Alcohol Consumption — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 27th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Chair, EU Sub Committee A - Economic and Financial Affairs 2:53 pm, 27th January 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of policies to reduce alcohol consumption, what discussions they have had with supermarkets about the range of strengths of alcoholic drinks they supply.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government have long worked with the alcohol industry to reduce health and social harm. Supermarkets are committed to all relevant alcohol pledges under the public health responsibility deal, and have contributed to removing 1.3 billion units of alcohol from the market by reducing strength; 80% of labels now have the correct health information; and there is the promise not to sell any carbonated drink with more than four units of alcohol in a single-serve can.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Chair, EU Sub Committee A - Economic and Financial Affairs

To help supermarkets communicate with their customers, will the Government consider providing a legal definition of lighter wine, as well as exploring duty differentiation in wines to provide a service that will enable people to choose lighter wines? Finally, will the Government encourage the average strength of house wine to be lowered where such house wines are sold in pubs, restaurants and, indeed, here in the House of Lords?

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord is right in that all the major supermarkets and chains have worked really hard to reduce the amount of alcohol in the wine, beer and spirits that they sell. However, one thing they are not particularly good at—with the exception, perhaps, of Morrisons and Asda—is having separate spaces within each supermarket where wines with lower levels of alcohol are displayed. On the question of the House wine, I am happy to have a word with the Secretary of State about that.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some time ago we were told that the calorific value of a glass of wine would be published? Why is that not proceeding, because it is quite an incentive for people who are not too worried about the alcoholic effects but are concerned—as we all should be—about obesity?

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

We should all be concerned about the alcoholic effects as well. Currently, not all wine bottles have calorific labelling, although there is labelling that relates to anxiety about pregnant women, but I will have to come back to Peers on that.

Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Labour

My Lords, is the Minister aware that whenever the price of alcohol goes up—above the level of inflation—the incidence of deaths from liver disease goes down? Will the Government consider increasing taxation on alcohol to take it above the level of inflation so that we will see a reduction in liver disease?

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord is right. Alcohol consumption has fallen, as has the number of alcohol-related deaths, due to the increase in taxation on alcohol by this Government and possibly previous Governments. Nevertheless, harmful effects such as liver disease, as well as social impacts linked to alcohol, such as crime and domestic violence, remain much too high.

Photo of Baroness Cumberlege Baroness Cumberlege Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that there is great merit in keeping the pubs open and that single men who are lonely and depressed are very often welcomed into pubs? Their spirits are raised—in all senses of the word—and they then are not a burden on the National Health Service.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am not quite sure. I can tell noble Lords about licensing. We are actively working with Public Health England on the practicalities of how health-related objectives for the licensing of premises selling alcohol would work at a local level.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, while we welcome the reduction in the amount of alcohol being sold in certain areas, is it not true that growth is taking place in other areas? In particular, the drinks industry is trying to get its brands into the heads of young people. Is the Minister content to see supermarkets now selling alcoholic lemonade that is stronger than many beers? Is she content to see them selling ginger beer and other soft drinks with more alcohol than is contained in many beers? Should we not be doing something about that?

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Yes, indeed, and that has been done already. There is a commitment on the amount of alcohol that can be contained in fizzy, canned drinks.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, when I am up, everybody has to sit down; that is the usual convention. As we have not heard from the Cross Benches on this Question, we will go to the Cross Benches, and we should have time for my noble friend, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, after that.

Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister give us some information on the Government’s current assessment of the public health benefits of a 50 pence per unit minimum price for alcohol, which has been recommended by the Chief Medical Officer, among many others?

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

We are keeping the developing evidence on minimum unit pricing under review. It has only ever been one part of the Government’s strategy, which, as I have explained, includes a wide range of national and local actions, including partnership with industry and increased powers for local communities to take action.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

Will my noble friend assure the House that the Government will continue to resist the temptation of yet more legislation in this area and rely on persuasion? Secondly, can she tell us whether the existing law is being enforced? My suspicion is that it is extremely patchy.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I know that as part of the responsibility deal there has been a big move by Public Health Ministers at the Department of Health to drive down the number of alcohol units being sold. As I have said, that number has been significantly reduced—by 1.3 million units.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour

Is the Minister satisfied that supermarkets have done enough—it is voluntary, as she said—to reduce the amount of high-value alcohol products being sold cheaply as loss leaders?

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

There is always more to be done in this area.