Warning Alcohol Bill won't stop sales of cheap booze

LOOPHOLES left by the watered-down Alcohol Bill passed by MSPs will allow supermarkets to carry on selling cheap booze, it was warned today.

Lothians SNP MSP and former Wester Hailes GP Ian McKee said despite a ban on bulk discounts and irresponsible promotions, retailers would be able to continue offering low-cost alcohol by marketing combinations of products, such as a barbecue and a crate of beer, at a reduced price.

Dr McKee proposed a series of amendments - to ban such "meal deals", as well as excluding alcohol from supermarket loyalty points schemes - but they were voted down by the government and opposition.

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The Scottish Parliament threw out the government's flagship proposal for a minimum price of 45p per unit for alcohol despite widespread support from medical experts and the police. MSPs also rejected powers for local licensing boards to ban off-licence sales to under-21s and defeated Labour's plan to crack down on caffeinated alcoholic drinks like Buckfast.

They did vote to outlaw volume discounting, introduce a "Challenge 25" age verification scheme and approve the principle of a social responsibility levy to ensure retailers and licensed premises contribute to the wider cost of their activities to the community.

But Dr McKee said the parliament's failure to take more robust measures meant Scotland's problem with drink would continue.

He said: "This bill only tackles it on the fringes and I don't see it having any effect at all.

"People in Scotland will continue to get ill and die who would not have if this legislation had been passed."

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said she was disappointed the bill was not as strong as she would have liked.

The minimum pricing proposal, which had been the centrepiece of the bill, was defeated by 76 votes to 49 with the two Green MSPs and Labour's Malcolm Chisholm, MSP the only non-SNP members to vote for it.

Ms Sturgeon said: "We need a concerted and sustained effort to reduce alcohol consumption in Scotland. I will continue to make the case for minimum pricing because I fundamentally and passionately believe it is the right policy."

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The Scottish Whisky Association welcomed the rejection of minimum pricing. Chief executive Gavin Hewitt said: "We call on all parties to build a consensus around alternative, more effective, tax-based measures to address alcohol misuse. Reform of the UK excise duty system so that all alcohol is taxed on a fair and responsible basis offers that opportunity."

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association claimed even the watered-down legislation would hit consumers and businesses, while doing little to address the causes of alcohol misuse. A spokesman said: "Proposed restrictions mean higher prices, leaving those who can switch to online shopping still able to enjoy discounts at the expense of Scottish retailers."