NEW POLL: do you support a minimum price for alcohol?

Government ministers have spent the last 24 hours distancing themselves from the proposal of chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson to establish a minimum price for alcohol which would see the doubling of the price of many beers and spirits.

Today’s Guardian reports:

Plans to charge a minimum of 50p per unit of alcohol are to be put forward by Sir Liam Donaldson today. The Scottish government is planning to introduce minimum prices for alcohol and these could come into force by the end of the year. It would make Scotland the first country in Europe to introduce minimum pricing, which would be accompanied by a ban on certain drinks promotions.

The proposals for England and Wales, which are backed by health professionals but opposed by drink manufacturers, could double the cost of some beverages sold as “loss leaders” by supermarkets. … It would double the cost of a £10 pack of lager, nearly double the cost of a bottle of vodka to £20 and set the minimum price for a bottle of wine at £4.50. The Department of Health indicated there was little prospect of the proposal being adopted in England while households were being squeezed by the recession.

The principle of a minimum price has won support from some prominent Lib Dems, including Don Foster, Evan Harris and party leader Nick Clegg, who last year commented:

It is unacceptable for retailers, especially big supermarkets, to run a coach and horses through alcohol duties in order to sell alcohol well below its cost. The immediate effect of below-cost alcohol is to tempt people to buy a lot more alcohol than would otherwise be the case.

“As a rule, I don’t believe governments should set prices, but when retailers are deliberately distorting the market we need to take action. That is why we should now look to the example of Ontario in Canada, where a socially responsible minimum price for alcohol has been successfully implemented. Alcohol related violence, disorder and illness is now one of the biggest problems we face. If supermarkets are not prepared to act responsibly it is time they are forced to do so.”

So, what’s your view? Should we consider legislating to combat the bargain basement booze bonanza? Or should government butt out, and let market supply and public demand determine the price of a drink? Here are your options to the question, ‘Is it time to support a minimum price for alcohol?’

>> Yes, minimum prices will help tackle the UK’s binge drinking problems
>> Maybe, there’s merit in the proposal but the middle of a recession is the wrong time
>> No, government should not penalise the responsible majority because of an irresponsible minority

As ever, let the debate continue in the comments thread…

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27 Comments

  • Any attempts at regulation of this sort will do nothing to stop people importing cheap alcohol from the rest of the EU

    It will create an even larger black market in imported booze.

    But the way this government is going, nothing is impossible or implausible.

    They are a danger to all of us

  • Paul Gregory 16th Mar '09 - 10:33am

    Below-cost alcohol? That’s bad and should be stopped – Clegg’s right, the existing alcohol duty mechanism shouldn’t be circumvented.

    Minimum-charge alcohol based on unit? That’s stupid. Why should British cider makers be forced to sell their product at a higher price than an imported wine?

  • I’m in favour of this, because I think it would reduce the differential in costs between supermarkets and pubs, and so help pubs to survive.

    I don’t believe it will have any effect on binge drinking at all. Apart from the fact that binge drinking is mostly something people do in bars and nightclubs at far more than 50p a unit anyway, can you really imagine someone having a few drinks in an evening and then thinking they’d better not have another because it’s slightly more expensive than it used to be?

  • Simon Courtenage 16th Mar '09 - 12:29pm

    The alcohol issue isn’t clearly defined in this report. Anyway, it’s really a mix of different issues, based around consumption patterns, ranging from social disorder and accidents following binge drinking to issues such as long-term health decline and domestic abuse from steady and frequent drinking. Is a simple minimum unit price for alcohol a cure-all for all these issues across all sectors of society? Unlikely, althought that’s not to say it wouldn’t be useful as part of a larger policy.

    As to those to think that such a measure is somehow anti-liberal, you need to be careful in case you find yourselves also saying that any attempt by gov to adjust prices to achieve some kind of social engineering is anti-liberal – coz this also applies to climate control measures.

    In any case, the gov’s response about protecting the responsible majority is purely disingenuous – all the pressure on them is economic and financial. You can imagine their horror if people start losing their jobs in an election year because ppl stop buying alcohol due to the gov-increased prices!

  • No, it is ridiculous rubbish & wholely unmerited for the government to interfere & distort the market in such a way.

    The great British pub is a vehicle for sensible, responsible drinking. If pubs are losing out to supermarkets, that is partly down to expense (which you will note is caused by government impositions & the reign of terror exercised by PubCos) & partly because half the pubs have nothing to offer that home drinking doesn’t.

    With any luck, given an easy-going government regime, the true pub will experience a resurgence as people realise what they can’t get by swigging lager in front of a plasma screen TV, that is a warm welcome, decent company, proper drinks & that whole thing which is known as “atmosphere” & cannot be articulated in words.

