Labour abstain as alcohol bill passed

THE SNP government’s plan to tackle Scotland’s drink problem by introducing alcohol minimum pricing was formally endorsed by MSPs last night.

THE SNP government’s plan to tackle Scotland’s drink problem by introducing alcohol minimum pricing was formally endorsed by MSPs last night.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems backed the SNP’s plan with only Labour failing to support the proposals at Holyrood last night.

When asked to vote for the plans, 32 of the 33 Labour MSPs present in parliament abstained. The former health minister Malcolm Chisholm was the sole member of the opposition to vote with the other parties.

Labour’s refusal to support minimum pricing had led to the minority SNP administration in the last parliament failing in its attempt to get the legislation through Holyrood.

This time, however, the SNP’s majority ensured that it would pass its first parliamentary hurdle. A total of 86 MSPs voted for Stage I of the Scottish Government’s Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Bill.

Labour tabled an amendment designed to claw back any additional profits that retailers would make

Richard Simpson, the Labour MSP and former GP who specialised in addiction, said that without inserting a clause into the legislation to limit retailers windfalls the policy risked “doing more harm that good”.

But Labour’s stance was condemned by the SNP.

SNP MSP Bob Doris said: “Labour’s fig-leaf proposals do virtually nothing to address pricing, and their incoherent position was laid bare today. They are completely isolated, with their heads buried in the sand.

“As a former health minister, Malcolm Chisholm recognises the importance of minimum pricing and voted for it – which just reveals the extent to which Labour as a whole are still putting party politics ahead of public health in refusing to back minimum pricing.

“There is overwhelming evidence and support for minimum pricing – Labour have to explain why they think they know better than the BMA, the RCN, all four UK Chief Medical Officers, the police, the ambulance service, children’s charities, the churches, and countless other experts.”

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the government would back an amendment that will be brought forward by the Tories at stage II of the legislation, which would introduce a “sunset clause” to the Bill. This will allow Parliament to review the effectiveness of the policy after five years.

Arguing for the legislation, Ms Sturgeon stressed the government was not against drinking, but was “very much against the problems associated with excessive consumption of alcohol”.

The health secretary said: “Over the years, Scotland’s relationship with alcohol has got increasingly out of kilter and it needs to be rebalanced.

“Since 2000, each and every week, enough alcohol has been sold in Scotland to allow every adult to exceed the recommended weekly limit for men. Sales figures suggest we are drinking almost a quarter more than other parts of the UK.”

She said this culture of excessive drinking was taking a toll on every age group, and “literally every community”, placing “huge pressure” on both the police and the NHS.

Ms Sturgeon added that the minimum price per unit of alcohol will not be announced until later in the parliamentary process, but would be revealed before MSPs’ final vote on it.

BRAND AWARE

Children as young as ten are more familiar with leading alcohol brands than popular snacks, according to a new survey.

Research for Alcohol Concern involving more than 400 children aged ten and 11 found 79 per cent correctly recognised Carlsberg as an alcoholic drink. This was higher than the proportion recognising Ben & Jerry’s as a brand of ice cream (74 per cent) and Mr Kipling cakes as a food (41 per cent).