David Cameron is planning to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in a bid to tackle the blight of binge-drinking and drunken disorder.
The Prime Minister believes that setting a minimum price would reduce crime and alcohol-related deaths.
The move is part of the Government’s Alcohol Strategy which aims to reduce the £21 billion estimated annual cost of irresponsible drinking.
Mr Cameron said: “When beer is cheaper than water, it’s just too easy for people to get drunk on cheap alcohol at home before they even set foot in a pub.
“So we are going to introduce a new minimum unit price – so for the first time it will be illegal for shops to sell alcohol less than this set price per unit.
“We’re consulting on the actual price, but if it is 40p that could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year by the end of the decade.”
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, insists that responsible drinkers have “nothing to fear” from the policy, but warned that the minimum price could be higher than 40p.
Eric Appleby, of Alcohol Concern, described the move as “a victory for common sense”.
And Andrew Langford, of the British Liver Trust, said: “We are delighted the Government has recognized the importance of minimum price and would urge them to increase the amount to 50p per unit so it has more impact.”
The Government also wants to ban buy-one-get-one-free deals and it is proposing a late-night levy to make pubs and clubs pay for extra policing.
It is also planning to introduce a “zero tolerance” approach to drunken behaviour in A&E departments
The Government is expected to launch a consultation on the issue over the summer.
However, Andre Opie, for the British Retail Consortium, branded minimum pricing as a “tax on responsible drinkers”.
And Andrew Cowan, from the drinks firm Diageo, said: “There is no credible evidence that it is an effective measure in reducing alcohol-related harm.”
Earlier this week a new report showed that liver disease had risen by a quarter in eight years due to alcohol and obesity.