Q&A: Scotland's alcohol pricing bill

The Scottish government will make a second bid to bring in legislation which will result in a minimum price for a unit of alcohol. The first attempt was rejected by MSPs before last May's Holyrood election. Here, is a look at the issues surrounding the on-going debate.

What is happening today?

The Scottish government will re-introduce to the Scottish Parliament a bill which will set a minimum price per unit of alcohol sold in Scotland.

Haven't I heard this before?

Yes, the bill was one of the most contentious issues of the last Scottish Parliament. Back then, the minority SNP government couldn't secure enough support to pass this element of their alcohol strategy. Their main opponents, Labour, complained it would reward supermarkets with higher profits instead of raising funds which would allow communities to deal with the effects of alcohol abuse. There were also complaints that it may breach EU law - something which was dismissed by the government.

What has changed?

Following May's election the SNP now have a majority of MSPs and can therefore guarantee that this measure will pass.

How will it work?

The bill which is published on Tuesday will give the Scottish government authority to set a minimum unit price for alcohol.

However, the latest bill will not contain their preferred price. That will be revealed in the new year, following a new modelling exercise by academics from the University of Sheffield.

Last time, in a bid to convince sceptical opponents, ministers said the minimum unit price would be 45p. They then set out a series of examples of how this would affect prices and alcohol statistics, including;

  • a bottle of own brand vodka would increase from £8.35 to £11.85
  • a two litre bottle of cider would go up from £1.20 to £3.75
  • and a bottle of wine would increase from £3.75 to £4.20

In addition, they claimed that in the first year there would be;

  • 50 fewer deaths from alcohol-related harm
  • 1,200 fewer hospital admissions
  • £5.5m reduction in health care costs
  • and 22,900 fewer days absence from work

After 10 years, benefits would increase to;

  • 225 fewer deaths from alcohol-related harm annually
  • 4,200 fewer hospital admissions annually
  • and an £83m reduction in health care costs over the 10 year period
So how bad is Scotland's alcohol problem?

The Scottish government estimate it costs £3.5bn a year.

It further claimed that sales data for the year 2007 estimates that Scots over the age of 16 drank, on average, the equivalent of almost 23 units of alcohol per week, compared to just over 19 units in England and Wales.

The main difference in consumption patterns between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain is the higher consumption of spirits in Scotland.

While spirits constituted around 29% of all alcohol sold in Scotland in 2007, spirits made up less than a fifth of the alcohol drunk in England and Wales."

However, the latest publication on hospital discharges related to alcohol shows they have fallen for the last two years.

It said that in 2009-10 in Scotland, the hospital discharge rate for alcohol-related diagnoses was 709 per 100,000 persons.

This is the second fall in a row following a long term upward trend (2008-09: 763 discharges per 100,000 people).

In the five-year period 2005-06 to 2009-10, alcohol-related discharge rates increased in the age groups ranging from 20 to 44, whereas rates fell in younger and older age groups.

The rate of alcohol-related discharges in 2009-10 was 7.5 times greater from patients living in the most deprived areas compared to those living in the least deprived areas.

When will this become law?

A reasonable estimate would be that the bill will take approximately six months to pass through parliament, and should be law by the summer of 2012.

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