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Alcohol Misuse (Young People)

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 25th January 2011.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 2:30 pm, 25th January 2011

What recent steps he has taken to reduce levels of alcohol misuse among young people.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The public health White Paper, "Healthy Lives, Healthy People", sets out how society can harness the efforts of individuals, families, local and national Government, and the private, voluntary and community sectors to take better care of our children's health and development.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I thank the Minister for that reply. Hon. Members will be aware of the recent publicity given to vodka eye-balling, which is a dangerous practice. Members of the ArcAngel volunteer team in my constituency are going into schools seeking to alert young people to this and other dangers of binge drinking and excessive alcohol abuse. What support can the Minister offer to ensure that we can eradicate, in particular, the dangerous practice of vodka eye-balling?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, particularly in highlighting this extraordinary practice. I have to say, it was news to me. I congratulate the efforts of that local organisation on highlighting this sort of issue with school children. There is no doubt that vodka eye-balling can cause damage to the surface of the eye, ulceration and scarring. Although it has got some publicity, however, a lot of young people are likely to be drunk in the first place when they do it, so the effects are probably overestimated.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

Did the Minister hear the report on Radio 4 this morning that in the past decade there has been a 50% increase in the number of young people in their 30s being admitted to hospital with alcohol-related liver disease? Does she think that we ought to be looking at how alcohol is promoted and advertised around young people?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I heard the report, and I think that it made particular reference to the worrying trend among young women as well. There is no doubt that our public health White Paper is timely. We need to do something about this. It is important to remember that no one tool will fix this problem; we need to take a wide variety of measures and alter, in particular, young people's relationship with alcohol. However, we will not do that until we get a proper strategy out there.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

Do Ministers clearly understand that the price of alcohol is a relevant consideration? Will they look at whether we can get relatively cheaper prices for soft and sports drinks? They are a viable alternative for many young people, but the price is often double that for alcohol.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. There is no doubt that price is one of the tools to which I referred. However, we need to take a huge number of actions. Reforming the Licensing Act 2003 via the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will bring in a number of measures-for instance, doubling the fines for under-age alcohol sales to £20,000 and giving councils and the police the power to shut permanently shops or bars that persistently sell alcohol to children. That is one other way. Also, the Bill will make local health bosses responsible authorities for licensing decisions. That is an important shift and demonstrates the fact that this is everybody's problem-no one public body can cure this on its own.