The Scottish government is planning to unleash a new war on internet drinks sales, in a bid to prevent the flow of cheap booze from England.
A consultation paper sets out moves that could see police attempt to trace households seeking to get around the ban on multibuy price promotions in the country, brought in just over a year ago.
It also plans to plug a potential cross-border trade in cheaper drinks, should the Scots push ahead with its plans for minimum pricing (though these are currently bogged down by a legal challenge).
Ministers in Scotland have warned of “booze cruises” to English towns close to the border. The new consultation says that while nothing could be done about physical trips to stores, the administration could target internet sales.
“Following the introduction of alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010, concern was raised regarding supermarkets or other businesses taking orders in Scotland for the purchase of alcohol but then dispatching the order from premises out with Scotland,” said the paper. “This practice would avoid the minimum pricing legislation and allow supermarkets to continue with 3 for 2 type drink promotions etc.
The report recommended that “sales made in Scotland but dispatched from out with could be controlled by way of regulation,” but it admitted to “considerable difficulties” in policing such regulation. A leading brewer went further, describing the plans as “barmy”. “How on earth they plan to enforce this, God only knows,” said the source.
Other measures being lined up by Holyrood include an examination of the English language skills of alcohol licence holders, and even English proficiency tests, amid fears that language barriers may lead to licensees flouting its alcohol rules.
Controversy over alcohol policy was not confined to the Scots this week. The wine and Spirit Trade Association has slammed the Home Office for blocking it from joining technical groups set up to discuss the imposition of the government’s alcohol strategy, including a clampdown on drinks licensees and alcohol-free zones.
The Home Office said the group was being limited to licensing groups who would police it and health groups who would “provide relevant data to support such policies”.
“It’s very concerning that the government seems to be pushing ahead with plans which could have a serious impact on the on-trade without consulting the industry,” said a WSTA spokeswoman.