The Coalition Government intends to introduce legislation that will set a minimum alcohol price of 40 pence per unit in England and Wales. Scotland is already planning a similar measure.
Furthermore, the Government wants to ban the sale of supermarket multi-buy discount deals, which may prove unpopular with consumers and the drinks industry.
The Government believes these changes will have a positive effect on the health of the nation, and that the bill for dealing with medical problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption will be greatly reduced.
Gavin Partington, of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said that increasing prices was not the solution to improving the nation’s health. “The international evidence is that problem drinkers are least likely to be deterred from drinking by price rises”. Furthermore, the Retail Consortium believes that if the plans failed to deter binge drinking, they could amount to a tax on responsible drinkers.
The Government has also signalled that it intends to introduce further measures to stop the abuse of alcohol in society. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has suggested that the Government could further empower pubs to stop serving alcohol to drunken customers.
Cameron added that further powers could be granted to hospitals; helping them to tackle the pubs and clubs responsible for the habitual drunks repeatedly attending Accident and Emergency departments. Cameron also wants to inaugurate plans that require drinking establishments to pay a charge to the police, which would cover the cost of dealing with trouble on the streets caused by binge drinking.
The drinks industry is likely to challenge the plan to impose an alcohol unit price at the European Court of Justice. For example, the drinks industry may complain that such a move would amount to a restriction on the import of goods into the UK, under section 34 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
In addition, a challenge may be mounted under section 101 and 102 of the Treaty, which deal with competition between businesses. However, it has been pointed out by legal commentators that these rules may not apply to state actions taken for health reasons.