Minimum alcohol pricing plan 'may be dropped'

image captionThe Scottish government is set to introduce a 50p price per unit

Plans for minimum pricing on alcohol in England and Wales may be dropped because Conservative ministers are split over the proposals.

David Cameron supports minimum alcohol pricing and the government has been consulting on a price of 45p per unit.

But BBC political correspondent Louise Stewart says several cabinet ministers, including Theresa May, Michael Gove and Andrew Lansley, do not back the plans.

The Home Office says it is considering responses to its 10-week consultation.

It has argued that introducing a minimum unit price would help reduce the levels of ill-health and crime related to alcohol and prevent practices like "pre-loading", where people binge-drink before going out.

Significant pressure

The department is also considering banning multi-buy promotions, such as two-for-the-price-of-one.

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.

Health campaigners have pushed for the government to go further, calling for a 50p minimum price for a unit of alcohol.

But the BBC understands there is now significant pressure for the minimum pricing plan to be dropped, with disagreement at cabinet level. The Home Office said it was considering all representations to its consultation, which closed on 6 February, and will report back in due course.

Labour said a minimum price was not a "magic bullet" and could only work if it was part of a balanced package of anti-abuse measures.

But it said uncertainty over the future of the policy was evidence of "weak leadership" and if a minimum price was not introduced then it would be a "humiliating climbdown" for the government.

"The home secretary and the prime minister said this measure would cut crime and prevent alcohol abuse," said shadow home office minister Diana Johnson. "What's changed?"

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, a former GP, said she was "very concerned" the idea might be dropped while colleague Tracey Crouch said the government "must tackle problem of easily accessible cheap alcohol".

'Penalising people'

But the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said recent figures showed alcohol consumption was falling and there was little evidence showing a minimum price would reduce problem drinking.

"Consumers will welcome the report that the prime minister is reconsidering plans to hike up the cost of alcohol," said the body's chief executive Miles Beale. "Minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers and treat everyone who is looking for value in their shopping as a binge-drinker."

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.

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