Labour accused of passing the buck to Westminster over alcohol

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The SNP have accused Labour in Scotland of lacking credibility and avoiding dealing with the nation’s chronic alcohol problem after the commission set up by Labour recommended passing responsibility to Westminster.

Labour’s response, say the SNP, to the SNP’s proposal for minimum pricing is to let the Conservatives – who have already reduced taxation on cider, one of the main problem drinks – legislate in London and avoid dealing with the issue in Scotland.


The SNP have accused Labour in Scotland of lacking credibility and avoiding dealing with the nation’s chronic alcohol problem after the commission set up by Labour recommended passing responsibility to Westminster.

Labour’s response, say the SNP, to the SNP’s proposal for minimum pricing is to let the Conservatives – who have already reduced taxation on cider, one of the main problem drinks – legislate in London and avoid dealing with the issue in Scotland.

Yesterday, the Labour commission published a report that recommended a minimum price policy using a complex mechanism of tax, production costs and duty as opposed to unit alcohol levels.  The commission have advised that such a proposal should be implemented UK wide by Westminster.  They have also backed Labour’s plans to target the levels of caffeine in alcoholic drinks, a move that would see Buckfast being banned from shelves.

The SNP’s minimum price policy is determined by unit strength alcohol in each drink and has the backing of professional bodies, retailers and volunteer groups.  It also has the backing of Labour politicians in Scotland, England and Wales.  The SNP have pointed out that the proposals by Labour in Scotland do not address the problem of cheap alcohol.  Critics have also claimed that Labour’s proposals could see some cheap ciders becoming even cheaper.

The recommendation of a minimum price mechanism by the commission, or ‘floor price’ as it is being termed in the media, is slightly embarrassing for Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie who said earlier this year: “If the SNP are serious about tackling Scotland’s hard drinking culture then they should stop obsessing about minimum pricing, recognise the seriousness of this report and support our amendments.”

Commenting on the report Health Secretary and SNP Depute Leader Nicola Sturgeon said: “Labour’s Alcohol Commission makes some constructive suggestions for debate, but it ducks the central issue of tackling the cost of alcohol sold at pocket money prices in Scotland.

“In this vital area, it recommends passing the buck to Westminster.  Why leave it to a UK coalition government – which at best has shown a lukewarm response to tackling the issue of cost – when we could take better, more effective steps ourselves? 

“The reason for having a Scottish Parliament is to address the issues we face as a nation, and the Scottish Government believe that we have a responsibility to use these powers to address Scotland serious problem of alcohol misuse – including introducing minimum unit pricing – particularly when figures published today show that both men and women in Scotland are more likely to exceed government safe drinking guidelines than people in England.
 
“A ban on alcohol below the aggregate of duty and VAT is not a serious alternative to minimum pricing because it would create a price so low it would have no impact on the levels drunk- and therefore no impact on the harm and misery caused.
 
“Our offer to Labour and the other opposition parties is still open.  We will consider any amendments they want to propose for the Alcohol Bill that provide a realistic, workable and effective pricing intervention that can be put in place now.  Their Commission has failed to come up with anything of substance, but the door is still open. “

MSP Michael Matheson added
It is disappointing that once again we are seeing Scottish opposition politicians refusing to meet the challenges Scotland faces head on.
 
“That Labour is willing to put Scotland’s public health in the hands of a Conservative administration in London shows how scared they have become of the big decisions.

“After years of SNP lobbying Labour finally faced up to Scotland’s smoking problem.  They must do the same with alcohol – instead of shifting the problem to London it is time for Scottish politicians to take responsibility for Scotland’s health.

“That is what the SNP is doing, that is what minimum pricing will help to do and that is what we as a party and Government will continue to do.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said of yesterday’s report:
“The Alcohol Commission has produced a challenging and radical report, which clearly rejects the SNP’s proposal for minimum unit pricing and suggests a variety of areas for action.

“I want to see the Scottish and UK governments give serious consideration to its recommendations about how we can tackle alcohol abuse.”

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