Westminster takes over on booze pricing

SCOTLAND looks set to be left behind on measures to tackle alcohol problems after the UK coalition government revealed it intends to bring in minimum pricing.

The Tory/Lib Dem coalition is proposing to bring in a law which prevents supermarkets and other retailers from selling alcohol at below cost price.

The new system is based on a model used by Asda that looks at the cost of alcohol duty plus VAT as the baseline of a minimum price. Under the plans, the minimum price for a litre bottle of spirits would be 10.50, while a 20-pack of beer would have to cost at least 8.50, and a bottle of normal-strength wine at least 2.

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However, there would be a higher bracket for super strength brews and other "problem drinks" although the coalition has already dumped a plan to hike the tax on cider.

The proposal, which was championed by the Tories in Holyrood, will leave Scotland behind most of the rest of the UK on having minimum price legislation despite alcohol problems being worse in Scotland and the issue of minimum pricing discussed for longer. In the recent Alcohol Bill in Holyrood, parties were unable to find common ground with the SNP Scottish Government's proposal of 45p per unit. Both Labour and the Tories wanted to use the tax system to raise the minimum price.

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Murdo Fraser said: "This is a very welcome step from the UK Government, making good on the commitment in their coalition programme.

"These actions will see a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price and will look at ways of using the tax and duty system to tackle the problem across the whole of the UK.

"Scottish Conservatives have been calling for this since the turn of the year as it is a much more effective way of tackling binge drinking than the SNP's discredited plans for indiscriminate blanket minimum pricing.

"We need innovative and workable solutions to tackle Scotland's drink problem and this is an excellent place to start."

But there was anger from the SNP who argued that the approach by the coalition would not be enough.

A spokesman for Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "It is clear that minimum pricing is the most effective, targeted action to combat irresponsibly priced alcohol, and it is deeply unfortunate that the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem opposition groups at Holyrood failed to accept responsibility, preferring to pass the issue to Westminster - which has come up with something that does not effectively address the problem."