Holyrood's health committee split on minimum alcohol price

Alcohol on shop shelves The committee recommended that the Alcohol Bill proceeds to stage two

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A Holyrood committee is split over plans to set a minimum unit price for alcohol.

The health and sport committee has recommended the Alcohol Bill continue through the Scottish parliament to the next stage.

A majority of members said they were persuaded the measure will help reduce alcohol consumption.

However, the committee's stage one report also said some MSPs remain sceptical about the potential efficacy.

The committee accepted there is a "strong link" between price and alcohol consumption.

However, its report highlighted a "difference of opinion" amongst members.

It stated: "A majority of the committee are persuaded by the Scottish government's assertion that the Bill will help reduce alcohol consumption in Scotland, because they consider the evidence received to be both overwhelming and compelling, in particular reducing the consumption of alcohol by harmful drinkers, and the impact of alcohol misuse on public health, crime, public services, productivity and the economy as a whole."

However, it added: "A minority of members are sceptical, but hope that the Scottish government's assertion that the Bill will help reduce alcohol consumption and lessen the impact of alcohol misuse on public health may come to pass."

'Substantial support'

The report went on to say that a minority of members feared minimum pricing may "penalise moderate drinkers and also those in lower income groups".

It added: "They also draw attention to the lingering issue of the Bill's legality in a European context and are concerned that any protracted legal proceedings could detract attention or divert resources from wider efforts to challenge our drink culture."

The committee noted that the Scottish government did not include the minimum price at which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold below on the face of the Bill.

Of those that gave a view on what the minimum price should be, the report stated "the largest proportion identified 50p as their preference".

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We welcome confirmation that a majority of the health and sport committee now consider the evidence in favour of the minimum pricing to be both overwhelming and compelling.

"There continues to be substantial support for the policy, and this government was re-elected on a mandate to introduce it."

A Labour spokesman said the committee's report was "much more balanced than the Scottish government had clearly hoped".

He added: "It points out the number of serious unanswered questions about the government's proposal, not least about the unintended consequences arising from the windfall to retailers estimated as in excess of £100m per year, cross-border sales, the measure's legality and, crucially, the Scottish government's failure to reveal the intended minimum price."

The report also marks a first for the Scottish Parliament with the health and sport committee becoming the first to have its own Twitter account.

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