The Alcohol Education and Research Fund

Orders of the Day — Licensing (Alcohol Education and Research) Bill – in the House of Commons at 10:15 am on 8 May 1981.

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Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith North 10:15, 8 May 1981

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 5, leave out lines 30 to 41 and insert— '(b) the further education of health and social services professionals and of other groups involved in the prevention and treatment of alcohol problems;(c) the care and rehabilitation of persons convicted of offences involving drunkenness;(d) the provision of treatment and other help for persons dependent on alcohol or given to excessive consumption of alcohol;(e) research into matters relevant to any of the purposes mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (d) and the publication of the results of such research.(3) In determining how the Fund is to be applied for the purposes mentioned in subsection (2), the Council shall give priority to paragraphs (a) and (b) and shall support schemes for, achieving the purposes described in paragraphs (c) and (d) only when these schemes are of an innovative nature.'. I strongly welcome the Bill. We have all been looking forward to its passing through the House and becoming law as soon as possible. The amendment is designed to allow the Alcohol Education Centre and similar bodies to appeal for funds to the proposed research council. I have an interest to declare as chairman of the Alcohol Education Centre, and I should say a little about that body and its aims.

The centre was established to educate on a wide basis the many professionals and voluntary workers who deal with people with alcohol problems. Many of those two groups may be doctors, psychiatrists, probation officers, social workers, prison officers, police officers, and so on. They come primarily from the United Kingdom, but many foreigners attend the courses. We charge for the courses and for other services that we run. That, however, does not provide sufficient money to cover our running costs. We receive a grant from the DHSS. There are times, however, particularly in the current difficult economic circumstances, when we need additional financial aid. The amendment aims to make it clear that the Alcohol Education Centre could appeal to the council for funds where appropriate.

The other aim of the amendment is to recognise that money from the fund will not be sufficient to deal with all the problems of alcohol abuse. That is why I have tried to emphasise the importance of the novel and innovative schemes as set out elsewhere in the clause. Alcohol services need to be properly funded by local and central Government. The total sum provided is about £4 million, but only about three-quarters of that will be available for charitable purposes. We must therefore acknowledge that the interest from that sum will be insufficient to fund the type of services that local and national Government must provide. That applies particularly to help for the vagrant alcoholic—the detoxification centres, and so on—which cannot be funded from that sum because it is insufficient.

I hope that in passing the Bill we will not expect the money to be used for providing detoxification centres on a large scale. If we tried to do that we should end up with a poor quality of detoxification centre, probably staffed by volunteers or people without expert knowledge. To allow such people to work with vagrant alcoholics not only puts their welfare at risk but may be counter-productive, both for the alcoholic and for the worker.

We cannot have our alcoholic services on the cheap. We must be prepared for local and national Government properly to fund the resources. In the meantime the amendment is designed to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility to enable bodies such as the Alcohol Education Centre to draw money from the research council and to provide that the funds used in other areas are applied to innovative schemes. I believe that I have the support of the promoter of the Bill for the amendment.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

I rise to oppose the amendment. Perhaps I, too, should declare an interest, although the House is well aware of it. For many years I have been chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism—the organisation that has led the van in the war against alcohol abuse in Britain. The pressure for the diversion of the licensing compensation fund for this purpose has come substantially from us—and here I pay tribute to the work of Lord Kimberley, in another place. It was a matter of great satisfaction to us that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) brought forward the Bill. In its present form, it has the unqualified support of the National Council on Alcoholism and of our workers in the field, who now operate in every region of the country.

I oppose the amendment because it invites us to change the Bill in a way that was never envisaged during the long-drawn-out negotiations that took place between the licensed trade, the drink industry, the Brewers Society, the Home Office and ourselves. The amendment provides for priority use of the limited charitable moneys made available for education and research in respect of the training and education of professional staff of statutory organisations.

Both the hon. Gentleman's organisation and the National Council have been engaged in work of this kind, and we know that we can charge fees or be reimbursed for services offered directly to the statutory authorities social service departments and regional health authorities for educational work. The difficulty arised over services for voluntary workers and voluntary organisations. These are absolutely vital if any real impact is to be made on a growing national problem. Yet is is difficult for voluntary workers and organisations to have access to these courses because of the high fees that are sometimes charged.

