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Alcohol Strategy

Volume 542: debated on Friday 23 March 2012

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the new cross-Government alcohol strategy. Most people have no problem with alcohol. They enjoy a drink and it is one of life’s pleasures, but we all know there is a significant minority in this country who drink dangerously and who cause disproportionate harm. Almost 1 million violent crimes and 1.2 million hospital admissions each year are alcohol-related. Just under half of all violent crime is connected to alcohol, and drunken brawls and disorder have made many town centres no-go areas for law-abiding citizens.

The effects of such dangerous drinking on crime, communities, children and families are clear, but it need not be like this. Alcohol can be consumed responsibly, a drink can be enjoyable, not dangerous, and a thriving night-time economy can be built on the basis of a sensible drinking culture. In Durham, a Best Bar None accreditation scheme promotes responsible pub management. Licensed premises must meet minimum standards, for example on the skills and knowledge of their bar staff, to gain approval. They are encouraged not to serve beer to drunks and to build a good relationship with the police and local agencies. After three years, licensees reported a 75% increase in trade, a 50% increase in city centre footfall and an 87% reduction in violent crime. Experiences like that show that city centres can become more attractive places to visit at night if they allow sensible drinking rather than a licensing free-for-all.

Such schemes should be encouraged, but any progress will for ever be overshadowed unless we stop the flow of cheap alcohol. In some shops and supermarkets, drinks are now so heavily discounted that it is possible to buy a can of lager for as little as 20p or a two-litre bottle of cider for just £1.69. That means that many people now drink excessively at home and that many pre-load before they go out. Two thirds of 17 to 30-year-olds recently arrested in one city said they had pre-loaded before going out, and pre-loaders are estimated to be two-and-a-half times more likely to be involved in violence than other drinkers. So we need to deal with the dangerous drinkers, crack down on the irresponsible businesses and stem the tide of cheap alcohol. That means providing punishment and treatment for those who have shown that they cannot drink sensibly, tightening our licensing laws and cracking down on those who sell alcohol to children or drunks. It also means, for the first time, putting a sensible price on alcohol.

Those who have a particular problem with alcohol need specialist help to change their behaviour, so we will provide better treatment for dependent drinkers. We will develop alcohol interventions in prisons and will make alcohol treatment requirements imposed by the courts more effective. Dangerous drinkers who are convicted of alcohol-related crimes will have their unqualified right to drink removed through piloted sobriety schemes. These schemes will involve breathalysers and specialist electronic tags to monitor offenders’ alcohol levels and ensure they remain sober. From April, pilots using conditional cautions will launch in five areas—Westminster, St Helens, Hull, Plymouth and Cardiff. Further pilots will be launched shortly to tackle more serious offenders using community orders. We will legislate to support the roll-out of these schemes nationwide should they prove successful.

As well as tackling irresponsible drinkers, we must also help local areas to tackle irresponsible businesses by giving them greater powers over licensing. The Government’s reforms to policing, health and the criminal justice system will help to put power in the hands of local people, but we also want to give local areas specific powers to deal with alcohol-related problems. New powers in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 will come into force on 25 April. They include powers to make it easier for local agencies to refuse, revoke or impose conditions on a licence and to close down premises that sell alcohol to children or contribute to crime and disorder. They will double to £20,000 the maximum fine for persistently selling alcohol to children, and anyone with an interest will be able to object to new licensing applications no matter where they live. Later this year, new early morning alcohol restriction orders will give local areas the power to stop alcohol sales late at night if they are causing problems by restricting opening and closing hours, and we will introduce powers for local areas to control the density of licensed premises. We will also bring in powers to allow local areas to place a new late-night levy on businesses that sell alcohol late into the night so that businesses that benefit from late-night drinking will contribute towards the cost of late-night policing.

