Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

– in the Scottish Parliament on 4th February 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14673, in the name of Richard Simpson, on the Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

I am pleased to open the stage 1 debate on my Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill, although I regret the brevity of the time that has been allowed for the debate.

This is a multipurpose bill with 10 different strands, all of which have the aim of addressing the effects of alcohol overconsumption. The common purpose of most of them—as I emphasised throughout the Health and Sport Committee’s evidence sessions—is not to address the needs of the serious dependent drinker, which, to be fair, the Government has made significant attempts to tackle, but to intervene at an early stage when individuals may be at risk of developing a dependency and to assist in preventing it from progressing. I think that there is universal acceptance that Scotland needs to go further than it has done so far to tackle alcohol overconsumption.

I continue to believe that most of the proposals in the bill can yield real benefits and deserve the Parliament’s support. I am very disappointed that the Scottish Government has signalled its opposition to all 10 measures in the bill, alongside the majority of the Health and Sport Committee, although I am grateful to the minority of members of the committee who supported eight out of the 10 proposals.

Before I discuss some of the details of the bill in the very brief time that I have, I take the opportunity to thank the Finance Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for their considered scrutiny of the bill. In particular, despite my disagreement with the conclusions of the majority of the committee, I thank the Health and Sport Committee for its thorough scrutiny and for recognising that we all share the common aim of searching for the best ways of tackling Scotland’s problematic relationship with alcohol.

My thanks are also due to all the organisations and individuals who responded to my consultation and subsequently gave evidence to the committee.

I would especially like to put on record my thanks to the Parliament’s non-Government bills unit, without whose prodigious efforts and support the bill would never have been lodged. It is the longest-running member’s bill since the Parliament started in 1999.

I lodged the draft proposal in March 2012, partly in response to the Government’s acknowledgement that minimum unit pricing, its core proposal for tackling alcohol, was, in its words, “not a magic bullet” and the fact that it was in some doubt at the time because of the case going to the European Court of Justice. I hope that that issue will be resolved in June when a Scottish court makes the final decisions.

The original proposal included 14 different measures but, following consideration of the responses to the consultation—which were broadly supportive in the main—and discussion with the Government about alternative routes to achieve some of the bill’s objectives, I decided to focus on the 10 measures that I believed would be most effective. In May 2014, the final proposal received cross-party support. The length of time between the original consultation and the final submission was partly due to the delay when I was off for a year for cancer treatment.

In line with the terms of my final proposal, the aims of the bill are to promote public health and reduce alcohol-related offending through restrictions on the retailing and advertising of alcoholic drinks; changes to the licensing laws; obligations on the Scottish ministers to issue guidance and report on the Government’s alcohol education policy; and directing certain offenders towards treatment or towards restricting their alcohol consumption.

As part of a comprehensive approach, the bill is about both tackling health issues and revising the criminal justice system to focus properly on those whose drinking is causing problems for themselves and for others.

Prior to the publication of the Health and Sport Committee’s stage 1 report, I reflected on some of the evidence that had been presented to the committee. I recognised that some of the measures were not unanimously supported, or that they could reasonably be modified, and I subsequently wrote to the committee to share developments in my thinking in a number of areas.

My intention was that the adjustments that I proposed would leave the bill stronger and with the more generally supported measures in place. The bill was always a series of incremental measures. The revisions represented a further reduction in the number of measures from my original draft proposal. I wrote to the committee setting out the proposed revisions. Most significantly, I advised that I would be prepared to withdraw the strands that related to alcohol education policy statements, because I recognised that there was already scope for monitoring and evaluation of the alcohol framework for action and that there was only limited support for my proposal.

I strongly believed in the measure for notification of offenders’ general practitioners; nevertheless, both the courts and the general practitioners did not support it and I therefore decided that it would be appropriate to drop the measure at stage 2, if we reached that point.

The restriction on alcohol advertising for off-sales premises within large retailers is already largely covered by legislation, so my proposal in section 8 would not add much to the bill. It was therefore reasonable to decide to withdraw the proposed measure.

