The Scottish Government’s plans to impose a minimum price on alcohol have again been blocked by opposition MSPs.
Members of Holyrood’s health committee voted down the SNP policy, and instead backed a Conservative amendment to remove the minimum price of 45p per unit from the Alcohol Bill.
This is the second time the policy has suffered defeat after MSPs rejected it at an earlier parliamentary stage in June.
The Scottish Government offered to introduce a “sunset clause” into the Bill, which would review the policy after six years.
Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced details of the clause at the committee after consulting health professionals and alcohol experts, but the concession was rejected by a margin of five to three votes.
Despite two defeats, Miss Sturgeon has vowed to bring back the proposal to the full parliament at the third and final stage of the consideration of the Bill.
She told the committee: “I find it disheartening that some colleagues feel we can’t be the first to try a new approach, that we must stand back and wait for someone else to pursue an action before doing something ourselves.
“I argue that the scale of our problem means we need to take action now.”
But the proposal is likely to be rejected after diminishing support from other parties.
Tory MSP Mary Scanlon, who tabled the opposition amendment, said: “The minimum price does not pass this test as an evidence base to reduce alcohol consumption.
“Minimum pricing would penalise responsible drinkers, it would harm the Scottish whisky industry, it would cost jobs, it’s questionable whether it complies with European law.
“The most effective method is to target problem drinks with extra tax and duty on a UK-wide basis.”
Labour’s health spokesman Jackie Baillie slammed the policy saying it is “effectively a tax on the poor, paid directly to the shareholders of the big supermarkets”.
Lib Dem health spokesman Ross Finnie said: “I do not believe that such an approach will contribute to the public believing that we are taking seriously the debate on alcohol.”
A leading alcohol awareness charity asserted that a “robust” pricing policy for drink was needed.
Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Scotland is going to have to think seriously about what it will do about alcohol abuse if the parliament is not prepared to support minimum pricing.
“Until there are proper pricing measures in place, we’ll continue to see alcohol-related harm,” she added.
The Scottish Daily Mail recently reported on a YouGov poll in which 40 per cent of respondents said they were in favour of introducing minimum pricing to tackle binge drinking. The poll found 47 per cent were opposed to the measure.
It also said 76 per cent of those questioned in the UK-wide survey believed a minimum price would not affect how much alcohol they consumed.
In January a study from the University of York found that alcohol abuse costs every Scottish adult around £900 per year.
The study also estimated the total burden to Scotland’s public purse to be around £3.56 billion a year.