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Alcohol Bill progresses - without minimum pricing

11 June 2010

The Scottish Government's Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill was allowed to go forward after its stage 1 debate yesterday - minus the contentious provisions regarding a minimum price per unit of alcohol.

Labour and Conservatives MSPs backed an amendment calling for minimum pricing to be removed from the bill. With the Liberal Democrats abstaining, the amendment was carried by 54 votes to 49.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, the minister in charge of the bill, insisted that the policy would be debated again at stage 2, but Conservative Murdo Fraser, who moved the amendment, said the policy was now "dead in the water".

The Government claims the policy is a necessary plank in its campaign to reduce the economic and health consequences of alcohol misuse in Scotland. Opponents claim it will fail to curb irresponsible drinking and is also likely to be held illegal under European competition law.

In its submission to the Parliament at stage 1, the Law Society of Scotland said the legality of minimum pricing could only be finally determined by the European Court of Justice. Jim McLean, convener of the Society's competition law subcommittee, said: "It is for policymakers to decide whether they areprepared to meet a legal challenge. The issues are genuinely difficult and the precedents are not 100% in point."

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