The alcohol industry also has an important role to play. This strategy promises to support and free up businesses that are acting responsibly. Most British pubs promote a good drinking environment and are the safest and friendliest places to have a drink, so we will build on the existing responsibility deal to drive greater industry action to prevent alcohol misuse. For example, 35 leading drinks companies are today launching a pledge to give consumers a wider choice of lower-strength products and smaller servings with the aim of taking 1 billion units of alcohol out of the market by 2015.

Individual, local and industry actions are all important to deal with problem drinkers and problem pubs, but dealing with problem pricing can be done only by central Government. We know that the availability of cheap alcohol helps to fuel binge drinking. Strong evidence from a number of studies conducted in the UK, Europe, America, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere shows that alcohol consumption is closely linked to the price of alcohol. Those studies also showed that increasing the price of the very cheapest alcohol does the most to reduce heavy drinking. There is also evidence that young people are particularly sensitive to changes in price. Increasing alcohol prices lowers their alcohol consumption. That is why we have already taken action to tackle the availability of cheap alcohol. We have stopped high-strength white ciders from qualifying for lower rates of duty, we have introduced a new higher rate of duty for high-strength beers and we have brought in a new lower rate for lower-strength beers.

Those significant steps forward will help better to match prices to alcoholic strength, but the problem is now so acute that we need to go further. We will therefore introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol. This will ensure for the first time that alcohol can be sold only at a sensible and responsible price, stopping the deep discounting and bargain basement sales that drive binge drinking. We will consult over the coming months on the level of the minimum unit price and will seek to introduce legislation as soon as possible. We do not now intend to go ahead with the proposed ban on the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty and VAT. Most drinks will not be affected by minimum unit pricing, but the cheap vodka, super-strength cider and special brew lagers will go up in price. The dangerous drinks will become more expensive but the price of a normal pint in the local pub will not increase by a single penny. We will also consult on introducing a ban on multi-buy promotions in shops, such as “buy one, get one free” deals that push people to buy more alcohol than they want. We do not intend to apply this ban to pubs, bars and restaurants, which, as I have already said, offer a more controlled drinking environment. We want to encourage these premises to survive and thrive.

This strategy is targeted explicitly at dangerous drinkers, problem pubs, irresponsible shops and harmful drinks. Those who enjoy a quiet drink or two have nothing to fear from our proposals. The local pub has nothing to fear and the responsible off-licence has nothing to fear. We will help to tackle problem drinkers, we will help local areas to deal with local licensing problems, we will encourage the alcohol industry to act responsibly and we will put a stop to the easy availability of cheap booze that has blighted Britain for too long. This is a comprehensive strategy to take back our town centres from the drunken thugs and restore them to the law-abiding majority. I commend this statement to the House.

This announcement about the alcohol strategy is extremely important, but the way in which it has been done is a complete shambles. It has been rushed out on a Friday morning when many of our colleagues have engagements in their constituencies and without notifying the Select Committee on Home Affairs. So, despite the many pieces of work the Committee has done on this issue, its members do not have the chance to be here in Parliament to scrutinise the strategy.

Why are we debating it today rather than on Monday, as was previously planned? It cannot be to ensure that Parliament hears the details first, because we have had the chance to read them in the Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, and all the other newspapers that were given the details yesterday. I even have the press pack, complete with questions and answers, which was given to the media yesterday and not to the House. It includes considerable additional information that has not been given to the House as part of the Home Secretary’s statement today. Nor can the reason be for Parliament to debate the statement, when only two hours’ notice has been given of a statement on a Friday. I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to apologise to the students I was due to meet in Pontefract at lunch time and have had to let down. Many of our colleagues will be in the same position.

The only reason we are sitting on Friday is so that the Budget debate could take place today rather than next week, Parliament could finish 10 days early and the Prime Minister would not have to answer Prime Minister’s questions next week. There is no precedent for handling a long-awaited consultation document in this way, on a Friday morning, with no notice. Over the past 10 years, there have been only three Government statements on a Friday: on the Iraq war, on swine flu and on Libya—all of them involving serious issues around national emergencies. What is the national emergency today?

