THE Government has not ruled out imposing a minimum unit price on alcohol, the Community Pubs Minister insisted during a visit to the North-East today (Thursday, March 14).

Conservative MP Brandon Lewis said the Government was taking its time to look at all the facts closely and would come to a considered conclusion.

He dismissed reports proposals to introduce a base price of 45p per unit, to tackle binge drinking had been shelved as ‘speculation’.

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Speaking during a visit to Maxim Brewery, near Houghton-le-Spring, Wearside, Mr Lewis said: “The brewers I’ve spoken to are unanimously supportive of minimum unit pricing.

“Anything that promotes being in a pub drinking rather than pre-loading is a good thing. Even if people drink sensibly at home, I’d rather have them in a pub, supporting jobs and the economy.

“A minimum price would probably help pubs. I can see why the industry is keen on it.”

But he added: “I’m not a fan of the ‘stick’.

“Education and the ‘carrot’ is the best way to do it. I think it’s a good thing that the Government is taking its time to look at all the facts carefully.”

Balance, the North-East Alcohol Office, wants a minimum price of 50p per unit.

Its director, Colin Shevills, said: “Mr Lewis shouldn’t be sitting on the fence but supporting publicans in the North-East. Seven out of ten support minimum unit pricing.

“They’re suffering at the hands of cheap supermarket alcohol.”

Meanwhile, Labour accused Home Secretary Theresa May of hiding from her responsibilities, as ministers refused to confirm whether the plans 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, which comes under her department, and “overruled” the Prime Minister, Ms Cooper said.

Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne was forced to attend the Commons to respond to an urgent question.

He said a decision would be announced once careful evaluation of the consultation was completed.