A LEADING Bolton health specialist has criticised a government move to ban the sale of ultra-cheap alcohol in England and Wales — labelling it a meaningless attempt to tackle heavy drinking.

Dr Kieran Moriarty, a consultant gastro-enterologist at the Royal Bolton Hospital, criticised the Home Office’s announcement yesterday to ban the sale of budget booze.

Ministers hope the move — which will come into force on April 6 — will prevent heavy discounting in supermarkets and off licences.

The latest pledge will mean that drinks must cost more than the rate of duty plus VAT.

An ordinary 440ml can of beer or lager will not be sold below 50p and the new “floor price” for a bottle of wine will be £2.24.

A bottle of vodka or other spirits will cost a minimum of £10.16. Dr Moriaty has been calling for a minimum price of 50p per unit for the past two years but dismissed the latest announcement.

Dr Moriaty, who is also a member of The British Society of Gastro-enterology, said: “This is just a load of rubbish. All it means is that alcohol cannot be sold at below cost.

“A strong 440ml can of beer of lager is classed as two units, which is 25p per unit and way below the 50p minimum pricing we are calling for.

“This latest measure will not make any difference and does not address the real issue. They have not gone by the evidence and are trying to make it look as though they are putting something forward.”

Yet ministers insist that below-cost selling is a real issue, with six out of seven major super-markets found to be selling alcohol at up to 12 per cent below cost in a 2008 Competition Commission study.

They also point to growing evidence of “pre-loading” with two-thirds of young people who were arrested for alcohol-related crime and disorder in one English city admitting to getting “tanked up” with cheap supermarket booze before going out.

Norman Baker, Crime Prevention Minister, said: “Banning the sale of alcohol below duty plus VAT will stop the worst examples of very cheap and harmful drink.

“It is part of a wide range of actions we are taking, including challenging the drinks industry to play a greater role in tackling alcohol abuse.”