What is the national emergency that prompted a decision to be made late yesterday afternoon to brief an important and serious strategy to the newspapers which meant that a decision was made this morning to interrupt the debate and make an oral statement? The only emergency is that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have gone wobbly over the coverage of their Budget. Their Budget has gone wrong because pensioners are furious about the granny tax, middle earners are shocked to discover they will be paying the higher rate and everyone else is furious that the Government are bringing in a £10,000 tax break for the highest earners in the country, including, we discover, half the Cabinet. This is not about a 40p minimum price; it is about their failings on the 40p tax. The Home Secretary is being used as a human shield for the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, and she should have said no.

The issue is extremely serious. The Home Secretary is right: 1 million violent crimes each year are linked to alcohol. Nearly 9,000 people die each year as a result of alcohol abuse. Many people—indeed, most people—drink moderately and responsibly, and we enjoy it. The Home Secretary is right to say that responsible drinkers should not be penalised, but we cannot stand by and ignore the serious problem of dangerous alcohol abuse. Many policies have been tried already, including linking duty to strength and giving the police stronger powers to clamp down on alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, but she is right: they have not solved the problem.

The Home Secretary is also right to say that more now needs to be done. Many of her policies are sensible and we will support them. I agree that this is the right time to try minimum pricing. There are serious questions that she should answer—and the House should have the opportunity to debate—about how we ensure that supermarkets do not simply get a huge windfall, and what safeguards there should be for pubs. I agree, too, that we should explore the issue of sobriety orders, but these are serious questions that the House should have the chance to debate, to make sure they are not used wrongly for domestic violence cases and do not tackle the seriousness of the abuse.

I agree too that licensing is important. I hope the Home Secretary will now support our proposals to put public health in the terms for licensing decisions. More needs to be done on prevention, which had little mention in the statement—little wonder perhaps, when alcohol education is being watered down in schools. These are all extremely serious issues and we should have the opportunity to debate them properly in Parliament; but we do not have the opportunity for many MPs to ask questions today and to intervene and discuss the issues with the Home Secretary.

Will the Home Secretary tell us when the decision was taken to make the statement today? Will she agree to come back to the House and properly debate the strategy, giving the Home Affairs Committee and others the proper chance to ask questions? Does she agree that she is wrong to treat something so serious in such a cavalier fashion in the announcements made to the House? Does she agree that the Government are wrong to use a serious alcohol strategy as a cover for their chaotic confusion over their dreadful Budget? Will she treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves? We will give it proper support, if she will do so for the future.

That was the usual response from the right hon. Lady—bluster and political point scoring. One thing was missing. After the disaster of Labour’s Licensing Act 2003, after election text messages saying, “Couldn’t give a XXXX for closing time,” and after all that drink-fuelled violence and disorder, there was not even a hint of apology from the right hon. Lady.

I suggest that the right hon. Lady speaks to the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who said that he regrets not doing more during his time in office to tackle the problems caused by binge drinking. It is a shame that she cannot bring herself to be as frank about her party’s record in office.

It was difficult to decipher the right hon. Lady’s questions about the actual statement on alcohol strategy. I think she raised two points. She asked about ensuring that the minimum unit price did not lead to a cash windfall for supermarkets. I do not believe it will, because the supermarket industry is highly competitive; it has small margins on its goods and I expect money made through higher alcohol prices to be passed on through lower prices for other goods. When the cost of living is an issue, I should have thought that the right hon. Lady would welcome that.

The right hon. Lady asked about health bodies. They will of course be in a position to contribute to local licensing decisions; indeed, the new public health and wellbeing bodies will be able to participate, alongside the police and local authorities, in setting strategies to deal with alcohol in their local area. The right hon. Lady now takes an interest in health bodies having a role, although sadly she and her party opposed the Bill that enabled them to be set up.

