UK launches Minimum Price consultation document

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The UK Home Office has launched a 10-week consultation document with the ultimate aim of introducing a 45 pence Minimum Price law throughout England and Wales in an attempt to counter alcohol abuse.



3 December 2012

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Part of a wider alcohol strategy, the proposals also prohibit ‘multi-pack’ or ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ promotions such as those found in the multiples.

The UK government’s plans could still be deemed illegal by Brussels with similar proposals from the Scottish Government for a 50 pence Minimum Price being put on hold following legal challenges from a number of other EU countries.

Many believe that the introduction of Minimum Pricing would do little to help alleviate problem drinking but would hurt those on low incomes who drink responsibly. And a recent Zolfo Cooper report found that 60 per cent of people oppose the move.

But Home Secretary Theresa May stated, “This is not about stopping the sensible, responsible drinking which supports pubs as part of the community fabric, creates thriving town centres and provides employment and growth.

“The measures in our consultation are targeted explicitly at reducing harmful drinking and we welcome your views on how we can jointly end the culture of excessive drinking.”

The UK Wine & Spirits Trade Association’s Chief Executive Miles Beale responded, “It’s hard to understand why the Government is pushing ahead with the consultation now, when there’s a wall of opposition in Europe, a legal challenge in Scotland, a lack of any real evidence to support Minimum Unit Pricing, opposition from consumers and concerns raised from within Cabinet itself.

“Minimum Unit Pricing and the proposed restrictions to promotions are wholly untargeted and will unfairly punish millions of consumers and businesses in the UK while doing nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse or associated crime and disorder.

"However, we do welcome the Government’s decision to consult on its Alcohol Strategy over a 10-week period. This avoids the busiest time of year for our members and recognises the new and contentious nature of the proposals – in particular, promotions restrictions and Minimum Unit Pricing.

“Alcohol misuse is a serious and complex problem for a small number of people in this country. We recognise this and are committed to tackling alcohol misuse – but there is no silver bullet. A wide range of policies are required to address problem drinking including improving education, better enforcement and building on what already works.
“Minimum Unit Pricing will punish responsible consumers with higher prices, hitting the poorest hardest and will do nothing to address the causes of alcohol misuse.

“The Government’s own figures demonstrate that progress is being made with total alcohol consumption, average weekly consumption and the proportion of people drinking over the recommended weekly limits all falling since 2005.

“Given this positive direction of travel it raises serious questions about why the Government is insistent on pushing ahead with its plans for Minimum Unit Pricing in the face of industry, consumer and legal opposition.

“There is no evidence that minimum unit pricing will tackle alcohol misuse – in fact the international evidence suggests that problem drinkers are the least likely to be deterred by price rises.

“There is no compelling evidence linking retailer promotions with alcohol misuse – indeed overall levels of alcohol consumption are falling. The most recent evaluation of the ‘multi-buy’ ban in Scotland showed that it has had no significant impact on alcohol sales. This raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of a promotions ban in reducing alcohol misuse.

The consultation will last until 6th February 2013 but in the meantime the European  Commission has urged the Scottish and UK Governments to abandon their MUP plans stating that the measure is disproportionate and constitutes an obstacle to the free movement of goods, as pointed out by EC Secretary General Catherine Day.

She added that while cutting alcohol consumption among ‘harmful’ drinks might be a priority for Scotland, the measure suggested “raises doubts as to its compatibility with the principle of proportionality”.

The EC’s recent detailed opinion on the Scottish proposals was welcomed by spiritsEUROPE.

The European Commission’s recent detailed opinion on the Scottish proposals on Minimum Unit Price have been welcomed by spiritsEUROPE which stated, “In its detailed opinion, the Commission concludes that the draft at issue may create obstacles to the free movement of goods within the internal market and is disproportionate under article 36 TFEU. 

“As a result, the UK authorities are invited to abstain from adopting the draft legislation at issue.”
Paul Skehan, Director General of  spiritsEUROPE said, “This confirms what we’ve advocated for some time, that is that the MUP would contravene Internal Market rules”.
spiritsEUROPE believes that the Scottish Government’s notification of a 50 Pence MUP policy:

ü  represents an illegal barrier to trade
ü  will discriminate between companies in the market
ü  will affect the vast majority of people who do not abuse alcohol in any way
ü  will not address the harmful drinking problem it sets out to, and
ü  will set a potentially dangerous precedent for third countries to block European products from entering their markets, resulting in a very negative impact on the European drinks industry, the single largest agro-food export of the EU.

“Given the clear advice of the Commission, we were surprised to see the launch of a 10-week consultation by the UK proposing a minimum price of 45p a unit for the sale of alcohol in England and Wales,” he concluded.



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