Wales politics

Proposed minimum alcohol price law is published

alcohol
Image caption Ministers say the law would have a 'small impact' on moderate drinkers

Plans for a new law setting a minimum price for alcohol in Wales have been published by the Welsh government.

Research suggested a charge of 50p per unit would save nearly £900m over 20 years by cutting crime and illness, with 50 fewer deaths a year.

Ministers said they were committed to using their powers to "improve and protect" the health of people in Wales.

But a drinks industry spokesman said the plans would "ramp up" prices while "doing nothing" to tackle alcohol harm.

Similar plans in Scotland face a legal challenge from whisky producers, who claim they breach European law.

Wales' Deputy Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the new Welsh law would "save lives, reduce rates of crime, help ensure valuable NHS resources are used wisely and help businesses by reducing absence from the workplace".

"Minimum unit pricing will affect those drinks sold at an unacceptably low prices relative to their alcohol content," he said.

"This is a particularly well-targeted measure as it will only have a small impact on moderate drinkers and have the biggest impact on high-risk drinkers."

Image copyright Welsh government

But Wine and Spirit Trade Association chief executive Miles Beale said such changes would "unfairly ramp up the cost of over half of the drinks on supermarket shelves" while "doing nothing to tackle alcohol harm".

"It is entirely wrong that responsible consumers in Wales should be punished for the actions of an irresponsible few," he said.

Mr Beale also warned Welsh businesses could be hit by people shopping across the border in England and said there were serious legal questions, including whether fixing drinks prices is contrary to UK competition law.

Shadow health minister Darren Millar said the Conservatives backed the Welsh government's aims in principle but "it will be important to resolve questions which remain over whether the proposals fall within the devolution settlement".

South Wales Police Deputy Crime Commissioner Sophie Howe said minimum pricing could help efforts to tackle violent crime.

"Good progress is being made but there is still much more to be done," she said.

The Royal College of Physicians said it welcomed the use of legislation where there is evidence to support its use.

The Welsh government held a previous consultation on minimum alcohol pricing as part of a wider Public Health Bill.

Alcohol pricing will now be covered by a separate bill, to avoid the risk of any EU judgement against it delaying other public health measures, such as restrictions on e-cigarettes and the registration of tattoo parlours.

The consultation will run until December 2015.

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