Skip to main content

Alcohol: Children’s Health

Volume 782: debated on Monday 3 April 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether the way in which supermarkets and convenience stores display and promote alcohol can endanger the well-being and health of children.

My Lords, Public Health England’s evidence review identified the negative impact that the advertising and marketing of alcohol can have on children and young adults. The Government are committed to working with industry to address concerns over any irresponsible alcohol promotions, advertising or marketing to make sure that children and young people are protected.

My Lords, I take it from that reply that no research has been undertaken on this. In those circumstances, I wonder whether the Minister is prepared to commit himself to the Government undertaking such research. If they are not willing to do so on their own, will they enter into discussions with the drinks industry—probably the Portman Group, which represents the drinks industry—to see whether such research can be undertaken jointly?

The noble Lord is not quite right on that. Public Health England’s evidence review identified a negative impact, and that constitutes research. It looked at the evidence, which is that advertising and marketing to young people has a negative impact on their drinking behaviours. There are stringent rules, particularly around advertising, which is policed by the Advertising Standards Authority, to make sure that that does not happen.

My Lords, while we all wish to see responsible supermarket advertising, is it not the case that law already exists to prevent the sale of alcohol to children? Surely this law should be enforced and parents held responsible if their children are drinking illegally.

As my noble friend points out, there are very strict rules around the sale of alcohol to children under the age of 18, and tough punishments exist for anyone who is doing so.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that we really need better labelling on alcohol products, particularly to assist those seeking to follow a healthier lifestyle and who might be seeking to purchase low-alcohol or no-alcohol products? We need to improve labels to show more clearly the level of alcohol, the number of calories in the product and the amount of sugar in the product to assist those consumers.

The noble Lord makes a good point. I believe that something like 80% of alcohol for sale is now labelled in some way, whether that is in units or calories and so on. The issue is currently being looked at at a European level—

Given what is going to happen in the next couple of years, we might want to look at it ourselves, too.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is currently not an offence to sell alcohol to those under 18 at airports, airside, for the simple reason that the Licensing Act 2003 does not apply? Will my noble friend undertake to review this with a view to making it an offence in future and to bring the whole regime under the Licensing Act 2003 without delay?

I thank my noble friend for that question; I was not aware of that issue. I understand that there is a voluntary code in place, but I shall write to her to outline in much greater detail what the situation is regarding the sale of alcohol to underage young people at airports.

Now that we can see the end of the light-touch European regulations on alcohol labelling, can I take it that the Minister’s department is looking to 2019 to produce a much tougher labelling regime, for which we have called for many years?

We are obviously looking at all aspects of alcohol control, and this has nothing to do with Brexit per se. It is worth pointing out that successive Governments’ alcohol policies have had a very positive impact on the activities of young people. Fewer young people than ever are drinking—it is fair to say that they set an example to older cohorts. However, there is more to do. Around 400 11 to 15 year-olds drink weekly. That is clearly not acceptable and we need to do more.

Will the Minister remind the House of what the Government’s attitude now is towards a minimum price for alcohol?

The noble Baroness will know that on minimum unit pricing a court case is ongoing in Scotland, where the proposed introduction of minimum unit pricing has been challenged by the Scotch Whisky Association. We are awaiting the outcome of that court case before we move ahead.

Will the Minister give an undertaking that, in looking at this issue in the broad, the Government will have regard to the number of children who grow up in households where there is a severe alcohol problem among the parents or adults? Will he undertake to monitor carefully how much the public health authorities are providing and enhancing alcohol treatment centres, which appear to be diminishing in some parts of the country? Many children grow up suffering because of this sort of family problem.

The noble Baroness highlights a difficult and, indeed, tragic area. The other day, my honourable friend the Public Health Minister met the APPG on Children of Alcoholics. In preparing for a debate last week organised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I discovered that Alcohol Concern estimates that there are 95,000 children under the age of one who live in a family where the parent has an alcohol problem. That is a rather horrifying statistic. One way we are dealing with that is through the family nurse partnerships; indeed, more than 16,000 places are now available and one of the capacities they have is to provide help for families struggling with addiction, whether it is to alcohol, drugs or other things.

My Lords, I want to come back to the Public Health England report that the Minister mentioned, of which I am aware. Would he concede that many issues are raised in that report? For example, it recommends that minimum unit pricing should be introduced, but it is not being introduced. When I am in my local Co-op, I am surrounded by alcohol as I queue for the checkout. I am also surrounded by children. Why are the Government not taking action to stop that?

Action is being taken. There are clear rules and mandatory guidelines around the promotion of alcohol. It is important to point out that alcohol is different from smoking, where there are extremely strict rules on promotion. Most people enjoy alcohol in moderation as part of their healthy, pleasurable, normal social life, so there is a difference. However, there are clear and strict rules around promoting, advertising or selling to children.

Does the Minister agree that whereas the commonest cause of cirrhosis of the liver used to be alcohol, it is now the obesity epidemic, which could be cured by eating less?

My noble friend is right. Of all the things we should do in our lives, we should eat less and drink less—as I am sure every Member of this House does.