Scotland backs minimum alcohol pricing

 

Scotland has become the first part of the UK to back minimum pricing for alcohol.

MSPs voted by 86 to one in favour of legislation which will mean drinkers must pay at least 50p per unit of alcohol.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the measure would have "a significant and historic impact".

Labour MSPs abstained in the vote after the party failed in a last-ditch attempt to claw back extra profits made by supermarkets. The move was described as a red line by Labour in order to secure its support for the legislation.

One SNP MSP, Roseanna Cunningham, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, voted against the Bill.

Ms Sturgeon hailed the passing of the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill as a "landmark moment in Scotland's fight against alcohol misuse".

She said: "I am delighted that Parliament has passed the Bill and minimum pricing will now become law."

The Scottish Health Secretary also said: "This policy will save lives, it's as simple as that. It is time to turn the tide of alcohol misuse that for too long has been crippling our country. Minimum pricing will kick-start a change by addressing a fundamental part of our alcohol culture: the availability of high-strength, low-cost alcohol.

"Together with other measures like quantity discounts, irresponsible promotions on alcohol and our record investment of £196 million to tackle alcohol misuse, I believe this wide package of measures will help to create the cultural shift needed to change our relationship with alcohol."

Minimum pricing could now come into effect as early as next April.

Research has indicated that setting the minimum price at 50p would lead to 60 fewer deaths, 1,600 fewer hospital admissions and 3,500 fewer crimes in its first year.

After 10 years there could be 300 fewer deaths annually, 6,500 fewer hospital admissions and overall savings worth £942 million, the research by Sheffield University estimated.

Cheaper, own-brand products and super-strength lagers will increase in cost under the new law.

A 50p minimum price would take the cost of a 70cl bottle of 37.5% vodka to no less than £13.13, four 440ml cans of 9% lager will increase to a minimum of £7.92 and a 75cl bottle of 12.5% wine could be sold for no less than £4.69, the Scottish Government said.

A previous attempt by the SNP to introduce minimum pricing failed, being voted down at Holyrood when the party was in a minority administration.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats have since changed policy to support the plan and, with the SNP now having a majority in the Scottish Parliament, the Bill was passed.

The UK Government has suggested setting a minimum price of 40p per unit for England and Wales, and talks are taking place about introducing a minimum price for Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Minimum pricing has been backed by health professionals, police chiefs and some in the drinks industry.

Opponents argue that it does not comply with European law.

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, branded the policy "misguided" and said minimum pricing had "consistently been found to be illegal in Europe".

He said: "We expect legal challenges to emerge once the Scottish Government notifies its proposals to the EC. We hope the UK Government will take due note and drop its own proposals for minimum pricing of alcohol."

Gavin Partington, interim chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: "Whilst the introduction of minimum unit pricing has been approved by the Parliament today, questions remain about its legality and effectiveness in tackling the root causes of alcohol misuse."

Labour said the Scottish Government had "thrown away an opportunity for the whole Parliament to be united in support of minimum pricing" by refusing to support its attempt to claw back the extra cash raised for retailers as a result of the policy.

The party's public health spokesman, Dr Richard Simpson, said: "The SNP has voted to stuff the pockets of supermarket shareholders with gold, instead of ploughing the £125 million windfall back into our police and health service that are left to deal with the effects of alcohol misuse."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was "pioneering legislation".

He said: "Minimum pricing will have a significant impact on alcohol misuse which has ruined the lives of so many families and communities in Scotland."

The Tories changed their stance and backed the legislation after a securing a so-called sunset clause, meaning minimum pricing could be abandoned after six years if it is found to be ineffective.

The party's health spokesman, Jackson Carlaw, said: "For those who are sceptical about this policy, the sunset clause is the opportunity they have to know that in the event it does not have the effect that is claimed for it, then the legislation will fall."

PA

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