Wales set to implement minimum unit pricing

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Lower levels: the bill is intended to help cut the cost of alcohol harm
Lower levels: the bill is intended to help cut the cost of alcohol harm
Legislation to introduce minimum unit pricing was introduced before the National Assembly for Wales by public health minister Rebecca Evans yesterday (23 October), in a bid to address health concerns around excessive alcohol consumption.

The Public Health (Minimum Price of Alcohol) (Wales) Bill is being introduced to help reduce the risks to health caused by drinking too much booze.

It  ​proposes the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol supplied in Wales and it will make it an offence for pubs and other retailers to serve alcohol below that price.

The bill proposes that the level of the minimum unit price (MUP) for this purpose would be specified in regulations made by the Welsh ministers.

In 2014, research on the impacts of introducing a 50p MUP estimated the following:

  • There would be 53 fewer deaths and 1,400 fewer hospital admissions in Wales per year.
  • It would save the Welsh NHS more than £130m over two decades, by reducing impacts on health services such as accident and emergency.
  • It would reduce workplace absence, which is estimated would fall by up to 10,000 days per year.

Over a 20-year period, the introduction of a MUP could contribute £882m to the Welsh economy in terms of the reduction in alcohol-related illness, crime and workplace absence.

The bill proposes a formula for calculating the applicable minimum price for alcohol using the percentage strength of the alcohol, its volume and the MUP.

Prosecution 

It also proposes powers for Welsh ministers to make subordinate legislation (law that is enacted under delegated powers) to specify the MUP and to establish a local authority-led enforcement regime with powers of entry, powers to bring prosecutions for offences and to issue fixed penalty notices.

Evans said: “Alcohol-related harm is a significant public health problem in Wales. The 463 alcohol-attributable deaths in 2015 were all avoidable and each of these deaths would have had a devastating effect on the person’s family and friends.

“Alcohol-related harm also has a big impact on public services such as the NHS. There is a very clear and direct link between levels of excessive drinking and the availability of cheap alcohol.

“So we need to take decisive action now to address the affordability of alcohol, as part of wider efforts to tackle alcohol-related harm.

“The bill will tackle excessive alcohol consumption by making it an offence for retailers to sell strong alcohol at low prices.

“It will make an important contribution to improving health outcomes, by putting prevention and early intervention at the heart of our efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm. This will undoubtedly save lives.”

Legal experts Poppleston Allen said any plans the Welsh Government has to introduce the minimum pricing are likely to be dependent on the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision on the challenge that is being made to the Scottish Government’s attempt to introduce a minimum price.

This move in Wales was first announced earlier this year (June) when First Minister 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.

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

She added: “Alcohol consumption has fallen 19% since 2004, and indicators of harmful drinking and alcohol-related violence are also falling.

“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 Public Health 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.”

Blunt instrument

Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers chief executive Kate Nicholls highlighted her concern about the legislation.

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

“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 over unrestricted off-trade alcohol.”

However, MUP will help reducing excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm, according to chief medical officer for Wales Frank Atherton.

He added: “As alcohol has become more affordable, consumption has increased. As consumption increases, harm increases. All alcohol-attributable deaths are avoidable deaths, demonstrating the urgency for further preventative action.

“Increasing the price of alcohol through the introduction of MUP provides us with an effective and efficient way or reducing excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm.

“It will have a small impact on moderate drinkers. The most substantial effects will be experienced by harmful and hazardous drinkers, who are more likely to consume cheaper and higher-strength alcohol products.”

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