Alcohol Strategy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:47 am on 7th February 2012.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party 11:47 am, 7th February 2012

I reject what the hon. Gentleman says, because I am showing that price will have a big effect on people who consume vast amounts of alcohol, but not for most people who consume it more moderately. I could have given the same figures for cider. Clearly it will not put off moderate drinkers. The big red herring in this debate is that if the price of alcohol is increased, life will suddenly become enormously difficult for moderate drinkers. As the hon. Member for Totnes has said, with a 50p per unit minimum price a harmful drinker would spend an average of £163 a year extra if they continued with the habit, but a moderate drinker would spend an extra £12 a year. I do not want to inflict an extra £12 a year on anyone, but when that is set against the overall cost of alcohol misuse to society, it is far outweighed by an extra £12 for people who continue with their moderate drinking behaviour.

I am aware that Ministers are raising concerns that a minimum price per unit might contravene European competition laws and would be challenged in the courts. My understanding is that the European Commission has indicated that minimum pricing does indeed have the potential to target heavy drinkers. If minimum pricing is to satisfy the law, it must be shown that it is in proportion to the problems caused by alcohol without unduly affecting competition. There is a strong case for saying that action on pricing is proportionate to the problems caused, not least the chronic disease that we have heard about, thousands of deaths, and an estimated cost to the economy of between £20 billion and £25 billion.

In 2009, before the Scottish Government proposed introducing a minimum price policy, a written question on whether minimum alcohol retail prices violated EC law was answered by the European Commission. It clearly set out that treaty rules on the free movement of goods would not be contravened as long as price rules applied to all relevant traders operating within the national territory, and if they affected in the same manner in law and in fact the marketing of domestic and imported products. No one is suggesting that we treat imported and domestic products differently. We could make a strong case, if the political will were there to do so, for saying that such a response is proportionate.