POLITICS

Minimum Alcohol Pricing Could Be Dropped In Government U-Turn

13/03/2013 07:44 GMT | Updated 13/03/2013 14:55 GMT

Tory backbenchers have expressed dismay amid suggestions that plans for minimum pricing of alcohol are being dropped.

David Cameron had thrown his weight behind the policy, which medical groups argue would save lives.

A consultation document issued last year floated a base price of 45p per unit, and the Government has yet to release its conclusions. Last month, a coalition of 70 health organisations said a 50p per unit minimum - higher the amount put forward by the coalition - was needed to end the "avoidable epidemic" of booze-related deaths.

cheap booze

The government could be about to ditch plans to curb cheap alcohol

However, a number of Cabinet ministers including Theresa May, Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove have made clear they harbour doubts.

Speculation has been growing for some weeks that the proposals will be shelved.

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The Times quoted one minister welcoming the rumours. “When times are already difficult for families, why are we making them think, my God, I can’t even afford a drink,” said one minister.

But posting on Twitter Tuesday night, Conservative MPs expressed concern about a possible U-Turn.

Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston - a former GP - tweeted:

She continued: "Instead of ditching a measure that would help stop the carnage from ultra cheap alcohol, would be better to consider a three year review and sunset clause.

"Child carers are paying a very heavy price for ultra cheap booze and 705,000 children in UK live with a dependent drinker.

"Alcohol plays a part in 25-33% of cases of child abuse and around half of domestic violence.

"Light and moderate drinkers are subsidising cheap booze for the heaviest drinkers. Why do we have to pay the £20bn cost for NHS & police?

"What is the lifetime cost of supporting a child with fetal alcohol syndrome? More importantly what is the human cost ?

"Not saying minimum pricing is the only answer but all other answers undermined if alcohol costs 20 pence per unit and it is cheaper to be drunk than eat.

"Wondered what your local police are doing most weekend evenings? Trying to deal with alcohol related crime & violence ditto your local A&E."

Her colleague Tracey Crouch, the Tory MP for for Chatham and Aylesford, also tweeted:

But Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said consumers would welcome the move.

"Minimum Unit Pricing would penalise responsible drinkers and treat everyone who is looking for value in their shopping as a binge-drinker. Evidence has also shown it will do little to tackle problem drinking," he said.

The industry has been lobbying hard over the past few months to prevent the introduction of minimum pricing.

Harpers Wine And Spirit review quoted Accolade Wines' UK head Paul Schaafsma calling for the drinks industry to present a united front when lobbying government, and saying the industry needed to demonstrate its economic importance and role as a major employer when campaigning against further potentially "crippling" duty increases and government legislation.

Shadow home office minister Diana Johnson said: "Theresa May and David Cameron have announced a minimum alcohol price twice in the last 12 months.

"Now we hear reports the Home Secretary has changed her mind on her own policy and wants to u-turn.

"This is weak leadership and weak government. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister said this measure would cut crime and prevent alcohol abuse. What's changed?

"Both times the Government announced this measure we made clear there needs to be a package around alcohol abuse, a minimum price is not a magic bullet.

"And there needs to be a clear plan to prevent a windfall for supermarkets. Both times the Government insisted a minimum price was the only way forward.

"Theresa May has taken her eye off the ball recently. On a flagship policy this is a humiliating climbdown."