Previous Section Index Home Page

This month a smoking ban has been introduced in England and people have been asking what the next big public health challenge is. I, for one, believe that we urgently need to turn our attention to the growing effect that misuse and abuse of alcohol is having on our society. In many ways, that is a more difficult problem to tackle than smoking. With smoking the message is quite clear. A person’s health is affected whatever the level of smoking. Smoking can kill and it affects others. With alcohol, the messages are less clear. People who drink regular small amounts live longer than teetotallers. Red wine is regarded as having some health benefits and the good news for cider drinkers is that it was recently discovered to be high in antioxidants.

I probably need to declare an interest here because I am actually a member of the all-party groups on wine, beer and cider, and at the end of the week I will be visiting one of my local pubs. I fully acknowledge that for many people alcohol is a source of enjoyment rather than being a problem. But it is becoming apparent that there is a growing problem due to the misuse of alcohol.

The facts speak for themselves. In 2005-06, there were more than 19,000 diagnoses of episodes of alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver in England—an increase of 178 per cent. in the past nine years. As if that were not bad enough the figures show that not only is the incidence of liver disease increasing among the middle aged but younger people are being diagnosed more frequently. There has also been a well documented increase in young women binge drinking—there are more under-18 female hospital admissions than male, and the prevalence shows a strong link to the increase in the rate of binge drinking. Hospital admissions of patients with alcohol poisoning have almost doubled over the past 10 years.

The escalating direct health problems are bad enough, but high alcohol intake is often linked with unprotected teenage sex and hardly a person in the country has escaped the impact of alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. So tackling the alcohol abuse problem will not only improve the health of the nation, but will help reduce levels of antisocial behaviour. Three years ago, the cost to the nation of alcohol misuse was estimated as £20 billion. It is time for action.

Sadly, I am not saying anything new. In 2004, the Prime Minister’s strategy unit launched the alcohol harm reduction strategy for England. It was absolutely appropriate that there was top-level attention from the then Prime Minister, who wrote the introduction to the strategy. The strategy has seen disappointingly little progress, so my hope for the future is that the current Prime Minister succeeds and turns warm words into positive action. I do not think that the Minister with responsibility for public health has been announced
10 July 2007 : Column 1342
yet, but we have a clue in that the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Dawn Primarolo), is sitting on the Front Bench, and I welcome her to her new job. Simple measures can be implemented that, when taken as a package, will help to tackle the problem.

First, I want to talk about pricing. In a ten-minute Bill, I am not allowed to consider tax-raising powers, but the more general issue of pricing and display of alcohol needs to be tackled. Currently, alcoholic drinks are frequently used by supermarkets as a loss leader, and that practice must stop. There is clear evidence to show that the cheaper beer is, the higher the rate of binge drinking. Many alcoholic drinks are relatively less expensive than they were 10 years ago, which means that children are increasingly able to afford to buy alcohol.

A report from the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2004 reviewed the evidence on the relationship between price and consumption, showing that increased consumption was closely related to the rise in affordability. In particular, heavy drinkers and under-age drinkers are more affected than other drinkers by the price of alcohol. For that reason, it would appear to make sense to place a duty on retailers to prove that they are not selling alcoholic drinks as loss leaders.

I am not a lone voice in that regard. The Royal College of Physicians, in its evidence to the Competition Commission in respect of the groceries market, made one major recommendation:

Alcohol advertising also needs to be tackled. The 2004 strategy called for a review of the code, and Ofcom introduced new restrictions in October 2005, but those are self-regulated. Adverts are now not supposed to link sexual success with a brand. The rules on portrayal of daring, aggressive, irresponsible or antisocial behaviour were tightened, and adverts should not have a strong appeal to those under 18. Things have improved.

A recent analysis of those changes by the advertising industry concluded—surprise, surprise—that the new code of advertising was working. Unsurprisingly, it believes that no further regulation is necessary. That belief appears to be based, however, on an assumption that there are low levels of public concern and that most adults do not think that banning advertising would reduce under-age drinking. No direct assessment has been made of the impact of advertising on young drinkers. The industry also claims that a pre-watershed ban is not necessary because current restrictions mean that alcohol advertisements are not placed in or around programmes watched by a high proportion of under 18s. That misses the point entirely, because while some programmes with high viewing figures may have a higher percentage of adult viewers, their overall viewing figures are so high that the number of under-18s watching and being influenced is also high.


