Scotland: Minimum pricing rejected

Scotch whisky distillers have welcomed a vote by the Scottish Parliament Health & Sport Committee to remove minimum pricing from the Alcohol (Scotland) Bill.

The vote at stage two of the legislative process is the second time the minimum price proposal has been defeated in a Scottish Parliamentary vote and underlines its lack of political support in Scotland.

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the " vote sends the clearest of signals that it is time to build consensus around alternative, more effective tax-based measures at a UK level to address alcohol misuse.

“Scotch Whisky distillers welcome the Opposition parties’ recognition that minimum pricing would be ineffective and illegal. Minimum pricing would not address alcohol harm in Scotland but would cause significant damage to Scotch Whisky at home and abroad.

“There is a strong case for root and branch reform of the UK excise duty system so that all alcohol is taxed on a fair and responsible basis, according to alcohol content, with a legal ‘floor price’ introduced by banning sales below tax.”

The Scottish National Party (SNP) expressed anger at the rejected proposal.

SNP MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament) Michael Matheson said: “The point of minimum pricing is to tackle alcohol consumption and to improve our health and wellbeing, it is to help individuals and their families and to support those working in our health and support services. Minimum pricing would save lives, cut crime, support our health, social and emergency services and improve our society.

“Scotland must face up to our problems and take bold action to tackle them.  That is what MSPs are elected for and I hope is what individual MSPs will chose to do at stage 3, when all politicians will have the chance to have their say.”

However, economics consultancy cebr said a minimum price would not target problem drinkers.

Benjamin Williamson, senior economist at cebr, said: "We applaud the Scottish Health and Sport Committee's rejection of minimum pricing for alcohol. This outcome reflects the consistent findings of our research, that minimum pricing - including at the 45p per unit level proposed - would not target problem drinkers and could have a genuine negative economic impact in terms of jobs, trade and costs to the consumer.

“Specifically, our research indicated that a minimum price of 45p per unit would only reduce harmful drinkers’ consumption by less than one pint a week, whilst costing the responsible majority an extra £236 million per year. The costs of the policy would vastly outweigh its claimed benefits."