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Court ruling on minimum pricing

22 October 09 23:41 GMT

The Scotch Whisky Association, SWA, has claimed the Scottish government's plan to introduce minimum prices on alcohol has been dealt a major blow.

The European Court has ruled that three countries breached EU competition rules in attempting to impose national minimum pricing for tobacco.

The SWA said that cast doubt over the legality of Scottish government plans to impose minimum alcohol prices.

The Scottish government described the cases as "irrelevant".

The court said that setting minimum prices for public health reasons was legitimate but that using taxation and excise duties were the best ways of meeting public health objectives.

The declaration came in the form of an Opinion by the Advocate General, who is appointed by judges to investigate alleged breaches of EU law on their behalf.

In 80% of cases an opinion is in line with a final European Court judgement.

The SWA's chief executive Gavin Hewitt said he welcomed the development.

"This opinion is a comprehensive rejection of minimum pricing by the European Court of Justice and cannot simply be ignored by the Scottish Government.

"Austria, Ireland and France have been told clearly today that minimum pricing is a breach of EU law. The Scottish Government must recognise the legal situation and drop this proposal which would be hugely damaging to Scottish jobs.

"We are ready to work with the Government to tackle alcohol misuse by other means including discussing our proposed ban on sales below tax."

Legal case

But the Scottish government dismissed any link between the issues of alcohol and tobacco pricing.

"It is entirely inappropriate and irrelevant to translate an opinion on tobacco to the totally different issue of minimum pricing of alcoholic products per unit of alcohol for public health reasons," commented Nicola Sturgeon.

"We are well aware of these cases, and the relevant directive … is specifically about the excise duty on manufactured tobacco and has nothing to do with alcohol products.

"In fact, the European Commission has already said that Community legislation does not prohibit minimum pricing for alcohol on public health grounds.

"Obviously, we rely on our own legal advice to progress this policy which is fair, proportionate and necessary to protect public health in Scotland."

The Labour Party called on the Scottish government to make the legal case for minimum pricing for alcohol clear.

Shadow Health Secretary Cathy Jamieson said: "We have always said that the legal basis for the SNP's minimum pricing policy needed clarification."

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