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10 Mar 2010 : Column 337

Price is crucial. If people do not have the money, they cannot buy alcohol. Supermarket promotions must be stopped, because the pre-loading takes place at home before people go out and that is the end of it.

We must also aim the message at children. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) mentioned parenting, which is extremely important, but if the parents are not doing the job, someone else will have to do it, and, to my mind, that has to be the state.

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman might be aware of the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997, which gave the police the power to confiscate alcohol from youngsters on the street. It also gave them the duty to report back to the parents what the youngsters were doing, so that the parents could take control of their youngsters. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the police should always use that power to inform the parents? They do not do so at the moment.

Dr. Taylor: I thank my hon. Friend for that, and of course I agree with him. The parents must be told.

I approve of the Government's impact assessment for the Licensing Act 2003 (Alcohol Mandatory Licensing Conditions) Order 2010. In their paper on it entitled "Summary: Intervention and Options", they state that option 2 is their preferred option. It contains five elements:

Those are all laudable aims, but I want the Government to go further and accept that price is one of the most important weapons.

No one is saying that the Health Committee has all the answers, but it is making suggestions that deserve some thought. Sadly, we are not all like Winston Churchill, who is quoted as having said:

I am afraid that that is not the case for the majority of people.

2.53 pm

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): I speak as yet another member of the Health Select Committee. I should like to echo the praise of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) for the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who led this inquiry admirably. It is in no small part thanks to the way in which he and the Clerks of the Committee put it together that we got such an excellent report, and I am pleased that the House has the opportunity to debate it this afternoon.

I shall say only a few words, as many of my hon. Friends have made the important points already. I should like to say to the Minister that we have a Budget coming up, and that our policy has revolved around mixed messages for too many years. When young people are
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under threat from a particular danger such as alcohol, mixed messages are the last thing they need. If young people are going to avoid messages, they are certainly going to avoid mixed messages. The Government have not sent out clear messages on this issue so far.

One of the mixed messages involves the Government's suggestion that this is simply a law and order issue, when it is not. It is a mistake to think that it is only a law and order issue and to hive it off to another Department of State. This is a health debate, and if we are to make the kind of progress that the report highlights, we must acknowledge that this is absolutely a health issue. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take cognisance of that fact. I am sure that she is not entirely unsympathetic to that message.

I want to focus on two aspects of the report. The first is minimum pricing, and I agree with the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) that that is the key element in this debate. The second involves advertising and promotion. The House knows that we have been down this road before in our debates on how to deal with tobacco advertising and promotion, in the light of the health risks involved. Of course, alcohol is not the same kind of dangerous substance or the killer that tobacco is, but it is a killer, a dangerous substance and a nuisance none the less. I do not know whether it is helpful to express these thoughts in bald terms, but I will do so, because it might just help to point up where we are.

When the Government came to the view that tobacco advertising and smoking in public places should be banned, the Department's original position was to propose a hybrid ban, under which smoking would be allowed in public houses that did not serve food. We then had a rather idiotic argument about that, before the House decided that there should be a complete ban on public health grounds, to protect the work force. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that we should not have any more idiotic little debates like that. We should send a clear message. The tipping point for the Government in the debate on tobacco, in health terms, was the number of deaths-120,000 a year-that were attributed to tobacco. They came to the view that that was unacceptable, despite the arguments about freedom of action.

Pete Wishart: The hon. Gentleman has suggested that the numbers of deaths made the House legislate for the smoking ban, but did it not also have something to do with the fact that the Scottish Parliament pioneered the smoking ban in Scotland? That ban was in place for a year before it came in here, and its success encouraged the House to legislate on that issue.

Stephen Hesford: I do not want to gainsay that, but the Irish experience should also be considered. A ban was introduced there, and, I think, in Spain as well. There were other precedents, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

I have said that alcohol is not the dangerous substance that tobacco is, but, as the Health Committee heard, the death rate from tobacco-related illness was 120,000 a year when the Government decided to take action to ban the advertising of tobacco products. The death rate from alcohol-related diseases is now about 40,000. Would the tipping point be 80,000 or 100,000? Is it only at that point that the Government would want to act? I would
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like to ask the House and the Minister to reflect on that, as we might prefer action sooner than that-if not quite to nip the problem in the bud, certainly to head off the problem and stop it getting worse. It is a sort of precautionary principle. It seems to me that 40,000 deaths a year are too many, in view of the tragedy that this means for the people involved and their families. I thus remind the Minister that we are now at the point where action needs to be taken.

