Scots reject minimum price

The Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee has rejected the ruling SNP’s plans for a 45p-per-unit minimum price for alcohol.

The committee debated the Alcohol Bill in which the measure was included as a government amendment at Stage Two, but it was defeated in a 5-3 vote.

A Labour amendment to ban alcoholic drinks with a high-caffeine content – which would have outlawed Buckfast tonic wine – was also thrown out.

The SNP has vowed not to give up on its quest to introduce minimum pricing.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the government would bring forward a further amendment to include minimum pricing at Stage Three of the Bill’s passage through Parliament.

Sturgeon said in the committee meeting: “My regret in this debate is that we haven’t got to a point where parties have listened to all the evidence before coming to the view that they oppose minimum pricing. My concern is opposition parties reached that view before they’d heard a shred of evidence.

“I’ve consistently said I’d be open to alternatives but here we are debating at Stage Two and no one has brought forward an alternative.”?Sturgeon had proposed a compromise “sunset clause” which would see the measure automatically reviewed after six years.

However, one committee member expressed concern about what might happen if a sunset clause was included.

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “If it was found not to work, a sunset clause would just encourage people to consume more after a six-year period [when the price came down again].”?SNP member Michael Matheson told the committee: “By taking minimum pricing out of the bill you take away one of the most important tools in the box to deal with this issue – affordability.”?The defeat for minimum pricing was welcomed by the Scotch Whisky Association.

Chief executive Gavin Hewitt said: “The vote sends the clearest of signals that it is time to build consensus around alternative, more effective tax-based measures at a UK level to address alcohol misuse.”?The Scottish Grocers’ Federation welcomed minimum pricing being thrown out, but called for a ban on below-cost selling. Chief executive John Drummond said: “There is no mechanism to stop the big supermarkets selling alcohol at rock-bottom prices.

“Not only would this undermine the intention of the bill, to address Scotland’s harmful relationship with alcohol, it will also reduce the opportunity for small shops to attract customers from supermarkets and perpetuate a commercial advantage for the biggest players.”