My organisation, the National Council on Alcoholism, does not and would not charge voluntary workers for this kind of course. In any event, the Department of Health and Social Security helps voluntary organisations and workers to take courses and urges local authorities and health authorities, when organising such courses, to make them freely available to the voluntary sector. For that reason I believe that it would be wrong for Parliament to insist that the proposed Alcohol Education and Research Council should give charitable money for the education of professional workers who already have access to funds.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith North

I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's opposition to my amendment. The amendment says: the further education of health and social services professionals and of other groups". Those words were inserted specifically to make sure that voluntary groups were covered.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

I cannot help the hon. Gentleman's puzzlement. Had he had the foresight to consult me in advance about the amendment we could have cleared the air. We could have had an understanding on the matter. He might then have been persuaded not to table the amendment at all. If he interrupts me at this early stage, it will make my speech much longer. As he did not do me the courtesy of discussing the matter with me beforehand, let him now listen to what I have to say.

This measure is the result of years of patient negotiation between the Home Office and the Brewers Society. The intention always was, and the Bill is so framed, that the licensing compensation fund money should be used for public education and research. I am glad that the Home Office took the advice of the national council that services for problem drinkers should be included, on which I now see that there is a difference of opinion between the hon. Gentleman and myself. When it was made known that I had insisted on such a provision it was warmly welcomed by workers in the field.

The Minister of State told me in discussions that I had with him that he wished the Bill to include terms of reference within a general framework, would not tie the trustees' hands. That is always a wise provision. It is always a mistake to seek to tie down trustees in advance in this way. Indeed my hon. Friend wanted the terms of reference to be broad enough to cover changes that might occur over the next few decades. That, too, was the view of the national council, and at this late stage I see no reason to change the Bill.

It is right that the Bill should make certain that in funding services for problem drinkers priority should be given to novel schemes. The hon. Gentleman did not mention that in his speech. He implied that money would be drawn for the provision of services that properly should be made available by the statutory authorities. The Bill is explicit on that matter. It makes it quite plain that it is concerned with priority being given to novel schemes and to innovations. I agree with that.

However, the amendment—if we were foolish enough to accept it—would change all that. It reduces that priority. I am certain that the many agencies concerned with alcoholism would be seriously disturbed by the suggestion that we should advance one sectional interest that I have already shown has access to funds. I believe that it would be utterly wrong to bind the trustees to give priority to the training of professional statutory health and social services workers. That was never the intention of the Bill.

Indeed, I go further. The Select Committee dealing with the question of preventive medicine felt that all the money in the licensing compensation fund should go to health education about alcohol abuse. Public education is needed, especially for young people and for women, and in the workplace, in commerce and industry. That is where the money apportioned by the new council should be spent. That money should not be diluted by catering for people for whom financial provision is already made in order to suit the convenience of one sectional interest.

I had not intended to speak at length. However, I am concerned that there should be an attempt at the last moment to try to change a Bill of this kind which has commanded general support and been warmly welcomed throughout the country. It is a good Bill. It has been carefully thought through, and it commands wide support. I assure the Committee, from my soundings in the field, that is welcomed by voluntary workers. Its priorities are right. We should leave it alone. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will ask leave to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington 10:30, 8 May 1981

I agree with the wise comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). I declare an interest as a management consultant. One of my clients is a leading firm in the drink industry, although it has many other activities.

I have watched the progress of my hon. Friend's admirable and relevant Bill. With him, I am surprised that at this late stage a runner has been put forward by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). I am sure that the industry and the other interests that have been mentioned by my hon. Friend would be sorry to see the funds frittered away, once the new concept gets off the ground, if they are used for too diverse a purpose. I do not want the money to be spent on health treatment because that is a matter for the National Health Service.

It is better to take the view that my hon. Friend the Minister holds on behalf of the Home Office—that the Bill should be passed unamended, and without playing about with it at this stage. We are making a good start. As my hon. Friend said, the matter has been under consideration for some years. Some controversy has been involved and there has been a great deal of difficulty in getting those around the table finally to agree.

We are starting in a good spirit. It would be folly to widen matters at this stage. I support my hon. Friend's view that alcohol abuse must be curbed, and the industry is at one with him. It would be sensible to give my hon. Friend's Bill a fair wind, unamended, and so build on the basis that he has put forward.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) for setting out the purport of the amendment. I fully recognise the importance that he, as chairman of the Alcohol Education Centre, places on the value of education in alcohol misuse, especially the training of professional workers. I share his concern that the limited resources of the fund should not be used simply to prop up the statutory services for alcoholics.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) was right to stress the importance of voluntary work in that area. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) was right to stress the importance of not propping up services that should be funded by Government and local government.

