POLITICS
17/07/2013 10:05 BST | Updated 17/07/2013 13:23 BST

Tory MPs Warn Minimum Alcohol Pricing U-Turn Will 'Cost Lives'

PA
Jeremy Browne has announced the government has ditched its minimum alcohol plan

Backbench Tory MPs have expressed despair at the government's decision to drop plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.

Lib Dem Home Office minister Jeremy Browne told the Commons on Wednesday afternoon that government has shelved plans for a minimum unit price for alcohol, but will ban the sale of alcoholic drinks priced below the level of duty and VAT.

A consultation document last year floated a base price of 45p per unit in England and Wales, but Browne said there was not enough "concrete evidence" that the move would reduce the level of problem drinking without hitting people who drink responsibly.

Browne also ruled out a ban on multi-buy promotions due to a "lack of convincing evidence" that it would have a significant effect on consumption.

But the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, Tracey Crouch, said the decision left the UK "dangerously lagging behind in terms of public health policy which will ultimately cost lives".

Sarah Wollaston, the Tory MP for Totnes said she was disappointed the government had decided to "roll over to big alcohol lobbyists".

She told the Commons the government's alternative plan would have "meaningless impact" on the impact of alcohol on health.

"Doctors up and down the country are fed up of being lectured about how to reduce avoidable mortality," she said.

Earlier the former GP pleaded with David Cameron not to ditch the plan. "I know the prime minister will want to thank all those fantastic NHS staff who are rolling sleeves doing everything they can to reduce avoidable early deaths," she said.

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"They are asking the pm for minimum unit pricing. Minimum pricing is sitting nervously on death row, will the prime minister give it a reprieve?"

Labour's shadow health minister Diana Johnson said the u-turn showed the government could not "organise an alcohol policy in a brewery" and said she smelled "traces of lobbying on the minister's breath".

Browne denied the policy shift had been pushed by Cameron's chief election strategist Lynton Crosby, who is also a lobbyist. "I've never met Lynton Crosby," he said. "The only impact Lynton Crosby has had on my life is trying to get me elected to parliament in 2005."

Cameron has faced fresh questions about his election guru lobbying interests as he insisted the Government was taking action to regulate the tobacco industry.

Critics have questioned Crosby's role in the decision to put plain packaging for cigarettes on hold and at prime minister's questions Cameron was accused by Labour leader Ed Miliband of having "caved in to big tobacco" in a "disgraceful episode".

The prime minister insisted he had never been lobbied by Mr Crosby and attacked Labour over the influence of trade unions on the party's policies and candidates.

Asked if he had discussed plain cigarette packaging with Mr Crosby, whose clients include tobacco giant Philip Morris, Mr Cameron said: "He has never lobbied me on anything."

But Miliband accused him of using "weasel words" and added: "He can't deny that he had a conversation with Lynton Crosby about this issue.

"Even by the standards of this Prime Minister this is a disgraceful episode."

He added: "There is a devastating conflict of interest between having your key adviser raking it in from big tobacco and then advising you not to go ahead with plain packaging."

But Mr Cameron said if Miliband wanted a "lobbying scandal" he should look at his own party: "The trade unions buy his policies, buy his candidates, they even bought and paid for his leadership."