I drew the committee’s attention to the fact that, in a multistrand bill such as this one, it should be possible to remove any measure by amendment at stage 2 if the Parliament felt that it was inappropriate to support it. Even if the committee had supported only a minority of the 10 proposed measures, it could still have recommended that the general principles be agreed at stage 1 in order to allow the measures that are broadly supported by the public and specialist organisations to proceed to the amending stages. I am disappointed that neither the Health and Sport Committee nor the Government has chosen to follow that course of action.

Frankly, the message is clear that the Government is not in a hurry to act. I urge the members in the chamber today to reverse the decision on the bill and vote in favour of the general principles so that those measures that have received a favourable reception might still be taken forward in legislation.

I turn briefly to some individual measures in the bill, but I will use my closing speech to examine some measures in greater detail. I will deal just now with the measure on the minimum pricing of packages of alcohol. The Parliament made it absolutely clear that it wanted to end the practice of volume discounting in both on-sales and off-sales. However, the retailers have quite legitimately and legally got round that by selling multiproducts on the basis that they are not selling a single container of the same product, which means that they continue to have multibuys in beer and cider. It is much more difficult to do that with wine, and there has been a substantial reduction in its consumption—along the lines of the Sheffield report—as a result of the measure that we introduced in the Alcohol etc (Scotland) Act 2010.

My proposal in the bill would still not close off completely the retailers’ practice on beer and cider, because it is very difficult to do that, but it would mean that someone would not gain a substantial advantage by buying a 12-pack or an 18-pack of beer rather than a four-pack. At the moment, the 18-pack is discounted to a huge degree, which means that people who are more able to afford it can go ahead and buy it.

The second measure that I will address is the banning of age discrimination against under-21s. It is clear from the research that the problems associated with the consumption of alcohol are not about 18 to 21-year-olds but more about 21 to 25-year-olds, who have a greater disposable income. When the law says that 18-year-olds can buy drink, any discrimination against under-21s is inappropriate. We tried to close that loophole in the 2010 act, but it was not completely closed. Indeed, advice from the Government to licensing boards indicated that they could decide on a licence-by-licence basis; the 2010 act banned age discrimination only on a wider basis.

I have amended my proposal on caffeine levels in alcoholic drinks to allow ministers to bring in a limitation rather than a total ban on caffeine, as occurs in America. The research on the issue in America is very clear. I accept that the research here is not as clear, but there is no doubt that there is a cultural problem in the west of Scotland in relation to pre-mixed alcohol-caffeine drinks, which cause considerable criminal problems. Some limitation therefore seems appropriate.

The proposed bottle-tagging measure was well supported by the police. I think that the evidence that was given to the committee about the operation of a similar measure in Newcastle was very positive in the sense that it was not about punishing retailers but about supporting staff in retail outlets to reduce the amount of proxy purchasing by giving the police the intelligence that they need to follow it up. Proxy purchasing is not being handled well in Scotland at the moment. That is nobody’s fault, because the problem cannot be managed unless we have the intelligence.

Through the proposal on ensuring that communities have greater involvement in licensing decisions, I wanted to ensure that areas that do not have a community council, which are mainly deprived areas such as those in John Mason’s constituency—I think that he mentioned that issue in a previous debate—would have the right to have a say on the variation of licences. I think that that is an entirely appropriate measure.

The last measure that I will talk about is the restriction on advertising. We have a restriction at the moment on the areas where alcohol can be advertised. However, denormalising alcohol is one of the World Health Organization’s objectives. Within the limited powers that we have, to ban such advertising within 200m of schools would mean that, in effect, we would be banning the billboard advertising of alcohol in Scotland. That would be a small step towards denormalising alcohol.

There are other measures in the bill, such as drink banning orders, that I do not have time to address. I note that the fixed-penalty diversion scheme is already working in Fife and Newcastle. We propose having a pilot in an urban area to test whether it works there. We know that it reduces reoffending, and I cannot see why the Government would oppose that measure—that is regrettable.

I deeply regret that we have not had time for a fuller debate, which might have enabled me to consider some of the measures in greater detail, but I still hope that the Parliament might, at the end of the day, allow the bill to go forward to stage 2, in order that some of the measures, at least, could be introduced.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I want to begin with some verse—a risky business, I suppose.

“Oh, thou demon Drink, thou fell destroyer;

Thou curse of society, and its greatest annoyer.

What hast thou done to society, let me think?

I answer thou hast caused the most of ills, thou demon Drink.”

