Labour likely to block minimum price for alcohol in Scotland

27 November 2009
Labour likely to block minimum price for alcohol in Scotland

Labour looks set to block a plan to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland, after it signalled it would not support a key part of a new alcohol bill.

The SNP government published the bill yesterday as part of a bid to tackle Scotland's problems with drink-fuelled violence, which it estimates costs the country £2.25b a year.

Other parts of the bill look set to be approved. They include: a ban on drink promotions; an increase in the age for buying alcohol in shops from 18 to 21; and a new ‘social responsibility levy' for retailers which could see certain licence holders being made to contribute towards drink-related costs such as extra policing and street cleaning.

Patrick Browne, chief executive of Scottish Beer and Pubs Association (SBPA) said: "This latest Bill will not be welcomed by most licensees as it proposes even more changes to Scotland's licensing laws before all of the current provisions have been fully enacted, let alone allowed to settle in.

"The alcohol bill will give the Scottish Parliament a welcome opportunity to rebalance the current unlevel playing field between on and off sales retailers which bans promotions like buy on get one free offers in pubs but not in supermarkets. However, in many other respects the bill simply represents a rerun of many of the ideas and arguments

And speaking to the BBC, Paul Waterson of the Scottish Licensed Trades Association said he was disappointed that minimum pricing looked unlikely to be given approval.

"This is about bringing back balance here and we know that Scotland has a major problem with alcohol abuse and it's fuelled by irresponsibly low prices.

"It doesn't matter particularly where that irresponsible price is to us, whether it's in pubs, supermarkets or anywhere else," Waterson said.

But Scottish Retail Consortium director Ian Shearer welcomed the news. "A minority of Scots have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, yet the Bill seeks to penalise all drinkers by pushing up prices and banning promotions.

"There is no simple link between price and irresponsible consumption. The UK has among the highest alcohol taxes in Europe, and some countries with significantly lower taxes have much lower consumption. Irresponsible drinking is primarily a cultural issue and so making all customers pay more is the wrong approach."

The Health and Sport Committee has now launched a consultation exercise in relation to the Bill, a Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said.

The closing date for submissions is 20 January 2010. MSPs are not expected to vote on the bill for several months, a process which risks being further delayed depending on when a General Election is called.

Minimum pricing on alcohol would "save hundreds of lives" >>

Government rules out minimum pricing for alcohol >>
Beer group wants minimum price on all alcohol sales >>

By Neil Gerrard

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