Minimum pricing alcohol plan defeated

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The Scottish government's plans for minimum drink pricing have been defeated at Holyrood, despite a last-minute offer to save the measure.

From Democracy Live: Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon leads calls for the dropping of minimum pricing

Holyrood's health committee backed a Tory amendment to strike from the Alcohol Bill plans for a minimum price per unit of alcohol of 45p.

The SNP offered to insert a sunset clause in the legislation, which would review the policy after six years.

But the move did not gain enough opposition support.

Ministers say minimum pricing, also supported by the Greens, is needed to help tackle Scotland's drinking culture, but Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems have questioned its legality and said the blanket policy would hit responsible drinkers.

Analysis

I doubt whether this particular issue, important though it is, will sway substantial numbers of votes at the next Holyrood elections.

But it has added to the long-established mistrust between the SNP and Labour in particular.

Labour says the episode has demonstrated a Nationalist adherence to dogma, pursuing a course of action long after it had been repeatedly signalled that there was no parliamentary majority.

The SNP says Labour's opposition to the measure was founded not on principle - but on a partisan wish to deny the Nationalist government its "smoking ban moment".

Ministers will make one last attempt to re-insert minimum pricing in the bill during its final vote in parliament, but the opposition has made clear the move will not be supported.

In a separate move, the committee also rejected a Labour move to prohibit the sale of ready-mixed drinks with a caffeine limit over 150 milligrams per litre, which would effectively ban the tonic wine Buckfast.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said there was wide support for the policy, adding: "My deep frustration in this debate is that we haven't got to a point today where parties, having listened to all of the evidence, having interpreted that evidence, having weighed up the evidence, have come to the view at this stage that they oppose minimum pricing.

"My regret is that the opposition parties reached that view before we heard a shred of evidence."

But Tory health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: "There is simply no political support for the SNP's blanket minimum pricing.

"These plans would penalise responsible drinkers, harm the Scotch whisky industry, cost jobs and is probably illegal."

Labour's Jackie Baillie added: "The facts are that the Scottish government has not been able to get a parliamentary majority because they have lost the argument.

"This policy is effectively a tax on the poor paid directly to the shareholders of the big supermarkets."

ALCOHOL BILL - KEY MEASURES

  • Ban on drink promotions
  • Rise in age for buying drink
  • Retailers' social responsibility fee
  • Tighter proof of age rules

Ross Finnie, the Lib Dem health spokesman, said: "We remain unconvinced by the government's proposals for minimum pricing.

"It impacts heavily on the low paid, has a marginal effect on hazardous drinkers and gives a windfall to retailers."

The SNP argued a levy of 45p would mean 1,200 fewer hospital admissions, a £5.5m fall in health care costs, 50 fewer deaths and nearly 23,000 fewer days absent from work in the first year.

The policy would have seen a two-litre bottle of Tesco brand cider go from £1.32 to £3.80, while Asda whisky would rise from £9.20 to £12.60.

Ms Sturgeon has maintained that costs would only rise for high-strength products sold at rock-bottom prices.

Opposition parties support other measures in the Alcohol Bill, which include banning drink promotions, the ability to raise the age for buying alcohol, and bringing in a "social responsibility fee" for retailers who choose to sell alcohol.

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