Although questions might be asked about the quality of William McGonagall’s verse and his advocacy of the temperance movement, some of the sentiments that were expressed more than 100 years ago regarding alcohol remain true today.

As a society, we are still wrestling with the demon drink and how best to tackle Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. The Health and Sport Committee is in agreement that we must continue to strive to reduce our high alcohol consumption rates in Scotland and that we must also tackle the resulting detrimental impact that they can have on antisocial behaviour levels and on people’s health.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who gave written and oral evidence to the committee on the bill. I also thank Newcastle City Council and Northumbria Police for facilitating a useful visit to Newcastle, which enabled us to get a better insight into its policies on and approaches to alcohol.

The committee has considered in detail each of the 10 provisions in Dr Simpson’s bill. Time does not permit me to cover them all this afternoon, but I will share with the chamber our headline findings.

A majority of the committee does not support the general principles of the bill, is not persuaded that the bill is an effective and workable package of measures to tackle alcohol misuse, and believes that the Scottish Government’s forthcoming updated alcohol strategy offers a more effective route to consider changes to alcohol policy.

In contrast, a minority of the committee believes that the general principles of the bill should be supported and that the bill would introduce a series of useful additional tools and approaches to support the current alcohol policy regime in a way that would further tackle alcohol misuse in Scotland.

One area on which the committee is unanimous is that, irrespective of whether the bill proceeds, the Scottish Government should address the merits of all the proposals in the bill as part of its alcohol strategy, and we have asked it to do so.

An examination of some of the specific provisions in the bill provides further insight into the difference of views among committee members. In relation to the provision on minimum pricing of packages containing more than one alcoholic product, the committee acknowledges that there is a loophole in the current legislation that means that the ban on bulk purchasing discounts can be side-stepped for beer and cider. A majority of the committee did not support the provision in the bill and agreed that it could have unintended consequences. In contrast, a minority of the committee agreed that action should be taken to address the problem and support the provision.

Another of the bill’s proposals is to introduce drinking banning orders. The committee agreed that alcohol is a contributing factor in a significant level of disorderly, antisocial and criminal behaviour. A majority of the committee agreed that there are a number of tools, including antisocial behaviour orders, that perform the same function as Dr Simpson’s proposed drinking banning orders, and a majority agreed that DBOs were not needed. In contrast, a minority of the committee agreed that drinking banning orders should be introduced as they would be a useful additional measure.

In our report, we ask for further information on the number of ASBOs issued by local authorities that include a ban from licensed premises. I thank the minister for providing those statistics in advance of today’s debate. In the past five years, across all 32 local authorities, 23 ASBOs have been issued that have included a ban from licensed premises. Will the minister confirm today what percentage that figure is of the overall number of ASBOs that were issued in that five-year period? The figures are considerably lower than Dr Simpson’s estimate that there would be around 25 drinking banning orders a year. I am keen to seek clarity on the matter in order to get an assurance from the minister that those ASBOs are serving the same purpose as the proposed drinking banning orders. It would be helpful if the minister could respond to that point in her speech.

Another provision considered by the committee was the bill’s proposals for restrictions on the advertising of alcohol. Again, a majority of the committee did not support the bill’s proposals on advertising. A majority agreed that alcohol advertising and marketing should be considered in the context of the Scottish Government’s alcohol framework. A minority agreed that the provisions should be supported as alcohol marketing can lead to increased consumption.

Regardless of whether the bill progresses, the committee believes that the time is right to give further consideration to the regulation of alcohol advertising and sponsorship in Scotland.

I welcome the minister’s comment in the response to our report that the Government is engaging a network of international experts in the field of advertising and sponsorship. Is she able to provide further information this afternoon on the work that the experts are doing for the Government and the timescales for that work feeding into the next phase of its alcohol framework?

The demon drink remains an on-going issue, because of the detrimental impact that it can have. The majority of the committee, while supporting the legislation’s aims, could not support the detail of the proposals. However, a minority of the committee agreed that the bill should progress.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

As members are aware, the Scottish Government does not support the bill progressing to stage 2, and I note from its stage 1 report that the majority of the Health and Sport Committee agree with the Government. I welcome the detailed consideration of and report by the committee. Its conclusion that the bill should not progress to stage 2 is welcome. The committee has seen my response to its report.

