By Gillian McKenzie
Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said the U-turn by the UK government on its proposal to introduce a 45p a unit minimum price in England and Wales “will have no impact” on the Scottish Government’s approach.
Plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol of 50p a unit in Scotland are currently subject to a legal challenge after the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) appealed against a Court of Session ruling in May that minimum pricing is legal.
Last week the UK government ditched its plans to introduce a minimum price in England and Wales, claiming there was “not yet enough concrete evidence” its introduction would be effective in reducing alcohol-related harm. Crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne said the government has also decided not to ban multi-buy promotions, saying there was “still a lack of convincing evidence” that the measure would have a “significant effect” in reducing consumption.
The UK government did, however, confirm plans to ban ‘below cost’ (alcohol duty plus VAT) selling by spring 2014.
The U-turn on minimum pricing was welcomed by the SWA, which said it was “pleased” the UK government had decided not to press ahead with the initiative. “Several EU member states and the European Commission have expressed grave concerns about the legality and effectiveness of the proposals for MUP (minimum unit pricing) in Scotland, which we will continue to oppose,” said chief executive Gavin Hewitt.
Drinks giant Diageo also welcomed the climb-down.
“Our position remains clear that the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol would not work,” said country director Andrew Cowan.
“It would fail to deter problem drinkers and it would unfairly punish responsible drinkers. As such, we welcome the government’s decision not to proceed with this ineffective policy.”
Paul Waterson of the SLTA said he was “surprised” at the U-turn – but that it will “make no difference” to the situation north of the border.
“I think because the UK government is not going ahead with it, it might make the Scottish Government more determined; harden their resolve,” said Waterson.
“I still believe when it comes to Scotland a lot of people will see minimum pricing work and a lot of governments will follow. If people think minimum pricing won’t work, banning below cost selling certainly won’t work.”
Health secretary Alex Neil reiterated the Scottish Government’s commitment to the measure, saying it “will not turn its back” on minimum pricing. “While the UK government’s decision not to proceed is very disappointing, it will have no impact on the Scottish Government’s approach to the policy,” he said.