Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

MSPs vow to block minimum alcohol pricing plan

Bottles of alcohol
SNP ministers say radical measures are needed to tackle alcohol problems.

Controversial legislation to bring in minimum-pricing for alcohol in Scotland will be defeated by opposition parties.

The SNP government said its legislation to take it forward would tackle drink-fuelled violence and health problems.

But Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems raised concern the measure, contained in the Alcohol Bill, was illegal under European competition law.

However, other key parts of the alcohol bill are likely to win approval.

The government calculates the problem Scotland has with alcohol costs the country £2.25bn per year.

Minimum-pricing policy
Ban on drink promotions
Rise in age for buying drink
Retailers' social responsibility fee

Ministers have said that a minimum-pricing policy would reduce alcohol consumption and save lives.

If a suggested figure of 40p per unit was brought in, a bottle of supermarket vodka would increase in price from just more than £9 to about £10.50, but some cheap, strong alcohol would remain the same price.

The bill also included proposals to ban drink promotions, powers for licensing boards to raise age for buying drink from 18 to 21 and a "social responsibility fee" for retailers who sell alcohol.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the bill was a once-in-a-generation chance to turn around Scotland's drink problems.

The minister attacked the opposition parties, saying they had failed to put forward alternatives, adding: "It is simply inexcusable that opponents have chosen not even to listen to the evidence around minimum pricing during the bill process.

"They have dismissed out of hand the advice of all four UK Chief Medical Officers, the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges of Nursing, Physicians, Surgeons and GPs, Faculty of Public Health, British Liver Trust, Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and many others at the sharp end of dealing with alcohol misuse."

Drink problem 'wasted my health and life'

Ms Sturgeon added: "While we have never said minimum pricing is a silver bullet, all the expert opinion agrees that is can have a major impact as part of our wider package of measures."

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said setting a minimum cost per unit of alcohol would make supermarkets richer, fail to target some problem drinks and potentially break EU law.

He is planning to set up a commission to look at alternative pricing mechanisms such as a local sales tax.

However, Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said he was "profoundly disappointed" with Labour's position, adding: "This flies in the face of all the advice and evidence from public health and other experts."

Scottish Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser said blanket minimum-pricing had been "thoroughly discredited" and called for targeted increases on so-called problem drinks like alcopops and strong cider.

"The SNP's policy is probably illegal, penalises responsible drinkers and will cause immense damage to the Scotch whisky industry," he said.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown hit out at the government for failing to specify what minimum price would be.

drinking women - generic
The SNP said alcohol was costing Scotland 2.25bn a year

He said the proposal was "almost certainly illegal" and would only have a marginal effect on problem drinkers, adding: "We need to stop tolerating drunkenness, alcohol-fuelled violence and routine excess of alcohol, especially in public places."

Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trades Association, backed minimum pricing, telling BBC Scotland: "We know Scotland has a major problem with alcohol abuse and it's being fuelled by irresponsibly low prices."

Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament's health committee, which will be scrutinising the Alcohol Bill, has issued a call for evidence on the proposed legislation, including views on what level the minimum price should be set.

The issue has led to calls for minimum-pricing in Wales.

Brian Gibbons, Wales' social affairs minister, said he wanted to see alcohol strength taken into account in pricing.

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