I recognise that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, is not in the Chamber, but last year he said:

“May I welcome the Government’s proposals for a minimum price for alcohol? They are of course in keeping with the recommendations that the Home Affairs Committee made last year.”—[Official Report, 24 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 3.]

In 2008, the Home Affairs Committee talked about the cheap availability of alcohol, recommending that

“the Government establish as soon as possible a legal basis for banning the use of loss-leading by supermarkets and setting a minimum price for the sale of alcohol.”

What I think I deciphered from the right hon. Lady’s bluster is that the Opposition actually support the idea of an alcohol strategy and what the Government are doing. If I am correct, I welcome that.

I think the whole House welcomes what the Home Secretary is trying to achieve with the policy, and we certainly wish it every success. Could she comment on how we can tackle a possible increase in the black market—the smuggling of cheap booze from abroad? We do not want the reinstatement of the booze cruise to France.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. There are still issues about alcohol and other goods, such as cigarettes, being imported in ways that avoid paying tax to the Government. Much of that involves organised crime groups. One of the things the Government are doing is creating the new National Crime Agency, which will strengthen our ability to deal with organised crime, and the specific border police command will strengthen our border security to enable us to fight those problems even better than we are able to do today.

Clearly, the Home Secretary has been sent to the House today in a shameful attempt to divert attention from the disastrous Budget, but can she tell me why if somebody is prepared to spend £60 a night in sunny Stratford, they will be diverted from spending an extra pound in the supermarket to load up before they go out?

First, I congratulate the Labour Whips on having managed to circulate their questions to their own Whips to stand up on the Back Benches to comment. What we are doing—

Does the hon. Lady want an answer to her question or not? By setting a minimum unit price, we are tackling the cheap alcohol that is sold and the bulk discount sales of alcohol, which mean that people pre-load at home. They are often drunk when they leave home. They go to their town centres and sadly, they create the drunkenness, the brawls, the fighting in the streets, the mayhem that mean several things. It means that the police have to spend money and deal with those issues. It means that accident and emergency departments in our hospitals are having to deal with people in drunkenness; every year, 1.2 million admissions to accident and emergency units are alcohol-fuelled. It also means that many law-abiding citizens just do not feel able to go into their town centres at night, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays, and I think it is time we did something about it, and that is what this Government are doing.

I welcome this consultation as an opportunity to tighten up on irresponsible sales. Does the Secretary of State agree with landlords such as Juliet Watchman of The Bell Inn in Shepton Mallet, who makes the point that if she behaved as local supermarkets did and sold lager for 34 pence per pint and cider at 48 pence per pint—pocket-money prices—or sold to those who are already heavily under the influence of alcohol, she would have her licence revoked by the local authority, and that this is a massive opportunity for landlords, the police and hospitals to contribute to the consultation?

I thank my hon. Friend. I commend the landlady of The Bell Inn in Shepton Mallet for taking that responsible approach to the issue of alcohol. We certainly look forward to receiving responses to the consultation from people such as her constituent and others. There are responsible landlords out there who are running pubs in difficult circumstances. We know; we have all seen many pubs in communities closing. We want to ensure that those who drink responsibly and those who deal responsibly with their clients, as many landlords and landladies do, are able to carry on doing so, and that we hit that end of the market that is being fuelled by this very cheap alcohol, often sold by supermarkets.

I went to talk to young people in the youth club in Spennymoor about exactly this issue. I believe that price does influence young people’s behaviour. What I do not understand is why the Government are having a consultation on this issue but did not have a consultation on the granny tax.

What we are announcing today is an alcohol strategy that will deal with the problems. It is interesting that no member of the Opposition has stood up and addressed the problems that were caused by Labour’s Licensing Act.

