Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ministers shift over alcohol plan

bottles of wine
Ministers have proposed a number of measures to tackle alcohol abuse

The Scottish Government's controversial plans to tackle alcohol abuse are set to be brought forward in separate legislation.

The proposals, including minimum pricing, will be part of an entirely new health bill instead of being tacked on to existing legislation.

This will allow increased scrutiny at Holyrood and delay any possible implementation until next year.

Opposition parties welcomed the move by ministers.

The minority SNP government at Holyrood, which made the decision after coming under pressure from opposition parties, also wants to ban discount deals on alcohol and restrict the display and marketing of drink to specific areas within off-sales premises.

Scotland's alcohol misuse problem is estimated to cost our country at least £2.25bn per year
Nicola Sturgeon
Deputy first minister

The measures also include a "social responsibility fee" on some alcohol retailers, to help deal with the costs of the adverse consequences of alcohol.

They were initially due to have been brought forward as part of the wide-ranging Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill.

Labour's Michael McMahon said the move showed a complete lack of confidence in Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

He added: "I welcome this decision to separate these two very controversial pieces of legislation and bring forward a separate licensing bill. We said right from the start it was unacceptable to try and bulldozer these controversial proposals through the back door."

Lib Dem chief whip Mike Rumbles welcomed the move, saying: "The SNP has finally seen sense. Liberal Democrats made it very clear that we would not tolerate the Scottish Government attempting to sneak through such controversial measures."

Bill Aitken, the Tory justice spokesman, said: "By moving these proposals into the health brief from the justice portfolio, the SNP is hoping to foster a more muted and less challenging environment for itself, as we all agree Scotland has a massive drink problem.

"This is a classic diversionary tactic hoping to persuade the public under health legislation when in fact the Scottish Government has failed miserably to justify its proposals."

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "Scotland's alcohol misuse problem is estimated to cost our country at least £2.25bn per year in extra services and lost productivity, and professionals are agreed the threat posed to our national health from current levels of consumption is very great.

"Alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths have increased markedly in recent years and this government has already set out our framework for addressing the root causes behind these statistics."

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