Budget 2008: Minister retracts alcohol duty comments

A government minister has been forced to retract comments appearing to criticise the chancellor.

Licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe said he wanted the chancellor to change his mind over the alcohol duty hike announced in this year’s Budget.

Alistair Darling ordered a six per cent increase on alcohol duty, with the revenue used to fund Labour’s child poverty initiatives.

As a result, the price of a pint of beer will rise by 4p, a bottle of wine 14p and a bottle of spirits will be 55p more expensive.

The move angered the alcohol industry and a spoof campaign was launched to ban Mr Darling from pubs across the UK.

Mr Sutcliffe told trade magazine the Morning Advertiser he understood why the industry has been angered by the hike.

“We, and I speak as a champion of the pub trade, want the chancellor to change his mind,” he said.

“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.”

Opposition politicians jumped on Mr Sutcliffe’s comments, claiming the government’s policy on binge drinking is in disarray.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat culture, media and sport spokesman, said: “While ministers bicker over the level of duty, alcohol related crime is on the increase, A&E admissions have soared, and people are continuing to get away with selling alcohol to children.

“The government has clearly run out of ideas about how to tackle the drink problem in this country.”

But Downing Street swiftly leant on Mr Sutcliffe to retract his comments and the minister said the quote did not accurately reflect his views.

He said: “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.”

The row follows Mr Brown’s own clash with backbench MPs over the abolition of the 10p tax rate, announced in last year’s Budget.

More than 40 MPs have signed an early day motion condemning the move, which they argue will leave more than five million low-earning families worse off.