Westminster’s U-turn on alcohol minimum pricing a “dereliction of responsibility”

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Reports that the Westminster Government is preparing to U-turn on its promise to introduce a minimum price for alcohol south of the border shows the benefits of Scotland having independent policy powers on such important issues, according to the SNP.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation to introduce a minimum price per unit for alcohol, and the Westminster Government had been set to follow Scotland’s example. However, amid claims of Cabinet splits and increasing chaos in the coalition, reports indicate that Westminster is set to abandon its responsibilities and drop the scheme south of the border.

Reportedly several senior Conservative members of the cabinet are opposed to the move, including Home Secretary Theresa May, Education Secretary Michael Gove, and former Health Secretary Andrew Landsley.  The opposition of senior colleagues has forced the Prime Minister to backtrack, despite his long standing support for minimum pricing.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Tory MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston said that she was “devastated” by the U-turn, and described alcohol abuse as “an absolute health crisis”.

Ms Wollaston said:  

“We know that whenever alcohol is too cheap, people die. If the chancellor wants a message from me, it’s that we’re already paying a huge amount to clear up the cost of this – around £21bn a year just to deal with the crime, violence and medical costs of it.”

The Labour party in Westminster supports moves to introduce minimum pricing south of the border, however the party in Scotland has failed to back similar legislation in Scotland.  

Despite Holyrood’s other parties coming together to back the SNP Government in passing minimum pricing legislation, Labour failed to vote in favour of the measure which is aimed at tackling a problem which costs Scotland an estimated £3.56 billion every single year. A new academic study just last month found that increased alcohol pricing led to “immediate, substantial and significant reductions” in alcohol related deaths.

Commenting, SNP MSP Bob Doris who is Deputy Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee said:

“If the reports are true that the Tory/Lib Dem coalition has abandoned minimum alcohol pricing because of a Cabinet split, it is a serious dereliction of responsibility which will cost lives south of the Border.

“Thank goodness we have a government in Scotland that has acted on the basis of the evidence, and passed a minimum pricing Bill with widespread support in the Scottish Parliament – including from the Tories and Lib Dems.

“This latest coalition shambles underlines the benefits of Scotland having independent policy powers on important issues – which reinforces the case for a Yes vote in next year’s referendum, so that we can extend these benefits to the areas currently controlled by Westminster.

“And this latest Westminster shambles has exposed the hypocrisy of the Labour Party – they are rightly attacking the coalition at Westminster for apparently abandoning minimum pricing, yet Labour consistently refused to support the policy in Scotland, even after the Tories and Lib Dems U-turn to back it!

“It is this sort of hypocrisy that helps explain why Labour is still languishing in the polls in Scotland, while the SNP have similar levels of support as in our landslide Holyrood election victory in 2011.”