Minimum Alcohol Pricing: Anger Over U-Turn

David Cameron has insisted he will still clamp down on the sale of cheap alcohol after criticism over an apparent U-turn to impose a minimum price on drink.

Sources have told Sky News that the Government is planning to ditch plans for the 45p minimum, prompting anger from supporters of the move.

The Prime Minister had personally backed the proposal for England and Wales, which experts argue would save lives and cut crime.

But it has been blocked by senior Tories, with opponents said to include Home Secretary Theresa May who has been at the centre of recent leadership rumours.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Commons leader Andrew Lansley also signalled their doubts amid fears about the effect on responsible drinkers already battling the rising cost of living.

Labour leader Ed Miliband suggested at PMQs that the Prime Minister had been overruled by Mrs May.

To roars from his own benches, he asked: "In the light of his U-turn on alcohol pricing, can the Prime Minister tell us is there anything he could organise in a brewery?"

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston also directly challenged Mr Cameron later in the session, warning that abandoning the policy would "critically undermine" attempts to tackle problem drinking.

Earlier the Totnes MP had told Sky News: "We know that when alcohol is too cheap, people die. That is the bottom line. This is about saving lives."

Mr Cameron pledged to take action but notably failed to commit to bringing in a minimum price.

"There is a problem with deeply discounted alcohol in supermarkets and other stores and I am absolutely determined that we will deal with this," he said.

The Government has held a 12-week consultation on the policy, which ended in February, and is now looking at the results before issuing its formal response.

An announcement is expected in the next few weeks.

Senior Tory backbencher David Davis said he would welcome the abandonment of what he called a "blunderbuss of a policy" doomed to failure.

"It will hit poor people, it will hit people in the north, it will hit the pensioner having their one bottle of wine a week, it'll hit the hard-up couple doing the same," he said.

"It will transfer £1bn from the public to the people who sell alcohol and it's not going to work."

But fellow Tory Tracey Crouch insisted the base price would not hit responsible drinkers, who would still be able to buy a bottle of wine for £5.

She said: "We know that the Prime Minister is personally quite committed to this policy so I think we need to continue to press our case."

Campaigners also warned that a change of heart would be a mistake and urged the Government not to give into pressure from the drinks industry.

Eric Appleby, from Alcohol Concern, said: "All the evidence shows it will save lives and reduce crime - and we mustn't allow the interests of big business to derail this important policy."

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore from Alcohol Health Alliance UK added: "We are seeing admissions to hospital rising, we are seeing deaths rising every year. If the Government caves in to pressure from the global drinks industry it will be a disaster.

"At the moment, the UK is being praised around the world for taking tough action and to see a U-turn would be very sad indeed for everyone."

But Miles Beale, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association , said consumers would welcome the move.

"Minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers and treat everyone who is looking for value in their shopping as a binge-drinker," he said. "Evidence has also shown it will do little to tackle problem drinking."

Introducing a 45p base price per unit would mean a can of strong lager could not be sold for under £1.56 and a bottle of wine for under £4.22.

Last year, ministers claimed the change would cut the number of crimes by 5,000, slash hospital admissions by 24,000 and lead to 700 fewer alcohol-linked deaths annually.

Scotland is already set to introduce a 50p minimum price but is facing legal challenges due to claims the price floor could breach EU free trade rules.

Northern Ireland is still examining the issue.