Wales to introduce minimum alcohol pricing

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Legislative priority: minimum unit pricing will be introduced in Wales within 12 months
Legislative priority: minimum unit pricing will be introduced in Wales within 12 months

Related tags Welsh assembly Wales

Wales is to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol with legislation expected in the next 12 months.

First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones said that minimum unit pricing (MUP) would be one of the legislative priorities for the Welsh Assembly and will make it illegal for alcohol to be sold below a set price under The Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) Bill.

The Welsh Assembly said that evidence showed a direct link between drinking harmful levels and the availability of cheap alcohol. The bill will propose a formula for calculating the MUP, based on its strength and volume, and enable local authorities to enforce the powers and bring prosecutions. 

In 2015, the Welsh government said that it planned to introduce such a bill with a minimum unit price planned of 50p per unit.

But the ongoing legal battle over MUP in Scotland is thought to have delayed plans. Scotland had planned to introduce a MUP but has faced legal opposition from the Scotch Whisky Association.

The case has been to the European Court of Justice where it was ruled that MUP may break EU law and instead suggested alternative tax measures. But it was referred to the national courts to decide and the UK Supreme Court is to make a ruling this summer.

The Welsh Assembly said it would reconsider the policy if the ruling said that MUP was not legal.  

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “The bills we intend to introduce during the second year of this assembly will support our efforts to build a Wales that is healthy and active, prosperous and secure, ambitious and learning, and united and connected."

Trade associations for the pub industry came out in opposition to the move calling it a “blunt instrument”.

British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Brigid Simmonds said MUP penalises responsible drinkers, and the group supported education in tackling alcohol-related harm.  

“Alcohol consumption has fallen 19% since 2004, and indicators of harmful drinking and alcohol-related violence are also falling,” she said.  

“The BBPA strongly supports policies and initiatives targeted at the minority of those who misuse alcohol and view this as the best way to reduce alcohol harm. We have been very active in our support of the Responsibility Deal with pledges that have removed 1bn units of alcohol from the market as well as raising unit awareness, providing consistent labelling and promoting lower strength products.”

Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers chief executive Kate Nicholls said it had called on the Welsh Assembly to work more closely with eating and drinking-out businesses to promote healthier attitudes towards alcohol.

“MUP is a blunt instrument and we are concerned that it could increase costs for pubs, restaurants and bars without have the intended effect of tackling harmful consumption,” said Nicholls.

“With alcohol consumption in the UK falling, and 70% of alcohol consumed away from licensed premises, perhaps the authorities could investigate a more nuanced approach that deals with very cheap alcohol in the off-trade, rather than a blanket measure?

“If the Welsh Assembly is concerned about any perceived health harms related to alcohol consumption, they would be best placed to avoid any measures that discourage the responsible consumption of alcohol in a supervised environment and do more to promote it in favour of unrestricted off-trade alcohol.”

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