Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench 10:45 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, I know that the hour is late. I want to endorse the sentiment expressed so clearly just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Although it is late, we have to cover these topics because there is no other opportunity to do so and I am concerned. I have already heard that the Minister is not going to accept the amendment looking at alcohol licensing but I hope that he will at least listen to what I say and agree to meet me after this, because it is terribly important. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, eloquently described the moral geometry and the problem of an utterly local issue being held in a reserved power. I suggest that that applies exactly in terms of alcohol licensing because the health and well-being of the Welsh population require some control over the way that alcohol is sold and supplied. It is widely acknowledged that that is one of the most effective ways of tackling alcohol harms.

The wording of the Bill would appear to be even more restrictive than the current exemption, which would mean that the proposals in the draft Public Health (Minimum Pricing for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill would be a reserved matter, and therefore outside the legislative competence of the Assembly itself. It would seem only sensible to add the protection of health and well-being to the four points listed by the Minister in relation to licensing.

Alcohol remains a major cause of preventable death: the Public Health Wales Observatory has reported that:

“Every week in Wales alcohol results in 29 deaths; around 1 in 20 of all deaths”.

This impact of alcohol puts enormous pressures on health systems. Every week, hospitals handle as many as 1,000 admissions related to alcohol. Emergency departments are straining. When people in Wales go into those emergency departments and see them full of alcohol-fuelled harm and its effects, they ask: “Why isn’t the Assembly doing something about it?”. The answer is that it cannot because the thing that it wants to do—to look at the sale and supply of alcohol—comes outside its powers.

We know, sadly, that alcohol consumption in Wales remains a problem. In the latest Welsh Health Survey, 40% of adults still reported drinking more than guideline amounts in the previous week. There is a pressing need to tackle alcohol misuse, using every tool available to Government. That means policies that control the licensing and supply, which are the only way that we can promote sensible drinking. It would also require licence holders to offer a ratio of non-alcoholic drinks to alcoholic drinks on their premises to give people a wider choice—to be social but not to get completely destroyed by the adverse effects of alcohol.

The Bill should provide an opportunity to address health and well-being. The sad thing is that Wales bears the costs of the alcohol abuse, particularly in expenditure on health and social care, yet it is not being allowed to have control over licensing and supply as part of its national strategy. When tackling alcohol harms in Wales, the Assembly is operating with more than one hand tied behind its back. It just seems a completely inexplicable state of affairs.