The news that the Government would introduce a Minimum Price for Alcohol was announced in the Daily Telegraph on the 27th December 2011. A year later the Government held a public consultation, based primarily on what level to set as this minimum price. The consultation ended in early February 2013, but despite the costly exercise, the Queens Speech 2013 contained no reference to a minimum pricing policy. Some of those who claim to know the mind of Government have already indicated that this years Queens Speech on 3rd June will not include any substantial Bills including one on the Minimum Pricing on Alcohol. However just to be certain, on Monday William McCrea the Democratic Unionist MP for South Antrim asked the Home Secretary what the latest situation is. She left Norman Baker, the Minister responsible for issues on Alcohol to answer the question, the section in bold is my own emphasis:
Dr McCrea: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what steps she is taking to introduce a ban on the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT; (2) what steps she is taking to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol in England and Wales; (3) what recent discussions she has had with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland on a minimum unit price for alcohol.
Norman Baker: Minimum unit pricing remains a policy under active consideration but is on hold while we assess the response of industry to our alcohol strategy, which we have indicated we expect to be a positive one. In the meantime we are introducing a ban on alcohol sales below the cost of duty plus VAT from April 2014. This fulfils the coalition Government’s commitment and will stop the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol sales. Home Office Ministers have regular meetings with ministerial colleagues and others as part of the process of policy development and delivery. As was the case with previous administrations, it is not the Government’s practice to provide details of all such meetings.
This Government has a year to run, and as I wrote previously it has already indicated that they will not make good their own promise in this area. I have no idea what the immense resources of a Government are capable of, even at a time when membership of the Parties is so low and we are in a time of austerity. Active consideration of any issue when the U turn took place 8 months earlier (12th July 2013) seems to be a waste of energy and possibly of our taxes if it is civil servants who are carrying out the active consideration. Perhaps it would be a great deal easier if Norman had felt able to tell Dr McCrea that the Government has no plans to introduce minimum pricing of Alcohol, primarily because Alcohol interests hold too strong a grip on his coalition partners. After all, there is an election coming and it would be unwise of the Government to offend Conservative Party donors. The last words on this issue come from Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP who tweeted last year:
R.I.P. public health. A day of shame for this government; the only winners big tobacco, big alcohol and big undertakers