I would like to thank Richard Simpson for raising the issues and for his huge commitment to the subject over the years. We welcome the intent behind the bill, because although we have seen some improvements in recent years, we know that we still have far to go.

I want to start by outlining the journey on which we have been. We recognised that the scale of alcohol-related harm in Scotland requires a bold response, so we did not shy away from making one. We have taken considerable and comprehensive action through our alcohol framework. The framework contains more than 40 measures; I will highlight some of them.

We introduced the quantity discount ban, which led to an estimated reduction of 2.6 per cent in alcohol sales. We legislated to ban irresponsible promotions, and we have made a record investment of more than £319 million since 2008. We introduced a lower drink-drive limit, we have improved substance misuse education through curriculum for excellence, and we have introduced a nationwide alcohol brief interventions programme, with more than 569,000 ABIs having been delivered to date.

The framework is aligned with World Health Organization priorities and is well regarded by people who work in the field here and internationally. In recognition of our approach to alcohol policy, the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance chose Scotland to host its conference last October. We welcomed representatives from more than 60 countries, who were keen to hear of the work that we had undertaken and to learn from our approaches.

As we have heard, some of Richard Simpson’s proposals relate to advertising. The conference last year provided me with an opportunity to meet a number of international experts. We recognise that advertising is one of the key areas in tackling alcohol-related harm, so we have since formed a network of experts from the conference to look at advertising and sponsorship. That work will feed into the next phase of the alcohol framework to inform our future approach. We therefore welcome the intention behind the advertising measures in the bill.

Members will be aware that part of control of advertising is reserved to Westminster. We have pressed the United Kingdom Government to do more in that area, but in the absence of co-operation we agree with the Health and Sport Committee that the time is right to give further consideration to regulation in Scotland of alcohol advertising and sponsorship. As I have outlined, that work is under way.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Can the minister clarify for Parliament when she expects her group of experts to report, and when will the proposals that will be drawn up on the back of that report be brought before Parliament?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

The conference was held in October or November last year, and we set up the network of experts in the field. They will feed in to the next part of the framework for our alcohol policy. Obviously, that will happen after the election.

The MESAS—monitoring and evaluating Scotland’s alcohol strategy—evaluation of the framework has shown that our policy is having a positive impact. Most recently, in November, the report entitled, “Four Nations: How evidence-based are alcohol policies and programmes across the UK?”, which assessed the approaches that have been taken across the UK, acknowledged that Scotland has led the way on implementing evidence-based alcohol policy. The report highlights Scotland’s leading role—for example, in implementation of ABIs, in lowering the drink-drive limit, and in increased access to treatment.

The report also highlights Scotland’s approach in pursuit of effective evidence-based pricing policy. The evidence on the link between affordability and harm is clear, which is why we will continue to make the case for minimum unit pricing.

We know that we are taking the right approach, and we have seen improvements—we have seen a particularly positive shift among young people. The latest figures show that the proportion of 13 to 15-year-olds who reported drinking alcohol in the past week is at its lowest level since 1990. I hope that that trend will continue.

In addition to addressing the potential impact on our young people, tackling alcohol-related harm has the potential to address Scotland’s wider health inequalities. Although alcohol-related issues impact on all socioeconomic groups, greatest harm is experienced by people who live in the most deprived areas. Inequality in alcohol-related harm has narrowed in recent years, but there is still more to be done.

We have a track record on delivering on alcohol, but we know that there is still a way to go. That is why later this year we will introduce the next phase of the alcohol framework. It will build on the progress that we have made so far by ensuring that measures are embedded, by developing what is already in place and by considering where we might want to take a different approach. As part of that work, we will examine the measures in Dr Simpson’s bill and look at how they might be developed or adapted and potentially incorporated in the next phase of the alcohol framework.

I have already touched on the advertising aspects of the bill. Another measure in the bill that we will take forward is that entitled “Applications for, or to vary, premises licence”. We have already committed to reviewing the relevant regulations, which are in secondary legislation—the Licensing (Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 2007. Updating those does not require primary legislation. We also plan to examine in more detail the evidence from pilot schemes in Fife and Newcastle on alcohol awareness training as an alternative to fixed-penalty notices. As well as those measures from Dr Simpson, I am happy to listen to ideas from all members who are in the chamber—and those who are not—that might help to tackle alcohol-related harm.

