June 17, 2008

Warning of Legal Action Over Bid to Set Price of Alcohol


THE drinks industry expects it can place legal challenges in the way of Scottish Government plans to impose minimum prices per unit of alcohol, as expected in a major new alcohol strategy to be unveiled in West Lothian today.

The idea of putting a floor of 40 pence per unit of alcohol is reckoned by the whisky industry to mean a 12per cent price rise on the average GBP10 bottle - when tax is already rising steeply - and there is a warning it will send the wrong message to export markets where it is seeking to remove trade barriers.

The government strategy, to be published by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill with Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, is expected to encompass several reforms that have already been signalled by Mr MacAskill as he confronts the nation's particularly serious problems with excess drinking.

It is thought to be a broadranging "whole population approach" to confronting every aspect of Scotland's drink culture, going far beyond bingeing and youth.

And while the industry believes it has fought off a ban on sponsorship and advertising, with emphasis instead on voluntary codes for marketing, it believes it has lost the battle over restricting alcohol sales to certain parts of supermarkets, removing cross-selling with complementary food, gifts or barbecue equipment.

There is also recognition it will have to respond to government pressure to end cutprice and two-for-one offers.

There were reports at the weekend that the minimum age for buying alcohol in offsales is to be raised from 18 to 21, following evidence of a successful pilot in Armadale, where ministers are to launch today's strategy document.

But the idea of putting a minimum price on the price of a unit of alcohol, with 40p the reported figure being "actively considered" by ministers, is thought liable to a court challenge under European competition law.

According to a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association, which has taken a leading lobbying role on behalf of the wider industry: "We have considerable concerns around minimum pricing and government interference in the commercial market place, not least that such a move may breach competition law and could result in discrimination against Scotch whisky in relation to other drinks."

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

(c) 2008 Herald, The; Glasgow (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.