I very much welcome the contents of the statement, especially as it will spell the end of the dreadful legacy of the Labour party’s so-called café culture of licensing, which has blighted town centres up and down the country and done so much harm to people’s health. I particularly welcome the licensing changes. Could the Secretary of State inform the House a bit more about how the licensing changes could also be applied to supermarkets?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right. We were promised, under Labour’s Licensing Act, a European-style café culture. Nothing could be further from the truth in many of our town centres on a Friday and a Saturday night, and law-abiding citizens are suffering as a result. We are looking at ensuring—in some of the legislation that we have already passed, such as the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, we are ensuring it—that it is easier for local authorities to clamp down on those outlets that are selling alcohol particularly to children. The fine has been increased. We are also making it easier to revoke licences where people are persistently caught selling alcohol to children.

A minimum price for alcohol is something that I have campaigned on, and I am delighted that, on this issue at least, the Government are listening to the health professionals, who warn that we are losing nearly £3 billion a year on alcohol-related disease. Without pre-judging the outcome of the consultation, will the Home Secretary acknowledge that the university of Sheffield suggests that a unit price of 50p is more effective? Why has her strategy not included the really important issue of alcohol advertising?

I welcome the support that the hon. Lady is giving to the thrust of the alcohol strategy. We have based the assumptions that are in the strategy on a minimum unit price of 40p. I am aware that there are those out there who say that it should be higher. We will be consulting, and obviously we will look at the results of that consultation when we make a final decision on the unit price.

I warmly welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend. She has talked about the changes in licensing laws made by the previous Government, which incidentally I think were well reported in the press before they were reported to this House. Can she perhaps expand on the impact that those licensing changes had on the binge-drinking culture?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is absolutely right. We were promised that the legislation would suddenly open an era in which people would sit casually in the streets, drinking responsibly. In fact, what we saw was an enormously increased burden on the police, who had to deal with the late-night and early-hours licences that were allowed as a result of Labour’s Licensing Act—that is why the police welcome the steps that we are taking today—and of course that just helped to fuel that binge-drinking culture which has caused so many problems in our town centres and high streets.

I apologise; the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) previously mentioned advertising. In fact, we are looking at the issue of advertising and display of alcohol as part of the responsibility deal.

I agree that it is a very important statement that we have before us today, but it is a shame that it has been snuck out as a diversionary tactic on a Friday. As the Home Secretary failed to answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), can she now tell us when exactly she was instructed to make today's statement?

The Opposition really need to get their story straight. The hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend stands up and complains that there has been too much press and media coverage about this, and he claims that the statement has been slunk out.

I strongly support my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is important to make the point that a Conservative-led Government should be about not just laissez-faire liberalism but social responsibility and civic duty. How will my right hon. Friend ensure—if necessary, by sanction—that local authorities properly use the power that she gives them, given that they have not chosen to be very prescriptive in their powers under the Licensing Act 2003?

We obviously had a lot of consultation with local authorities when we were putting through the changes in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, and we saw that they welcomed what we were doing, which will give them more freedom to be able to exercise powers. One problem was that in some areas the Licensing Act was drawn quite rigidly, in terms of what authorities were able to do and how they were able to interpret it. They will welcome the extra freedom that we are giving them, particularly the late-night levy which, as I said in my statement, will defray the costs of late-night policing.

The Home Secretary’s statement repeats an awful lot of things that have already happened, which illustrates that it has been cobbled together—announcing new powers from an Act that this Parliament has already passed. Further powers such as heavier fines for those serving under-age people, which I think is very valuable, will work only if they are properly enforced. How does the Home Secretary square that with her reductions in policing budgets?

It ill behoves an Opposition Member, given the extra burden that the police felt as a result of the Licensing Act 2003, to stand up and refer to policing. The hon. Lady talked about the strategy being only about what has already been passed. No, it is not. Of course, we have brought together a number of issues, some of which we have already legislated for, such as changing local authorities’ powers in relation to the 2003 Act, and some of which we have not yet introduced, such as minimum unit pricing. Also, we have included more action with industry and on public health, dealing with health issues related to the harm that can be caused by excessive drinking. This is the first time that the Government have produced a cross-Government strategy across the board, addressing every way in which this Government can deal with the problems of alcohol which, sadly, we see in too many people in this country.

