Alcohol consumption in Britain saw its sharpest decline in more than 60 years in 2009 in contrast to the perception that the country has a growing drink problem, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said on Friday.

The organisation, which represents the brewing and pub sector, said total alcohol consumption last year dropped 6 percent, the largest decline since 1948 and the fourth annual drop in five years.

It meant Britons were now drinking 13 percent less alcohol than in 2004, BBPA said.

These figures will confound many pundits, as yet again they confirm that as a nation, we are not drinking more, said BBPA Chief Executive Brigid Simmonds.

Those who suggest otherwise need to focus on the hard facts.

Earlier this year the Office for National Statistics also said sales of alcohol had slumped in 2009, with commentators suggesting the recession and health warnings from the government had had an impact.

Official figures suggest that a quarter of all adults in Britain drink hazardous or harmful amounts. Binge drinking is blamed by politicians for health problems and anti-social behaviour, costing Britain up to 12 billion pounds a year.

The figures, published in the BBPA Statistical Handbook 2010, come a day after the Scottish government announced plans to bring in a minimum alcohol price of 45 pence per unit.

The proposal, which is supported by many senior health professionals, would save hundreds of lives and millions of pounds in health care, Scottish ministers said.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in London has also said it would ban the sale of alcohol below cost price in a bid to address the problem of binge drinking, particularly among young people.

Statistics from the BBPA showed that 5.5 billion pounds is paid to the Treasury in duty and VAT on beer, with taxes on the beverage in Britain the second highest in the EU.

In total, alcohol contributes 14.6 billion pounds a year to UK tax revenues. In its emergency budget in June, the new government announced it would freeze the duty on alcohol and reverse a plan to increase taxes on cider.

The handbook reminds us of just how vital a role beer and pubs play in the UK economy, in terms of turnover, jobs and tax revenue, Simmonds said.

BBPA also said figures showed that beer was people's favourite drink, accounting for 60 percent of all alcohol sold in pubs, hotels and restaurants, followed by wine with 17 percent.

The total spending on beer is 17 billion pounds a year, with the average pint of bitter costing 2.58 pounds and lager 2.95 pounds. Unsurprisingly London was the most expensive place for a pint, with prices 35 percent higher than in northeast England.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison)