Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:39 pm on 18 October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Whip 12:39, 18 October 2007

My Lords, I am delighted to join the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in sharing the concern that we all have about this particular problem. In 1910, there was a great battle for power in the House of Lords. One Liberal poster at the time attacked the "Peerage and the Beerage" and said how closely associated they were. Perhaps it was not referring to the Liberal Benches, but the other Benches at that time.

I speak for a minority, although there are probably 10 million of us teetotallers. That means that the opinions I express are probably not those that everybody would agree with. But we all agree that, however committed drinking habits are, this problem merits the most urgent serious consideration.

The debate is about alcohol harm reduction in England. As a Welshman, I venture over the border, because the problem is just as acute in Wales. But this very morning, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems expressed alarm at the heavy drinking in Scotland, saying that 1 million people are at risk in Scotland alone.

In Wales, I was surprised to read figures telling me that sales of alcohol have doubled in 10 years. That is directly related, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned, to hospital admissions for alcohol-related problems. In 1999, 252 hospital admissions out of 100,000 were alcohol-related. By 2005, six years later, that was up to 309 per 100,000, and BMA Wales says that there is a "growing alcohol problem".

The report of the Directors of Public Protection Wales claims, as other noble Lords have mentioned already, that alcohol consumption in Wales alone costs £1 billion a year—£320 million on working hours lost, £365 million on drink-related crime and disorder, £85 million on healthcare costs and £230 million on tackling family break-ups. I am not quite sure how accurate this is, but it is thought that 1,000 premature deaths a year in Wales are alcohol related. One cannot assess the degree of trauma among families and children resulting from excessive drinking—the child brought up in a home where there is domestic violence and needless poverty because of the money spent on alcohol. That child has not been given the proper backing and opportunity because money was spent in other ways. The Welsh Assembly funded the Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline. It is said that one in four women in Wales will be a victim of domestic abuse at some time in their lives. I am ashamed of that figure, but I submit that much of it is alcohol-related.

One figure that I am sure is utterly reliable and alarms me tremendously relates to drinking by 11 to 15 year-olds in Wales. Wales has the highest level of underage drinking of any European country. A report last year, Alcohol and Health in Wales: a Major Public Health Issue, stated a different figure from the BMA—that 70 men and 90 women in Wales were likely to die of alcohol-related conditions in this particular year. A report in the Observer for the United Kingdom as a whole showed an astounding rise of 27.3 per cent in male drinking admissions to hospitals in England between 2001 and 2005. If that figure is correct, it must cause us the utmost concern.

It has been agreed—the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and others mentioned this—that tackling this growing problem does not lie in 24-hour pub opening hours and round-the-clock availability of alcohol, which perhaps has changed the pattern of drinking. The Minister might correct me, but I would suggest that it has not led to a reduction in alcohol consumption or related disorders. Is the Minister able to say whether it is time to outlaw drinking on the streets? Following the smoking ban in buildings and pubs, there is more such drinking with tables outside public houses and hotels. We must look at that problem. Because people cannot smoke inside a public place, they now do so on the streets.

We should also look at the deep discounting of alcohol sold in off-licences and supermarkets, and at banning special promotions. I have heard of many promotions which will lead only to an increase in the alcohol problem. We should look at the pricing mechanisms which can be used to discourage heavy consumption of high alcohol products, compulsory alcohol labelling and, as has already been mentioned, reducing the drink-drive limit. In Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, there should be a far more concentrated educational approach to this problem in schools. That is what a Government might do, but every individual can, by his or her own example, contribute to tackling this problem.

I am old enough to remember the early years of "Coronation Street". The Rovers Return was there then and it is still there. Ena Sharples' chapel mission went many years ago. The balance has gone out of society. On some television programmes, including soaps, people shout, are aggressive and are abusive, which is considered by many people to be the norm and how one is supposed to behave. It reflects the role model which society tries to emulate. Without restricting the soaps, is it not time that we asked the programme makers, "Can you not sometimes just lower the decibels a little bit and change the approach"?

This House is very civilised. We rarely raise our voices.