Martin Vickers: Don’t interfere with the free market
THE fuss in recent days over minimum unit pricing for alcohol is a classic example of the difficulties governments of whatever colour face when deciding the best way forward with some complex area of policy.
Modern democracies have to launch consultations on contentious policy issues, which is all very reasonable and proper, but of course opposition parties love to play politics.
The alcohol pricing issue is a classic example; one minister, perhaps because his area of responsibility is Health, reflects the view of many in the medical profession and says that on balance he or she favours trying to reduce consumption by increasing the cost whilst another more inclined to personal freedom and encouraging individual responsibility or maybe has many constituents employed in the brewing industry – all perfectly legitimate considerations – says it is best left to the market to determine.
The immediate response is accusations of chaos and confusion, shouts of U-turn and other nonsense. It's as if ministers weren't allowed to have opinions of their own and play a part in influencing decisions.
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Of course, when a policy decision is taken, collective responsibility comes into play and ministers must stick to the agreed policy without which government would become completely unmanageable.
My preference is not to interfere with the free market but to encourage a more robust approach by the police supported by the courts.
In questions on this subject last week it was revealed it cost more than £60 to process an arrest for being drunk and disorderly, but that doesn't seem too bad if fines started at £500 and ranging up to £5,000 plus costs were to be imposed.
Read more from Martin Vickers in today's Grimsby Telegraph.