THE SNP has accused David Cameron of a “dereliction of responsibility” that will cost lives amid reports the UK government is set to abandon its alcohol minimum pricing policy.
As the coalition government came under fire for contemplating ditching its plans to introduce the controversial measure to tackle excessive drinking, the Scottish Government vowed to press ahead with the policy.
Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said he hoped speculation that the coalition was going to “renege” on its commitment was unfounded.
SNP MSP Bob Doris was more forthright, saying: “If the reports are true that the Tory/Lib Dem coalition has abandoned minimum alcohol pricing because of a Cabinet split, it is a serious dereliction of responsibility which will cost lives south of the Border.”
Yesterday Downing Street refused to comment on suggestions that minimum pricing was to be abandoned south of the Border because of opposition in the UK Cabinet from ministers such as Home Secretary Theresa May and the Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Number 10 said responses to the UK government’s consultation into setting a 45p minimum price were “still being considered”.
Some Cabinet ministers are said to be arguing that introducing minimum pricing will penalise responsible drinkers. Treasury officials are said to be against it on the grounds that it would reduce tax revenues at a time when the economy is under stress.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron was confronted by Conservative MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston, who said abandoning minimum pricing would “critically undermine future efforts” to deal with the UK’s alcohol problem.
The Prime Minister did not specifically back minimum pricing, preferring to talk about dealing with discounted alcohol in supermarkets, which saw some cans of lager being sold for 20 or 25p.
In Scotland, Mr Neil said: “We have a firm commitment to continue with our policy of minimum unit pricing for alcohol.
“We hope that speculation that the UK government is going to renege on its commitment to minimum pricing is unfounded, and that they remain committed to this vital public health policy.”
Mr Doris, deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee, said: “Thank goodness we have a government in Scotland that has acted on the basis of the evidence, and passed a minimum pricing bill with widespread support in the Scottish Parliament, including from the Tories and Lib Dems.”
The introduction of a minimum pricing policy has proved controversial in Scotland, with the measure currently the subject of a legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).
Earlier this year, the SWA and other European wine and spirits producers took legal action against legislation that would set a minimum alcohol unit price of 50p in Scotland.
The SWA claims the law, passed at Holyrood last year, breaches the UK’s EU treaty obligations as it would restrain trade.