Victory: third sector hails minimum pricing

Drink in supermarkets

Drinks industry attempts to halt legislation but Supreme Court rejects its argument 

15th November 2017 by Robert Armour 1 Comment

Lives will be saved after the Supreme Court ruled that Scotland can set a minimum price for alcohol.

Campaigners hailed the historic move after the Scotch Whisky Association tried to block the legislation.

Legislation was approved by the Scottish Parliament five years ago but has been tied up in court challenges after industry bosses opposed it citing EU laws.

The judges, however, ruled the measure was a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".

Ministers said a 50p-per-unit minimum would help tackle Scotland's "unhealthy relationship with drink" by raising the price of cheap, high-strength alcohol.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus, said the decision was a “massive victory for Scotland’s health and for our democracy.”

She said minimum unit pricing will save the lives of hundreds of Scots and improve the lives of thousands more.

Douglas added: “Despite parliament passing this legislation unopposed five years ago, the Scotch Whisky Association has consistently obstructed it; putting their members’ profits over the health of the people of Scotland.  

“Scotland has been leading the way on minimum unit pricing but other countries, such as Ireland and Wales, are now also actively pursuing legislation.”

Douglas called the move the biggest public health breakthrough since the ban on smoking in public places, applauding the Scottish Government for “determinedly seeing it through” in the face of global spirits producers’ attempts to deter action and delay implementation.

She said: “Nicola Sturgeon deserves credit for this. Let’s hope she can now get minimum pricing in place as soon as possible.”

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which backed minimum pricing, also hailed the decision.

“My association has been arguing for price controls on alcohol since Retail Price Maintenance on Alcohol was abolished in the late 1960’s,” he said.

“So today is the end of a long journey for us. Needless to say we are delighted that this positive decision has finally been reached.”

The judges said a tax would increase prices "across the board" and not just the cheap, strong alcohol which is the focus of the legislation.

Nicola Sturgeon, deserves credit for this - Alison Douglas

They also agreed that minimum pricing was "easier to understand and simpler to enforce".

Minimum pricing would not allow retailers to "absorb" the cost in the way a duty rise would, they said.

Scotland's health minister Shona Robison said: "This is a historic and far-reaching judgment and a landmark moment in our ambition to turn around Scotland's troubled relationship with alcohol.

"In a ruling of global significance, the UK Supreme Court has unanimously backed our pioneering and life-saving alcohol pricing policy."

Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Karen Betts responded: “We will now look to the Scottish and UK governments to support the industry against the negative effects of trade barriers being raised in overseas markets that discriminate against Scotch Whisky as a consequence of minimum pricing, and to argue for fair competition on our behalf.”

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