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UK government scraps minimum pricing plans

The UK government has shelved plans to introduce a minimum pricing plan in England and Wales over fears it could hit responsible drinkers.

Minimum pricing scrapped
Plan to introduce a minimum unit pricing for alcohol have been scrapped in England and Wales

Under reforms announced by the Home Office, there will also be no ban on ‘multi-buy’ discounts in supermarkets on alcoholic drinks.

The government will however introduce a ban on the sale of alcohol below the level of duty plus VAT, meaning it would be illegal to sell a can of ordinary strength lager for less than around 40p.

It will also make current mandatory licensing conditions more effective, enabling tougher action on irresponsible drinks promotions in the on-trade.

The plan for a minimum unit pricing (MUP) will “remain a policy under consideration” but will not be progressed yet.

The reforms are part of government plans to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder in England and Wales.

“Drunken behaviour and alcohol-fuelled disorder can make towns and cities effective no-go areas for law-abiding people, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights,” said Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne.

“There has been much speculation about the government’s plans on minimum unit pricing. This will remain a policy under consideration but will not be taken forward at this time. We do not yet have enough concrete evidence that its introduction would be effective in reducing harms associated with problem drinking, without penalising people who drink responsibly.

“The measures I am announcing today build on action we have already taken, including introducing early morning restriction orders to curb alcohol sales, a late night levy to ensure those selling alcohol help pay towards the costs of policing and making it easier for local authorities to tackle problematic licensed premises.”

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, welcomed the decision: “We are pleased that the UK Government is not pushing ahead with MUP of alcohol. It is right to focus on reducing alcohol misuse through legal and more effective measures, including a ban on below cost sales based on tax in England and Wales – a measure we have been calling for – and working in partnership with the industry.

“We, and many other parties, have consistently said that MUP breaches European Union law, is ineffective as it does not reduce the number of harmful and hazardous drinkers while pushing up prices for the overwhelming majority of responsible, moderate consumers and would damage the Scotch Whisky industry and therefore the wider economy.”

Browne added that the government is giving the drinks industry an opportunity to demonstrate what it can do to reduce the negative effects of problem drinking.

“Our challenge to industry is to increase its efforts, building on what has already been achieved through the Public Health Responsibility Deal,” he said. “This includes improving education to promote safer drinking; reducing the availability of high strength products that cause the most harm for problem drinkers; and responsible marketing and product placement.”

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