David Davis writes about our binge drinking culture and minimum alcohol pricing


As published in The Sun;

“Twelve-year-olds hung over at school. Men and women in their twenties with cirrhosis of the liver.

“Field hospitals” and special ambulance services set up to cope with hundreds of drunk people in a single night.

Anyone who regularly reads a newspaper will have seen such stories, complete with images of blood-spattered men in police vans and half-naked women unconscious on the pavement.

Not to mention plenty of vomiting, urinating and crawling in the street.

There can be no doubt that Britain has a binge-drinking problem.

Ambulance services received more than 250 alcohol-related calls an hour on the Friday before Christmas.

However, the Home Secretary’s plan to solve the problem will, I fear, be a big mistake.

The Home Office want to make cheap alcohol illegal. They will do this by introducing a minimum price for alcohol.

Under this plan, no drink could be priced at less than 45p for every unit of alcohol it contains. A single can of strong lager would have to cost at least £1.56 and any bottle of wine no less than £4.22.

Binge-drinking will not be stopped with a one-size-fits-all, nanny state approach. The minimum price is the wrong policy at the wrong time. Seeing the warts-and-all media coverage of drunken nights, you could be forgiven for thinking that alcohol consumption in Britain is rocketing.

In fact, the opposite is true. Men and women of every age group are drinking less. In 2010, the average British adult drank a fifth less than in 2005. That is a far bigger drop in drinking than the Government expect will be caused by the minimum price.

In fact, they admit people will keep drinking less even without a minimum price. So what is the point of it?

Official figures say alcohol-related harm continues to rise. We should not ignore that simply because overall we drink less than we used to.

It suggests Britain has a “drinking divide”. On one side, there is the majority who drink sensibly. On the other there is the small minority who drink too heavily, too regularly. We must tackle that trend.

But forcing shops and pubs to jack up prices will not stop the “Binge Britain” behaviour that concerns many of us.

Some say our binge-drinking problem is so bad that we must do everything possible to make drinking more difficult — that the price is worth paying.

No doubt that is why punters already pay a pound to the taxman for every pint of beer they drink.

But why should sensible drinkers have to hand over even more cash because some people don’t know when to call it a night? We should be clear that the minimum price is deeply unfair. It will not affect the richest, who may not even notice.

I doubt the Chateau Lafite at Chequers will cost a penny more. It is those on low incomes who will suffer most.

Of course binge drinkers target cheap booze. Mostly, though, it is enjoyed by sensible drinkers who simply like cheaper deals at a time when money is tight.

There is nothing wrong with that.

Yet a price rise would hit responsible drinkers on low incomes harder than higher earners who drink much more.

It will punish the social drinker on lower wages but miss the upper-crust alcoholic.

It will hit the north harder than the south. That cannot be right.

Any increase in alcohol prices should hit the port-swillers in private clubs, not just the poor in the pubs.

To add insult to injury, the minimum alcohol price will not even raise money which could be used for the public good.

Yet the Government expect it will cost consumers more than £1billion a year. So where will all the money go?

Not to our police, who keep order when drunken louts fight in the street.

Not to our hospitals, which help those who have had far too many.

Not to our councils, who clean up the mess on the morning after the night before.

Almost all the proceeds will go straight to the large alcohol retailers.

And what would this booze-sellers’ bonus be used for? They will either trouser it or spend the extra cash on marketing alcohol to boost sales. The Government, on the other hand, expect to lose £200million a year.

How exactly will bigger profits make for less binge drinking? In the next Parliament, the minimum price would take £5billion out of taxpayers’ pockets — and cost the Treasury £1billion.

There might be some good side-effects — fewer health problems, less crime — which could save money, although I doubt it. But the lost tax revenue will dwarf any savings. It makes no sense to ask responsible drinkers to fund a policy that will leave a gaping hole in Britain’s accounts.

What’s more, cost is not the main reason people drink dangerously.

Many European countries have less binge-drinking than Britain — even though their alcohol prices are lower.

An ordinary pint in Germany costs a quid less than it does here. In Spain the average price of a pint is well under £2. And alcoholics don’t count their pennies.

The fact is that excessive drinking has existed for as long as alcohol has. People who see getting blind drunk as the sign of a good night will find a way to do that whatever the price.

That is why the Home Secretary should focus her efforts not on price but on tougher action against public drunkenness and anti-social behaviour. We should do more to identify shops, pubs and bars that serve people who are under-age, or have already had too many.

And we should teach young people about health issues to change the “big night out” binge-drinking culture.

Tackling dangerous boozing is the right thing to do, but minimum pricing is the wrong way to do it.

We should scrap that nanny state approach and take more targeted action.

That will achieve far more than picking the pocket of every social drinker in Britain.”