A Conservative amendment to remove minimum pricing at a later stage of the parliamentary process was supported by 54 votes to 49 in a stage one debate on the ruling SNP’s Alcohol Bill, with 13 abstentions.
Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon indicated that the party would reveal its preferred level for unit pricing before the stage two reading.
She said: “The amendment that was passed has absolutely no legal effect and it is notable that fewer than half of all MSPs voted for it.
“The Scottish government will continue to seek to persuade members to support minimum pricing, which is backed by a huge range of experts in Scotland.”?The absence of a firm proposal for the level at which minimum pricing should be set has been a stumbling block for opponents of the measure, and Sturgeon hopes to head off the Conservative demands.
Other measures in the Bill include restrictions on drink promotions, a discretionary increase in the age for buying drink and a possible social responsibility fee for retailers.
Scottish Tory health spokesperson Murdo Fraser was reported as saying the vote was “the end of the road for minimum pricing”.
Fraser said in the parliamentary debate on the Bill: “Given that we know the UK government is determined to take forward proposals on taxation and a ban on below-cost selling, would it not be sensible for the Scottish government to pause, wait and see what the UK government does? “It could work in conjunction with colleagues south of the border, rather than run down the road of minimum pricing, for which it does not have support?”?Richard Simpson, Scottish Labour public health spokesman, said minimum pricing had threatened to see Scotland used as “an experimental laboratory”.
A spokesman for brewer SAB Miller said: “We agree with the views of the many MSPs who voiced concern regarding the questionable evidence that has been put forward to support minimum pricing.
“We believe the future focus should be on strict enforcement of existing laws to crack down on under-age drinking, infringement of licensing laws and antisocial behaviour.
“Consumers should be encouraged to take personal responsibility for their behaviour and their decision to drink responsibly.”