Health committee split on alcohol pricing

Image caption,
The health committee outlined its views on the alcohol bill

Holyrood's health committee has urged the Scottish government to specify what minimum price it would set for alcohol.

The committee's report on the government's alcohol bill acknowledges the scale of the problem but MSPs are divided over whether the key measure of minimum pricing would be effective.

Doctors, the police and the licensed trade back the plans to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol.

But opposition parties are worried about the measure.

They have said it would also punish responsible drinkers.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon believes minimum pricing will help to reduce consumption, especially among problem drinkers.

She has said in the past that the government needed to take "radical action" to cut the £2.25bn cost of alcohol misuse in Scotland.

The stage 1 report on the proposed legislation, published on Thursday morning, recommends parliament supports the general principles of the bill and the public-health purpose in proposing this legislation.

On minimum pricing it concludes: "Some members believe that it could result in a substantial increase in revenue from alcohol sales for retailers and producers and a predicted loss of revenue from VAT and duty to HM Treasury; others profoundly disagree and point to the social responsibility levy and potential savings in health and policing expenditure as possible balancing factors.

"Some members recognise that the policy would affect some hazardous drinkers' consumption but, as many of these fall into higher income brackets, the effect would be limited and therefore disproportionate considering the wider financial impact, especially on lower income groups.

"Some members do believe that it would be effective in bringing about a significant change in the population's drinking habits, subject to knowing what the minimum price would be."

The report recommends the government amends the bill at stage 2 to specify the minimum price per unit.

The report comes the day after Scottish Labour published the interim findings of its Alcohol Commission.

The recommendations included a legal limit on the caffeine content of alcoholic drinks - which would effectively ban the tonic wine Buckfast.

The party hopes to amend the forthcoming alcohol bill to stop drinks firms using more than 150 milligrams of caffeine per litre of alcohol.

Buckfast currently contains two-and-a-half times that amount.

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