Although the Government supports the intention behind Dr Simpson’s bill, we believe that the issues that it addresses will be better addressed via the next phase of the alcohol framework. I therefore ask members not to support the Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill progressing to stage 2.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

I speak on behalf of the Scottish Labour Party and in support of the Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. I acknowledge the significant effort of Dr Richard Simpson to develop the bill, and his commitment over the years to using his knowledge and experience to improve how Scottish culture deals with alcohol.

I am pleased that the minister acknowledged Dr Simpson’s commitment. In spite of the fact that she has said that she will not support the bill, I am also pleased that she will take full cognisance of all the aspects that Dr Simpson has brought to our attention. However, I am disappointed that she sees no virtue in supporting the bill at this stage and in allowing it to develop at stage 2 into something that will have a significant impact on our relationship with alcohol. It is important that we discuss the bill, so I am disappointed that time is short.

Only this week, the Office for National Statistics reported that Scotland has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom. Deaths peaked in 2000. The trend has, thankfully, been downward over the following 15 years; nevertheless, approximately 20 people a week die alcohol-related deaths, which amounts to 1,152 deaths a year, of which 784 are men and 368 are women. Alcohol is no respecter of gender.

I bring it to the minister’s attention that the figures on arrests across Scotland year on year show that it is hardly ever the case that a person appears at the bar of a police station who is not under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The impacts on Scottish society have been estimated as costing in excess of £2.47 billion per year.

The issue is urgent. As the minister acknowledged, it affects all levels of society, but as members will know, there is no doubt that people who are in poverty and in difficult circumstances are worst affected by involvement with alcohol.

Dr Simpson outlined the measures in the bill; they are proportionate and well thought through and are on issues that are deserving of legislation. We need to give a commitment and show the seriousness with which the Parliament views Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. We must acknowledge that although steps have been taken in the past five years, including the reduction in the drink-driving limit, there is much more to be done. We are losing people each year as we try to decide what to do next.

It is a disappointment that, although there is a forum for experts to gather opinion, we need to wait until later in the year before the Government can respond to that and take us to the next stage. For the five years of the current session, we have been extremely keen to have the next stage put in place.

There is no doubt that there has been a great deal of discussion—and a great deal of controversy—about minimum unit pricing. That has, unfortunately, deflected us from considering the proposals that Dr Simpson has set out: minimum pricing for packages that contain more than one alcoholic product; a restriction on the level of caffeine in alcoholic products; the banning of age discrimination in off-sales; the marking of containers such as bottles and cans so that we know where products were bought and we can support retailers in our housing estates; greater community involvement in, and influence over, decisions on the location of licensed premises; drinking banning orders; and alcohol awareness training. All those elements have been well thought through and well rehearsed, so it is disappointing that a majority of members of the committee decided that they could not support what is proposed.

Dr Simpson has indicated that he is willing to change his approach on advertising and that he is happy to drop his alcohol education policy proposals and his approach in relation to notification of an offender’s GP.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You must close, please.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

I would like to think that, by the end of the debate—short as it is—there will be support for the general principles of the bill at stage 1 so that it can be examined further at stages 2 and 3.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative

I commend Richard Simpson for the tenacity that he has shown over almost four years since he lodged a draft proposal for a member’s bill to prevent and tackle various aspects of alcohol misuse, which is a matter that has concerned him for many years and which he is keen to address without further delay in order to reduce the negative impact of the harmful drinking that is still a problem in Scotland today.

Following consultation on and refinement of the draft proposal, the bill was introduced in Parliament on 1 April last year. As we know, it makes 10 broad proposals, on which the Health and Sport Committee took evidence from a wide range of witnesses. The evidence that we received was mixed on most of the proposals, except on the proposed requirement in section 31 for courts to notify an offender’s GP when alcohol was a factor in the offending behaviour. That provision was widely opposed by witnesses, so I am pleased that Dr Simpson has offered to remove it from the bill.

Although I would like to go into detail on the bill’s other proposals, I am afraid that that will be impossible in the five minutes that I have been allocated in this regrettably short debate, which cannot possibly do justice to Dr Simpson’s painstaking work over many months. However, after detailed review of all our evidence, I am bound to say that I have not been convinced that the bill is the best way to tackle alcohol misuse at this time, and I believe that the Government’s forthcoming updated alcohol strategy is likely to be more effective.

On minimum pricing of packages that contain more than one alcoholic product, there is still a concern that such a provision would not have the desired effect of reducing alcohol consumption, because the ban on bulk-buying discounts could still be circumvented by retailers selling only large multipacks. Until minimum unit pricing can be introduced, I feel that the Government’s commitment to give further consideration to volume discounting during its review of the alcohol framework should be supported.

On pre-mixed alcohol and caffeine drinks, it is clear that there are differing views on whether there is a link between alcoholic drinks with a high caffeine content and dangerous behaviour, and I think that further research is needed before a ban can be justified as a public health measure.

I do not agree with section 53 of the bill, which would remove the power that licensing boards currently have to impose an age requirement on alcohol sales, because that can occasionally be useful to deal with problems in particular premises, and it is a power that licensing boards have indicated they wish to retain.

I see the merit in targeted use of container marking schemes, but their usefulness is limited, because finding marked bottles in the possession of underage drinkers will not rule out proxy purchasing by adults.

The Newcastle scheme works well on a voluntary and partnership basis, and it could be rolled out to other areas, but I am not persuaded that such schemes need to be legislated for.

Likewise, I do not think that primary legislation is necessary in order to provide alcohol awareness training, which can be addressed within the alcohol framework, nor am I persuaded of the need to legislate for an annual report to be provided to Parliament on alcohol education and information programmes, so I welcome Dr Simpson’s intention to withdraw that proposal.

I agree that regulation of alcohol advertising and sponsorship need to be looked into further, but that should be done in the context of the alcohol framework and informed by work that is already under way.

I do not see the need for drinking banning orders when there is evidence that local authorities have been using antisocial behaviour orders to ban individuals from licensed premises for antisocial conduct while they are under the influence of alcohol. In my city of Aberdeen, ASBOs have been used to ban individuals from the city centre and, therefore, from all on-sales or off-sales premises in that locality. Moreover, ASBOs can be made for an indefinite period, whereas the proposed drinking banning orders would have a maximum duration of two years.

In conclusion, I agree with the policy intention of much of the bill, but I believe that further statutory provision is not necessary in many areas, and that the aims of the bill can best be served within the Government's alcohol framework, which is currently being revised. I welcome the Government's commitment—made in its response to the stage 1 report—that it will, as it develops the next stage of the framework, explore the merits of all the proposals in the bill, taking into account evidence that was obtained by the committee and wider evidence in order to inform further progress.

It is important to say that I have paid regard to the frequently raised concerns that the bill would add further complexity to the already cluttered legislative landscape of alcohol licensing law. Aberdeenshire Council went so far as to say that

“the whole system has become so piecemeal that it probably needs total reappraisal through a single act”.—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 27 October 2015; c 22.]

I hope that the next Government considers taking that forward.

My sincere opinion is that adding further “piecemeal” legislation to an already complex and confusing set of laws is not desirable. Therefore, although I warmly commend Richard Simpson's work and accept the policy intention, I cannot accept most of the bill’s provisions, and therefore do not feel able to support it at stage 1. However, we are minded to abstain at decision time.

Photo of Christian Allard Christian Allard Scottish National Party

As I am not a member of the Health and Sport Committee, members may be surprised to see me speaking. I would like to put it on the record that the deputy convener, Bob Doris, could not make it because he has just had a son, who is called Cameron. Members will congratulate him on being a father and congratulate him and Janet on young Cameron. It is very important to think about that, because this debate is about future generations.

Some members will know how close this topic is to my heart. I would like to be in agreement with Dr Simpson about introducing the bill but, unfortunately, as others before me—including the Minister for Public Health—said, I found that it is a bit piecemeal. The bill will not work in the framework of the Scottish Government.

Let us be clear: the Scottish Government has done a lot and, as the minister said, its approach to tackling alcohol-related harm has been recognised globally. It is very important to realise that and to support the Government.

