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SWA chief executive Karen Betts: moving forward, concern over minimum pricing creating barriers to overseas markets

Court ruling allows Scottish Minimum Unit Pricing to proceed

The introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland is to proceed following a UK Supreme Court ruling that the original legislation, introduced in 2012, does not violate European Union law.

In a unanimous decision the Justices found that MUP is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, namely reducing consumption of alcohol by consumers whose consumption is hazardous or harmful. Further, they agreed with a lower court judgement that MUP targets the health hazards of cheap alcohol more effectively than would an increase in excise or VAT.

The ruling was welcomed by Scottish government Health Secretary Shona Robison, who described it as a historic and far-reaching judgement.

“This has been a long journey and in the five years since the Act was passed alcohol related deaths in Scotland have increased,” she said. “With alcohol available for sale at just 18 pence a unit, that death toll remains unacceptably high.”

Robison said she plans to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing as quickly as possible, starting with a statement in the Scottish Parliament outing the government’s preferred timetable. The Scottish government anticipates setting the Minimum Unit Price at 50 pence per unit, which was the originally proposed per unit price back in 2012, with this to be subject to the outcome of a consultation process.

According to the Scottish government, the 50 pence a unit floor on alcohol pricing will mean that a four pack of 440ml 5% abv cans of beer will cost at least £4.40.

A three litre bottle of strong cider at 7.5% abv will cost £11.25 while a 70cl bottle of whisky could not be retailed for less than £14.

The Scottish government says that alcohol is now 60 per cent more affordable than it was in 1980. Further, weekly lower-risk guidelines of 14 units of alcohol can be bought for just £2.52, or 18 pence a unit. More than half, 51%, of all alcohol sold in the Scottish off-trade is less than 50 pence a unit.

Industry reaction

The Scotch Whisky Association, which made the appeal to the Supreme Court along with two EU trade bodies for wine and spirits, said that it would accept the ruling.

SWA chief executive Karen Betts said, “We will now look to the Scottish and UK governments to support the industry against the negative effects of trade barriers being raised in overseas markets that discriminate against Scotch Whisky as a consequence of minimum pricing and argue for fair competition on our behalf.

“This is vital in order that the jobs and investment the industry provides are not damaged. At home, we hope to see an objective assessment of the impact of MUP.”

C&C Group, parent company of cider brands such as Magners and Bulmers plus Tennent Caledonian, home to Scotland’s leading lager brand Tennent’s, noted that it has been a “strong and vocal supporter” of MUP since it was first proposed in 2011. The company urged the drinks industry to get behind the decision.

A C&C Group spokesman commented, “Although the majority of Scots enjoy alcohol responsibly, we are concerned about the availability of strong, cheap alcohol and its correlation with harmful drinking that causes misery across Scotland. A part of a package of measures, Minimum Unit Pricing will help to address this.

C&C added that it would welcome similar legislation in other territories in which it operates, including Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Campaign for Real Ale noted that it does not support minimum pricing.

CAMRA head of communications Tom Stainer said, “We believe that it penalises moderate and responsible drinkers while doing little to support those who have issues with alcohol abuse. We think governments would achieve more by focussing on reducing beer duty and business rates to help pubs survive and continue to provide a vital community service.”

Larry Nelson 
17th November 2017

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