Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the minimum price at which alcohol may be sold from licensed premises in England; and for connected purposes.
I should like to begin by thanking the Government for the action that they have already taken on alcohol harm, including the duty increase on white ciders proposed by the Chancellor in his latest Budget, when he said:
“Excessive alcohol consumption by the most vulnerable people is all too often done through cheap, high-strength, low-quality products, especially so-called white ciders.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 1053.]
The Health Secretary recently announced £6 million of funding to support the children of alcoholics, stating:
“The consequences of alcohol abuse are devastating for those in the grip of an addiction”,
as well as for those around them. Alcohol harm affects not only those who drink but their families, children and colleagues, and wider society. Tackling this issue is a matter of social justice.
In England, more than 23,000 people die every year from alcohol-related causes, and many are from the poorest sections of society. The availability of cheap alcohol is a key driver of health inequalities, and it perpetuates deprivation. Of the 1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions last year, half were from the most deprived sections of society. Alcohol harm is the leading cause of death among 15 to 49-year-olds and, in 2015, it caused more years of life to be lost to our workforce than the 10 most common cancers combined. Alcohol harm is estimated to cost the NHS £3.5 billion a year, which equates to 117,000 nurses’ salaries, and Public Health England has estimated that the problem of dependent drinking could be costing UK society as much as £52 billion a year.
There is no silver bullet to eradicate alcohol harm, but I do not accept that we have exhausted our options for reducing it. There are still a number of reasonable, targeted policies that would have a significant impact, socially, economically and fiscally, and not least by helping to boost productivity. One is minimum unit pricing. What is minimum unit pricing? MUP sets a minimum price, sometimes called a floor price, below which drink cannot be sold. It is based on the number of units of alcohol that a drink contains. For example, the floor price could be set at 50p per unit, as has been done in Scotland, where MUP was recently introduced. That would mean that the minimum price at which a pint could be sold would be £1.15.
Crucially, that would leave most drink prices untouched, including those in pubs, while increasing the price of the cheapest, strongest products, which are consumed by the most dependent and vulnerable drinkers and which cause the most harm. That should end the sale of irresponsibly discounted drinks in the off trade and, in so doing, provide some protection for local pubs. Moderate drinkers would barely notice the difference, as nearly all the alcohol they buy would be above the minimum price. Under a 50p MUP, moderate drinkers would spend just £2.25 extra a year, according to research quoted by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Alcohol Concern. MUP is not a tax, nor is it telling people how to live their lives. It is a policy aimed at discouraging consumption among those drinking at harmful levels, many of whom want desperately to reduce their drinking and are far more likely to purchase alcohol at less than 50p a unit than other drinkers.
MUP would have the limited, specific impact of helping
“those who are most vulnerable: the heaviest drinkers, the lowest socioeconomic groups and children.”
That is not my claim, but what was said in expert evidence to the Select Committees on Health and Social Care and on Home Affairs earlier this year by Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance. Rosanna O’Connor, director of alcohol, drugs and tobacco at Public Health England, told those Committees that MUP is “exquisitely targeted” at people who are drinking the strongest, cheapest alcohol. That is a staggeringly small group of people. About 4% of the population drinks just under a third of the alcohol consumed in this country—about 2 million people. Again, to distinguish it from a tax, Professor Nick Sheron, academic clinical alcohol adviser to Public Health England, told the Committees that MUP
“is far more likely to be effective in reducing alcohol-related harm, because it does not put up the price of alcohol across the board, it does not increase the price of alcohol in pubs and clubs, and it is targeted at cheap alcohol.”
By affecting the affordability of the lowest-cost, often high-strength alcohol, the policy is well targeted at health outcomes, and the Government’s own evidence review, undertaken by Public Health England in 2016, stated that tackling affordability is
“the most effective and cost-effective approach to prevention”
and health improvement. Since then, Scotland has introduced MUP, the Republic of Ireland is preparing to legislate for it, and the Welsh Assembly’s Bill is currently at stage 3—its Report stage. Aside from the cross-border complications that will ensue if England is out of step with both Scotland and Wales, particularly across the more populated England-Wales border, and notwithstanding what the Government are saying about waiting to see how MUP impacts in Scotland a year or so hence, would it not be preferable, and indeed right, to prepare for action now? Hence, my Bill. Can it be right that England lags behind on this social justice issue?
The policy would disproportionately benefit the poorest, with evidence suggesting that 80% of the lives saved by MUP would come from the lowest-income groups. An MUP in England of 50p would save 525 lives, prevent 22,000 hospital admissions, and lead to 36,500 fewer crimes every year. MUP is targeted well, because it does not adversely affect local community pubs. Indeed, research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies shows that publicans support MUP by a rate of two to one. The measure is widely supported not only by colleagues across all the major parties, but by doctors, the police, homelessness services, children’s charities and 51% of the public. The significant and tragic impact of alcohol harm is far too great for us to fail to act. This matter is urgent. Public Health England’s latest update, published in January this year, states:
“In recent years, many indicators of alcohol-related harm have increased.”
This Bill has support from across the House, and I urge the Government to give it serious consideration without delay.
As a postscript, I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), for announcing just last month—after I applied for this motion—that he is commissioning a review of the evidence for MUP in England. No doubt that will form part of the current Home Office-led consultation on a new alcohol strategy, which I greatly welcome. I hope that that work will eventually lead to a Government Bill on MUP in England and that my Bill will therefore become unnecessary. In the meantime, I thank all colleagues who support my Bill here today.
Question put and agreed to.
That Fiona Bruce, Sir David Amess, Jack Brereton, Dr Lisa Cameron, Alex Cunningham, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Frank Field, Norman Lamb, Sir Edward Leigh, Jeremy Lefroy, Dr Philippa Whitford and Dr Sarah Wollaston present the Bill.
Fiona Bruce accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October and to be printed (Bill 223).