Industry hails Scots' U-turn on pricing

The Scottish government’s U-turn on controversial plans for minimum pricing has been hailed as a major victory for the drinks industry.

Ministers had attempted to bring in a 40p-per-unit minimum price on alcohol by amending the 2005 Licensing Act.

But opposition parties warned that any attempt to avoid parliamentary scrutiny by changing existing laws instead of using primary legislation would be blocked.

In a crucial win for the opposition, the proposals now will be fully debated in Parliament in a new Health Bill later this year. A 12-week public consultation will start in April.

Bruce Crawford, minister for parliamentary business, said: “Having taken account of the representations made, the government now proposes to introduce a new health bill that deals with a range of alcohol measures.

“These include minimum price per unit of alcohol, alcohol promotions, limiting the use of marketing material, wine glass sizes, sale of alcohol to persons under 21 and a social responsibility fee.”

Trade leaders have welcomed an opportunity to investigate minimum pricing, rather than having it introduced through the backdoor. “It’s a victory for the trade and victory for opposition parties,” said the WSTA’s Gavin Partington.

“It is only right and proper that such significant changes in policy, which will have huge implications for businesses and consumers, are properly scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament,” added John Drummond, chief executive of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation.

The Scotch Whisky Association has raised concerns over the legality of minimum pricing. “Legal advice indicates it’s very likely to be contrary to European international and trade law,” said spokesman David Williamson.

He said plans for minimum pricing could now be scrapped.

The SNP’s new alcohol policy is expected to be a watered-down version of its original plans.

Partington said: “I think we will see some changes. We expect to see quite a lot of debate and trading.”

The possibility that minimum pricing will be axed in Scotland has weighty implications for the UK and takes the heat off Gordon Brown.