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Booze price law 'could cut crime'

Plans to introduce minimum alcohol pricing could stop the country's culture of drinking to excess and prevent town centres becoming no-go areas due to drunken louts, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.

The Government is planning to set a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol for England and Wales to clamp down on the problem, which costs the UK an estimated £21 billion a year.

The Alcohol Strategy will also see the sale of multi-buy discount deals banned, introduce a "zero tolerance" approach to drunken behaviour in A&E departments, suggest a late-night levy to get pubs and clubs to help pay for policing, and improve powers to stop serving alcohol to drunks.

Mrs May said responsible drinkers had "nothing to fear" from the policy, which she said would only deal with the cheapest fifth of alcohol that is currently sold.

She told BBC Breakfast: "What we do want to do is to affect the cheapest end of alcohol where those sorts of offers enable people to really do this pre-loading. So many people now just get drunk before they go out, that's what causes the problems in our town centres.

"There are one million violent crimes that are alcohol-fuelled in our society, we need to do something about this."

The plans have been met with opposition from the drinks industry, with some accusing David Cameron of being "seriously misguided". But the Prime Minister said he was making "no excuses" for tackling the country's drink problem, although he admitted minimum pricing would not be "universally popular".

Retailers and drinks firms said the policy was also at odds with the "responsibility deal" between alcohol companies and the Government, overseen by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. Mr Lansley is known to be against tighter regulation of the sector and has previously described minimum pricing as an "absurd" tool for tackling drink abuse.

The Government hopes minimum pricing will spell the end of cheap white ciders, spirits and super-strength lagers. Under the plans, buy-one-get-one-free deals could be banned but half-price deals could stay. The Government intends to consult on the strategy over the summer with a view to introducing legislation as soon as possible.

Mr Cameron said: "Binge-drinking isn't some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country. The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities. We have to tackle the scourge of violence caused by binge drinking and we have to do it now."

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