Scotland announces minimum pricing plans

02 March, 2009

Plans by the Scottish government to introduce minimum pricing to tackle alcohol misuse have been condemned by the opposition Labour Party and industry groups.

The ruling SNP has said it will aim to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol to stop drink being sold for “pocket-money prices”.

It will also introduce local flexibility to ban off-sales to under-21s, a measure it was thought would be unlikely to win national approval from MSPs.

Local chief constables will be able to request such a measure from individual licensing boards at any time.

Three-for-twos, BOGOFs and other promotions which “encourage bulk buying and over-consumption” will also be outlawed.

Display and marketing of alcohol will be restricted to specific areas of off-sales premises.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “Plummeting prices and aggressive promotion have led to a surge in consumption.

“We have listened to those who responded to the consultation and modified our proposals where appropriate, but we remain determined to press ahead with tough policies to tackle alcohol misuse.”

Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Baker said: “We need to establish if the minimum pricing model proposed is workable or even legal before going ahead.”

He added: “We will not support a scheme that criminalises 20-year-old adults for buying a bottle of wine.”

The plans were also condemned by the Portman Group, whose chief executive David Poley said: "The Scottish government is not listening to reason.”

He added: “These plans will punish all drinkers while only scratching at the surface of our drinking culture. 

“People who drink to get drunk would not be influenced by these measures. 

“We should be targeting the harmful drinking minority through better education and effective law enforcement.  

“Raising the legal purchase age to 21 is a crazy idea. 

“It is astonishing that some 20-year-old Scots could go to war, smoke and vote but not buy a drink."

Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the measures would make alcohol more expensive for responsible shoppers without making any difference to irresponsible drinking.

On minimum pricing SRC Director Fiona Moriarty said: “We were expecting the government to spell out the legal means they intend to use to achieve one of the most fundamental changes for Scottish customers in recent history. Instead all we have is a hint that existing licensing laws will be used. How can it be right that this major change bypasses full public and parliamentary scrutiny?

 “The Scottish government is wrong to believe there is a link between price and alcohol misuse. Prices and promotions are broadly the same across the UK but alcohol-related deaths are far higher in Scotland than England, which clearly shows Scotland’s relationship with alcohol is deep-rooted and complex.

“Promotions don’t create excessive consumption. They simply offer customers value for money alongside other groceries. Promotional activity tends to be on larger volumes which are consumed with friends and family over an extended period. These measures will penalise the majority of Scots who drink perfectly responsibly and will not be welcomed by customers at a time when family budgets are under strain and value matters more than ever.”

Benet Slay, managing director of Diageo GB, said: “We all have a common goal in wanting to combat alcohol-related issues in Scotland. However, we are extremely disappointed to see that government has failed to listen to industry's concerns.

“It is still progressing with sensationalist policies rather than following evidence based ones that will target the minority of Scots that drink irresponsibly. That is short-term politics making a poor attempt at tackling a serious long-term problem."

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