The boss of UK high street giant Marks & Spencer has launched an outspoken attack on the idea of government intervention in the pricing of alcohol.
Specifically addressing the wine market, Sir Stuart Rose (pictured) called proposals to introduce a minimum price for alcohol ‘insane’.
‘Artificially fixing a base price to stop people drinking wine is insane,’ he told decanter.com. ‘As an extreme example, if you go back to 1930s America, prohibition doesn’t work.’
England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has called for a minimum pricing policy.
The government initially ruled out the suggestion, but has said it wants to crack down on cheap alcohol. It has not yet said how it would do this, and has made it clear that it does not want to impose additional burdens on the majority of ‘moderate’ drinkers.
The Scottish Government has signalled support for the introduction of a minimum price of 40p per unit if its debated Alcohol Bill is passed. The Conservatives, meanwhile, have said that instead of raising taxes on all drinks, they would want targeted increases in duty on problem drinks like super-strength beers and action against below-cost selling.
Rose, who is set to retire as chief executive of M&S later this year, said he felt that the wine industry is being unfairly penalised.
‘They keep whacking up the tax on wine, dressing it up by saying it’s [motivated by concern over] health. That’s rubbish – it’s a guaranteed revenue method for them.’
Rose said he was against legislation, but in favour of ‘common sense’.
‘Giving stuff away for nothing isn’t helpful,’ he said. ‘But having a government impose a minimum price for wine is insane.
‘In any society, there are always some people who can’t say no. But why should the majority of people be dictated to by the bad habits of the minority just because a few people get drunk in the streets?’
Asked about the practice of loss-leading by some of his competitors, Rose said he didn’t like the practice, but was against outlawing it.
‘We live in a free market economy,’ he said. ‘As a retailer I’m against putting regulation in to say what you can and cannot do.
Where do you draw the line? We all know customers like a bargain. Why should wine be exempt from that?’
Despite the concern over irresponsible drinking, Rose claimed he was ‘more worried that the nation is becoming obese than I am about people drinking too much’.
Click to see Decanter’s top 10 wines from the recent M&S press tasting.
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Written by Guy Woodward