Andrew Lansley MP, Secretary Of State for Health, today expressed serious doubts about minimum pricing legislation for alcohol.
Speaking at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association conference in London, Andrew Lansley (pictured) said it is clear that selling below cost price is ‘undesirable’, and that setting a minimum price on alcoholic drinks ‘could have an impact’.
But, he added, if the minimum price was to be set high enough to have an impact on antisocial drinking, ‘then it would have an impact on the lower-cost wines and spirits that are accessible to lower-income families’, which would be unfair.
With a sideswipe at the Scottish National Party’s plans to introduce minimum pricing north of the border, Lansley said he is ‘a believer in evidence-based policy making’.
‘We don’t know yet what the behavioural response to minimum unit pricing would be. We should understand that before we legislate.’
Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the WSTA, which opposes minimum pricing, then spelt out what it would mean in Scotland.
Pointing out that alcohol consumption was already dropping in Scotland – a report by NHS Scotland in August found total litres of alcohol consumed have remained stable for the last five years, with consumption actually dropping from 11.9 litres in 2009 to 11.8 litres last year – he said minimum pricing legislation would have an impact on where people buy alcohol.
It was unclear whether this would be on the internet, or on journeys south over the border into England, ‘or organised crime gangs moving stuff over the border – or all three’.
Beadles said it was clear from other countries – such as Sweden – that controlling sales did not help. ‘It doesn’t change behaviour, it changes the marketplace.’
Whatever the outcome, given the SNP’s majority, Beadles said, there was no doubt it would pass into legislation, at a probable minimum rate of £0.45 per unit of alcohol.
It would be pointless fighting against it, but ‘we have a chance to influence how it is implemented’.
For example, the WSTA, which has member companies in Scotland, would seek to ensure legislation has safeguards as to how the price is set, and how often it can be changed.
Written by Adam Lechmere