There are comparator countries. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has just mentioned the Scottish experience, and France is also interesting. As I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford mentioned in passing, the advertising of alcohol on television and in the cinema is banned in France. That provides a way forward, sending an absolutely clear cultural message to anyone susceptible to that advertising and to the drinks industry.

Finally, I want to deal with minimum pricing. It seems indisputable that minimum pricing has to be the way forward. The chief medical officer has recommended it and I know that the Minister would not readily want to reject such clear advice from such a respected source.

Kelvin Hopkins: To reinforce my hon. Friend's point, I studied and taught economics, so I know about a thing called a demand curve, which shows that if the price is raised, consumption goes down.

Stephen Hesford: I thank my hon. Friend, but it is more sophisticated than that, as the price rise is aimed at those who are the most vulnerable. That is why this would be such a successful and discriminatory measure-discriminatory in the positive sense that it discriminates in the interest of those who need assistance to avoid the dangers that they are not presently able to avoid. I mean, of course, young people, who are bombarded with the availability of alcohol to a shocking extent.

I do not understand the Government's objection and I ask the Minister to deal with it. Is it that 40,000 deaths a year from alcohol-related diseases are not enough to be a tipping point? Is it that they believe the interests of the moderate drinker would be unnecessarily prejudiced? If so, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley has dealt with that point, showing that the interests of the moderate drinker consuming the recommended units would not be particularly prejudiced. Is it because, as we approach a general election, with a Budget adjacent to it, the Government do not want to be seen as killjoys? Perhaps they see it as politically dangerous, so they do not want to do the right thing. I think I can assist the Minister on that point, too.

It would be helpful if the Conservative Front-Bench team made the point clearly in this debate, unlike Conservative members of the Health Committee who voted against minimum pricing. In a recent Statutory Instrument Committee, we considered the five new tests mentioned today by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest. The Tory Front-Bench spokesperson on that Committee said that it was absolutely the Conservative policy to support minimum pricing. So whether the reason for the reticence about this policy relates to party politics or the nanny state or bad timing, I can tell the Minister that it is no longer an issue. Let us hope that the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who I see is talking to a colleague rather than listening to the debate,
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will confirm that it is indeed Tory party policy to support minimum pricing, as was mentioned in the Statutory Instrument Committee. If she did, it would be a considerable step forward for the debate generally and it would help the Minister.

The House knows that I am stepping down at the forthcoming general election. I do not know whether this will be my last address to the House, but if it is, I could not have chosen a more important issue on which I would like to see progress made. I hope that what I and my colleagues have said today is not the last word, but the first word to start a process of moving forward on areas such as minimum pricing.

3.7 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford), and I really hope that this will not be his last contribution in this place. If it is, it is a pretty good note to go out on. I warmly congratulate him on his speech. It was also a delight to follow the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) in his always pleasant tour around the instruments of death, pain and torture that he always shares with the House.

My contribution will be brief. I mainly want to congratulate the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), the Chair of the Health Committee, and his colleagues on what I think is a very good, if not excellent, report. It touches on all the salient points and makes a number of very useful recommendations. My one hope is that the Government are listening, and listening very clearly, to what the Health Committee says, as it gets to the heart of the matter. If the recommended approach were adopted, I am sure that many lives would be saved and the health of England would be greatly enhanced.

The report has touched on all the right issues to do with people's corrosive attitude to and relationship with alcohol. We need to ensure that young people understand the key issues surrounding alcohol and, more widely, how to improve the general health of the nation, both north and south of the border. I really hope that the Minister has listened to the many excellent contributions so far from Health Committee members.

I acknowledge that very little of what the report recommends will affect me, the MP for Perth and North Perthshire, although a few things touch on my constituency. One important example is the minimum pricing issue. The Scottish Government will, of course, make up their own mind about minimum pricing. If it is to be used as a duty mechanism, it will of course affect Scotland as it is not possible to have different duty rates north and south of the border. I looked closely and carefully at the Select Committee's report on duty and I believe there is a great case to be made for using duty as a mechanism for pricing, which should be explored further.

I am grateful for the many specific mentions that Scotland receives in the report. It acknowledges the work done by my colleagues in the Scottish Government-on the separation of the aisles in supermarkets, looking at whether licensing should be part of promoting public health, and the commitment to continue to examine opening hours. All these are important and it is good that the Health Committee report acknowledges the fine and good work done in that respect.

