The Scottish Government is still hoping to be able to enforce a minimum price

The Scottish Government is still hoping to be able to enforce a minimum price

A Scottish Government official has said that the drinks industry's on-going legal challenge over minimum unit pricing is "disappointing", and has argued there is no need for the policy to be decided by European authorities.

Andy Bruce, the government's head of tobacco, alcohol and diet, also said he "hopes and expects" the administration to win an appeal over the measure.

Earlier this month, Edinburgh's Court of Session ruled in favour of minimum pricing. However, both the Scotch Whisky Association and SpiritsEurope, the European trade organisation for spirits, said they would appeal the decision

Speaking earlier today (23 May) at a Westminster Social Policy Forum on alcohol policy in London, Bruce said: "It's disappointing, we are anxious to crack on." He bemoaned the fact the Scottish Government would have to wait to see the benefits of a floor price, which, he claimed, will include a saving of GBP64m (US$96.7m) in public health costs in its first year.

Bruce also questioned the idea that the legal challenge will eventually end up in a European court. "I think the idea it can only be decided by the ECJ (European Court of Justice) is a flawed one," he said. "Just because the issue is in the EU, it does not need to be decided in Luxembourg."

Speaking from the audience, Paul Bartlett, C&C Group's marketing director flagged that not all the drinks industry is opposed to minimum pricing. "We share your disappointment," Bartlett told Bruce. 

Earlier, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said he wanted to see the UK government in Westminster take the intiative by introducing the measure ahead of the devolved administrations. "Westminster should take the chance to lead, not to follow," he said. 

However, former MP Cllr Dr Doug Naysmith said he understood from former colleagues in Westminster that minimum unit pricing is now unlikely to happen under the coalition, confirming reports that emerged last month.

Mark Baird, Diageo GB's head of industry affairs and alcohol policy, claimed that 65% of all alcohol sold in the UK off-trade would rise in price under a GBP0.50 per unit price. The relationship between consumption and alcohol harm is "more complex" that some people make out, Baird said, as consumption has fallen 11% since 2004, while alcohol-related hospital admissions have risen 105%.