Pubs in West Suffolk and across the country are not only economically important but often vital hubs of the local community. Can my right hon. Friend tell me a bit more about what impact this statement will have on pubs, where so much, in many cases mostly, responsible drinking happens?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point that pubs play a very important role in our communities. Pubs have nothing to fear from the minimum unit price that is being introduced today. That will not have an impact on them. I hope that we will see more people feeling able to go to pubs, particularly those in town centres which until now people have often felt unable to visit because of the brawling that they see in the streets. However, we will be looking very carefully in a number of areas to ensure that what we are doing is very clearly focused on those outlets that are bulk-discounting cheap alcohol, which enables people to get drunk before they go out, not affecting the pubs.

I referred to it in my statement, but it has also been announced today that, as a result of agreement with industry, we will see something like 35 billion units—

Yes, 1 billion units a year will be taken out. Sorry, I was getting ahead—[Interruption.] I wondered how long it would take the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) to start—

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Home Secretary. I am a little concerned about the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who I fear is suffering from compulsive chuntering disorder. I know that he will now calm himself, and we look forward to hearing from him eloquently and possibly at length on other occasions.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I was saying to the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), we have already been working with the industry to ensure that changes can take place. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has done a lot of work on that. It will lead to 1 billion units of alcohol being taken out by 2015, and 35 companies have signed up to that deal.

This is an important issue for Bournemouth. We have a vibrant and popular town centre as part of the local economy, but it has suffered because of the previous Government and their reckless Licensing Act, which has been very costly to the town centre. The residents are concerned that there are simply too many pubs and clubs there. Will my right hon. Friend expand on her comments on density and powers that might be given to local authorities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sadly, many towns and cities across the country have felt the impact of Labour’s Licensing Act in the same way as Bournemouth. We will enable local authorities to take into account the density of licensed premises in a town centre when they are determining applications. One of the problems in Maidenhead in my constituency was that application after application was given permission. Many residents felt that things started to go wrong through that. All too often, the sort of bars to which problem drinkers went were in our town centres.

As a former chair of the all-party group on alcohol misuse, I think that I was the first Member to table an early-day motion raising the problem of cheap alcohol and its impact on our society. However, the Home Secretary has not mentioned the more than 6,000 babies every year who are born damaged by alcohol consumed by their mothers during pregnancy. In America, every drink canister and bottle has a label warning pregnant women about drinking. Will the Home Secretary take that into account in her consultation?

We do indeed. The hon. Gentleman will find that we refer in the alcohol strategy to the issue of pregnant women drinking and the impact on the foetus and therefore on the babies when they are born. The drinks industry—for example, Diageo—has taken several initiatives on research and other aspects of the problem. The hon. Gentleman and I do not often agree on issues, but I am very happy to agree with him on the importance of the matter that he raised.

Order. I am happy to take a few more questions but extreme brevity is required because there is extensive interest in the Budget debate, to which I know the House will wish shortly to return.

In the town of Deal that I represent, residents are beset in the early hours of the morning by drunks returning home and smashing up property and fights breaking out. The district council says that there is nothing it can do because of the rules brought in by Labour’s 24-hour drinking culture. In changing the rules, will the Home Secretary give real power and discretion to the district councils?

My hon. Friend is right. We are changing the law on the powers of the licensing authorities, and I am sure that Deal and other towns and cities will find very helpful the early morning restriction orders, which will be introduced later this year and will enable local authorities to restrict licensed premises’ ability to open between midnight and 6 am.

