May accused in alcohol price row
Home Secretary Theresa May has been accused of hiding from her responsibilities after ministers refused to confirm whether plans for a minimum price on alcohol had been scrapped.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said both Mrs May's reputation and Prime Minister David Cameron's authority were in "tatters" amid reports of Cabinet in-fighting over the policy.
Mrs May is alleged to have led opposition to the policy, for which her department has responsibility, and had "overruled" the Prime Minister, according to Ms Cooper.
Crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne was forced to come to the Commons to respond to an urgent question on the state of the plan. A base price of 45p per unit in England and Wales had been suggested in an effort to tackle problem drinking.
Mr Browne said a consultation had closed and there were "powerful arguments on both sides of the debate". A decision would be announced once "careful evaluation" was completed, he added. But Ms Cooper said: "I feel sorry for the minister, who has been sent in here to waffle to the world while the Home Secretary hides."
Ms Cooper said she was "still none the wiser" about the Government's policy.
"Yesterday the Prime Minister said we must deal with the problem of 20p or 25p cans of lager in supermarkets. But the Home Secretary has briefed that she blocked minimum price plans. The Health Secretary (Jeremy Hunt) said yesterday, 'like the Prime Minister I believe there is a case for minimum pricing'. But we've no idea what they are doing and it seems that the minister doesn't either. Where is the Home Secretary?"
Ms Cooper said there was "something Macavity-like" about the Home Secretary, who was abandoning a policy she had previously championed. She said: "We know that the Home Secretary has overruled the Prime Minister, it appears she has also overruled herself. It was her plan, she has announced it twice, she said she was committed to it, now she says the opposite. It is clear that this Right Honourable Lady is for turning, she's just not for turning up."
The row over alcohol pricing follows speculation about Mrs May's ambitions for the Tory leadership. Ms Cooper said: "We have got chaos and political confusion ... the Prime Minister's authority is in tatters, the Home Secretary's credibility is in tatters and the rest of us - including the minister - don't have a clue what is going on."
Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said he and colleagues had unanimously recommended minimum pricing. He said: "You will know on policing grounds it costs an extra £59 per person to process someone who is involved in alcohol related crime. When are we going to have a final decision?" Mr Browne said: "I was explaining about early morning restrictions and the late-night levy which are precisely the type of measures the Government has taken to address exactly the problems you raise."