Minimum Alcohol Pricing Bill remains on course

(Title Image: Evening Standard)

One of the few controversial laws proposed this term – setting a minimum price for alcohol in Wales – reached a critical stage yesterday, as AMs debated the details and proposed amendments ahead of a scheduled final vote on the Bill next week.

At a Glance Guide

Stage 1 report (summary)

The Bill:

  • Sets a minimum price for alcohol, via regulations, using the formula: (M)inimum-price-per unit x (S)trength of the alcohol in % x (V)olume in litres. The minimum price-per-unit is currently rumoured to be set at 50p.
  • Introduces fines for premises selling alcohol below the minimum price (enforced by councils).
  • Includes a “sunset clause” where the law will be automatically repealed in the summer of 2024 unless the Senedd votes to keep it in place. The Welsh Government will be legally bound to publish a report on the effectiveness of the law in 2023.

Major Changes at Stage 2

The Health & Social Care Committee was responsible for amendments at Stage 2, along with the Member in Charge – Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth).

21 amendments were tabled by Committee members, but none of them passed. No amendments were put forward by the Welsh Government.

Despite UKIP’s vocal opposition to the Bill, their only member of the Committee and Party Leader – Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West) – abstained on every single amendment and didn’t table any amendments on behalf of her party. They took the same stance during the Stage 3 debate, with Caroline saying the Bill was “flawed and based on flawed assumptions”.

The Key Amendments at Stage 3

Amendment 1 – Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W & S. Pembs.)
Any regulations made under the Act need full public consultation and approval from the Senedd.
Vote: Rejected – 17 for, 29 against, 4 abstentions
Reason for Rejection: The proposals were “neither necessary or proportionate” and could take up to 6 months if applied as in the amendment.

Amendment 2 – Angela Burns AM
Future reports on the Act will need to include extensive information on the impact the Act has had on public health, alcohol consumption and the NHS.
Vote: Rejected – 17 for, 29 against, 4 abstentions
Reason for Rejection: The level of detail in the amendment pre-empts the ability of the government or a Senedd committee to scrutinise the Act on their own terms.

Amendment 6 – Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)
The Welsh Government must take “reasonable steps” to stop alcohol retailers making increased profits as a result of minimum pricing.
Vote: Rejected – 7 for, 39 against, 4 abstentions
Reason for Rejection: It would guarantee a court challenge as it would, in effect, be the equivalent of a levy/tax on alcohol sales (non-devolved).

Amendment 8 – Rhun ap Iorwerth AM
The Welsh Government must run a public information campaign explaining minimum alcohol pricing, as well as the risks of excessive drinking.
Vote: Approved – 45 for, 1 against, 4 abstentions

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