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MPs blast alcohol pricing U-turn

Lives will be lost as a result of the Government's U-turn on introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol, angry Tory MPs have warned.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that while the idea had "a lot of merit" there were questions over its effectiveness and fears it could be challenged in the courts.

But the move led to anger from campaigners and accusations that Mr Cameron had put "short-term political expediency" ahead of public health.

Plans for a 45p price per unit of alcohol in England and Wales were floated in a consultation last year but Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne confirmed in the Commons that they would not be taken forward.

Mr 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 he said there would be a ban on the "egregious" sale of alcohol for below the rate of duty and VAT in England and Wales, meaning a can of lager would cost at least 40p.

The move follows last week's decision to shelve plans for cigarettes to be displayed in plain packaging and critics have claimed Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby influenced the dropping of potentially vote-losing policies.

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, a former GP, said the Government had "backed down for short-term political expediency" and added: "Undoubtedly we have missed an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to public health."

She said: "Doctors up and down this country who are fed up with being lectured on how to reduce avoidable mortality within the NHS see the one tool they are asking for that could reduce avoidable mortality in liver disease taken away."

The Prime Minister, who had previously championed the idea of a minimum unit price (MUP), insisted the measures would end the sale of very cheap alcohol. Mr Cameron said: "We are introducing today what is effectively a minimum price because we are saying it's going to be illegal to sell alcohol below the rate of duty plus VAT. So supermarkets or shops deeply discounting alcohol will be made illegal. That, I think, will be a positive step forward."

The announcement, which had been widely expected, disappointed public health campaigners. Professor Kevin Fenton of Public Health England said: "From a public health perspective the evidence base for MUP is already strong and growing. Alcohol misuse is a major cause of early death and dysfunction for individuals, their families and the community. There is strong evidence that MUP would make cheap and higher-strength alcohol less available, with the greatest impact being in younger and in heavier drinkers."


From Belfast Telegraph