I have considered carefully whether the wording of subsections (2) and (3) could be amended to meet the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North at least part of the way. His amendment would change the balance of the scheme proposed in the Bill. For reasons that I shall now give, the House should not accept the amendments. First, I shall deal with the proposal to add to the charitable purposes to which the fund may be applied (b) the further education of health and social services professionals and of other groups involved in the prevention and treatment of alcohol problems. I have already said that recognise the important part those people can, and do, play in the prevention and treatment of alcohol dependence, but there are two reasons why it would be inadvisable to include that paragraph. First, it is unnecessary. I have been advised that the education of the groups specified in the paragraph is already subsumed under paragraph (a), in that they form part of the public. Be that as it may, and if it were considered proper to underline the importance of their role by singling them out for specific mention, there is a further, and I believe incontrovertible, reason for not doing so. It relates to the effect that the amendment might have on the charitable status of the fund.

I understand that the general rule of charity law is that a purpose is not charitable unless it is directed to the public benefit. In other words, it must benefit the community or a sufficiently important section of the community. Although those following a professional calling such as clergymen and lawyers may be a sufficient section of the public, the employees of one employer have been held to be too narrow a section.

I have been advised also that it is possible that the further education of health and social services professionals could be held not to be of public benefit so as to make it a charitable purpose. That is not to say that the education of those engaged in such work could not be provided for by a grant from the fund under paragraph (a). Education into the problems of alcohol, especially in the medical and nursing professions, is of paramount importance in dealing with the problem. But that is a different matter to the point raised by the amendment.

The fact that all education available is likely to be for the advantage of a limited number of persons will not of itself mean that it is not for the public benefit in the eyes of the law. As Viscount Simon pointed out in the case of the Inland Revenue v. Baddley, the distinction is between a form of relief intended for the whole community yet, by its very nature, advantageous only to a few, and a form of relief accorded to a selected few out of a larger number equally willing to take advantage of it. The purposes to which the fund may be applied as at present specified in clause 7(2) have been agreed with the Charity Commission. If accepted, they would enable the fund to be registered as a charity. That would enable the fund to enjoy certain benefits, such as exemption from income tax on its investments. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it is important that we do not place that important benefit at risk. I accordingly ask the House not to accept the proposed new paragraph (b).

I wish to deal with the remainder of the amendments en bloc. They would have two effects. First, they would require the Alcohol Education and Research Council. To give priority to alcohol education, and would prohibit it from making grants for the purposes specified in the new paragraphs (c) and (d)—namely, assistance to drunken offenders and to alcoholics, except when any schemes proposed were innovative. Secondly, they would narrow the areas of research to which the fund may be applied. They would confine it to matters relevant to the education of the public and to the provisions of treatment and other help for persons dependent on alcohol. They would exclude research into the care and treatment of drunken offenders.

As I have already said, that would be a fundamental change in the balance of the scheme proposed in the Bill. It would mean that the bulk of the money would be channelled into education and pure research projects. It would considerably restrict the freedom of the council to authorise grants for actual research and pioneering projects, such as basic overnight facilities for habitual drunken offenders. It would also expose the council to challenge in the courts and by the Charity Commissioners if they were to make grants in relation to purposes (c) and (d), if those purposes could be construed as being other than innovative.

The overall effect of the amendments would be to tie the council's hands and to restrict its freedom to develop as imaginative a programme of work as it should, and would be able to do, under the scheme provided in clause 7. We cannot foresee how the alcohol problem will develop in future years. I think that the Committee will agree that the council should have fairly wide powers to deal with problems as they arise, and should not be restricted in the way proposed by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North.

On the other hand, I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's fears that the money may be channelled into supporting services, which are properly those of the State—what has sometimes been referred to as the bottom, or bottomless pit, of alcohol treatment. However, that should not happen because there are two safeguards. First, under the present draft of clause 7(3), in determining how the fund is to be applied in the treatment and rehabilitation sectors, the council will be required to give priority to support for novel schemes of an experimental or innovative nature.

Secondly, the members of the council will be appointed by the Secretary of State. I know that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consult widely in the making of the appointments, and that the council will include persons with first-hand experience of alcohol education and research. They will be able to influence the decisions of the council about how the money is spent. I am sure that they will attach considerable importance to the education of health and social services professionals, as indeed I do, of the other groups involved in the prevention and treatment of alcohol problems, and the education of the public generally into the dangers of alcohol misuse.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North that there are adequate safeguards in the Bill as it stands and that he will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

