Welsh Government considering minimum alcohol price, despite UK

The Welsh Government is “actively considering” bringing forward legislation on minimum alcohol pricing, despite the UK Government’s attempt to remove alcohol powers from the Assembly.

Before last year’s election, the Welsh Government published the draft Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill, saying it would be a matter for the next Assembly to consider.

Under the revised Wales Bill, however, which Assembly Members last week voted to back, the sale and supply of alcohol will be decided – reserved – by Westminster.

At Senedd Question Time on Wednesday (25 January), Assembly Member Joyce Watson questioned the public health minister about the government’s alcohol policy. The Labour Mid and West Wales AM asked:

“The last Welsh Government was hoping to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol as a way of helping to reduce alcohol consumption in Wales, but I understand that we will not, under the new reserved powers model, be able to legislate. So my question is, first of all, do we have the power to legislate? And if we don’t have the power to legislate, what other ways are we planning to help reduce alcohol dependency and abuse?”

Minister for Social Services and Public Health, Rebecca Evans AM, replied:

“We do currently, under our existing settlement, have the power to legislate, but, unfortunately, despite numerous arguments made to the UK Government, this is one of the powers that they have sought to remove from the Assembly for the future—but we do still very much support the introduction of minimum unit pricing as an additional lever in order to reduce alcohol-related harm, and we’re actively considering the need to bring forward legislation on this matter.

“We’re investing almost £50 million a year in our substance misuse agenda, which includes taking a range of actions to help reduce alcohol misuse in Wales. Details are set out in our latest substance misuse delivery plan for 2016 to 2018.”

Mrs Evans continued:

“It is part of a wider suite of measures that we are taking. For example, our area planning boards are doing some great work locally, and, in Newtown, in your area of Mid and West Wales, tackling under-age drinking is really important—and we’ve invested there by supporting the development of a community alcohol partnership, which is bringing together local stakeholders, trading standards, police, schools and alcohol retailers, in order to support young people in particular to avoid having a harmful relationship with alcohol.”

Speaking after the exchange, Mrs Watson added:

“Many people have stayed dry this month, whatever the weather, by giving up alcohol. It will have been easier for some than others, not least because alcohol is ubiquitous in our society.

“The fact is, the NHS – Public Health Wales – estimates around 75 per cent of adults drink too much. So I am encouraged that the Welsh Government is determined to do something about it.”

Alcohol Concern launched its Dry January campaign in 2013. Last year, according to the charity, around one in six – 16 per cent – of adults attempted to abstain from alcohol for the month.