I had several meetings with Dr Simpson and I remember him challenging the Scottish Government’s view on the minimum unit pricing policy. I am delighted to see him embrace that policy today. It is a very important policy and, once it goes through the court, it will be an important tool for combating the problem in Scotland.

It is important to recognise that there is a problem in Scotland; it is one of the countries in which alcoholism is the biggest problem. As some members said, it is not enough that the existing strategy in Scotland has contributed to the number of deaths from alcohol in Scotland falling faster than in the rest of the UK; we have to realise that there is much more to do. We drink as much as twice more than 30 or 40 years ago. It is important to recognise where we are and how important the issue is.

One thing I particularly disagree with Dr Simpson about—perhaps the Government will follow my remarks—is blaming the individual and trying to prosecute or ban the individual who has a problem with alcohol. That is the last thing that we should do. We already have an armoury of legislation and we should use that.

I am delighted that Dr Simpson decided not to pursue the education part of the bill. Very good work is happening on education just now, which is one of the reasons why the number of deaths in Scotland in which alcohol is a contributory factor is falling fast, compared with the rest of the UK. We should be quite delighted about that, although we need to do much more.

As I have said already, we need to do more because we are in a very different situation to that in other countries. We need to do much more on advertising. In this day and age, it is not acceptable to have alcohol advertising in sports, such as football. There is so much alcohol advertising linked to sports and that needs to stop one way or another.

It is the same situation for broadcasting. Some people have the view that there should be a watershed, but I do not agree. We should not have alcohol advertising on television at all. Other countries have stopped it and those countries have far fewer alcohol-related deaths than we do. Why should Scotland not take that approach? We should not have such advertising.

In conclusion, the chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said that we are a nation of take-home drinkers, but I think that we are a nation of drunks and we must accept that. We must all accept responsibility for whether we are drinking or not, and blaming our friends and family members—or worse, to further prosecute people or ban them, as the bill intends—is not the answer. The answer, which is very important, is for Parliament to change the alcohol regime. I trust the Scottish Government strategy to do just that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We now move to closing speeches.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Presiding Officer, there has been a 300 per cent increase in alcohol-related liver disease mortality over the last 30 years and over 35,000 alcohol-related stays in Scottish hospitals in the last recorded year, with the majority of them being emergency admissions. Scottish deaths from liver disease are among the highest in Europe and that comes at an enormous cost, as Graeme Pearson has detailed. A fifth more alcohol is sold in Scotland compared to England and Wales. Some 75 per cent of prisoners were drunk at the time of committing the offence for which they were sentenced.

The Scottish Conservatives have a conundrum. The last time that we discussed alcohol in the Scottish Parliament was on 4 June 2015, which was the first time that the issue had been discussed since May 2012, three years before. By June 2016, it will be more than four years since we passed the minimum unit pricing legislation.

Richard Simpson is right, because throughout the torrid passage of that bill, Alex Salmond stood at the dispatch box trying to touch our hearts—trying to make glass eyes weep across Scotland—with his personal commitment to changing the relationship that Scotland has with alcohol, and yet after that there was no debate for three years. Last summer’s debate was at the request of opposition parties and today’s debate has been truncated so as to be the shortest introduction of a member’s stage 1 bill of any of the last five that the Parliament has considered.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

No, I will not.

We have a difficulty because we do not doubt Richard Simpson’s commitment over a great period—as he said, he was motivated to introduce the bill by the recognition of the Government back in 2012 that MUP alone was not going to be the solution. Indeed, all the parties in the Scottish Parliament offered to work on a cross-party basis to support the discussion about that change in the relationship with alcohol that in many respects sits above the technical measures that we can pass. We therefore regret that the evidence is mixed in relation to the proposals that Richard Simpson has made. We recognise that the route forward must be through the updated alcohol strategy.

I have to say to the Government that, if it is not being complacent—I do not accuse it of complacency—it has hardly been leading from the front, with real passion, to change the relationship with alcohol. It has been too technical and there has been no passion. We do not just want a pedestrian list of measures, some of which are now as long in the tooth as the Government itself. What we want to see is some of the zealous, evangelical passion that ministers found on the subject of independence. The Government should bring that to the subject of changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. We do not just want a package from the minister that has all the energy of a wet paper bag.

