Drinks firms unite to fight crackdown

DRINKS companies have formed "a council of war" to mount a legal challenge to Scotland's alcohol crackdown. Secret talks, understood to involve industry giants such as Diageo and William Grant, have taken place over how to derail SNP proposals to impose a minimum price on alcohol.

The companies believe they can put up a robust legal challenge to the move, which may be fast-tracked through the Scottish Parliament.

The Government, however, remains extremely confident that its price plans – the details of which have still to be finalised – would survive any action. Independent legal experts also think a legal challenge would fail, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

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An industry insider was yesterday quoted as saying: "We don't know all the details yet and we haven't seen the Government's legal argument. But as soon as we do, there will be a swift response."

The Government has still not said exactly at what rate it will set its minimum price, although it is widely expected to be around 40p for every unit of alcohol. That would mean a bottle of standard wine would cost no less than 3.90. It would also come as a huge blow to cheaper ciders popular with "pocket money" drinkers.

The drinks industry could lose nearly 1bn if Scottish adults, on average, reduce their consumption to the maximum recommended by doctors.

The Scotch Whisky Association has already argued that a policy of minimum pricing would be against EU trade regulations. Its chief executive, Gavin Hewitt, said: "European law seems clear that minimum retail prices for spirit drinks are likely to be a barrier to free trade."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We believe we do have the power to make these changes and we are proceeding on this basis."

Support for the policy is expected tomorrow from the UK government's top medical adviser, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, who will, in his annual report on the nation's health, recommend a minimum price of 50p per unit to curb binge drinking.