Minimum alcohol pricing: Supermarkets accused of bending new law banning cheap alcohol
SUPERMARKET bosses have come under fire for failing to end cut-price alcohol deals in Scotland, despite the introduction of laws aimed at cracking down on the issue.
Many retailers are findings ways round the Alcohol Act which came into force towards the end of last year, MSPs said yesterday.
They accused supermarkets of undermining the spirit of the legislation, which aimed to stop “irresponsible” promotions such as two-for-one deals and volume discounts on wine.
Labour health spokesman Richard Simpson said: “We may not have written the legislation correctly … I think we failed to understand fully when we passed that bill that it would not end volume discounting.
“The spirit of the law was quite clear, that we wanted to ban discounting for volume, and yet the supermarkets particularly and also the small stores are still selling on a volume-discounting basis.”
Instead of wine being sold at three bottles for £10, some bottles are now retailing instead for £3.33, MSPs on the health committee heard.
David Paterson, head of regional affairs at supermarket chain Asda, said: “The clear intention of the quantity discount ban was to reduce any incentive for a customer to buy a larger amount of alcohol than they had intended to. That was the clear and unequivocal objective.
“We made it very clear, particularly in the last Alcohol Bill, that when you intervene in a market which is part of a wider UK single market, there are a number of unintended consequences and they cannot be wished away.
“It seems a bizarre situation to me that there are companies based solely in England that can continue to sell alcohol at whatever price they want, but that in some sense companies that are in Scotland and invest here shouldn’t also be able to do that.
“There has to be a level playing field.”
Nationalist backbencher Jim Eadie said the supermarkets had been accused of “undermining the spirit of the legislation” by “slashing prices and encouraging online purchasing”.
He said: “It does leave the impression with the wider health community in Scotland who are focused on what is the biggest public health challenge facing this country, that companies are putting their profits before the health of the people of Scotland.”
MSPs were taking evidence on the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.
Emma Reynolds, government affairs director for Tesco, said: “In a competitive market, if you do want action on price, it needs to be through legislation because we are in the business of competing for the best possible offers for customers.
“That is why we have said we’ll be constructive in government-led discussions on price.”
Mr Paterson said that minimum pricing legislation, along with other measures, would make Scotland “one of the most restrictive alcohol retailing regimes in the world”.
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