When the Scots introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol of 50p in May this year, a 70cl bottle of whiskey (28 units) will cost no less than £14, a bottle of red wine (9.4 units) £4.69 and 4x500ml cans of 4% beer no less than £4.
EU law prevents restrictions on the free movement of goods and so minimum pricing could only be introduced if could be justified as a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. However, the highest court in the EU ruled that the move would be lawful to protect public health. Scotland has a large number of problem drinkers who drink the strongest and cheapest alcohol. Their health is at risk as a result and the cost to the health care system runs to billions of pounds. Some alcohol can currently be purchased for as little as 16p per unit. The level of 50p per unit has been set by the Government and now has to be ratified by the Scottish Parliament.
Windfall for retailers
The introduction of the price rise will give retailers an unexpected windfall and some believe that this should be clawed back by the Government and invested in improving public health.
Does this pave the way for minimum pricing in England and Wales?
Following the legal battles fought by the Scottish Government for the introduction of MUP (minimum unit pricing), it will undoubtedly be easier for Wales and England to follow suit. However, both will need to be able to demonstrate that they have a legitimate aim to pursue – for example, that the health issues are of the same magnitude, and that introducing MUP would be a proportionate means of addressing these. There will undoubtedly be further debate on whether the same result could be achieved through alcohol tax increases. Freeths will keep you informed of developments.
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.