Minimum alcohol pricing plan 'to be dropped'

image captionScotland is still pressing ahead with minimum alcohol pricing

The government is set to abandon plans for minimum alcohol pricing in England and Wales, it has emerged.

A Home Office consultation on minimum alcohol proposals, which had been backed by David Cameron, ended in February.

However retailers are likely to be banned from selling alcohol in very low "loss leader" deals,

It comes as the government said proposals for plain cigarette packaging would be put on hold.

An official announcement on alcohol policy is expected in the next few days.

It had been argued that minimum pricing would help cut levels of ill-health and alcohol-related crime, as well as preventing practices like "pre-loading", where people binge-drink before going out.

Legal challenge

Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at Alcohol Concern, criticised the move.

She said: "If the government bins minimum unit pricing it will be a dark day for public health and another sign that big business interests are more important to this government than the health of the nation.

"Alcohol misuse costs us all £21bn each year, our hospitals are straining under the burden of it and the police are stretched to their limits dealing with the problems caused by it."

She added: "The government says they only want to introduce legislation based on evidence and all the evidence shows minimum unit pricing saves lives and cuts crime."

But industry bodies had said there was little evidence reducing prices would cut problem drinking.

The Scottish government has said it is "fully committed" to bringing in minimum pricing.

MSPs at the Scottish Parliament passed legislation in May last year, setting a 50p unit price.

But a trade body, the Scottish Whisky Association, has opposed the move in the courts, saying it will breach European law.

An initial challenge failed, but the SWA is set to appeal - and no law will be implemented until legal proceedings are complete.

Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said: "The forthcoming UK decision - whether they decide to proceed or not - has no impact on the Scottish Government's approach to minimum pricing."

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

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