MINISTERS at Holyrood and Westminster should work together to draw up a UK-wide alcohol pricing policy to avoid business migrating over the Border.
• David Mundell: in favour of cross-Border co-operation. Picture: PA
David Mundell MP, minister of state at the Scotland Office, said this was an area where the two administrations could co-operate to mutual benefit, if the Scottish Parliament goes its own way.
He told delegates at The Scotsman Conferences event, Shopping for Growth: "I want to see more co-ordinated working together on alcohol pricing.
"I represent a Border constituency (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) and if we do have very different pricing (in Scotland and England], the main beneficiary would be Asda in Carlisle. That's the reality of going down that route. The Westminster coalition government wants to work more closely with the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament, but we cannot tell them what to do."
Mr Mundell's comments indicate that the Con-Lib Dem coalition would look at using the UK-wide tax and duty system to look at "problem alcohol products" such as strong lagers and ciders, rather than going down the route of putting a minimum price on units of alcohol across the board – the policy currently favoured by the Scottish National Party.
A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: "Using the tax and duty system to target problem products would avoid indiscriminate collateral damage that unit pricing could cause – and any increase in revenue would go to the Exchequer to help tackle the deficit."
Nicola Sturgeon, the health secretary and her Westminster counterpart Andrew Lansley, discussed the issue in a conversation before last month's election.
Earlier, the director general of the British Retail Consortium, Stephen Robertson, welcomed Mr Mundell's comments and accused the Scottish Parliament of spending too much time on debating "sin products" like alcohol and tobacco.
He said these discussions had "not been the parliament's finest hour" and "generated more heat than light".
The recent health committee report on minimum alcoholic pricing was "confused and inconclusive", he said.
The SNP's minimum pricing plan has stalled at Holyrood through lack of support from the other parties. Many medical experts believe a minimum pricing policy would crack-down on alcohol abuse.
Today, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will argue that the UK government should consider such a policy.
Last night, Ms Sturgeon said: "It's vital that we tackle Scotland's unhealthy relationship with alcohol and we are willing to work closely with other organisations and political parties to do this.
"However, it's also important that we have a solution which delivers results. We believe that minimum pricing would effectively target problem drinkers, in a way which neither tinkering with alcohol duty nor adopting a cost price policy would do."