What next for the alcohol minimum pricing bill in Scotland?
This article supports 'The Price of Prevention' published on page 8 of RCN Bulletin in January 2012.
The Scottish government introduced the alcohol minimum pricing bill on 31 October 2011. The RCN supports the proposed legislation and has been involved in the work of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) to submit briefings in favour of the change.
The proposed law is now in the first of three parliamentary stages and written evidence examining the principles of the bill has already been sought and submitted to the Health and Sport Committee, the lead committee for the bill. Oral evidence will shortly be presented and this will further scrutinise the essential elements of the bill. Once this evidence has been considered, the stage one report will be passed to the full parliament and a vote held on whether or not to proceed. As the Scottish National Party (SNP) makes up the majority government and is the main advocate of introducing minimum pricing, the bill is likely to proceed to stage two. Stage one is due to be completed by 9 March.
This is where the detail of the bill is scrutinised and is likely to be where discussions are held about what the minimum price of alcohol should be. At this stage, members of the Health Committee and the Scottish Government make amendments, which are passed or rejected by a vote of the committee, with the amendments often reflecting evidence received during stage one.
This is when the bill, with any amendments passed at stage two, gets presented before the whole parliament to consider. There is a final opportunity to amend the legislation before a vote of the entire parliament on whether to pass or reject the bill. It is expected that all three stages will be complete by the end of the summer.
Is minimum pricing likely to become law?
Support for minimum pricing has been mounting and several organisations have openly declared that they encourage the prospect of the bill becoming law. RCN Policy Adviser Rachel Cackett said: “Given the SNP’s parliamentary majority, and the party’s determination to introduce minimum pricing, it looks very likely that the bill will become law. Research has demonstrated that there is a relationship between price and consumption, and so the RCN has actively supported minimum pricing to help reduce harm from excessive drinking for some time. It is not the only measure that can be taken to tackle high rates of alcohol abuse in Scotland, but we think it will be an important piece of the jigsaw.”
What other measures have been introduced in Scotland to tackle alcohol abuse?
The Alcohol Act came into force on 1 October 2011. It does not set a minimum price but does list a range of measures designed to address Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. The main measures are:
- a ban on quantity discounts in off-sales that encourage customers to purchase more than they might have
- a restriction on where material promoting alcohol may be displayed
- the involvement of health boards in licensing issues
- a requirement for an age verification policy which is to be set at 25.
More information can be found about this on the Scottish Government website. To find out about the work of SHAAP, the campaign group through which the views of the RCN are represented, go to www.shaap.org.uk