Andy Burnham’s comments that some alcoholic drinks are “ludicrously cheap” has renewed speculation that the government could impose a minimum price per unit.
The health secretary said the government must respond to the problem of binge drinking as the public’s “mood has changed”, but Downing Street said enforcing a lower limit on alcohol prices would not be “sensible” at this stage.
The mood has changed and there is rising public concern
Scottish secretary Jim Murphy also insisted such a move would be “wrong” because it punished responsible drinkers as well as bingers.
Tackling alcohol issues has become a hot political topic, with the Conservatives announcing plans to encourage local councils and health services to address anti-social and heavy drinking by introducing a “payments by results” system.
The Tories attacked the current “confusing” units system and proposed new labelling plans, which would see information displayed on how many centilitres of alcohol and calories beverages contain instead.
Conservative leader David Cameron has said in the past that supermarkets should be stopped from selling alcoholic drinks for less than cost price, but has not gone so far as to support a minimum price level.
The issue has been rumoured to have caused divisions in the Cabinet, although prime minster Gordon Brown has previously warned that he does not agree with any action that punishes responsible drinkers for the actions of the minority.
When asked about the idea of minimum pricing, Mr Burnham told the Daily Telegraph: “We need to balance the rights of people who drink responsibly with those who buy ludicrously cheap booze and go out and harm themselves and others.
“The mood has changed and there is rising public concern - we need to respond to that and move on the debate.”
The Scottish government has already put forward proposals to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol as part of a series of measures to tackle Scotland’s drink problem.
And last week the Commons health committee said minimum pricing should be brought in to stem a “shocking” rise in alcohol misuse in England.