Police in Camborne in my constituency have recently dusted off the Inebriates Act 1898, which contains a comprehensive package of measures to deal with habitual drunks. As well as the new measures that the Home Secretary has introduced today, will she ensure that the police are making proper use of existing powers?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. We want to ensure that existing powers that should be used, particularly on dealing with premises that continue to sell alcohol to people who are drunk, are exercised. However, I am sure that responsible landlords will welcome the statement. Indeed, the chief executive of Greene King said today that he strongly believes that the Government’s intention to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol is an important step.

This is undoubtedly a problem, but it is disappointing that the Home Secretary makes some of our town and city centres at weekends sound like the wild west. Alcohol is a health issue, and the figures clearly show that. Earlier this week, figures published on liver disease were extremely worrying. The Home Secretary says that there is a consultation, yet she is determined to introduce a minimum price, even if the results of the consultation go against that. Pricing is only one tool in the box that needs to be considered. Young people may laugh at the Home Secretary’s comment this morning that they are particularly sensitive to changes in price—many are not.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the health aspect. There has been a 25% increase in liver disease between 2001 and 2009. As he said, figures on that came out earlier this week. That is why the document is a comprehensive strategy. It deals with alcohol pricing, health, relationship with the industry and the powers for licensing authorities. It is a cross-Government strategy, which brings all those issues together, to deal with what I hope Members of all parties recognise as a problem that has not been tackled for too long.

Many nurses, doctors and other hospital staff will welcome the moves to improve zero tolerance towards drunks being abusive. However, will my right hon. Friend be careful that she is not, with the multi-buy option, harming families that budget carefully during the week when they purchase alcohol?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to implement the strategy so that it has the impact that we want on the cheap alcohol and bulk discounts that lead to the sort of behaviours that I described earlier. When we consult about dealing with bulk discounts, I am sure that the very point that she makes will be raised. Obviously, we will consider that carefully.

I point out to the Home Secretary that part of the success of the Durham Best Bar None scheme was effective policing, which is now being put at risk because of cuts to Durham constabulary’s budget. We all want responsible pricing of alcohol, and there is much that I welcome in the statement. However, the right hon. Lady has not explained why it was necessary to interrupt the Budget debate today to make the statement. Many of us are here to speak for our constituencies and outline how the Budget has had a negative impact on them. I have a specific question. A real problem in Durham is special promotions by pubs aimed at students and young people. Will they be able to continue?

The hon. Lady made several points. I fully recognise the role that the Durham police played in the work that is being done there. It was a collective operation through licensees, the police and others. I am very pleased that Chief Constable Jon Stoddart of Durham, who is the ACPO lead on the matter, has said that he greatly supports the policy. He said that he welcomed any new approach

“that will help reduce the availability of cheap alcohol… and reduce pressure on the police.”

That is exactly what the strategy will do.

Order. The two remaining Members who wish to ask a question could compete with each other to see which is the briefer.

The people of Cleethorpes will broadly support the announcement. However, there will be concerns that, once again, the law-abiding majority are being penalised. Will the Home Secretary assure me that the police will use existing and new powers to the maximum, and that courts will ensure a robust approach?

I absolutely reassure my hon. Friend of that. The law-abiding majority have nothing to fear from these proposals.

I thank the Home Secretary for the positive remarks that have been made this morning about Durham constabulary and about the Best Bar None scheme. I recently spent some time with Durham constabulary on a Friday night, targeting under-age drinking, and I personally poured out 11 litres of cheap vodka that was taken from 13 and 14-year-olds, having been purchased by older young people and by parents, not necessarily from off-licences, but from supermarkets. This is an extremely serious issue, but I am disappointed by the way the statement has been rushed out this morning. If it was so important, why was it not brought out properly in the Budget on Wednesday?

This would never have been brought out in the Budget because this is a cross-Government strategy which deals with a variety of issues that are not matters for the Budget. The hon. Lady is right to say what an important issue this is. That is why the Government have been working across Departments to produce for the first time a comprehensive strategy which, I hope—it is the intention—will deal with the sort of problem that she has rightly raised and recognised.