House of Commons Library

Alcohol: minimum pricing

Published Friday, March 9, 2018

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 that 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). 

Licensing 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 from 1 May 2018.  A public consultation on the preferred price of 50p per unit ran from 1 December 2017 to 26 January 2018. On 26 February 2018, following its analysis of responses, the Government confirmed that Regulations would be introduced specifying a minimum price of 50p.

Licensing policy in England and Wales

A ban on selling alcohol below a “permitted price” has been in place since 28 May 2014. This was introduced through the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Conditions) Order 2014.

The ban means that a can of average strength lager cannot be sold for less than 41p and a standard bottle of vodka cannot be sold for less than £9.06.

On 22 November 2017, the Home Office said that 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.”

Public health policy in Wales

The Welsh Government plans to introduce MUP through the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill. The Bill has been introduced as a public health - not an alcohol licensing – measure. It is therefore considered to be within the Assembly’s legislative competence.


Commons Briefing papers SN05021

Author: John Woodhouse

Topic: Licensing

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