Alcohol price U-turn divides MPs in Devon and Cornwall
A Westcountry MP has urged David Cameron not to U-turn on plans to crackdown on cheap alcohol as the move would "critically undermine" efforts to reduce booze-fuelled deaths.
Speculation is mounting that the Government is poised to abandon a minimum price for beer and spirits following a rift in the Cabinet.
A price-per-unit policy as suggested would mean a pint of beer could be sold for no less than £1.08, and a bottle of wine no lower than £4.05 – effectively outlawing ultra-cheap supermarket deals.
At Prime Minister's Questions, Dr Sarah Wollaston, Totnes MP and a campaigner for minimum pricing, warned Mr Cameron that when alcohol is too cheap "more people die".
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Earlier in the day, the Conservative MP spoke of the "absolute train wreck" of alcohol in Britain and the "real carnage" in hospitals caused by excessive drinking.
The GP-turned-MP told the BBC: "When I qualified as a doctor you didn't expect to see cirrhosis in people until they were in their 50s. Now we are seeing people in their late 20s with early stage liver disease."
Tourist resorts across the region have become increasingly frustrated with the alcohol-fuelled loutish behaviour of stag weekends and students celebrating exams.
Newquay attracted national headlines in the summer of 2009 when two teenagers died in falls from cliffs after nights out in the town.
But traditional cider makers warned the minimum pricing policy would damage an industry synonymous with the Westcountry.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter and former Health Minister, has been fiercely opposed to the idea.
He said: "There is no evidence that a minimum price would reduce problem drinking, but it would hit responsible drinkers on modest incomes hard.
"There are far more effective ways of tackling problem drinking through better health education and targeted intervention.
"This will also come as a huge relief to our local cider makers who would have been very hard hit by a minimum price and I'd like to thank them for their support in my campaign against this ill conceived and damaging proposal."
At the dispatch box in the Commons, Mr Cameron pledged to stop cheap booze being sold in supermarkets – but failed to commit to a minimum unit price on alcohol.
The Home Office last night insisted a response to a consultation on the Government's alcohol strategy, which included a floor price for booze, will happen "in due course".
Commons Leader Andrew Lansley – previously health secretary – and Education Secretary Michael Gove are among those to have expressed doubts about the policy.