Labour’s alcohol plan left in tatters

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Labour’s alcohol policy has been left in ruins after a health committee discovered that there was no evidence to back up recommendations put forward by the party’s self styled ‘Alcohol Commission’

The committee heard retired professor of education Sally Brown, who chaired the commission, also admit that the members of the commission had been hand-picked by the Labour party.


Labour’s alcohol policy has been left in ruins after a health committee discovered that there was no evidence to back up recommendations put forward by the party’s self styled ‘Alcohol Commission’

The committee heard retired professor of education Sally Brown, who chaired the commission, also admit that the members of the commission had been hand-picked by the Labour party.

Labour set up their commission in February this year in response to the Scottish National Party’s alcohol bill that included minimum price for alcohol.  Labour has consistently opposed the SNP policy claiming that there is no evidence it would work and that it was flawed.

74 year old Ms Brown, who is a former Labour party member, was approached to head the group by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie.  Half of the group’s members were Labour politicians or had connections to the party.

Earlier this month the commission made several recommendations that sought to tackle Scotland’s chronic alcohol problem.  These included a limit on the amount of caffeine alcohol based products can contain and a minimum price mechanism based on tax, duty and production costs.

However, a parliamentary committee heard representatives of the commission admit that there was little or no evidence behind their recommendations.  They also conceded that they had no grounds for their attacks on Sheffield University’s study into minimum pricing per unit alcohol.

The committee heard representatives from the Commission admit:

  • there was no evidence for Labour’s proposal of  floor price for alcohol
  • Labour’s plans for a floor price would be regressive and have the most impact on the less well off
  • they had “no idea” what level tax should be set at to have an impact on consumption
  • they had no idea how “cost” price could be assessed
  • that no consideration was given to the implications of  cost price on Scottish manufacturing jobs in the alcohol industry
  • they had no grounds for their attacks on Sheffield University’s study into minimum pricing.

Labour’s proposals to ban caffeinated drinks were also questioned by representatives from Strathclyde Police and the Centre for the Study of Violence who said the main problem was irresponsible drinking overall and not down to specific drinks.

Chief Superintendent Bob Hamilton, of Strathclyde Police, told the committee that people who drink the high-caffeine tonic wine like Buckfast would just switch to something else.

He said: “They drink any type of drink and the issue for me is that they drink lots of it, whatever type it is and that’s the concern.”

Mr Hamilton added:
“We don’t attend many violent disturbances outside coffee shops,

“It’s the alcohol consumption, whatever brand of make, that gives us the greatest concern.”

Mr Hamilton argued that a more effective step to tackling alcohol related violence would be to use plastic bottles in place of glass.

Minimum pricing per unit is the policy favoured by the Scottish Government who have put forward a figure of 45p.  The plan has the backing of health professionals, police and voluntary sector bodies in Scotland.  It has also been endorsed by House of Commons health bodies and some retailers and brewers.  Recently Welsh Labour also backed the policy and Labour politicians in the North of England are seeking to introduce their own minimum price per unit plans.

SNP MSP Michael Matheson, a member of the Health Committee said:

“This was the opportunity for Labour’s Commission to show they had an alternative to minimum pricing and they failed abysmally.

“They had not a shred of evidence for what are now clearly unfounded attacks on the Scottish Government’s proposals and no evidence for Labour’s proposal to use taxation to tackle alcohol consumption.

“Even Labour’s proposals for banning caffeinated drinks failed to stand up to scrutiny with witnesses raising concerns over unintended consequences and  the Commission clearly lacking in evidence.

Stitch Up
Mr  Matheson described the commission as a “stitch up” and “unfortunate” adding:

“This was a deeply disappointing performance and Labour’s Commission has been exposed as the political stitch up it always was.

“It is deeply unfortunate that what could be reasonable suggestions in the report now have to be questioned after the Commission’s evidence was found to be so slim.

“After today’s session it is clearer than ever that to take action to tackle Scotland’s relationship with alcohol we must move forward with minimum pricing as part of our efforts to improve Scotland’s health and well-being.”

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon also criticised Labour’s proposals when standing in for First Minister Alex Salmond at FMQ’s.  Ms Sturgeon said she remained open to any suggestions provided they were backed by evidence, however she called into question the merits of the recommendations from Labour’s commission citing the very clear lack of evidence.

Finally:
Three Scottish newspapers have articles on the subject of Labour’s caffeine policy.

The Record – SNP admit they would consider backing Buckfast ban
The Scotsman – Scottish Government to give consideration to Labour Buckfast ban
The Herald – Caffeinated alcohol ban considered

Here is a clip from FMQs; judge for yourself the accuracy of these headlines:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysypTLNl6cM{/youtube}