This is SHA Scotland's contemporary motion to the 2012 Scottish Labour Party conference.
Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Bill
This conference notes that the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Bill is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament. The Bill seeks to introduce a price at which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold below with the aim of reducing alcohol consumption and related harms.
Conference recognises that Scotland has one of the fastest growing rates of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the world. There are more than 42,000 hospital discharges due to alcohol related illness and injury and mortality as a direct result of alcohol has more than doubled since the early 1990s. Alcohol is a contributory factor in 1 in 20 deaths in Scotland. 49% of Scottish prisoners (including 76% of young offenders) and two-thirds of those accused of homicide said they were drunk at the time of their offence. Alcohol misuse costs Scotland an estimated £3.56bn per annum. Scottish consumption of alcohol is now 23% higher than in England.
Conference accepts that there are legitimate concerns about the legislation. The measure can be viewed as unfairly penalising the majority of moderate drinkers and disproportionately affecting low income groups who tend to pay less for a unit of alcohol. There is also a concern that if alcohol prices increase, problem drinkers with a low income may use spending from elsewhere in their budget to maintain their consumption levels to the detriment of families. The legislation may also be incompatible with EU law. However, we have to accept the evidence of the relationship between price and consumption.
Conference recognises that taxation could achieve the same benefits, with the added advantage that revenue would go to the state rather than the retailers. However, excise duty is a reserved power and there are no indications that the UK Government is prepared to act. A compensatory levy, similar to the recent 'Tesco Tax', could cover this point.
Conference believes that for Scottish Labour the impact on reducing health inequalities by reducing the harm caused by alcohol is a key issue. People living in our poorer communities carry a disproportionate share of alcohol-related health and social harm. Alcohol mortality rates are six times higher in the most deprived areas. Our primary concern should therefore be to introduce alcohol policies which are in the public health interest and will be effective in reducing the high levels of alcohol harm in Scotland.
Conference recognises that minimum unit pricing is widely supported by the medical and public health community and also by the police, children’s charities and a wide section of civil society. While we recognise concerns over the effectiveness of the measure there is an overwhelming need to take action.
Conference therefore believes that we should be prepared to consider supporting the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill as one measure in a more comprehensive plan to reduce alcohol harm, subject to a detailed evaluation process including fully assessing adverse effects particularly on poorer communities, families, and individuals; extension of the compensatory levy, and a corresponding sunset clause.