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Alcohol should be 'unpleasantly expensive', says government minister

Published:  18 October, 2012

The UK government remains determined to introduce a minimum price on alcoholic drinks, policy minister Oliver Letwin has said on the eve of a consultation on the policy.

A floor price for drinks must be tried as part of efforts to change consumer behaviour, Letwin told guests at the Alcohol in Moderation 21st anniversary conference in London today.

"We want to make it unpleasantly expensive for people to buy large amounts of [alcohol] and go home and get blind drunk," the minister for government policy said.

However, he said minimum pricing does not signal a flurry of heavy-handed legislation on alcohol. "What we really need to have is a population that, of its own free will, chooses to behave in a sensible fashion," he said.

There is speculation that a public consultation on minimum pricing, which would debate a start price rather than the principle, may be launched as soon as next week.

When contacted by Harpers today, a Home Office spokesperson confirmed that a "full public consultation" on minimum pricing is still planned for autumn 2012. He declined to give a start date.

At the conference, Letwin brushed off legal concerns about minimum pricing, despite existing legal challenges to the policy in Scotland.

UK ministers have changed tack in 2012. A year ago, public health minister Anne Milton told a Parliamentary committee in autumn 2011 that government advisers believed minimum pricing "contravenes European free trade legislation".

Harpers understands drinks firms may take a 'work to rule' approach to the government's responsibility deal on alcohol, doing no more than is strictly necessary in order to apply pressure over pricing policy.

Letwin emphasised that pricing is only one strand of government thinking. "This is not an area where there's an obvious single lever the government can pull," he said.