10 July 2007 : Column 1343

Alcohol Concern reviewed alcohol adverts during a seven-day period in December 2006. It demonstrated that more alcohol adverts were shown before the watershed than after and that the majority of supermarket alcohol-related adverts were shown before the watershed. Evidence from other countries demonstrates a clear link between advertising and alcohol consumption. Manufacturers would not waste their money on advertising if it did not increase sales.

Despite the fact that there is a complete ban on advertising tobacco products, I am not yet convinced that a complete ban on alcohol advertising is necessary. We should commence with the following measures. First, there should be no alcohol advertising before the watershed or in cinemas unless the film has an over-18 rating. Secondly, we need to take a close look at sponsorship of sports events and music festivals to ensure that advertising linked with those events does not glamorise and thereby increase drinking.

Improvements are also needed in education and labelling. In the 2004 strategy, the Government stated that they would completely overhaul the way they presented messages about alcohol and they announced a programme to improve work in schools. The success or failure of that programme is as yet difficult to assess, but it is increasingly apparent that alcohol education programmes in schools do not address the binge-drinking culture. However, when binge-drinking spills over into antisocial behaviour and young drinkers come into contact with the criminal justice system, we have an opportunity to get clear messages across to young people who may be developing problem drinking habits or behaviours. That opportunity is currently being wasted.


10 July 2007 : Column 1344

I propose that arrest referral schemes be introduced in every borough command unit as there is growing evidence that working with offenders positively and proactively can reduce reoffending owing to alcohol-related offences. The Government have introduced alcohol awareness campaigns, but again it is a little too early to assess their impact. However, the Government have resisted legislating on alcohol labelling, although they have encouraged the alcohol industry in that direction. The Bill addresses that deficit and would set a date by which all alcohol products would be labelled with clear information about the number of units in a drink, a reminder of the different safe limits for men and women and a warning about the use of alcohol in pregnancy. That would help people to make informed choices about which drinks they choose.

Those measures, combined with a hard-hitting advertising and awareness campaign, would go some way towards tackling the alcohol-related problems that blight the lives of many.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sandra Gidley, Mr. David Amess, Bob Russell, Norman Lamb, Kelvin Hopkins, Dr. John Pugh, Dr. Doug Naysmith, Lynda Waltho and Chris Bryant.

Alcohol (Harm Reduction)

Sandra Gidley accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the regulation of the pricing and labelling of alcohol products; to further restrict alcohol advertising; to make provision in relation to public order and alcohol-related offences; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 October, and to be printed [Bill 142].


10 July 2007 : Column 1345

Orders of the Day

consolidated fund (appropriation) (No. 2) bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.


10 July 2007 : Column 1346

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

4.53 pm

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move,

I want to make two points at the outset. First, Members will know that as a result of our deliberations on the Terrorism Act 2006 a compromise position was reached, whereby section 25 was inserted so that there was something to go back to, given the agreed premise that we annually review the 28-day period, which is rather complicated in terms of the law. Secondly, Members will understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), the then Home Secretary, announced on 7 June that a terrorism Bill would be introduced in the autumn and that we are keen to consult on the 28-day issue. I shall ensure that the consultation paper we want to circulate on that issue is put into the public domain for all interested parties before the summer recess. When we say that we want full consultation, that is absolutely what we mean. I realise the House will say that it is for us to prove that we are serious about consultation and I entirely accept that point—unfair and misguided though it may be—but we are very serious.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Minister says that he will consult on 28 days. Does he actually mean that he will propose a 90-day detention period and that he wants to consult on that?

Mr. McNulty: No, with the greatest respect, I do not in the sense that I think it fair and reasonable to start from the premise that we will not suggest going from 28 days back down to 14 days, for reasons that I will come on to. However, the consultation period will include an array of options—the status quo and beyond 28 days—but things are not as simple as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests: simply keeping 28 days, or going back to the debate on 90 days.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will one of the options that the Minister presents allow the results of interrogation after charge to be admissible evidence in court more regularly?

Mr. McNulty: The strict response to my hon. Friend’s question is no in the context of the consultation on 28 days, but he will remember that, when we announced that a subsequent Bill would be introduced in November—I suspect, post-Queen’s Speech, but that is a matter for business managers—one of the other elements in that Bill was post-charge questioning. So his point about post-charge questioning will certainly be part of the broader review of and consultation on the Bill.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. McNulty: I will defer to the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman in the first instance, but I will certainly allow other hon. Members to intervene.


