Minister says no evidence it would work without penalising responsible drinkers
THE UK government has ruled out minimum unit pricing of alcohol south of the border for the foreseeable future. There will also be no multibuys ban as already exists in Scotland. And Westminster has signalled that it could abolish a list of licensing regulations, including mandatory renewal of personal licences, and might abolish personal licences entirely.
It does plan to introduce a ban on selling alcohol products at prices below the combined level of duty and VAT, however.
The decisions come despite earlier apparent support for MUP by prime minister David Cameron and mean that Westminster and Holyrood are now following dramatically different policies on alcohol pricing and promotion.
In a statement outlining the Westminster response to its alcohol strategy consultation, Home Office minister of state for crime prevention Jeremy Browne said: “There has been much speculation about the government’s plans in relation to minimum unit pricing.
“That policy will remain under consideration, but it will not be proceeded with at this time. We do not yet have enough concrete evidence that its introduction would be effective in reducing harms associated with problem drinking — this is a crucial point — without penalising people who drink responsibly.
“We will tackle the most egregious examples of cheap alcohol by banning sales of alcohol below the level of alcohol duty plus value-added tax. That will come into effect in England and Wales no later than the spring of 2014, and will stop the worst instances of deep discounting that result in alcohol being sold cheaply and harmfully.
“We have decided not to ban multibuy promotions. There is still a lack of convincing evidence that it would have a significant effect in reducing consumption. It would not be reasonable for us to introduce a ban, especially at a time when responsible families are trying hard to balance their household budgets.”
And he added: “We will abolish the requirement to renew personal licences every 10 years. We also plan to consult on whether to abolish personal licences altogether.”
The Scottish Parliament has already passed the law that would see a minimum unit price of 50p introduced in Scotland but has not enacted the rule while it is subject to legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association,
backed by other drinks industry groups.
If the Scottish law is enacted it could lead to a situation where traders in England close to the border can offer alcohol deals that are much cheaper than in Scotland.
Mail order and web-based traders could also target Scottish consumers with deals that were more competitively priced than Scottish retailers would be allowed to offer.