It may help the Committee if I indicate the Government's attitude to the amendment. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) has given his reasons for tabling it. As I said on Second Reading, I have sympathy with those who do not want the money diverted into the funds of the statutory services. On the other hand, the wording of subsections (2) and (3) gives effect more closely to the Government's proposals for the disposal of the funds. I remind the committee of the words used by my right hon. Friend last July when he announced these proposals in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who I am pleased to see here today. My right hon. Friend said: The objects of the trust fund for alcohol education and research would be:'To finance education about the dangers of alcohol abuse, and research into its incidence, causes and possible remedies, and pioneering schemes for dealing with drunken offendersand with alcoholism. '"—[Official Report, 30 July 1980; Vol. 989, c. 700]. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East reminded us that these objects were arrived at following protracted consultations with the licensed trade, the National Council on Alcoholism and other interested parties, including the Charity Commission. As my hon. Friend said, there was a long period of patient negotiations. We believe that the wording of subsections (2) and (3), although couched in the language of a Bill, gives precise effect to that statement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) has explained clearly his grounds of objection to the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North. The Government entirely share my hon. Friend's views. It is vital that the fund should be capable of being registered as a charity. Similarly, it is most important that the council should have the flexibility to enable it to respond to new problems as and when they occur. For these reasons, the Government prefer the wording of clause 7 to remain as it stands.

My hon. Friend referred to the council, its role and composition, and it might help if I said something about that matter. When announcing the Government's proposals with regard to the appointment of the council, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that before any appointments were made to the council he would consult representative organisations in the drinks industry, representatives of the medical profession and organisations concerned with alcohol misuse and with drunken offenders.

We have made a start on this process of consultation and we shall shortly be writing to a number of organisations to seek their views on the composition of the council and to invite nominations. I should emphasise that all appointments will be made on a personal basis. No single organisation will have the right to be represented. The Home Secretary will also consult the Secretaries of State for Social Services, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and food. In making these appointments he will endeavour to bring together a body of people who have great knowledge of the various aspects of the problems imposed upon society by the misuse of alcohol and who will command the confidence of those in the field. We hope that it will be possible to announce the name of the chairman-designate before the Bill completes its course in another place and to announce the names of the other appointments shortly after the bill is enacted. It is our intention that the chairman should be a person who is not allied to one of the interested groups. He will need to have qualities additional to those of the other members.

I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North will feel able to accept the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and will not press his amendment.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith North

I thank the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) and the Minister for the constructive way in which they have dealt with this matter.

The amendment was the first to be tabled after the Bill was published. Therefore, there was plenty of time for consultation if anybody so desired. I do not wish to pursue the matter very far, but on a number of occasions I attempted to discuss matters relating to alcohol policy with the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). He was clearly not happy to discuss such matters. It is sad and unnecessary, but that is life and I am prepared to accept it. When an hon. Member tables an amendment and other hon. Members happily discuss it with him, there should be no problem about a particular hon. Member doing the same.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider what he said. He has had an open invitation to discuss this and other matters with me and the director of the National Council on Alcoholism over a long period. The hon. Gentleman has not availed himself of that opportunity.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith North

That is utterly incorrect. My problem recently has been trying to help the National Council on Alcoholism. The hon. Gentleman makes it difficult for me when I try to defend the NCA outside the House. I have often found myself defending the NCA on a wicket on which it was difficult to bat. I am prepared to do that because the NCA does a very good job. However, it does not help if the hon. Gentleman makes it difficult for us to have discussions. I do not wish to pursue the matter. It is sad. I cannot do anything more about it. However, I am willing to have discussions anywhere and at any time if dates can be set instead of vague offers being made.

10.45 am

The hon. Member for Harrogte has dealt with the matter clearly. He has made it clear that, as the Bill stands, bodies involved in education, both professional and voluntary, can appeal to the fund. That is all that is required. However, it needs to be in the Official Report so that it can be read by those who adminster the fund.

It is important that general practitioners, nurses, prison officers, police officers and others are given additional encouragement to go on appropriate courses. That is why the statutory part needs to be spelt out. Such people often deal with alcohol abuse problems at the sharp end, so to speak, and we cannot ignore that aspect.

General practitioners often do not recognise an alcohol problem when it is presented to them in their surgeries. Therefore, one of the aims of any courses for those in education must be to get through to people such as general practitioners the importance of looking out for the symptoms and responding appropriately when they see them. That is the essence of the first part of the amendment. The hon. Member for Harrogate has dealt with it fairly and clearly, and I am content to leave it there.

The second part of the amendment deals with the importance of not expecting the fund to pay for statutory needs generally—detoxification centres and so on. I note what the Minister said. I am sure that in due course we shall have a review of the Government' alcohol policy by the Department of Health and Social Security. I look forward to that. It is a matter that we can pursue.

In view of what was said by the Minister and the hon. Member for Harrogate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.