New Appeal Against Minimum Pricing For Alcohol

A legal challenge to the Scottish Government's plans for a minimum price for alcohol returns to court today.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) opposes the legislation, which would see a minimum unit price of 50p brought in north of the border.

It took legal action against the policy, which it argues would breach European Union (EU) trading rules, after it was passed by MSPs in 2012.

Judge Lord Doherty rejected the challenge in May last year, ruling that the legislation was compatible with UK and EU law.

An appeal will get under way at the Court of Session - Scotland's highest civil court - in Edinburgh today.

The Scottish Government has said it is committed to introducing the policy in a bid to address Scotland's unhealthy relationship with drink, and save lives.

But the SWA maintains that minimum pricing will be ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse, will penalise responsible drinkers and damage the industry.

Chief executive David Frost said: "We are serious about tackling alcohol misuse in Scotland but it has to be done in ways which are proven to work.

We are taking legal action against minimum unit pricing (MUP) because we believe it is not only illegal under EU law, but actually ineffective in tackling misuse, as well as damaging to the Scotch whisky industry which supports 35,000 jobs across Scotland.

We are far from alone in this view. Last year the UK Government abandoned their plans because of lack of evidence MUP would help, and several EU member states and the Commission have voiced their concerns.

We are not seeking to delay a resolution - we want the case to go rapidly to the European Court, but it is the Scottish Government that has refused.''

Speaking in advance of the hearing, Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil said evidence that alcohol costs as little as 20p a unit is proof that minimum pricing is needed.

He pointed to research showing it is possible to buy three litres of branded high-strength cider, around 22 units, for £4.50.

Twelve cans of lager - at 21 units - are being sold for £8, while 26 units of supermarket brand vodka is available for less than £11, the Scottish Government says.

Mr Neil said: ''Each week on average in Scotland, alcohol misuse is responsible for more than 20 deaths and 700 hospital admissions.

Being able to buy 20 units of alcohol for the change in your pocket is just unacceptable. It shows that this kind of high-strength alcohol - the type which does much of the damage - has become far too cheap in Scotland.

Time and time again the research proves that affordability is the key factor in the misuse of alcohol and that the most effective way to tackle this is by setting a minimum unit price.

This is about targeting the cheap drink that causes so much harm within communities, often in the most deprived areas of Scotland.''