Page last updated at 00:31 GMT, Friday, 8 January 2010

Commons committee backs minimum alcohol pricing

Women with wine
The minimum price plan would target cheap wine, lager and cider

The Scottish government has welcomed a call for minimum alcohol pricing made by a House of Commons committee.

Westminster's health committee made the recommendation after claiming the drinks industry held more power over policy than health experts.

The SNP government wants to bring in minimum pricing in Scotland, but is being blocked by opposition parties.

Scottish ministers said the committee's call had provided influential support for their stance on alcohol.

The recommendation came in a report published by the cross-party Commons health select committee, chaired by Labour MP Kevin Barron.

'Powerful tool'

It concluded minimum pricing would target problem drinkers who rely on cheap alcohol, adding: "Increasing the price of alcohol is the most powerful tool at the disposal of a government.

"The key argument made by the drinks industry and others opposed to a rise in price is that it would be unfair on moderate drinkers. We do not think this is a serious argument."

In the Scottish Parliament, Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats said they would vote down minimum pricing, saying it might contravene European competition law and would fail to target certain "problem drinks".

Because of devolution, the committee report does not directly affect Scotland, but SNP ministers said it should encourage their opponents to think again.

The Scottish government has said Scotland's alcohol problems cost the country £2.25bn per year and proposed minimum pricing as part of a range of measures to tackle the issue.

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "The critics have claimed that minimum pricing punishes moderate drinkers; that it won't work; and that it's illegal.

"These claims just don't stack up and the select committee has comprehensively rubbished them."

The Commons committee also called for sharp increases in the duty on spirits - including Scotch whisky.

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