Page last updated at 16:58 GMT, Thursday, 3 April 2008 17:58 UK

Minister's U-turn on alcohol tax

Central London pub
The price of alcohol will rise above the rate of inflation

Licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe has said his comments to a pub trade newspaper criticising Budget alcohol tax rises "do not reflect my views".

The Tories reacted with "amazement" after Mr Sutcliffe told the Morning Advertiser he wanted Chancellor Alistair Darling to change his mind.

A Conservative spokesman said it showed the government was "unravelling".

But Mr Sutcliffe later insisted he backed the increases which will see prices go up by 14% over five years.

In his March budget, Chancellor Alistair Darling put 4p on beer, 3p on cider, 14p on wine, 55p on spirits, an average increase of 6%, and said alcohol duty would go up by 2% above inflation for four years.

Pub trade associations have said the changes will spell doom for many licensees - and warned of pub closures.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) accused the government of punishing all beer drinkers rather than tackling the minority of binge drinkers.

'Next opportunity'

In an interview with The Morning Advertiser Mr Sutcliffe urged pubs to be more effective in their lobbying of government.

The government is frankly unravelling when even its own ministers don't support the tax rises that their government introduced in the last Budget
Justine Greening
Conservative MP

He said: "I think the industry's right to be upset. We, and I speak as a champion of the pub trade, want the chancellor to change his mind.

"The next opportunity will be the pre-Budget report in November. But the industry has seriously got to get its act together in working out what its priorities are."

But in a bid to defuse the situation, Mr Sutcliffe - who did not dispute what he was reported to have said - issued a statement saying that: "My comments do not accurately reflect my views."

He added: "I fully support the tax measures in the Budget, and the chancellor's decisions on tax.

"Alcohol duty increases will go towards helping some of the poorest members of our society."

No U-turn

Conservative MP Justine Greening, who speaks for the party on licensing, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One said she was amazed by the minister's comments in the newspaper.

"The government is frankly unravelling when even its own ministers don't support the tax rises that their government introduced in the last Budget."

She added: "What we need to be doing is tackling binge drinking, in fact, before the Budget we'd announced some very targeted measures to do just that.

"Instead, this tax rise on alcohol is going to hit millions of responsible drinkers and won't do anything to tackle binge drinking."

She said Mr Sutcliffe was "right to say the chancellor should perform another U-turn on this Budget but it's amazing that Labour's own ministers are criticising their own Budget within two to three weeks of it being announced".

Treasury minister Jane Kennedy defended Mr Sutcliffe - but made it clear that there would be no U-turn on alcohol taxes.

She told BBC Radio 4's the World at One: "We are part of a government in which there is lively discussion about these issues."

She added that the government was pushing ahead with the changes announced in the Budget.

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