Labour / Tory Alliance Condemned as Alcohol Proposals Blocked


The decision by Labour to join the Tories and Lib Dems in order to block measures aimed at tackling Scotland’s chronic alcohol problem has been condemned by the Scottish Government.

A compromise by the SNP that would have allowed the legislation to be reviewed after six years was dismissed by Labour and Lib Dem members of Holyrood’s health committee who instead backed a Tory amendment to strike a minimum price per unit of alcohol from the Alcohol Bill.

The decision by Labour to join the Tories and Lib Dems in order to block measures aimed at tackling Scotland’s chronic alcohol problem has been condemned by the Scottish Government.

A compromise by the SNP that would have allowed the legislation to be reviewed after six years was dismissed by Labour and Lib Dem members of Holyrood’s health committee who instead backed a Tory amendment to strike a minimum price per unit of alcohol from the Alcohol Bill.

The SNP has said the failure of opposition MSPs to back measures that would cut alcohol consumption, save lives, money and improve safety in our communities is deeply disappointing and a damning indictment of opposition parties at Holyrood.
The proposal for minimum pricing has the backing of the BMA, the police, all four UK medical officers, drinks manufacturers and pub landlords.  Minimum pricing at 45p will have saved 50 lives in its first year and the SNP will now put the proposal before the whole Parliament giving all MSPs the opportunity to express their view.
Commenting SNP MSP Michael Matheson said:
“Labour simply said no for the sake of saying no.  This was an unholy alliance of Labour and Tory putting party politics before the health of people in Scotland.  Labour today voted for a Tory plan that stops the SNP Government taking essential action to improve our health.
“There were no arguments put forward today that justify the oppositions decision to vote down minimum pricing and no alternatives presented. Their arguments were inconsistent and ineffective.

“The point of minimum pricing is to tackle alcohol consumption and to improve our health and wellbeing, it is to help individuals and their families and to support those working in our health and support services. Minimum pricing would save lives, cut crime, support our health, social and emergency services and improve our society.
“Scotland must face up to our problems and take bold action to tackle them.  That is what MSPs are elected for and I hope is what individual MSPs will chose to do at stage 3, when all politicians will have the chance to have their say.  Labour’s behaviour and their partnership with the Tories shows they are simply not up to the job of responsible opposition and certainly not up to the job of Government.
“The SNP’s plans put public health first – which is exactly what we must do and what we will continue to do with the huge range of organisations across Scotland, every health board, police force, local authorities, children’s charities, medical professionals and pubs and drinks manufacturers who support for this plan.
“Labour’s decision to team up with the Tories, voting for a Tory plan, to knock down essential health measures out of petty political point scoring is deeply disappointing and damaging to the position of this parliament.”

The committee voted 5 – 3 to block minimum pricing, the members who voted against were:

  • Helen Eadie (Labour)
  • Rhoda Grant(Labour)
  • Mary Scanlon(Tory)
  • Doctor Richard Simpson (Labour)
  • Ross Finnie (Lib Dem)

The following people and organisations have expressed views on minimum pricing:
1.      Dr Peter Anderson, consultant to World Health organisation, adviser to European Commission, said (Source: Alcohol Summit, 22 June 2009):

“Outside of governments which own retail stores for the sale of alcohol, no jurisdiction has set a minimum price of alcohol. Internationally, Scotland is seen as a public health leader. You had the courage to introduce smoke free pubs; let us hope you have the same courage to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.”

2.       Henry McLeish (Reported by PA, 15 April 2009).

“Over-consumption and abuse of alcohol in Scotland is not a minority pastime. That is why the acceptance of minimum pricing is so important….. the evidence on such a move is clear, that minimum pricing will impact disproportionately on hazardous drinkers and have a limited effect on moderate drinkers.”

3.       Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems consultation response

“[There is] strong evidence to suggest young drinkers, binge drinkers and harmful drinkers tend to choose cheaper drinks underlining the importance from a public health perspective of raising minimum alcohol prices to reduce consumption and related harm”

4.      Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Show, Chief Constable House said: (11/10/09)

“We’ve got to have price control on drink. We’ve got to drive up the price so that it’s not as cheap as it currently is in supermarkets. That will control people’s behaviour and we support that.”

5.      Alcohol Focus Scotland Consultation response –

“Substantial body of international evidence which shows that raising the price of alcohol is one of the most effective policy tools for tackling alcohol misuse”

6.       WHO Commission report on “Closing the gap in a Generation” –

“There is substantial evidence that an increase in alcohol prices reduces consumption and the level of alcohol-related problems…the effects on alcohol related harms are definite and the costs low, making it a cost effective measure.”

