The BBC reports:

The government is proposing a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol in England and Wales in an effort to “turn the tide” against binge drinking.

It believes this could transform the behaviour of those who cause the most problems for hospitals and police.

A new alcohol strategy also aims to help local areas tackle problems and work with the drinks industry to encourage responsible drinking.

Some in the industry suggest minimum pricing would face a court challenge.

The industry said a minimum price was misguided and would hit consumers hard.

Similar proposals are already being considered by the Scottish Parliament.

Under the minimum price proposal, such as at the suggested 40p level, it would act as a floor and retailers would not be allowed to offer alcohol cheaper than that.

Sobriety schemes

While most prices would be unaffected, it could significantly alter the price of heavily-discounted ciders, super-strength lager and cheap spirits.

The impact could include:

  • A £2.99 bottle of red wine, containing 9.4 units of alcohol, would be priced up to £3.76
  • Cheap, strong lager at 75p a can, with three units per can, would become at least £1.20
  • Bulk-bought strong cider, costing 87p a can and containing four units, would almost double to at least £1.60
  • Cheap supermarket whisky at £16.10, with 40 units of alcohol, would probably be unchanged in price

A proposed ban on multi-buy offers would affect top-end promotions, such as a percentage discount on a half-case of wine, as well as the likes of buy-one-get-one-free budget deals.

The alcohol strategy also seeks to give local agencies an “extensive range of tools and powers” to tackle problem drinkers and premises, such as by restricting opening hours and density of licensed premises.

It also plans to “end the notion that drinking is an unqualified right by piloting sobriety schemes for those people whose offending is linked to excessive alcohol consumption”, says the strategy document.

Plans are outlined to work with the drinks industry on “changing the drinking culture, from one of excess to one of responsibility; and from one where alcohol is linked to bad behaviour to one where it is linked to positive ‘socialising’”.

‘Mayhem and fear’

Prime Minister David Cameron said the government wanted to turn around a drinking culture that last year had contributed to one million alcohol-related violent crimes and 1.2 million hospital admissions.

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.”

He added: “We’re consulting on the actual price, but if it is 40p that could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol related deaths per year by the end of the decade.”

Home Secretary Theresa May said that just under the cheapest fifth of all alcohol sold would be affected by introducing a 40p minimum.

“Too many people think it’s a great night out to get really drunk and have a fight in our streets,” she told BBC Breakfast.

“What we need to do is to set a price that is actually going to ensure that we don’t damage responsible drinkers. People who like a drink or two, who like going down their local pub, have nothing to fear from this policy.”

Ministers say the minimum pricing could help pubs because it would stop supermarkets offering cheaper alternatives.

The strategy also includes a plan for a late-night levy to make clubs and pubs help pay for policing.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Labour Party supported the idea of a minimum unit price, subject to debate about where it should be set to ensure it worked.

“The government needs to make sure it does not just create a cash windfall for the supermarkets, instead of lowering prices of other goods or supporting better prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse to cut crime further and save lives,” she said.

Competition law

Just three months ago, the government said it thought minimum pricing would be incompatible with European competition law.

Gavin Partington, interim chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said he thought a minimum price move would be “highly likely” to face a legal challenge from a drinks company.

But he expressed concern the proposal could prove to be a “Trojan horse for tax”, and if minimum pricing failed to make it through the courts then the government might simply increase duty on alcohol.

“I think one has to be quite sceptical,” he said. “Only a few months ago you have got two ministers saying they understand it to be probably illegal, and suddenly now they are advocating it – I don’t think the legal position has changed any.”

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Irresponsible drinking has cultural causes and retailers have been hugely engaged in information and education to change attitudes to drinking.

“It’s a myth to suggest that supermarkets are the problem or that a pub is somehow a safer drinking environment. Effectively, a minimum price is a tax on responsible drinkers.”

However, the proposal has received a cautious welcome from some in the drinks industry, such as C&C Group, which makes Magners cider and Tennent’s lager.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians and the Alcohol Health Alliance, welcomed the proposals.

“Health care workers who struggle every day to cope with the impact of our nation’s unhealthy drinking will welcome tough new policies in areas such as price and licensing that are based on evidence and should bring about real benefits,” he said.

Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, the lead on alcohol for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “Week in, week out, in town centres across the country, the police have to deal with the consequences of cheap alcohol and irresponsible drinking.

“The growing trend for ‘pre-loading’ means that young people are often drunk before they even enter a bar.

“By the time they hit the streets at closing they are more likely to get involved in crime and disorder or injure themselves or others.”

Year Without Beer

I am giving up all alcohol throughout 2012 (all 366 days) to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Please support my Year Without Beer by donating to one of these fantastic causes:

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