Introducing a voluntary minimum pricing agreement to pubs and bars will not tackle the problem of binge drinking, says Patrick Browne, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association
Elections, as we all know, bring out a range of policy suggestions from our politicians and the current Scottish Parliament election campaign is no different.
We have seen some politicians, most notably Labour ones in Glasgow raise the idea of some sort of "voluntary agreement" with the licensed trade about setting minimum discounted prices for drinks in an attempt to combat binge drinking.
In late 2004, there was a legal challenge from the industry to an attempt by the Aberdeen City Licensing Board to introduce a minimum pricing scheme. The challenge was successful and Aberdeen was forced to withdraw its scheme, as did other Scottish Boards.
Despite this clear legal decision, in relation to the 1976 Licensing (Scotland) Act, which will remain in force until late 2009, some Licensing Board figures and the Scottish Labour Party have resurrected the idea, supported by some licensed industry figures, and called for "voluntary" minimum pricing agreements.
To them I would say the following: any attempt at introducing minimum pricing would breach current Scottish and UK licensing law as well as UK and European competition law. Similarly, any attempt to introduce similar agreements under Scotland's new Licensing Act 2005 will also fail.
So maybe its time for the industry to take responsibility for itself, abide by current industry best practice on drinks promotions, as represented by the BBPA's Promotions' Standard, and for our well meaning but misguided politicians to actually use the powers they currently have to tackle binge pricing, rather than refloating the concept of minimum pricing which sunk without trace two years ago.
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