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Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2007

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government believe that while alcohol plays an important and positive role in our culture and economy excessive consumption among some sections of the population is cause for considerable concern. More needs to be done to promote sensible drinking and ensure that those of us who drink alcohol do so in a safe, sensible and social way.

In 2004, the Government published the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England. This was a major milestone—the first cross-government statement on the harms caused by alcohol, which included a shared analysis of the problem and programme of action to respond through better education and communication, improving health and treatment services, combating alcohol-related crime and disorder, and working with the alcohol industry.

The past three years have seen significant progress through the “Know Your Limits” binge-drinking campaign; “Think” driving campaign; enforcement of Ofcom's new code on television advertising; the first national trailblazers project identifying the need for and availability of alcohol treatment; trailblazer projects to identify and advise people whose drinking is likely to lead to ill health in the future; new enforcement powers in the Licensing Act 2003 and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006; setting up of local partnerships such as “Best Bar None”; and the establishment of a new independent charity, the Drinkaware Trust, to educate and promote sensible drinking.

Recent announcements of the progress being made on the labelling of alcohol drinks and the Tackling Underage Sales of Alcohol Campaign (TUSAC) further demonstrate that progress is being made.

Safe, Sensible, SocialNext Steps for the National Alcohol Strategy builds on the foundations which have been laid and the lessons learnt since 2004.

The strategy aim is:

to minimise the health harms, violence and antisocial behaviour associated with alcohol, while ensuring that people are able to enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly.

It will do this by:

ensuring the laws and licensing powers we have introduced to tackle alcohol fuelled crime and disorder, protect young people and bear down on irresponsibly managed licensed premises, are being used widely and effectively;

focusing on the minority of drinkers who cause or experience the most harm to themselves, their communities and their families. These are:

18-24 year-old binge drinkers—a minority of whom are responsible for the majority of alcohol-related crime and disorder in the night-time economy;

young people under 18 who drink alcohol—many of whom we now know are drinking more than their counterparts did a decade ago; and

harmful drinkers—many of whom do not realise their drinking patterns damage their physical and mental health and may be causing substantial harm to others.

shaping an environment which actively promotes sensible drinking, through investment in better information and communications, and by drawing on the skills and commitment of all those already working together to reduce the harm alcohol can cause, including the police, local authorities, prison and probation staff, the NHS, voluntary organisations, the alcohol industry, the wider business community, the media and of course local communities themselves.

A substantial programme of work will be delivered in support of these aims. This will include:

sharpened criminal justice for drunken behaviour to bear down on those committing crime and anti-social behaviour while drunk, and, where appropriate, offering advice, support and treatment to offenders to change their behaviour;

a review of NHS alcohol spending to highlight the burden of alcohol-related harm to the NHS and inform smarter spending decisions;

more help for people who want to drink less through the development and promotion of sources such as telephone helplines, interactive websites and support groups;

toughened enforcement of underage sales through the use of legislative powers to prosecute and even close premises that persistently sell alcohol to children;

trusted guidance for parents and young people in the form of authoritative, accessible guidance about what is and what is not safe and sensible in the light of the latest available evidence from the UK and abroad;

public information campaigns to promote a new “sensible drinking” culture through a new generation of publicity campaigns which promote sensible drinking and highlight the physical and criminal harms related to alcohol misuse;

public consultation on alcohol pricing and promotion to find out if alcohol pricing and promotion cause people to drink more; and

compulsory local alcohol strategies through which all local strategic partnerships—comprising the police, local authorities and civil society organisations—will be required by law to have established a strategy to tackle alcohol-related disorder on their patch by 2008.

The Government recognise that promoting a sensible drinking culture which reduces violence and improves health is a job for the whole of society. Everyone has a personal responsibility to drink in a sensible way. Parents and guardians should look at the example they set in their drinking habits. Educating young people and parents about harms associated with alcohol misuse, through both alcohol education in schools and the provision of authoritative information and guidance, is a key priority for the Government. The friends and family of anti-social and harmful drinkers can provide support and encouragement to those trying curb excessive drinking habits, and local communities and residents can raise concerns about licensed premises with the police or local authorities. Business and industry have made important contributions already, but should look for ways to promote sensible drinking and the responsible management of licensed premises.

This Government believe that it is possible to make this country a healthier, safer place to live where more people drink in a safe, sensible and social way. But we will only achieve this if we all pull together, and “call time” on the way some of us drink.