Minimum pricing fails to make Queen’s Speech

Plans to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol were absent from the Queen’s Speech, which sets out the government’s legislative programme for the year ahead. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, however, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a final decision on minimum pricing – a key part of the government’s alcohol strategy (DDN, April 2012, page 4) – had still not been made.

Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse, Tracey Crouch MP, also told Alcohol Concern’s recent conference that MUP was ‘not dead and buried’ and public health minister Anna Soubry has recently stated that it was ‘still official policy’ (DDN, May, page 4).

The Faculty of Public Health said it was ‘profoundly disappointed’ that the measure – along with standardised packaging for cigarettes – was not part of the speech. ‘When it comes to policy decisions that affect everyone’s health, it’s actions, not words, that make a difference,’ said president Lindsey Davies. ‘From compulsory seat belts to the smoking ban, we’ve seen that governments of all political persuasions need to show leadership and courage to protect people’s health. Previously unthinkable interventions have become an everyday part of most people’s lives because governments acted on the evidence for making ground-breaking policy decisions.’

Meanwhile, a petition – by the Scotch Whisky Association, European Spirits Association and Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins – for a judicial review to challenge the legality of the Alcohol Minimum Pricing (Scotland) Act has been dismissed by the Scottish Court of Session.

Lord Doherty refused the petition on the grounds that ‘the Act was not outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament’ and that the proposed setting of a minimum price per unit was ‘within the powers of the Scottish Ministers’. The legal challenge had been one of the reasons why minimum pricing had not appeared in the Queen’s Speech, said Jeremy Hunt in his BBC interview.

‘We have always believed minimum unit pricing is the right thing to do to tackle Scotland’s problematic relationship with alcohol,’ said health secretary Alex Neil. ‘We now look forward to being able to implement minimum unit pricing and making that transformational change in Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.’

However, while the court’s decision to dismiss the petition was ‘disappointing’, it was ‘just the first step in a long legal process’, said chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, Miles Beale.