Alcohol

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:07 pm on 25th October 2007.

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Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour 3:07 pm, 25th October 2007

I thank Richard Simpson, who made—as always—a well-informed intervention. I will talk about underage consumption.

On the proposal to ban certain drinks promotions, Labour members condemn retailers who seek to benefit from drinks promotions that encourage irresponsible alcohol consumption. However, we must be careful about how we deliver a ban. We considered the issue carefully during the passage of the Licensing (Scotland) Bill. Some people take advantage of drinks promotions responsibly—I hope that that includes most members—and should be entitled to have the opportunity to do so. We must consider whether evidence backs up the cabinet secretary's proposals. We must place on retailers a social responsibility to ensure that they do not encourage irresponsible consumption. Perhaps the simplest argument that we could put to retailers is that it is not in their interests to shorten consumers' lives by providing opportunities for alcohol abuse. The more we work with the industry to get that message across to retailers, the more successful we will be in implementing our strategy.

We must accept that alcohol abuse takes place in our streets and fuels antisocial activity throughout Scotland. I am sure that all members have heard from organisations in their constituencies who have expressed concern about the consumption of alcohol in public areas, particularly by young people. Such behaviour sets the wrong example for the next generation of young people. I am proud of the measures that were delivered by the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 to ensure that legal remedies, such as dispersal orders, are in place to tackle unacceptable behaviour in streets throughout Scotland.

The zero-tolerance approach to such behaviour is welcome, which is why we have difficulty in accepting the Liberals' amendment. We support rehabilitation, but we must send a clear message of zero tolerance of irresponsible behaviour on our streets. On many occasions, rehabilitation has been offered and a number of other avenues exhausted before dispersal orders were considered.

There is no doubt that underage drinking presents a serious challenge to many communities throughout Scotland. The Labour amendment urges the cabinet secretary to call a summit of political leaders and relevant stakeholders in Scotland, to provide a framework and to develop not a strategy but an effective action plan to deal with this serious issue. At least 52 per cent of young girls in Scotland get drunk twice a month, which is unacceptable. I am sure that the cabinet secretary wants to work with us to create opportunities to tackle that.

We welcome the minister's commitment to ensuring that the polluter pays, but I will strike a less consensual note by quoting the following comment:

"I argue against the measure because it is punitive, as public house premises and clubs pay the Exchequer substantial amounts of money ... in particular, through non-domestic rates."—[Official Report, 16 November 2005; c 20743.]

Those are not my words; they are the words of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice's deputy, the Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing, who is not in the chamber.

I will quote another member:

"The way to address the problem is to deal with it through the bill and the new licensing regime. If necessary, the premises can be shut down. That is what we should do with these places. We should not enable them to bring in other measures as that could legitimise the antisocial behaviour."—[Official Report, Local Government and Transport Committee, 3 October 2005; c 2948.]

Bruce Crawford said that when he spoke in opposition to the amendment in my name, which was agreed at stage 2 of the Licensing (Scotland) Bill, the object of which was to ensure that licensed premises pay for the additional policing costs of dealing with any unacceptable activities that may result.

I commend the cabinet secretary for bringing forward a measure that was the subject of a successful Paul Martin amendment. Unfortunately, Fergus Ewing, now the Minister for Community Safety, lodged a stage 3 amendment that resulted in the measure being deleted from the bill. Labour Party members are happy to commend the SNP for emulating Labour Party policy and we look forward to providing the Government with many other examples of Labour amendments that were unsuccessful because of SNP opposition.

Of course, the Labour Party welcomes the opportunity to tackle the problem. We want to work with the wide range of organisations that have a role to play in tackling alcohol abuse, including Alcoholics Anonymous, to which I referred earlier, all of which have a serious role to play. We have to work together in Parliament on the issue. On occasion, that will mean that the Government will have to adopt policies that its members rejected when they were in Opposition in a previous life.

I ask the chamber to support the amendment in Pauline McNeill's name.

I move amendment S3M-681.2, to insert after "product for sale":

"further notes the high incidence of underage drinking and the harm done to those young people and the negative effect that underage drinking can have on Scottish communities; believes that the Scottish Government should call a summit of all relevant stakeholders to develop an effective strategy to tackle underage drinking;"