    This scheme is so cack-handed that even Brown rejects it. If you want to tackle binge drinking, promote serious visits to pubs, with a relaxation of age restrictions so long as parents & landlords are responsible. This will then proof people against that irresponsible drinking which comes of making alcohol some great forbidden, inaccessible thing that the state & the Daily Mail don’t want you to experience.

    You would all have a good time reading “Real England” by Paul Kingsnorth in which he discusses the significance of the pub.

  • “The only people this disadvantages is the very heavy drinkers, which is exactly whom the measure is meant to target …”

    It will disadvantage someone who buys a cheap bottle of wine from the supermarket two or three times a week – to the tune of maybe £25 a month.

  • sanbikinoraion

    Sorry, but I don’t buy that argument about loss-leaders at all.

    If the supermarket lowers the price of milk, the benefit of that will be shared among many more people than currently buy cheap alcohol – including non-drinkers and buyers of more expensive alcohol. Clearly the average buyer of cheap alcohol will be substantially out of pocket, even if their consumption is moderate.

    Anyhow, Gordon Brown and David Cameron both seem to have rejected this proposal now, and if he has any sense Nick Clegg would be wise not to be too strident in its support.

  • Liberal Neil 16th Mar '09 - 4:47pm

    I’m not at all convinced that the proposed minimum price will affect the binge drinking problem at all.

    As Mark points out the main problems associated with binge drinking seem to be around pubs and clubs, where it tends to be more expensive.

    And i am always wary of coming up with new rules where there are already perfectly good ones in place that could be enforced better.

    When I went through my training with Scottish & Newcastle they stressed the responsibility licencees had to a) refuse entry to people who were drunk and b) to stop selling more alcohol to them. These rules seem to be enforced rarely and licencees do not seem to lose their licences for failure to enforce.

    Let’s start by enforcing the rules that are already there before imposing new ones.

  • This does not stand up to available evidence.
    In Europe Binge drinking is the notm in Ireland, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Norway. In these countries alcohol is more expensive than in the UK. In France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Germany where alohol is less expensive they have far less problems.
    So I say show us this evidence. I realy do not believe it exists.

  • I see that once again I am in the majority. 50 of 79 take the view that “No, government should not penalise the responsible majority because of an irresponsible minority “.

    I always thought most people disagreed with me, but maybe not 🙂

  • Oliver Mantell 16th Mar '09 - 8:42pm

    I’ve just been reading John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ and came across this relevant argument (in the concluding chapter on ‘Applications’):

    ‘A further question is, whether the State, while it permits, should nevertheless indirectly discourage conduct which it deems contrary to the best interests of the agent; whether, for example, it should take measures to render the means of drunkeness more costly… To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more dificult to be obtained, is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition… Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price… Their choice of pleasure, and their mode of expending their income, after satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their own concern, and must rest with their own judgement’.

    [FWIW, he goes on to argue that this doesn’t proscribe taxation for purposes of revenue].

    So there’s certainly strong liberal precedent for disagreeing with Nick Clegg on this one…

  • What is the objective of the Coalition Government Alcohol plan. Does the plan adhere strictly to the government’s creed…. CONTROL AND RESPONSIBILITY .

    If the objective is to tackle anti-social behaviour from irresponsible binge drinking , shouldn’t the government then ask itself WHO has CONTROL over how much alcoholic drink is allowed to enter a drinker’s mouth. Would it be that individual drinker or someone else. Obviously the answer would be the individual drinker. How would RESPONSIBILITY then be linked to CONTROL in this instance?

    Do you think raising the minimum price of alcohol or even banning selling below cost is the answer? In this scenario the government has placed the RESPONSIBILITY on everyone regardless of individuals who do not even indulge in binge drinking . Can another individual who has no CONTROL over another’s action be made RESPONSIBLE ? Is this fair, not to mention the Government has also broken another of its promises; RETURNING MORE CONTROL TO THE PEOPLE AND NOT THE GOVERNMENT. Instead of allowing us the People and free market forces determine market prices the Government is imposing a fixed pricing mechanism into the equation.

    I think the Government should rethink and be less hasty in formulating a plan that has penalising effect on innocent parties. Make only those who have CONTROL be RESPONSIBLE. Take for instance car drivers. It has been a time-tested example of CONTROL and RESPONSIBILITY going hand in hand together. Only drivers who break the law are penalised. So why not use the same system. Make it unlawful to behave in an anti-social manner from binge drinking in designated areas or instances (which the government has to decide). Should any drinker break this law then the police can arrest them and issue a summon, be it a point system or a penal fine and maybe making it mandatory to attend a class to educate them. I think this is more justifiable, unless the Alcohol Plan has an ulterior motive …to raise extra money for the Government!!!

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