Legal battle over minimum pricing in Scotland set to begin

By John Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Minimum pricing, European union, Scotland, Scottish government

Legal battle over alcohol minimum pricing in Scotland
Drinks lobbyists from across Europe have applied for a judicial review of Scotland’s plans to introduce a minimum price of alcohol, while a complaint has also been lodged in Europe.

Three trade bodies - the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the European Spirits Organisation and wine association Comite Vins - have made the petition to the Scottish Court of Session, arguing that minimum pricing could break EU regulations on competition. They said that the Scottish Government has exceeded its powers by pursuing the measure.

The SWA said it feared ‘copycat’ action by other European countries if Scotland succeeds in introducing minimum pricing, costing the Scotch whisky industry £500m in exports.

Separately, the SWA has made a formal complaint about the Scottish proposals to the European Commission (EC).

The trade group argued that minimum pricing restricts trade between member states. It also said that because wine is defined as an agricultural product, setting a minimum price is contrary to EC regulations.

The action has been taken now because the Scottish Government has officially notified Europe of its plans to implement a minimum price of 50p per unit.

A first hearing in the Scottish Court of Session is due in Autumn, and the move threatens to delay implementation for as long as a year - the measure was expected to be introduced next Spring.

SWA chief executive Gavin Hewitt said: “Despite warnings that minimum pricing of alcohol would be illegal, the Scottish Government has pressed ahead with its ill-targeted policy and misguided legislation. The Scotch Whisky industry is left with no option but to oppose the legislation in Europe and through the Scottish Courts.

“We’re far from alone in our objections. Others in the UK and Europe share our views and will also be raising objections with the European Commission.

“Moderate drinkers are being forced to pay for an un-targeted, misguided and illegal policy."

Meanwhile, Scotland's health minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Daily Telegraph​: “We firmly believe that minimum pricing meets the legal tests required and we will vigorously defend this legal challenge.”

The UK Government in Westminster is currently considering plans for a minimum unit price and is set to monitor developments with the legal action closely. Yesterday the Parliamentary Health Committee said it supported minimum pricing but called for a greater evidence base behind the proposal, and also a ‘sunset clause’ for the measure.

Related topics: Legislation

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