7.       ACPOS response to consultation –

“Addressing the price at which alcohol is sold should be an integral part of any long-term strategic approach to tackling alcohol misuse…. The Scottish Police Service supports any proposals to set minimum retail pricing.” 

8.       Dr Peter Terry, Chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said (Source: Scottish Government News Release, 2/03/09):

“The BMA fully supports a wide-ranging strategy that tackles price and availability, which we consider are key to successfully addressing this problem. We particularly welcome its proposals on minimum price and promotions, as evidence shows that the increased affordability of alcohol is driving the damaging levels of consumption in Scotland.”

9.      Paul Waterson, Chief Executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said (Source: SG News Release, 2/03/09):

“The link between excessive drinking and promotions and deep-discounting in offsales – particularly supermarkets – is the major contributing factor we see with alcohol problems in Scotland. “Not only does the SLTA agree with minimum pricing, it’s a view shared by licensed trade leaders from the rest of the UK and Ireland.”

10.     Jack Law, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said
(Source: Scottish Government News Release, 2/03/09):

“The publication of this Alcohol Framework which shows that the Scottish Government is leading the way in the world and taking seriously the need to address our harmful drinking culture. Regulating the price and availability of alcohol are the measures most effective in reducing alcohol consumption and related harm to individuals, families and society.

11.     Chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, a professional body for the licensed trade, Neil Robertson said;

“BII members are in favour of minimum pricing, in and of itself, as it reduces the differential between the cheap booze we see sold in some off licensed premises and the alcohol sold in the regulated, monitored environment of the pub. We don’t support the use of promotions based around cheap drinks in any type of licensed premises and would welcome closer parity in the price of alcohol.”
“It is hoped that the pricing measures announced in Scotland will help reduce the number of street drinkers, whose chaotic behaviour is often blamed on neighbouring on sales premises, and thus reduce the need for the proposed social responsibility fee while at the same time helping to improve the nation’s health.”

12.     In an interview with The Times Stephen Thomas, Chief Executive of nighclub firm Luminar said that minimum pricing on alcohol was

“definitely the right thing to do” and expressed his concern over “pre-loading” by young people on cheap supermarket booze before going out. “I can buy a pint of lager in Asda for 25p – that can’t be right. It’s nuts when you can buy beer cheaper than water.”

In a further interview today Stephen Thomas said;

“People drink to the extent of their pockets.  If you have £10 you can go and buy 40 pints of lager and drink this rubbish.  The health and disorder implications are mad.  We know that when people consume alcohol their behaviour changes,  There has to be a regulation that says you can’t sell alcohol irresponsibly.  This isn’t an on-licence or an off-licence issue. It’s an alcohol issue.”

13.     Professor Anne Ludbrook, one of the authors of NICE guidance on preventing harmful drinking, on publication of the guidance on 2 June 2010 said (Source: BBC news 2 June 2010):

“Alcohol is much more affordable now than it ever has been – and the price people pay does not reflect the cost of the health and social harms that arise.  When it is sold at a very low price, people often buy and then consume more than they otherwise would have done.”

14.     World Health Organisation in its Global Strategy published on 21 May 2010 (Source: WHO news release):

“increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol.”

15.     Sarah Wollaston MP (new Conservative MP for Totnes, GP and former police surgeon) on 7 June 2010 (Source: The Independent) said:

“Ministers should examine the evidence from other countries that setting minimum prices disproportionately reduces the intake of high-risk groups.  There is no doubt it would be initially unpopular – people would says it’s the nanny state and it’s not what government should be about.  But if the Government took the brave step of introducing a minimum price, in five years’ time people would see there had been a major difference.
“Binge drinking had increased over the last two decades, over which time alcohol had become 70 per cent more affordable.  More expensive alcohol – which would prevent shops selling cut-price drinks but would not affect the pub trade – was a small price to pay compared with the huge social and medical costs of excess drinking.”

16.     Mike Lees, MD of Tennent Caledonian on 22 January 2010 (Source: BBC lunchtime news)

“We recognise there is an issue of overconsumption of alcohol among a minority of consumers, and acknowledge the Scottish Government is working to try to combat this problem.  We believe that, if implemented appropriately, minimum pricing could be part of the solution by increasing the price of alcohol, particularly high-strength products.”