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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, April 17, 2024


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motions S6M-12871 and S6M-12872, on approval of Scottish statutory instruments. I ask George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move the motions.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 (Continuation) Order 2024 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Alcohol (Minimum Price per Unit) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2024 [draft] be approved.—[George Adam]


Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

I declare my interest as a practising national health service general practitioner.

The Scottish National Party Government might trumpet in this chamber its minimum unit pricing policy as a so-called major success, but I would ask the Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy to say that to the families of the 1,276 Scots who died in 2022 due to alcohol—families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones.

We know that the SNP has tried one flagship approach to tackling excessive drinking—making alcohol more expensive, thus deterring the less well-off from purchasing it. We know that dependent drinkers on the lowest incomes are going without food instead. MUP is not a slam-dunk success or magic bullet, as the SNP believes it to be. [Interruption.]

Let us hear Dr Gulhane.

Sandesh Gulhane

It cannot be, because the number of alcohol-related deaths is not reducing by any credible measure. Of course, we have seen the SNP spin machine in overdrive over MUP, notably with regard to a key Public Health Scotland report. The trouble is that, in order to grab headlines, the SNP misrepresented the facts. It spun estimates as facts, and it implied that its resounding success was based on and backed by 40 different policies and studies. However, again, that is simply not true. [Interruption.] What is clear—this is important—is that the Public Health Scotland report acknowledges that there was only limited evidence.

Will the member take an intervention?

No, I will not—members should listen to this. [Interruption.]

Let us hear Dr Gulhane.

Sandesh Gulhane

The SNP’s push to increase MUP to 65p, which could result in a price hike of 30 per cent, will disproportionately penalise responsible drinkers on a low income and those dependent on alcohol. If that is not bad enough, the extra money will not go to funding addiction services.

We all know that addiction is complex and requires a multifaceted approach, but the SNP has only one approach—putting up the price of alcohol. It has its silver bullet, and that silver bullet is a blank.

It is crystal clear that more people suffer alcohol-related deaths now than did in 2018, when MUP was introduced. In fact, men from deprived areas are drinking more with MUP in place than they were before, and others are switching to spirits. The Scottish Government has failed to provide the necessary investment in prevention and treatment services. If the SNP ever wants to get a grip, people suffering from dependence should have the right to access treatment and rehabilitation via our proposed right to recovery bill. That should be the priority, not forcing every Scot to pay more.


The Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy (Christina McKelvie)

I am glad to have the opportunity to address colleagues across the chamber on minimum unit pricing ahead of this crucial vote. The Parliament has the opportunity to show that Scotland continues to be world leading with our policies to improve the health of people in Scotland by voting to continue minimum unit pricing and to increase the price per unit to 65p.

I implore members across the chamber to vote in favour of the orders, in line with the views of more than 80 third sector organisations—that is, people who work on the front line every day—public health experts and senior clinicians, who wrote to voice their support for minimum unit pricing and the proposal to increase the price to 65p per unit.

Minimum unit pricing is an extensively evaluated policy. Public Health Scotland’s independent evaluation estimated that, during the period that was considered, minimum unit pricing reduced the number of alcohol-attributable deaths by 13.4 per cent, which amounts to 156 people a year—that is the “limited evidence”, according to Sandesh Gulhane. Public Health Scotland also said that minimum unit pricing was likely to have reduced the number of hospital admissions wholly attributable to alcohol by 4.1 per cent, compared with what would have happened if MUP had not been in place. The evaluation found no evidence of a significant impact on the alcoholic drinks industry as a whole.

The evaluation has also been commended by internationally renowned public health experts, including Professor Sir Michael Marmot and Professor Sally Carswell. That counters Sandesh Gulhane’s comments. This is what they said:

“Policy makers can be confident that there are several hundred people with low income in Scotland who would have died as a result of alcohol, who are alive today as a result of minimum unit pricing.”

Who to believe? I will stick with the experts.

The decision to propose 65p per unit is underpinned by modelling by the esteemed University of Sheffield, among consideration of many other factors. Those factors are set out in detail in the published business and regulatory impact assessment, which I commended to Sandesh Gulhane at committee, but he has obviously not read it.

The University of Sheffield’s modelling suggests that to maintain the value of the price per unit and therefore to continue to achieve the public health benefits at a level that is estimated by Public Health Scotland’s evaluation, it should be increased to at least 60p. However, it is clear that Scotland continues to experience significant levels of alcohol harm. The Scottish Government is therefore proposing to increase the value of the price per unit to 65p to further increase the public health benefits of the policy—maybe another 156 lives will be saved.

I expect, and modelling predicts, that, if that increase is implemented, it will save those additional lives. I have heard some members’ concerns about the potential effects of the policy on people who consume alcohol at the highest levels. Specialist support and treatment are vital for people with alcohol dependence. To that end, the Scottish Government provided record funding of £112 million in the past financial year to Scotland’s alcohol and drug partnerships. It is therefore simply not true to say that MUP is the only measure that we are taking. That funding supports the delivery of services for people who are alcohol dependent, whether residential rehab, community-based services or other types of vital support.

I implore members to vote in favour of both the orders to reduce the alcohol-related harm that continues to affect far too many people; to vote to reduce harm and save lives—that is easy.

The question on the motions will be put at decision time.