohol, would it help if I took a couple of bottles of shiraz a week off you Dave?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1249.

    Finally a tiny bit of sense shown by the goverment, increasing prices didn't help in Sweden. NHS costs would have gone up with the true alcholics who found they couldn't afford it going to either counterfit booze with meths in it or violently mugging ppl to get their fix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1248.

    ..Provided you have a certain level of income and education. Everybody knows that poor people can't be trusted.

    I think you have got that the wrong way round. As someone said earlier, Cameron Osborne & Johnson etc all had the best education money can buy but I wouldn't trust any of them any further than I could throw them. They have got no idea of the real world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1247.

    If you really want to control unhealthy drinking (and not affect light/social drinkers at all) just ration it! 21 units a week and no more. Ration cards could have your electronic fingerprint so you cant borrow a mate's.
    But this idea will go down like a lead balloon..!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1246.

    Cheap beer for all

  • Comment number 1245.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1244.

    There is no need for price control,just apply the laws which are already in place,eg drunk & disorderly, drunk and incapable,supplying alcohol to intoxicated people, supplying alcohol to under age people. Back this up with substantial fines or incarceration, not just a slap on the wrist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1243.

    @ 1235, that's simply not true. The tax receipts from tobacco come nowhere close to covering the healthcare costs. Yes, they are as entitled to free healthcare as anyone else, of course they are, but the point I'm making is that people's lifestyle choices affect more than just the individual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1242.

    Have you seen how cheap those really high quality home brew still equipment kits are on the internet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1241.

    Cammy has'nt worked this one out yet. DERRR if I put the price of alcohol up any more, people will smuggle even more of it over here from the Continent in duty free and I will lose even more of my nice fat cat profits on the duty. People are getting fed up with being ripped off and will do any thing they can to avoid it happening to them GET WISE Cammy and leave our few little pleasures alone.eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1240.

    Just now

    1177. Laud Sprowston

    "Surely everybody by now must realise that Cameron,Osborn,Smith,Clark and Co would not make a half wit between them.
    add in Miliband,Balls,Cooper, Clegg, Cable et al, if brains were made out of chocolate they wouldn't have enough to fill a smartie.""

    So now you seem to have cottoned that they are actualy the same, any ideas for real change ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1239.

    I'll Drink to that ;)

    On a more serious note a minimum price was never going to solve the issue. Its a culture problem. When I was in school (Not to long ago, Im 22) The teachers would tell us Alcohol and Cigirettes were the ultimate evil so kids would go out to drink and smoke as much as possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1238.

    Ok hang on so 45p per unit, theres around 2 units in a normal strength pint of beer, so is this really going to affect anything other than superstrength drinks anyway? I'd happily pay 90p for a pint!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1237.

    Make soft drinks cheaper for a start!! When i go out for an evening i am often not bothered about drinking wine or a beer. Yet i end up buying them as the price of soft drinks is so high...and for lot less!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1236.

    Does anyone know where a can of lager can be bought for 20p? Do tell

  • rate this

    Comment number 1235.

    This modest proposal probably will not affect any occasional drinker as the kind of drinks they enjoy are already likely to be well above the new minimum price.

    It may affect younger heavy drinkers and is worth a try. It is hard to see it doing any real harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1234.


    "it is the NHS and taxpayers who have to foot the bill"

    Excise and VAT on Alcohol & Tobacco alone pays for the health treatment of drinkers & smokers (& others) many times over not including the Income Tax & NI that is supposed to entitle them to free NHS treatment anyway.

    We pay for ourselves & die early saving the Nation a fortune in expensive future treatment or pension payouts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1233.

    @1226. Tomtwist
    Supermarkets in America can't sell liquor, it doesn't stop people getting drunk (nor does 21 year age limit etc etc )
    What difference do you think banning supermarket sales will make - just allow specialist shops to profit from no competition. It would be stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1232.

    First, the medical mafiosi think their job is to dictate what citizens are allowed to do; second, the political mafiosi think their job is to tell the electorate what to do, rather than do what the electorate tells them to do. Sort it out and we might have a better country, where things are not run on the basis of vested minority interests, eg: greedy bankers, cheating, lying politicians, etc


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