Labour isolated as Tories back minimum price for alcohol

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has welcomed support from the Conservatives at stage two of the Alcohol Minimum Pricing (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament. 

The Conservatives agreed to support the Bill after securing a commitment from the SNP that a ‘sunset clause’ would be inserted in the legislation, allowing the measure to be withdrawn after 6 years should it prove to be ineffective.

By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has welcomed support from the Conservatives at stage two of the Alcohol Minimum Pricing (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament. 

The Conservatives agreed to support the Bill after securing a commitment from the SNP that a ‘sunset clause’ would be inserted in the legislation, allowing the measure to be withdrawn after 6 years should it prove to be ineffective.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “The sunset clause is a response to concerns from some members that minimum testing hasn’t been tried elsewhere.  I think that is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate position to take.”

The clause was put forward by Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw, who is a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sports Committee.  Mr Carlaw said that he believes that the sunset clause “reassures those people who retain a degree of scepticism” in the Bill.

The Conservatives’ change of heart on the Bill leaves Labour isolated as the sole party opposing the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol.  The British Medical Association (MBA), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the police and ambulance services, and a number of charities and churches have all come out in favour of the measure. 

South of the Border, a number of senior Labour figures, including the party’s Communities spokesperson Diane Abbott, have expressed support for a similar measure to be introduced in England.  However Labour’s Scottish health spokesperson Dr Richard Simpson MSP described the party’s opposition to a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland as a “red line”.

SNP MSP for Glasgow, Bob Doris, welcomed the Tories support and said that pressure was now mounting on Labour to back what was best for Scotland. Mr Doris, Vice Convener of the Health and Sport Committee, said:

“This is the crucial next step in tackling Scotland’s harmful relationship with alcohol, and I’m delighted that the majority of parties backed the bill at stage two.

“Addressing the link between price of high-strength alcohol and consumption is vital, and we will be able to do this through minimum pricing.

“We urge politicians from all parties to stand with the SNP – and a whole raft of medical experts – who support minimum pricing, so the Tories’ support is therefore most welcome.

“Labour must get onside and support what is best for the people of Scotland and drop their opposition for the sake of opposition.

“Labour MSP and former Health Minister, Malcolm Chisholm recognises the importance of minimum pricing and previously voted for it – which just reveals the extent to which Labour as a whole are still putting party politics ahead of public health in refusing to back minimum pricing.

“Labour have to explain why they think they know better than the BMA, the RCN, all four UK Chief Medical Officers, the Police, the ambulance service, children’s charities, the churches, and countless other experts.

“Nobody is saying that this is a magic bullet that will solve all of Scotland’s alcohol problems, but it is a vital part of addressing the issue of Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with drink.”