House of Commons Library

Alcohol: minimum pricing

Published Tuesday, November 28, 2017

This Library Briefing Paper looks at alcohol pricing and calls for a minimum unit price.

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The debate about a minimum price for alcohol has been prompted by concerns about high levels of drinking, its effect on public health and public order, and a widespread belief that most of the alcohol which contributes to drunken behaviour is irresponsibly priced and sold.

One policy option is to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol (MUP). Another is to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price (the level of alcohol duty plus VAT). 

Policy in Scotland

Alcohol licensing is a devolved matter. In June 2012, the Scottish Government passed the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Scotland Act 2012. This would enable the introduction of MUP.

The Scottish Whisky Association challenged the legislation in the European and Scottish courts. On 15 November 2017, the UK Supreme Court said that the 2012 Act did not breach EU law.

The Scottish Government plans to introduce MUP on 1 May 2018.  A public consultation on the preferred price of 50p per unit will run from 1 December 2017 to 26 January 2018.

Policy in England and Wales

On 22 November 2017, the Government said that it “noted the ruling of the UK Supreme Court in favour of the Scottish Government. Minimum unit pricing will continue to remain under review pending the impact of its implementation in Scotland.”

In May 2014, the Coalition Government introduced a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price. This followed its decision not to go ahead with the alcohol strategy's (March 2012) commitment to introduce MUP. After consulting on the strategy, the then Government said there was not enough “concrete evidence” that MUP would be effective in reducing the harms associated with problem drinking without penalising responsible drinkers.

Alcohol charities (e.g. Alcohol Concern) and public health groups continue to argue for MUP, claiming that this would have more of an impact on alcohol-related harm than the ban on below cost selling.

An April 2017 House of Lords Committee report on the Licensing Act 2003 recommended that if MUP was introduced in Scotland and found to be effective in reducing excessive drinking, then the policy should also be introduced in England and Wales.

 

Commons Briefing papers SN05021

Author: John Woodhouse

Topic: Licensing

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