CentreForum Liberal Hero of the Week #42: Jeremy Browne
Lib Dem home office minister
Reason: for stopping minimum alcohol pricing
Crime is falling, we’re winning at sport, the sun is shining… and even the Government has got into the feel-good spirit by postponing its misguided minimum alcohol pricing plans.
A year ago, I set out why Theresa May and the Health Select Committee had got it wrong in advocating these price hikes. First, consumption of alcohol is declining, down by 12% since 2004. Minimum alcohol pricing is a policy in search of a problem. Secondly, it’s an indiscriminate tax that hits responsible and irresponsible drinkers alike, transferring an estimated £850 million annual windfall from consumers to the drinks companies.
This week, Jeremy Browne came to the House of Commons and announced the Government had listened to the results of its consultation — showing a majority of the public, 56%, disagreed with minimum alcohol pricing — and would as a result be pausing:
There has been much speculation about the Government’s plans in relation to minimum unit pricing. That policy will remain under consideration, but it will not be proceeded with at this time. We do not yet have enough concrete evidence that its introduction would be effective in reducing harms associated with problem drinking—this is a crucial point—without penalising people who drink responsibly. We will tackle the most egregious examples of cheap alcohol by banning sales of alcohol below the level of alcohol duty plus value-added tax. That will come into effect in England and Wales no later than the spring of 2014, and will stop the worst instances of deep discounting that result in alcohol being sold cheaply and harmfully. It will no longer be legal to sell a can of ordinary-strength lager for less than about 40p.
We have decided not to ban multi-buy promotions. There is still a lack of convincing evidence that it would have a significant effect in reducing consumption. It would not be reasonable for us to introduce a ban, especially at a time when responsible families are trying hard to balance their household budgets. We will, however, make current mandatory licensing conditions more effective. We will enable tougher action to be taken to deal with irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs, and will promote responsible drinking by raising customer awareness of the availability of small servings.
Our decision not to proceed with the introduction of minimum unit pricing at this stage gives the alcohol industry an opportunity to demonstrate what more it can do to reduce the harms associated with problem drinking. Our challenge to the industry is to increase its efforts, building on what has already been achieved through the public health responsibility deal. That includes improving education to promote safer drinking, reducing the availability of the high-strength products that cause the most harm for problem drinkers, and responsible marketing and product placement.
A sensible statement to which I raise my glass and offer a toast to Jeremy Browne, this week’s deserved Liberal Hero.
* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.