A minimum price per unit of alcohol will be introduced in England alongside plans to ban the sale of multi-buy discount deals in Government plans to combat alcohol abuse.
David Cameron said today he was making “no excuses” for clamping down on the country’s drink problem but admitted minimum pricing would not be “universally popular”.
The move has been met with opposition from the drinks industry, with some accusing Mr Cameron of being “seriously misguided”.
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 described minimum pricing as an “absurd” tool for tackling drink abuse.
Today’s Alcohol Strategy is intended to “turn the tide” against irresponsible drinking, which costs the UK an estimated £21bn a year.
It sets out plans for a minimum unit price, possibly 40p, bans the sale of multi-buy discount deals and introduces a “zero tolerance” approach to drunken behaviour in A&E departments.
It also suggests a late-night levy to get pubs and clubs to help pay for policing and improved powers to stop serving alcohol to drunks.
The Government hopes minimum pricing will spell the end of cheap white ciders, spirits and super-strength lagers.
It also believes it could tackle “pre-loading” – when people drink cheap alcohol at home before going to a pub or nightclub.
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.
“My message is simple. We can’t go on like this. We have to tackle the scourge of violence caused by binge drinking. And we have to do it now.”
He said the Government would tackle the problem “from every angle”, adding there would be a “real effort to get to grips with the root cause” of the problem.
“That means coming down hard on cheap alcohol. When beer is cheaper than water, it’s just too easy for people to get drunk on cheap alcohol at home before they even set foot in the pub.”
Mr Cameron said a minimum price would, for the first time, make it illegal for shops to sell alcohol for less than a set price per unit.
Today’s announcement from Downing Street came just after Mr Lansley made his own announcement on the responsibility deal, saying the voluntary agreement with firms “works”.
The British Retail Consortium’s food director, Andrew Opie, said minimum pricing was effectively a “tax on responsible drinkers”.
“David Cameron is seriously misguided,” he added. “It’s simplistic to imagine a minimum price is some sort of silver bullet solution to irresponsible drinking.
“It’s a myth to suggest that supermarkets are the problem or that a pub is somehow a safer drinking environment.”
Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “This is a victory for common sense.
“We cannot carry on with a situation where it’s cheaper to buy cans of lager than a can of Coke.
“We fully support the Government in taking action to clamp down on booze at pocket money prices and protect the health of our children and young people.”