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Alcohol Health Warnings

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010

A public consultation on options for improving health information on the labels of alcoholic drinks closed on 31 May. The responses to that exercise are now being analysed, and we will set out our plans for next steps through announcements in the coming months.

I welcome all those on the Government Front Bench to their new posts. The tobacco health warning regime introduced by the previous Government has produced excellent results in improving the health of our citizens. Does the Minister believe that a parallel scheme for alcohol would achieve similar progress and benefits?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words of welcome. It is important to note that sometimes such warnings are not transferrable between products. As he rightly says, there have been a number of initiatives on smoking that have, without doubt, had an impact on the number of people who smoke and the number who have given up. Whether those are transferrable to alcohol we do not yet know, but we will be looking at all the evidence available.

The Minister will be aware of a recent Alcohol Concern report that points out that a minimum alcohol price of 50p a unit would cost a moderate drinker only about 23p a week, but would reduce alcohol-related illness significantly, and would save the NHS millions. What discussions has she had with colleagues in other Departments about such a minimum price?

We have had a number of conversations about all aspects of alcohol policy, and what to do about the 7% of hospital admissions that are due to alcohol and the £2.7 billion cost—some estimates put it much higher, at about £5 billion—to the NHS. Without doubt, we have to change the public’s relationship with alcohol. We are committed to a ban on selling below-cost alcohol, which is important—but it is also important not to disfranchise responsible drinkers, as plenty of people enjoy alcohol responsibly. What we have to do is stop irresponsible drinking and protect people’s health.

I thank the Minister for that answer. She will recognise the problems that binge drinking causes our health service, our police and our local communities. I am delighted that she has recognised that there has been an agreement to ban the sale of alcohol at below cost price, but will she assure us that the Government are taking this issue seriously, and that we will hear an early announcement?

The hon. Gentleman is right; this is a cross-departmental issue. This is not just about health; it is important for local government as well. We need a multi-faceted approach. As I have said, we will look at all the evidence to see what works, and to make those changes not only in law and order, as he pointed out, but in people’s health.

There are cross-references between the labelling on alcohol and on other products, and the evidence clearly shows that with food labelling, the public find colour-coded, front-of-pack labelling far easier to understand. What has the Minister learned from that, and will her Department, with other Departments, seek an opt-out for retailers that want to continue, voluntarily, with front-of-pack colour-coding on their products?

It is important not to pre-empt the consultation that has already gone on, and to collect all the evidence together. To find out the best method for getting that information to the public in a way that they find accessible, we have to look at what works.