Rumours that the Queen's speech would confirm whether Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) had been scrapped were proven false this week. However when later asked in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister David Cameron promised to deliver a 'package of measures' to deal with cheap alcohol:
"On minimum pricing for alcohol, it is important that we take action to deal with deeply discounted alcohol, with cans of lager sometimes selling for as little as 25p in supermarkets. We will be bringing forward a package of measures, and it is important that we get this right."
Recently Home Office minister Jeremy Brown had said the Government was yet to confirm its decision on MUP and were listening to "powerfull arguments on both sides" following the consultation.
The Government has yet to publish its response to consultation, but it has been widely touted that a decision to u-turn on MUP has been made as a result of Cabinet pressure. A Guardian article by the IAS's Katherine Brown suggests "Intense lobbying from alcohol producers would appear to have killed-off this ground-breaking policy". Opponents largely argue MUP as a measure unfair to responsible drinkers, summarised on the WTSA sponsored anti-MUP site.
However advocates of MUP saw a victory as a legal challenge to Scotland's MUP plans was recently dismissed. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) had spearheaded a campaign claiming that MUP was in breach of EU competition law. A number options to appeal the decision are expected to be pursued by the SWA, suggesting Scotland's 50 pence MUP plans are still some way off.
As for England, should the Government's committment to introducing MUP be replaced by other measures to 'tackle cheap alcohol', health groups are unlikely to be convinced that they will replace the need for MUP. Increased taxation, an approach called for by the IFS, certainly has some recognition amongst health groups, but a number of issues are highlighted.
In particular, taxation rises can be absorbed by producers or retailers, for instance through 'loss-leading'. It is claimed some tax increases would have to be dramatic to achieve the same impact of a 45 pence MUP. Indeed the alcohol duty escalator has been delivering alcohol tax rises already, but the beer trade successfully argued that hikes in beer tax were having a negative impact on the hospitality sector, halting the beer duty rise in this year's budget.
Dr Petra Meier, who conducted the University of Sheffield modelling on pricing impacts has previously said both taxes and minimum pricing should be used, so it should not be an 'either or' argument. Initially the Coalition had committed to a "below cost ban", however difficulty over definitions of 'cost' and implementation challenges seemed to leave few convinced, including the Home Office. No further word on plans set out in the Strategy to ban the sale of multi-buy discount deals.