2 Sep 2012
SNP health ministers have been challenged to put forward the public health case for introducing alcohol minimum unit pricing at a specially arranged EU summit in Strasbourg.
The measure to tackle Scotland’s drink problem is currently being scrutinised by the European Commission after they received a ‘voluntary notification’ of the measure from the Scottish Government at the end of June.
The concession secured by the Scottish Conservatives in return for the party’s support will ensure that all possible steps have been taken to clarify the legal status of minimum pricing.
Several other speakers from around Europe, including industry figures, have agreed to attend the session – ‘Minimum Unit Pricing: unintended consequences for the EU and external trade’ – on September 12.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP said:
“Latest figures may show a welcome drop in alcohol consumption but Scotland still has the most corrosive relationship with drink of any European nation.
“The Scottish Conservatives stand ready to work with all other parties to agree a way forward to make a decisive yet so far elusive change in Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.
“If we succeed then not only will Scotland turn a vital public health corner but we will also honour the efforts of ambulance crews, consultants and nurses in A&E departments and police officers across Scotland who bear the consequences of alcohol abuse.
“Minimum unit pricing is certainly a brave and an innovative policy and one without precedent elsewhere.
“That being so, we have consistently argued that this makes it essential that the measure is fully stress tested prior to it coming into force and that the measure itself is legal and consistent with our existing obligations and agreements.
“So, the Scottish Conservatives have organised this hearing which is designed to explore both the public health advantages and the wider implications of this policy.
“We hope it will be both approved by the EU and that it will then have a chance to prove how it can help improve Scotland’s appalling relationship with alcohol.
“However, if minimum unit pricing is not consistent with our obligations and agreements, we need to know now so that the Scottish Parliament can urgently identify alternative approaches to tackling Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”
Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, who will be hosting the summit at the European Parliament, added:
“This event will offer the first opportunity to examine in detail the possible ramifications minimum pricing might have on free trade for other countries.
“It is not an attempt to hijack the legislation, but there is no point in forging ahead with this only for it to fall at the first legal hurdle.
“Many EU states are concerned at the negative impact it may have and it may be that some of them mount their own legal challenges to test out the merits of minimum pricing.”