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Alcohol: Strategy

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will introduce legislation to implement their alcohol strategy.

My Lords, the Government will launch a number of consultations in the forthcoming months on key proposals in the alcohol strategy. This includes consultations on the level to be set for a minimum unit price for alcohol and a proposed ban on multibuy discounts in supermarkets and off-licences. Following the outcomes of those consultations, the Government will consider the necessary legislation to take those proposals forward.

In thanking the Minister for that reply and welcoming both the strategy and the commitment to a minimum unit price for alcohol, I ask the Government to undertake to continue to resist the blandishments of the drinks industry and to make every effort to move forward quickly with introducing the minimum alcohol price.

My Lords, I cannot give any commitment about when and how we will do that. Obviously, primary legislation will be necessary to bring forward a minimum unit price. However, I can make it clear that the Prime Minister has given his own personal commitment that we will bring in a minimum unit price. That is why we are consulting on what the proposed and proper level should be.

My Lords, can the Minister tell me what the situation is? It is reported in the press that a minimum unit price might be illegal under European Commission rules as being anti-competitive. Does he have any views on that? What procedures would we have to follow to deal with that? We are very concerned on health grounds and support the idea.

My Lords, I am not going to give my views on the legality. That would obviously be a matter for the European Court of Justice to decide in due course. I understand that the level at which we set the minimum unit price would be relevant. That is a factor that we will take into account in the consultation.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that just to convey the message of sensible drinking is not enough to raise awareness? What are needed are very clear messages. How will those clear messages be targeted at the general public?

My Lords, minimum unit pricing is just one part of the whole strategy announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in her Statement late last Friday. Unfortunately, I was not able to repeat the Statement in this House because the House was not sitting. There will be other parts of the strategy, and the noble Baroness is right to talk about education and getting the message across. That is something that we will have to consider very carefully. We will consider not just direct education in schools but all other forms of education as part of that process.

Do the Government plan to consult on legislative controls for alcohol home delivery services, particularly at night to a party which has run out of alcohol and during the day to those who are already inebriated? I understand that these services do not fall under the current licensing controls.

My understanding is that any sale of alcohol falls under the control of the licensing laws. I appreciate that it is very difficult to deal with these matters, particularly when it comes to home deliveries of pizzas or whatever the noble Baroness is referring to. Again, that is something that we will have to consider if there is evidence of abuse because, as the noble Baroness is right to point out, it is illegal to sell alcohol to those who are inebriated.

My Lords, we have plenty of time for this Question, and the fourth Question is on the same subject. I think that we should hear from my noble friend Lord Taverne first.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the Government on abandoning their previous preference for banning below cost sales of alcohol and on adopting a policy that was strongly recommended by the previous Chief Medical Officer, by Sir Ian Gilmore, who is a great expert on this, and by a very convincing study of drinking in Newcastle, which is not known for its abstinence. I suggest to the Minister that this is only a first step, because a higher price could be even more effective. Does he not agree that it is rather sad that the shadow Home Secretary in another place, instead of welcoming something of great importance for the future, should have used the occasion of the Government’s announcement for making party-political points?

My Lords, I shall not comment on my noble friend’s last remark. However, when my right honourable friend announced the strategy on Friday, other than objecting to the date of the announcement, I did not notice much that the party opposite objected to in the Statement. As regards my noble friend’s other points, I know Newcastle and have seen some of the problems that city centres such as that in Newcastle can face on Friday and Saturday nights as a result of excessive drinking. That is what we are trying to target. As I said, minimum pricing per unit of alcohol is just one part of it but I commend to the House other parts of the strategy, which will be available in the Printed Paper Office.

My Lords, given that those aged under 18 make up as much as a third of alcohol-related A&E attendances in some areas, does not more need to be done to inform schoolchildren of the dangers of alcohol abuse? Will the Minister consult colleagues in the Department for Education, including the noble Lord sitting next to him, to ensure that there is an improvement in the information given to schools?

My Lords, I assure the right reverend Prelate that my noble friend from the Department for Education heard that. However, he is right to draw attention to the problems of underage drinking and particularly to the prevalence of underage drinkers ending up in A&E departments. In my own part of the world in west Cumberland, I have seen some very good work being done by schools in Workington, which, sadly, has the highest rate of admissions to A&E in the country. However, as a result of the work being done there, I hope that in a few years’ time we will see those rates fall, and fall considerably.

My Lords, I have a brief question. Will the Government legislate to show energy and calorie levels on the labelling on alcohol products?

My Lords, that is not part of what we are proposing at the moment but we will no doubt consider it when the legislation comes forward. I look forward to discussing the amendment that the noble Lord will put forward on that occasion.

My Lords, perhaps I may counsel that describing something as bad and telling adolescents that they should not do it is about the best way of encouraging them to do it. That needs to be borne in mind when providing guidance.

My Lords, that argument can be put forward but I am not sure that it is necessarily always the case. I still think that we have a duty to offer appropriate warnings. If those warnings are made in the right way by the right people, the right message can be got across to young people. That is why I referred to what is taking place in west Cumberland.