Min­i­mum pric­ing on its way ‘as soon as prac­ti­ca­ble’

● Min­is­ter pledges quick in­tro­duc­tion ● Pol­icy un­der at­tack in court

The Scotsman - - News Digest - By JOHN AS­TON and HI­LARY DUNCANSON

Health Sec­re­tary Shona Ro­bi­son said the Scot­tish Govern­ment plans to in­tro­duce min­i­mum pric­ing for al­co­hol “as quickly as is prac­ti­ca­ble” as the pol­icy came un­der at­tack at the UK’S high­est court.

The Supreme Court has to de­cide whether the Al­co­hol (Min­i­mum Pric­ing) (Scot­land) Act 2012 is in­com­pat­i­ble with Euro­pean Union law and there­fore un­law­ful un­der the terms of the 1998 Scot­land Act.

Scot­tish min­is­ters have pre­pared a draft or­der spec­i­fy­ing a min­i­mum price per unit of 50p, but nei­ther the 2012 Act nor the or­der have been brought into force pend­ing the le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

A QC for the Scotch Whisky As­so­ci­a­tion (SWA) has told the Supreme Court in Lon­don there are a va­ri­ety of bet­ter ways to achieve the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s aim.

Ms Ro­bi­son said: “We’re look­ing for­ward to the judg­ment of the Supreme Court on Min­i­mum Unit Pric­ing and if it is the pos­i­tive out­come we hope for, we will move as quickly as is prac­ti­ca­ble to put the pol­icy in place.”

The SWA is ar­gu­ing in a two­day hear­ing in Lon­don that min­i­mum unit pric­ing (MUP) is “dis­pro­por­tion­ate” and il­le­gal un­der Euro­pean law.

Ai­dan O’neill QC told seven jus­tices: “It is a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion that pric­ing should be used to de­crease al­co­hol con-

0 Scot­tish min­is­ters have pre­pared a draft or­der spec­i­fy­ing a min­i­mum price per unit of 50p sump­tion and im­prove pub­lic health.

“We point out that there are a whole num­ber of ways in which pric­ing can le­git­i­mately be used in ac­cor­dance with EU law to achieve those aims.”

Mr O’neill said that, in prin­ci­ple, rais­ing ex­cise duty might be one way of in­creas­ing the price and achiev­ing the same health ben­e­fits.

The fresh chal­lenge comes af­ter the Court of Ses­sion in Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land’s top civil court, re­jected the SWA’S ap­peal against the mea­sure in Oc­to­ber. But judges at the same court later gave the whisky body per­mis­sion to take its fight all to the UK’S top court.

The move is the lat­est step in a le­gal wran­gle that be­gan in 2012 over the pro­pos­als, which has de­layed im­ple­men­ta­tion of a pol­icy aimed at tack­ling Scot­land’s drink prob­lem.

The SWA has said that al­ter­na­tive pric­ing mea­sures would be less dis­rup­tive of free trade and less dis­tortive of com­pe­ti­tion across the EU sin­gle mar­ket, and would have at least an equiv­a­lent level of ef­fec­tive­ness in achiev­ing the aim of the Scot­tish Govern­ment to im­prove pub­lic health.

The seven jus­tices – court pres­i­dent Lord Neu­berger sit­ting with Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Sump­tion, Lord Reed and Lord Hodge – are ex­pected to take time to con­sider their de­ci­sion and will give their judg­ment at a later date.

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