By a vote of 45-05, the Welsh Assembly has today approved the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill, with the consequence that a minimum unit price (“MUP”) of alcohol will be introduced in Wales. The Bill proposes that the MUP will be specified in regulations but, for the purpose of assessing impacts and the associated costs and benefits, the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum uses as an example a 50p MUP, the same sum as is applicable for the MUP in Scotland, where it came into force on 1 May 2018.
The Bill (that now awaits Royal Assent):
- provides for a minimum price for the sale and supply of alcohol in Wales by certain persons and makes it an offence for alcohol to be sold or supplied below that price and
- includes provision for:
- the formula for calculating the applicable minimum price for alcohol by multiplying the percentage strength of the alcohol, its volume and the MUP
- powers for Welsh Ministers to make subordinate legislation to specify the MUP;
- the establishment of a local authority-led enforcement regime with powers to bring prosecutions;
- powers of entry for authorised officers of a local authority, an offence of obstructing an authorised officer and the power to issue fixed penalty notices.
Commenting on approval of the Bill, Welsh Assembly Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said: “I’m very pleased the National Assembly has given its seal of approval to our landmark legislation. Last year alone, there were over 500 alcohol-related deaths and nearly 55,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions in Wales, with the direct health care costs attributable to alcohol amounting to an estimated £159m.”
We await to see whether an MUP for alcohol will be introduced in England. Developments in this respect (or the absence of them) are summarised below:
- On 4 April 2017 the House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 recommended that: “once Scottish Ministers have published their statutory assessment of the working of MUP, if that assessment demonstrates that the policy is successful, MUP should be introduced in England and Wales”
- On 6 November 2017 the Government responded to that recommendation saying: “minimum unit pricing remains under review” but that once evidence of the impact of MUP in Scotland was available it “will consider the evidence of its impact”.
- On 22 November 2017, the Home Office said that it “noted the ruling of the UK Supreme Court in favour of the Scottish Government. Minimum unit pricing will continue to remain under review pending the impact of its implementation in Scotland.”
- On 19 January 2018, the implications of alcohol MUP were considered by the House of Commons Health and Home Affairs Committees with charities, academics, professional bodies and industry
- On 9 February 2018, the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper on MUP
- On 28 February 2018, in response to Lords questions the Government said in relation to the impact of implementation of MUP in Scotland: “we expect in two to three years to see evidence of its impact”.
UPDATE: Brewer and pub company Greene King has welcomed approval of the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill, its CEO Rooney Anand having been quoted as saying: “Greene King welcomes the passing of the Bill in the Welsh Assembly. We have for a long time made the case for introducing Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in order to reduce the health risks associated with harmful drinking and its detrimental impact on society. The potential benefits of MUP are clear. This policy will restrict the availability of cheap, high strength, alcohol which has been causing the most damage to communities across Wales, without impacting moderate drinkers who can continue to enjoy a drink responsibly. We urge the UK Government to look again at MUP and examine how to implement this policy and reduce high risk drinking in England in the near future.”