Part of Supplementary Estimates 2009-10 — Department of Health – in the House of Commons at 3:28 pm on 10th March 2010.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 3:28 pm, 10th March 2010

Those arguments have gone: we are debating alcohol now. I have a great deal of time and respect for the hon. Gentleman, but there is a problem with his logic. The argument appears to be-and Stephen Hesford seemed to be making it too, if I remember what he said correctly-that so many people die as a result of drinking alcohol every year that alcohol must be banned altogether. That is the logical conclusion of that approach, and I wonder whether it is in fact the agenda of the Health Committee or the hon. Members who make that point. If so, I would much prefer them to have the courage of their convictions. They should be prepared to stand up and tell their constituents that they want to ban them from drinking at all because it kills 40,000 people a year. However, if they are not prepared to go that far, I am afraid that all the measures that are considered to be so important are really just spitting in the wind.

Implementing these measures from the Health Committee will not lead to a huge reduction in the number of deaths, and I do not think that the Committee's members really think so either. All of this is just spitting in the wind, and I suspect that the measures are really a cover from the real agenda, which is to ban people from drinking alcohol altogether.

A great many people in the House seem to want to do nothing else but ban everyone from doing all the things that they themselves do not happen to like. I do not think that I was brought into politics for that. In fact, I am speaking today as a teetotaller: I do not even drink alcohol, but I very much defend the rights of those who do. People who want to enjoy drinking their alcohol responsibly should not have to pay extra on their supermarket shopping just because a few yobs cannot take their drink of an evening.

Today we have the incredible sight of members of the Labour party-of all parties-standing up one after the other to argue that some of the poorest people in their constituencies should be forced to pay more for their alcohol. We are talking about pensioners, or people on benefits or fixed incomes, who usually go to the cheapest supermarkets. That is what Labour Members seem to want, even though the overwhelming majority of people drink their alcohol perfectly reasonably and derive some pleasure from doing so.

What kind of party is it that claims to speak up for the poorest people in society yet tries to make those people pay more? The richest people in the country will not suffer from minimum pricing, because they can presumably afford to pay a bit more for their alcohol. They will not care. It is the poorest people in our constituencies who will suffer, yet Labour Members seem very happy to stand up, one after another, and speak in support of these proposals. Where did they lose their way? How did they lose their roots? Which people in this country do they represent now? They certainly do not speak up for the poorest people in their constituencies, or for the overwhelming majority of people who like to drink their alcohol in moderation.

Minimum pricing will not stop young people going into town centres on a Friday and Saturday night with the intention of getting bladdered-or whatever term is in current usage. The price is irrelevant, because those young people set out to get bladdered. They do not set out to spend £15 or £20 on a night, they set out to get absolutely drunk. Making decent people pay a bit more for their alcohol in supermarkets will not solve that.

It is simplistic beyond belief for people to stand up in here and say, "I know: if we put an extra 40p on a bottle of wine, or 50p on a can of beer, the whole problem of youth drinking and people causing carnage in town centres is going to disappear." I would be worried if anyone seriously believed that, because it would show how out of touch with how the world works they were-but I suspect that people who say that know full well that such a price rise will not make that difference, but it suits their argument to say that it will. I should like to get back to reality.

I support one part of what the Select Committee said. Following on from what was said by the hon. Members for Leeds, North-West and for Selby (Mr. Grogan), from anyone's perspective in this debate, it would be absolute folly to increase duty on alcohol, because that would be yet another nail in the coffin for many pubs in our constituencies around the country. As the Health Committee very sensibly said, when a pub sells only alcohol, it must pass on to its customers any increase in the duty on alcohol, but supermarkets sell about 40,000 products in each store, so they can absorb any increase in duty, by offsetting it on to the other 39,000-odd products that they sell across the store. So an increase in duty would be absolutely calamitous for pubs, and I very much hope that, whatever the Government do, they do not increase duty.