Cameron backs minimum price for alcohol


BRITISH PRIME minister David Cameron has signalled support for a minimum price for alcohol that would raise off-licence prices, even though some members of his cabinet believe such a move could be illegal.

Mr Cameron, speaking during a visit to a hospital in Newcastle, said: “Every night, in town centres, hospitals and police stations across the country, people have to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse.”

Almost £3 billion is spent annually by the National Health Service on alcohol-related issues, including £1 billion on drunk people in accident-and-emergency departments. The British government believe that the total cost to society is up to £22 billion.

The prime minister’s focus on alcohol follows a Monday “summit” at Downing Street with insurance industry leaders.

Figures presented by Downing Street argued that there were 200,000 cases last year where alcohol was the primary reason for a patient’s presence in hospital.

This is 40 per cent higher than in 2002/03. The number of people described as acutely intoxicated has more than doubled to 18,500 since that time.

The Scottish government has worked on a minimum pricing plan for years, but held off introducing it in 2010 because of opposition from the industry.

However, it is now back on the legislative agenda.

Minimum pricing would not affect pubs, as most bar counter prices would be significantly higher than any likely minimum price set by the Scottish government, though the move could limit “all you can drink” promotions often run close to universities.

A University of Sheffield study in 2008 argued that minimum pricing would significantly reduce consumption by the most at-risk groups – the young, and those with alcohol problems and would change their behaviour.

However, secretary of state for health Andrew Lansley has publicly opposed minimum pricing, saying it would not work, and attorney general Dominic Grieve believes such a move would run foul of EU law.

A bid to set minimum prices for tobacco has already been declared unlawful by the European Court of Justice. Members states are not prohibited from introducing minimum prices on alcohol provided it can be shown there is no interference with the EU’s single market.

However, the European Court of Justice has already warned that a nationally-set alcohol price could fall foul of Brussels competition law if it deprived a cheaper drinks manufacturer of the advantage they should have over a more-expensive domestic competitor.