Minimum booze pricing plan could be dropped after cabinet revolt
Plans to bring in a minimum price for alcohol could be dropped after a revolt by key government ministers.
The proposal - to ban the sale of alcohol at less than 45p a unit - has come under fire from cabinet ministers who fear it would be politically suicidal.
Home Secretary Theresa May, Leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley and Education Secretary Michael Gove are among those who oppose the plans.
They fear the idea is risky at a time when the cost of living is being badly squeezed, and say it would be disastrous to penalise hard-working families who drink responsibly.
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The minimum pricing idea was floated in a consultation document issued last year. Under the plans a four-pack of lager would not be allowed to be sold for less than £3.96, and a bottle of vodka for under £11.48.
A bottle of red wine could be sold for no less than £4.41, and white wine £4.05. And an alcopop would not be allowed to be sold for under £1.26.
Prime Minister David Cameron has backed the plans, which medical groups say would help prevent thousands of alcohol-related deaths.
But it is understood there is pressure within the government for the plan to be dropped. Tory backbenchers have reacted angrily to the U-turn and Labour has accused the government of "weak leadership".
Tory MP Sarah Wollaston - a former GP – tweeted: “It would be a cheap populist mistake to ditch#minimumpricing & would undermine any public health credibility on reducing avoidable deaths”.
The Totnes MP added: “Instead of ditching a measure that would help stop the carnage from ultra cheap alcohol better to consider a 3 year review & sunset clause”.
She later wrote: “Light & Moderate drinkers are subsidising cheap booze for the heaviest drinkers. Why do we have to pay the £20bn cost for NHS & police?”
Leading medical organisations insist a minimum price should be set even higher, at 50p. The British Medical Association (BMA) says: “The beauty of minimum pricing, and the reason some brewers support it as well as a vast array of health professionals, is that it does not penalise most drinkers, or any moderate drinkers.
“Virtually all pub drinks, as well as the majority of shop-bought beers, wines and spirits would not be affected by a 50p threshold.
“Instead, it would help combat the cheap end of the market – think two-litre bottles of supermarket-brand cider, or the cut-price vodkas and whiskies made for brown paper bags and oblivion.
“It is these which appeal the most to those they harm the most – younger drinkers, as well as those drinking hazardously.”
In 2011 a group of experts said alcohol was linked to 13,000 new cases of cancer each year and associated with one in four deaths of people in the 15-to-24 age group.