MSPs to vote on minimum drink pricing bill

Scottish customers might find bottles like these more expensive in the future

by Ray Philp

MSPs will today vote on the final stages of the Alcohol (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament.  The bill would ensure that Scottish retailers will charge 45p per unit.  Drink promotions and reward schemes would also be prohibited under the bill.

Today’s vote comes after numerous attempts by the SNP to push through legislation through Parliament.  Health advisory groups have put pressure on the Scottish Government to address the issue of binge drinking.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said of the bill: “I believe that minimum drink pricing is a policy whose time has come. There’s strong and growing support for minimum pricing – from experts at home and abroad as well as, increasingly, the general public.

“That’s why I’m calling on MSPs to be bold and do the right thing when the Alcohol (Scotland) Bill comes before parliament for its final vote. We won’t save lives by refusing point blank to be guided by expert opinion, modelling and evidence, or by asking the UK Government to take action instead.”

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Harry Burns has voiced his support for the bill.

“Scotland has an unenviable reputation when it comes to alcohol. We are, sadly, world-class when it comes to damaging our health through heavy drinking.

“Minimum pricing, as part of a package of wider measures, can help us to redress the balance when it comes to our unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”

Retailers have expressed their opposition to the bill on the grounds that it would be punitive towards pensioners and low income families.  Paul Walsh, chief executive of Diageo, said that “there is no empirical evidence that pricing curbs alcohol abuse.”

Independent wine retailer Andrew Lundy, MD of Vino Wines, called the measures “fair”, adding that:

“I see it as bringing us into a fair market where the low cost selling will be impossible, where sales of strong problem alcoholic drinks will be prohibited. We don’t sell cheap cider, we don’t sell Buckfast. We’re not going to be affected in the same way as supermarkets who sell very cheap, high strength ciders.

“We try to emphasise the quality of our products – we’re not about shucking out cheap ciders. Supermarkets use alcohol as a loss leader to attract customers to the store. They compete using alcohol. That is irresponsible in my view, and to use that as a competition tool is not fair.”

It is widely believed that opposition parties will vote against the Health Secretary’s minimum drink pricing proposals.  Liberal Democrat MSP Ross Finnie said: “The SNP have failed to make the case for minimum pricing. When the Health Secretary brings her proposal back at stage three, we will vote against it.”

The Conservatives also plan to vote against the proposals, saying that the bill would punish responsible drinkers.  Murdo Fraser MSP has proposed a a targeted social responsibility levy, adding that responsible retailers would lose out.

The Shadow Health Secretary said: “With the SNP’s indiscriminate blanket minimum pricing dead in the water, the challenge is for all parties to come together and find real, practical solutions to tackle Scotland’s drink problem. There is no ‘silver bullet’ to cure Scotland’s over-consumption of alcohol and the most pressing need is a change of culture.”