Minimum price of alcohol

Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill

Background

Statistics showed that Scotland has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It is estimated that alcohol is a contributing factor in 50 different illnesses, and costs the NHS £405 million a year. 50% of men and 30% of women drink over the weekly sensible drinking guidelines and alcohol abuse can damage families, friendships, communities and employers. (from Explanatory Notes)

In 2003, 2,882 people in Scotland died due to an alcohol- related condition and Scotland has one of the fastest growing rates of liver cirrhosis in the world, a rate which is twice that of England and Wales.(from BBC.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-11719594)

Furthermore, between 1990 and 2004, the percentage of 13 year olds who had been drinking in the previous week rose from 10% to 20% (from BBC.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-11719594)

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 covered the “irresponsible promotions” of alcohol in pubs and bars. The Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill would cover the sale of alcohol in off-licenses and supermarkets.

Introduction

In November 2009, the Scottish Government introduced the Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill. This was part of a response to reduce the impact that alcohol misuse and overconsumption has on public health, public services, productivity, and the economy as a whole.

The Government held consultations in Scotland and produced a report called Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action. This set down a strategic approach to tackling alcohol abuse.

The bill was seen as part of this strategy and covered the following points:

  • It would introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol
  • It would introduce further restrictions on off-sales promotions and promotional activity
  • It would make it mandatory for licensed premises to operate an age verification policy
  • It would give Ministers and councils the power to vary licence conditions
  • It would require licensing boards to assess the impact of off-sales to people under 21
  • It would introduce a social responsibility levy on licensed premises

This Executive Bill was introduced by Nicola Sturgeon MSP as Cabinet Secretary for Health on 25 November 2009.

  • Bill (as introduced)
  • Explanatory Notes
  • Policy Memorandum
  • Delegated Powers Memorandum

Stage 1

At Stage 1, the Health and Sport committee was appointed as the lead committee. This meant it would be responsible for investigating the Bill and reporting to Parliament.

The committee put out a call for evidence and received written evidence from many interested parties, including: the NHS, the British Medical Association, the National Union of Students, Youthlink, whisky and brewing companies, supermarkets, licensed trades, the police, local councils and members of the public.

The committee then asked some of these organisations to attend committee meetings in the Parliament where they could question them further about their views on the bill.

The committee also looked at Canada and Finland where they have taken steps to use alcohol prices as a way of reducing consumption and also France, where alcohol consumption has been dropping without the intervention of the government.

The bill was also examined by the Finance Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Committee

The Health and Sport Committee published its report and concluded that:

'350. All members of the Committee are agreed that the scale of the alcohol problem is such that it must be addressed. The Committee understands the public-health purpose of this Bill.

351. Some members of the Committee are wholly in favour of the general principles of the Bill. Others are not persuaded that the reforms proposed would achieve what they set out to achieve and others are concerned that some of the measures could be disproportionate in their effect. The Committee draws to the Parliament’s attention that, at this time, the fundamental reservations of some members remain unresolved but, in the interests of more detailed debate, recommends that the Bill proceed to Stage 2.'

The Stage 1 debate was held in Parliament in June 2010. The bill passed Stage 1 by 98 votes to 0 with 18 abstentions. However, the Bill was passed at stage one on the condition “That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Bill but, in so doing, believes that there is no evidence to support section 1, which would introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol, and accordingly calls on the Scottish Government to lodge and move an amendment at stage 2 to delete section 1.”

Stage 2

The bill was again looked at by the Health and Sport Committee. Stage 2 allows for detailed consideration and amendments to be suggested by the committee members or the person who introduced the bill. At the end of stage 1, the Parliament wanted the Government to remove section 1 of the Bill which would introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol. However, the Cabinet Secretary did not want do this as she still believed that there was a case to be made for supporting and passing a minimum price per unit of alcohol. So, she asked for an amendment to the Bill to be considered by the committee which would have put a price of 45p per unit of alcohol into the Bill. However, the Conservative committee member Mary Scanlon lodged an amendment which asked for the removal of section 1 of the Bill altogether. This amendment was agreed to by the committee and so section 1 was removed from the Bill.

There were two other amendments agreed to at Stage 2 that changed the Bill. These were that the age verification policies should be based on an age of 25 rather than 21 and that licensing boards would not have to prepare an impact statement showing how the sale of alcohol to under 21s would be detrimental if they wanted to stop the sale of alcohol to this age group.

Stage 3

Stage 3 debates have two phases – the first is when the Parliament considers further amendments to the bill, and the second phase is a debate on the final bill as amended and if it should pass or not.

Amendments which were debated at this stage included:

  • Section 1 of the Bill should be re-inserted so that there would be a minimum price per unit of alcohol agreed to - the Cabinet Secretary felt so strongly about this, that even though the idea had been rejected at stage 2 by the committee and at stage 1 by the Parliament, she felt it had to be debated again. The Scottish Government was campaigning hard to try to win enough support in the Parliament to pass this amendment. It even said it would introduce a “sunset clause” which would allow the minimum pricing to be reviewed after 5-6 years. However, all the main opposition parties had said they would vote against it again. The issue even attracted the support of many health campaigners to write an open letter in a newspaper to the political parties encouraging them to support the idea and to vote for it. However, this amendment was not agreed to - 76 MSps voted against the amendment and only 49 voted for the amendment. So the Bill was passed without a clause in it for the minimum pricing of alcohol.
  • The restriction on the caffeine content of alcoholic drinks – there had been debate around this issue, saying that these drinks were harmful, particularly to young people and the cause of violence and crime. This amendment had been introduced at Stage 2 but not agreed to by the committee and so it was proposed again at Stage 3 for the whole Parliament to consider. This amendment was not passed – 47 MSPs voted for it while 78 voted against it.

Once the Bill was amended, the final stage debate was held. Here, the Bill was passed unanimously by all the MSPs.

The bill received Royal Assent on 15th December 2011.