Alcohol Minimum Price Plan to be Unveiled
28 November 2012
Ministers are to unveil plans later for a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales as part of a drive to tackle problem drinking.
The Home Office is expected to publish a consultation on the proposal, which was first put forward in the government's alcohol strategy in March.
A price of 40p per unit was suggested at the time.
But pressure has been mounting on ministers to follow Scotland's lead, where 50p has been proposed.
The aim of a minimum price would be to alter the cost of heavily discounted drinks sold in shops and supermarkets. It is not expected to affect the price of drinks in pubs.
The Times predicted a 45p per unit minimum would be set and it said this would raise the price for the average can of beer or cider to £1.12.
According to the NHS website the average can of 4.5% strength lager contains around two units of alcohol, while a small glass of wine contains 1.5 units.
There has been evidence of some outlets selling alcohol at a loss to encourage customers through the doors, with cans of lager going for 20p and two-litre bottles of cider available for under £2.
Ministers have been particularly critical of such practices, blaming them for what has been dubbed "pre-loading", where people binge-drink before going out.
The alcohol strategy linked this phenomenon to the rising levels of alcohol-related violence and hospital admissions, of which there are more than a million a year.
At the time, ministers said a 40p minimum price could save 900 lives a year and prevent 50,000 crimes by the end of the decade.
But Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said there was "no evidence" minimum alcohol pricing would be effective in tackling alcohol misuse.
He said it would unfairly impact the majority of people, who drank responsibly, and he added it was possible it was illegal under EU law.
Mr Beale said: "The impact at 50p would see two thirds of prices in supermarkets and off-licences rise with a bottle of vodka increasing in price from £9 to £13.13."
He said the policy was being driven by the pub industry, who wanted to encourage people to drink in pubs by driving up the price of the competition.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, from the British Medical Association, said the changes in pricing could help to stop young people binge drinking.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Alcohol is a dose-related poison, in other words the more you drink the more harm it causes, so by reducing the amount they are drinking over the safe limit you are helping to save them.
"It isn't a small minority of the population who are drinking excessively, it's nearly a quarter. That's a huge number of people who are drinking at levels that are hazardous to their health and we really have to throw everything we can (at it) to save lives."
As well as including details about a minimum price, the consultation is also likely to give more information about other alcohol measures, such as giving local agencies extra powers to restrict opening hours and banning multi-buy promotions.
There was also a proposal for a late-night levy to make clubs and pubs help pay for policing in the original strategy.
However, it is the minimum pricing proposal that has attracted most of the attention - and opposition from the industry.
Christopher Snowdon, author of a report on minimum pricing: ''Low prices are a good thing''
The Scottish government plan, which is not due to start until April 2013, was challenged on legal grounds by the Scotch Whisky Association and the European Spirits Organisation.
They claimed it was up to Westminster, rather than Holyrood, to decide such an issue and they said it was also incompatible with the EU's "general principles of free trade and undistorted competition".
The legal challenges were heard in the Court of Session in Edinburgh last month and a judgement is expected before the end of the year.
Separately the European Commission is looking into the legality of the Scottish government's actions.
A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said most of the industry was opposed to minimum pricing as it penalised the majority of people who were responsible drinkers while "doing nothing to address the root causes of harmful drinking".
Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "We're paying a heavy price for alcohol misuse and setting a minimum unit price will help us on the road to changing this.
"But we cannot cut the misery caused by excessive drinking, whether it's crime or hospitalisation, through price alone.
"We need tighter controls around licensing, giving local authorities and police forces all the tools they need to get a firm grip on the way alcohol is being sold in their area. We have an opportunity to make an enormous difference to the lives of thousands of people - we must seize it."
The Home Office said the consultation was targeted at "harmful drinkers, problem pubs and irresponsible shops" and a spokesman added: "Those who enjoy a quiet drink or two have nothing to fear from our proposals."