Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has thrown his weight behind the gathering campaign for minimum pricing on alcohol. Clegg told a conference on alcohol and drugs that it was unacceptable for retailers, especially big supermarkets, to sell alcohol well below cost.

“The immediate effect of below-cost alcohol is to tempt people to buy a lot more than would otherwise be the case,” he said. “As a rule, I don’t believe governments should set prices, but when retailers are deliberately distorting the market we need to take action.”

But Clegg’s call was criticised by the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. “Minimum pricing set by Government is wrong,” said chief executive Jeremy Beadles. “It punishes all consumers for the problems caused by a minority and will do nothing to address the real reasons for alcohol misuse.”

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