Tories urge EU to challenge Scotland’s minimum alcohol pricing legislation

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The Scottish Conservatives have called on the European Union to mount a challenge to the Scottish Government’s minimum alcohol price plans.
 
Despite his party backing the move both north and south of the border, Scottish Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw urged the EU to test the legality of the proposed legislation.

Mr Carlaw claimed the move was not meant to prevent the policy becoming law but merely an attempt at clarifying the legal basis.

He said: “This is not an attempt to thwart the bill but rather to ensure that every effort is made to determine whether the measure is legal.”

However, according to the Conservative MSP, it is uncertain whether the EU will give any ruling unless one or more of the 27 member states forces it to do so.

Mr Carlaw added: “So, to ensure that the EC expresses a view, Scottish Conservatives intend to meet and encourage concerned member states to mount a challenge so we can have clarification from Europe on the legality of a 50p unit price for alcohol.”

The Tory MSP is set to travel to Brussels next month in order to speak with representatives of other member states as well as industry figures.

Responding, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said:

“Minimum pricing of alcohol does comply with European law, provided it is justified on the basis of public health and social grounds.  We are confident that it is justified in Scotland.”

The Scottish Government revealed it plans to set the price per unit alcohol at 50p, the move is intended to tackle Scotland’s growing booze problem.  Estimates suggest that after ten years Scotland would save £1bn, over 300 deaths a year would be prevented and there would be 6,500 fewer hospital admissions.

The move was backed by the Tories after the Scottish Government inserted a ‘sunset clause’ that will allow the legislation to be scrapped if it is having no effect.  The policy also received the backing of the Scottish Lib Dems.

However Scottish Labour has refused to back the proposal, claiming it will lead to excessive profits for supermarkets. 

Supporters of the policy have argued that supermarkets currently slash their alcohol prices and sell at a loss in order to attract people into their premises and if forced to sell at a higher price then alcohol loses its ‘loss leader’ properties which should see sales fall.

Minimum pricing is backed by the medical profession, police, the third sector and some trade organisations.  It is also supported by some Labour MSPs.