10 July 2007 : Column 1347

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for his comments, because he will appreciate that these two issues have a very clear linkage. One of the arguments in favour of the extension from 14 to 28 days, which we are renewing today, has been the length of time needed to question. Indeed, if post-charge questioning were introduced, it would clearly be at least an argument to be put in the balance when considering either whether the 28-day provision had to be extended, for which there is no evidence at the moment, or indeed whether the period should be reduced. Of course, the reason we are having this debate is that, subject to the order, the detention period is, in fact, 14 days.

Mr. McNulty: That is an entirely fair point, but I would go further and say that I take the legitimacy of the point that how post-charge questioning relates to 28 or 14 days is important, which is why we will go down the suggested route of a Privy Council review of intercept evidence. How pre-charge detention for 28 days or otherwise, intercept evidence and post-charge questioning interplay is, again, a factor that needs to be taken account of in the consultation. Indeed, as we have made clear in the past, the raft of legislation about acts preparatory to terrorism will equally come into play as well. It is incumbent on the whole House to consider how all those elements hang together. So, in the broad sense, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): The Home Affairs Committee unanimously found recently that there was no justification to extend the 28-day provision, but will my hon. Friend also bear very much in mind the fact that in recognition of the acute terrorist threat that we face—no one is likely to dispute that—both Houses agreed to 14 days without any Division whatsoever? Likewise, the increase to 28 days carried in this House was also carried in the Lords—again, without any Division. We have a consensus—28 days—and we should retain it unless there is compelling evidence that there is a justification to go beyond it.

Mr. McNulty: That is an accurate reflection of what has gone before in respect of the 14 and 28-day provisions and a perfectly fair viewpoint, as I would expect from my hon. Friend, on going beyond 28 days. It is the job of myself and other Ministers to try to persuade people, if we come to this view, that we need to go beyond 28 days. It is certainly incumbent on the House to treat the matter very seriously in all respects, as I know that it will, but I would question in part my hon. Friend’s point about substantial evidence. By its very nature, the only evidence that we have is of the rather limited period—the past year or so—when the 28-day provision has been in action and what we learn every time an alleged plot is disrupted. Given the traditional understanding of the word “evidence”, I am not sure whether it is useful in that respect.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the current 28-day period is likely to be extant until such time as further evidence is adduced? He seems to suggest that we might simply move to 90 days, almost as some sort of safety net. There is no evidence for that. Will he reassure me on that?


10 July 2007 : Column 1348

Mr. McNulty: On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, I am not suggesting that. On his former point, I do not want to pre-empt what the House does with the order. If the House does not pass the order today, 28 days cannot be extant, because we will be back to 14 days. I apologise if I have not made myself clear. We think that, at the very least, the case has been made. Certainly the alleged plots since that time have substantiated the position on 28 days. We need to take a collective view, hopefully based on consensus, on whether, in utter extremis—I know that we use 28 days in extremis—there should be some way of going beyond 28 days when required.

There are currently six cases that went to full term in relation to the 28-day period. I will come on to discuss that in some detail. In three cases there were subsequent charges; in three there were not. This relates partly to my clumsy point about evidence. The issue is as much about looking at where we are going over the next couple of years, in terms of the threat, as it is about assessing where we have come from. That is why I do not like the use of the word “evidence” in that narrow literal sense. I am not saying—in a hidden way or otherwise—that it is all about 90 days at this stage and the consultation is a big cover for that. We want a serious and sustained consultation on whether 28 days will suffice, whether we need some sort of mechanism portal, or whatever else, to go beyond that in extremis, as I said to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, or whether we need to settle on something beyond 28 days, which may or may not be the 90-day limit that was discussed at the time.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The difficulty that we face in the House is that, in a free society, if we agree to changes in the law, they must not only be justified—they must be supported by people who are democrats and who want to live in a free society. If we accept restrictions that, in themselves, do the job of the terrorists, we may be playing the wrong game. I hope that the Minister will not get too hung up on the suggestion that there is no evidence. Many of us feel that if we are to combat this terror, we have to look at the situation far more widely and intelligence has to be important. It is not just a question of what we do when we have people in custody.

Mr. McNulty: I absolutely accept my hon. Friend’s point and not least her argument that we need to look far beyond this order—whether we have 14 days or 28 days—and consider matters in the widest context, including legislation, intelligence and all other areas, in terms of how we go forwards. I also accept her point that our starting premise must be what we all accept and agree is normality in terms of the rule of law and the statutes that govern this country. We depart from that certainly not in haste, or at leisure, but only in extremis and in very difficult and daunting circumstances.


Next Section Index Home Page