Alcohol

Part of Supplementary Estimates 2009-10 — Department of Health – in the House of Commons at 3:07 pm on 10th March 2010.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 3:07 pm, 10th March 2010

I am pleased to follow 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 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 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 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 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.