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

by Stephen Tall on March 16, 2009

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…