It is also heartening to see a consensual, cross-party approach to this issue. We do not have anything like
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that in Scotland. We have absolute partisanship when it comes to health issues there. It may surprise the House that not one Member of the Scottish Parliament from any of the London-based parties-Liberal, Labour or Conservative-supports minimum pricing. Not one! That is absolutely incredible. It is great for me to hear Liberal and Labour Members support minimum pricing, but I say to them, "For goodness' sake, share your passion for that idea with your colleagues up the road!" There is legislation available that would enable us to improve the health of our nation, but the Liberal and Labour parties in Scotland are acting as an oppositional bloc to prevent it from being passed, which is shameful.

The position of the Liberals is absurd and bizarre. Two elections will take place in Scotland next year-one for this place in a few weeks and one for the Scottish Parliament in a year. Those who vote for a Liberal to become a Westminster Member of Parliament will be voting for a Liberal who supports minimum pricing, but those who vote for a Liberal to become a Member of the Scottish Parliament will be voting for a Liberal who will be against it. Although the devolution settlement implies different policies north and south of the border, for the Liberal party to espouse directly opposing policies is bizarre, absurd and appalling, and they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. However, I suppose that that is what we should expect from our Liberal colleagues.

Why is there such opposition to minimum pricing? The same issues are involved, and, if anything, Scotland has worse alcohol problems than the rest of United Kingdom. Indeed, a report has shown that our problems are bigger and deeper. One would expect the Liberals and Labour to encourage us to do more, rather than encouraging us to do less. The British Medical Association, the Scottish physicians' union, the nursing union and the chief police officers-the same people who support the report from the Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley-support what we are attempting to do.

It is the usual story. It is the retailers and those who produce cheap alcohol who oppose minimum pricing. The most scurrilous people, however, are saying that the opposition from the London-based parties in Scotland might have something to do with politics. I would not suggest for a minute that the Liberal party would dare to play politics with the health of our nation, but there are people who would suggest that that is exactly what is going on. The Liberals and Labour down here are anxious to deal with the issue, and the Liberals in Scotland know that minimum pricing would improve health, but they are-some people would suggest-playing politics.

As I said to the hon. Member for Wirral, West, the same thing happened with the Labour and Liberal Executive when we pioneered the smoking ban in Scotland. They do not want to allow the Scottish National party Government next year to say, "We were able to implement primary health legislation that will make a difference to public health." They do not want us to have that opportunity. Their opposition is shameful, and I think they should take a good look at themselves.

I am passionate about this issue. I wish that the Health Committee's report had gone to the Scottish
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Government, because we would have accepted it in full, with no reservations. It is a good report which contains everything that is required for a responsible Government to get on top of the issue. What a lot of nonsense we hear from those who oppose minimum pricing!

I represent three fantastic whisky distilleries in my constituency, two of which support minimum pricing. I do not see any behooded guys hanging around in the parks getting off their faces on a bottle of prime malt whisky. They drink cheap cider. None of them is going around consuming a good bottle of Edradour from my constituency. I wish more people would consume Edradour, because it is a very fine product.

There is no good reason why minimum pricing cannot be supported. It will improve the public health of our nation. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman's report were lying in front of our colleagues in Scotland, but unfortunately it is not. Unfortunately every London-based Member of the Scottish Parliament is against what the right hon. Gentleman is trying to promote, and that is absolutely shameless.

I hope that England gets the health policy that it requires and deserves. I only wish that we could as well, and I wish that Labour politicians-two of whom have belatedly arrived in the Chamber-would go up there and ensure that their colleagues in the Scottish Parliament support these proposals.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab) rose-

Pete Wishart: Of course I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has only just arrived. What he should do is go up the road to the Scottish Government and persuade them to do the right thing.

3.15 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I will happily give way to some of my Scottish colleagues and friends shortly, when I deal with the issue of minimum pricing in Scotland. Let me say in passing to the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) that he underestimates his influence on the House and the power of his speeches to change minds. I shall certainly stick to no more than four units at the reception that I shall be attending tonight.

My main purpose today, as chair of the all-party parliamentary beer group, is to forge a grand Yorkshire alliance with the chair of the Health Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) on at least some of his proposals. I think that particularly fitting, because my right hon. Friend was born in Tadcaster in my constituency, the home of brewing in this country and the only town in England that contains three breweries. He also went there to make a speech on my behalf, long before I was elected. He may remember that he did so in a pub. I therefore think it especially appropriate for me to speak in support of some of his proposals in what will be one of my last speeches as the Member of Parliament for Selby.

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