Scottish government seeks minimum alcohol price of 50p per unit

Media caption,

Nicola Sturgeon: "This is a big policy designed to address a big problem"

The Scottish government has confirmed that it wants to set a minimum price for alcohol of 50p per unit.

The figure - 5p higher than the one which had been proposed in the previous parliament - comes as a 40p price is planned for England and Wales.

The Scottish Nationalists hope the measure will reduce the health problems caused by excessive drinking.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement during a visit to Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

It is hoped the move - which would make the ­cheapest bottle of wine £4.69, while a four-pack of lager would cost at least £3.52 - will lead to a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths through alcohol abuse.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Too many Scots are drinking themselves to death. The problem affects people of all walks of life.

"It's no coincidence that as affordability has increased, alcohol-related hospital admissions have quadrupled, and it is shocking that half of our prisoners now say they were drunk when they committed the offence. It's time for this to stop.

"Introducing a minimum price per unit will enable us to tackle these problems, given the clear link between affordability and consumption.

"There is now a groundswell of support for the policy across the medical profession, police forces, alcohol charities and from significant parts of the drinks and licensed trade industry who recognise the benefits minimum pricing can bring - saving lives and reducing crime."

Sheffield University's alcohol research group was commissioned by the Scottish government to examine the impact of the policy.

Dr John Holmes, who was part of the project team, told BBC Radio Scotland the move would have a significant impact on drinking habits.

He said: "We found that a 50p minimum price would lead to an overall reduction in consumption of 5.5%. So harmful drinkers' consumption would fall by more than 10%, whereas moderate drinkers would see their consumption fall by just 2.5%.

"In terms of how much extra spending that would mean, harmful drinkers would have to spend over £120 extra a year on their alcohol, whereas moderate drinkers would spend just £8 a year more."

The Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill is making its second passage through parliament after defeat in 2010 when the SNP was in a minority administration.

It passed through parliament without opposition in March.

Ms Sturgeon promised to announce what the minimum price per unit would be before Holyrood's final vote on the legislation later in this parliament.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats supported the legislation, while Labour abstained.

The law will be ditched after six years if the policy does not work after a "sunset clause" was inserted as part of a deal to secure Conservative support for the SNP proposals.

Scottish Labour said it had been prepared to support the policy if the SNP government clawed back the "multi-million pound windfall the policy generates".

The party is worried that the minimum price would generate profits for alcohol retailers in excess of £125m.

Media caption,

People in Glasgow respond to the plan to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol

Its public health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said: "By setting a minimum price of 50p, it will mean even bigger profits for the big alcohol retailers and not a single extra penny going towards our police or health services that are left to mop up the consequences of alcohol misuse.

"The need to claw back the multi-million windfall is now even more urgent, especially at a time when budgets across the public sector are tight and the SNP is already cutting the alcohol treatment budget by millions of pounds."

'Give it a chance'

But Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw was critical of Labour for not giving its full backing.

He said: "Minimum pricing will have all the more authority if it commands all party support.

"Given that Scottish Conservatives have secured a 'sunset clause' there is no excuse for Labour remaining isolated. However sceptical, all parties should now unite to give minimum pricing a chance to succeed."

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie welcomed the price move.

He said: "A higher than expected price should have an even more significant impact on alcohol misuse that blights lives, communities and families. The SNP can count on the support of the Liberal Democrats for minimum pricing."

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) also welcomed the Scottish government's announcement.

Its chief executive Paul Waterson said: "The whole issue of introducing retail price controls for the sale of alcohol is a brave step by the Scottish government and one that the SLTA supports and has campaigned for since the 1970s, when retail price maintenance was abolished.

"The 50p per unit minimum price is an appropriate starting point which is fair and 'proportionate' to help combat the low cost sales of alcohol we see around us every day, which contribute to the abuse of alcohol problems within Scotland."

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