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Alcohol: Minimum Pricing

Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 10 July 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will publish their response to their consultation on the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol.

I am grateful for small mercies. Will the Minister confirm that the principal problem leading to more than 10 million people drinking excessively is the easy availability of cheap alcohol? Will he also confirm that that is still the central plank of the Government’s policy in their alcohol strategy? Secondly, when are we likely to start to see some progress on this issue, and will the Government please embrace it with the kind of enthusiasm which the previous Labour Government did when they were tackling the difficult issue of the tobacco industry and smoking? Until we take on the drink industry and some of the vested interests we will not start to see the problem resolved in the way that we need it, given the issues that arise for the health service from excessive drinking.

The noble Lord rightly focuses on the elements of the Government’s alcohol strategy that were put out to consultation. I have explained that a response to that consultation will be delivered in due course. Availability is one of many factors but to suggest that this Government have not been tackling the problem underestimates what has been achieved. The late-night levy has been introduced. The early morning alcohol restriction order, which was created under the previous Government but not commenced, has been commenced by us and we have sought to rebalance the licensing arrangements so that the ability of individuals in the vicinity to object to licences is now greatly strengthened. I totally accept what the noble Lord has said and indeed the Government’s strategy will demonstrate that.

Canada has introduced and evaluated a minimum unit price for alcohol. By introducing a 10% increase in the minimum unit price for some drinks there has been a decrease of 33% in wholly alcohol-related deaths. Given this evidence, when will the Government commit to including a minimum unit price as part of their alcohol strategy?

This is just the sort of evidence being evaluated by the Government. I accept that we also have the Scottish experience whereby the Scottish Parliament has passed legislation on this issue. That is subject to a court appeal but we are taking note of what is going on elsewhere.

My Lords, I am sure that the Government have looked at the evidence produced by the Institute of Alcohol Studies which shows that a 50p minimum unit price would reduce deaths per year by 3,000, hospital admissions by 98,000 and crime incidents by 40,000. Have the Government made any estimate of the savings to the public purse that that reduction would produce?

The cost of alcohol to society is estimated at £21 billion, £11 billion of which is due to alcohol-related crime. These figures are part and parcel of the consideration the Government are giving to the issue.

My Lords, there is a clear relationship between the price of alcohol and severe liver disease—we have known about that for ever—and the number of hospital admissions and deaths from liver disease are closely related to the price of alcohol. The Government can talk about it for a long time, but when will we see some action?

My Lords, for all the talk of consultation, the consultation on the alcohol strategy specifically ruled out consulting on minimum alcohol pricing. It said that the Government were committed to introducing a minimum unit price, but added:

“However, in other areas, this consultation seeks views”.

The Home Secretary said:

“We will … introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol”.

What has changed the Government’s mind? Has private lobbying forced this U-turn?

I can certainly counter that allegation. The response will be a comprehensive review of alcohol and the way in which we tackle alcohol abuse in this country, and it will be available in due course.

When do the Government plan to start to pilot sobriety schemes as a way of reducing reoffending rates among those whose crimes have been alcohol-fuelled?

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the previous Government had at least 10 years in which to react to this and that the price of alcohol and alcohol pricing will do nothing other than probably damage the Government’s income? It will do nothing to achieve what we need to achieve—that, surely, is about getting in among communities.

I certainly agree with my noble friend that the price of alcohol is not the only issue at stake. Lots of local communities are taking positive action in this area. I have been to see the night-time economy in the centre of Nottingham. Street ambassadors, taxi marshals and street pastors have helped to make that area of Nottingham safe at night, which has done a lot to improve the economy of the area. There is a big role for community: it is not just a matter of the price of alcohol.

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the Canadian experience, does the Minister agree that it has reduced sales and off-sales at supermarkets and the like—the very places to which binge drinkers go to “tank up” before a night out?