Westminster and Ireland follow Scotland’s lead on minimum pricing for alcohol

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By a Newsnet reporter

The UK Prime Minister’s interest in dealing with the rest of the UK’s problem drinking with minimum pricing has been welcomed by SNP MSP Fiona McLeod.

The UK government’s change of heart follows the announcement by health ministers in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland that they would be following Scotland’s lead and introducing a minimum price for alcohol.

David Cameron, whilst on his visit to Scotland, highlighted that the scale of the battle with the bottle in England and Wales costs the UK taxpayer £3bn a year.

The UK government is planning to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol, in a proposal remarkably similar to the plans of the Scottish government.  The Scottish plans were denounced by members of Mr Cameron’s own party.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Ian Gilmore, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on alcohol and the chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said that the Prime Minister “rightly identifies cheap drink as a major factor and I encourage him to join Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland in meeting this head on with a minimum unit price for alcohol”.

In 2008 the University of Sheffield published a study in showing that minimum pricing would significantly reduce alcohol consumption by the most at-risk groups – the young, and those with alcohol problems and would change their behaviour.

In January, the Irish Times reported that Irish government ministers were liaising with their Northern Irish counterparts to develop cross-border plans for minimum unit pricing for alcohol across the island, and are keeping a close eye on the Scottish government’s plans.  

Irish Minister of State for Health Róisín Shortall told The Irish Times that the Irish government intends to tackle alcohol abuse by increasing prices for low-price, high-strength drinks such as cider, beers and own-brand spirits.

Ms Shortall said:  “Problem drinkers and young drinkers are very price-sensitive and for them there is a very direct correlation between price and levels of consumption.

“We are committed in principle to the introduction of a minimum pricing regime … and we would be hopeful of doing that in both jurisdictions before the end of this year.”

Ms McLeod, member of the Health and Sport Committee, said:

“It is hugely encouraging that the UK PM now appears keen to follow the Scottish Government’s lead on minimum price per unit of alcohol pricing.

“As recently suggested by the First Minister, Scotland can be a beacon for progressive opinion beyond Scotland itself and minimum pricing – in tandem with a range of other measures including education and a ban on multi-purchase discounts – will go a long way to addressing the issue.

“This is a serious issue in our society and one that the SNP is tackling head on. We would welcome sharing data and knowledge with Governments across these islands and indeed further afield.

“However, we already have the wheels in motion and are not waiting on others catching up as we strive to move Scotland forward.

“Minimum pricing will make a real difference to Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with the bottle, which is why it is backed by nurses, doctors, academics and the police. I hope that MSPs of all parties – including David Cameron’s Conservative MSPs – can see that sense must prevail over petty politics and get behind this policy.”