MPs launch renewed attack on below-cost fudge

By James Wilmore

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Minimum price, Supermarket

MPs from all three main parties have today renewed criticism of the government's plan on below-cost selling, warning it does not go far enough to...

MPs from all three main parties have today renewed criticism of the government's plan on below-cost selling, warning it does not go far enough to stamp out the problem of cheap supermarket alcohol.

During a Westminster Hall debate on minimum pricing, every MP that spoke attacked the duty plus VAT proposal, announced last month.

However Home Office minister James Brokenshire, in charge of implementing the below-cost ban, still gave no clear indication of when, or how, the measure will be introduced.

Labour MP Nick Smith, who introduced the debate, said the minimum price was "too low" and a "half measure".

"How can the government justify the low minimum price, I just don't get it," he said. "Will this really reduce binge-drinking in our towns?"

Instead, he argued the idea of a minimum price of 50p a unit warranted some "serious consideration".

Andrew Griffiths, Tory MP for Burton & Uttoxeter, said the pricing policies adopted by supermarkets on alcohol were "dangerous".

But on the below-cost plan, he said: "I'm afraid it's a case of 'please sir, can we have some more'. I don't think the price level will have a massive difference on drinking behaviour, particularly among young people."

He pointed out also that due to supermarket loss leaders it made it impossible for pubs to compete - and 70 per cent of all alcohol is now sold in the off-trade.

Labour's Keith Vaz, chairman of the influential Home Affairs select committee, urged the government to stand up to the supermarkets.

"Don't be afraid," he said. "I know they are powerful organisations, but the fact is we need to make progress and we need to make progress now."

Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert said the below-cost proposal was a "very, very tentative step". He also highlighted the duty plus VAT formula could actually allow alcohol to get cheaper. Gilbert pointed out that currently he could buy 45 cans of lager for £20, whereas under the proposal he could buy 52 cans.

Brokenshire repeated Home Secretary Theresa May's previous claim the below-cost plan would mean 7,000 fewer alcohol-related incidents a year and a 1,000 fewer hospital admissions. On the timing of the ban, he said: "I'm certainly committed it will be as soon as practicable…at the earliest opportunity."

He admitted the duty plus VAT plan was about having something that was "easy to enforce", but reiterated it was a first step.

Related topics: Legislation

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