SNP offers 'sunset clause' to test if minimum price cuts alcohol abuse
CONTROVERSIAL plans to impose minimum prices for alcohol in Scotland could be implemented on a trial basis.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon has offered to introduce a "sunset clause", which would allow a test of the plans to see if the measure reduces excessive drinking.
Ms Sturgeon said MSPs would be able to renew the minimum pricing policy after a set period, which had yet to be decided, and could vote not to keep it.
The offer was made during talks yesterday with the main opposition parties, which oppose the minimum price plans.
Ms Sturgeon said she would be prepared to table an amendment to the government's alcohol bill, when it comes before MSPs this autumn.
However, the offer received a lukewarm reaction from opposition parties, who backed a floor price that would build on the combined cost of duty and VAT. Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems called on Ms Sturgeon to work with the Westminster government to ensure a floor price was uniform across the UK.
But Ms Sturgeon claimed that minimum pricing was the best way of tackling Scotland's problem with alcohol abuse.
She said: "Alcohol misuse is the biggest problem, in terms of health consequences, that we face in Scotland. Minimum pricing can tackle that problem effectively.
"The sunset clause would mean that minimum pricing would cease to be in effect unless parliament renewed it. If it had a positive effect, as we believe it would, then parliament would be able to vote to continue with it.
"A criticism of the minimum pricing policy has been that it has not been tried anywhere, but under the sunset clause people would be able to see how it works in practice.
"It would be a trial and would create a forum for getting evidence about how the policy works."
Ms Sturgeon appealed to opposition parties to back minimum pricing, which she said was too important to be decided during a "party political" row.
The proposed sunset clause was described as a sign of weakness by both Labour and the Tories yesterday.
Labour's health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, claimed this showed the evidence to back up the policy was missing.
She said: "It's an admission that the evidence is not there, is not persuasive and the cabinet secretary, in fairness, did say that this allowed the policy to be tested and determined."
The Tories' health spokesman, Murdo Fraser, said that the sunset clause was a "substantial concession".
He said: "I think they're accepting there's a problem with the lack of evidence."
However, Lib Dem health spokesman Ross Finnie said MSPs should not make an "instant judgement" about the sunset clause proposal.
Mr Finnie said that the Lib Dems still opposed minimum prices, but that the talks with Ms Sturgeon and the other parties had involved a "sensible discussion" about how to tackle alcohol abuse.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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