I ask the minister, when she stands up in a few moments, to show us the zealotry, evangelicalism and passion that the Government will bring to changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, rather than just talking quietly behind the scenes about a few wee bits and pieces, as important as they are.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is closing.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Attitudes have to change, and it will take more than I have heard from the Government so far during this session of Parliament to make that happen.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

It is with great regret that I rise to close the debate on behalf of the Labour Party. As Jackson Carlaw powerfully put it, alcohol continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing not only this country but every family in it. It affects my family, the family of every member in the chamber—I am sure that it affects your family, Presiding Officer—and every family in Scotland. I agree with most of what Jackson Carlaw said in his speech: it is extremely disappointing that there has not, over the past five years, been more focus on alcohol from this Government.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

No—I will not at the moment, thank you.

It seems that the Government has placed all its eggs in one basket, looking for a big-hit public health policy and trusting that MUP would be that policy.

I see that the minister is huffing and puffing, but Jackson Carlaw put it very well. There has not been much concentration on alcohol and prevention in our communities, as Dr Simpson highlighted. If the minister wants to tell me what has been done, I am happy to take an intervention from her.

As other members have mentioned, Dr Simpson has spent many years working to address the problem of alcohol, and it is a great shame that the Government is pushing back on the bill. In a way, the Government is pushing back on all the expertise that Dr Simpson brings to bear, not just on public health but on offenders and how the issues around alcohol link in with the criminal justice system. Many MSPs who have been to a sheriff court will have seen the massive human cost of alcohol in our court system and will be aware of the massive cost to the public purse from alcohol-related crime going through our sheriff courts.

It is deeply regrettable that the Government was not able to look at the bill discriminately. The bill was specifically designed to include 10 different measures, and the Government could have rejected only some of those. It has, however, rejected all the measures, including those for which there is evidence and a great deal of public support, which could have been pursued. Those include the alcohol advertising restrictions, which have had a great deal of public support, and—as Dr Simpson mentioned in his opening remarks—further restrictions on volume discounting. The Health and Sport Committee has done a good job in scrutinising the bill, but again it is regrettable that the majority of the committee’s members have not been able to support it.

The minister, in her opening remarks, welcomed Dr Simpson’s huge commitment to tackling the issue over the years. However, she did that commitment a disservice by not being able to give a timeframe for when her group of experts would look at the issue of alcohol advertising.

As Dr Simpson said, his bill has been the longest running member’s bill in the Parliament. His proposals have been lodged in the Parliament for more than four years now, so why is it only in the past few weeks, since the conference in November, that the minister has commissioned a group of experts to look at alcohol advertising? That is deeply regrettable.

Whatever happens at the election in May, this is not the last that the Scottish Parliament will hear from the Labour Party on alcohol advertising. We need to question whether, 20 or 30 years into the future, we will still find the situation acceptable, or whether we will think that we should have acted earlier on issues such as football players in our country running round with alcohol advertising on their shirts; the advertising of alcohol right outside the school gates; and the continuing sponsorship of cultural events by alcohol companies.

We have reached a tipping point on tobacco advertising, and I ask the minister, in her closing remarks, to address one of the bill’s key measures to address alcohol advertising. If she cannot support Richard Simpson’s bill, perhaps she can tell us what she feels about that key measure, which has gathered the most public support. Perhaps, based on her discussions with her group of experts on the matter, she can tell us her thoughts looking ahead.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I am grateful to parliamentary colleagues for their contributions to what has been an interesting, if short, debate. Members have complained about how short the debate has been, but I do not remember any opposition to the Parliamentary Bureau motion that set out the business for today.

First, I say to Jackson Carlaw that if there were a silver bullet I would be up on the ramparts of Edinburgh castle at dawn tomorrow to shoot it. The point is that there is no silver bullet. I am sure that, if there were, we would have found it by now.

The press and the Opposition concentrate on minimum unit pricing, but that is only one of 40 or so measures in the alcohol framework. Much of the work is going on at local and national levels, but it is very much happening under the radar. For example, before Christmas, I was out in a pub in support of the introduction of smaller measures of wines and spirits. I also highlight the Young Scot card, the review of test purchasing and the promoting citizenship through football initiative. I could spend the rest of my time going through the other parts of the alcohol framework that are making progress.

Moreover, although we know that alcohol-related deaths are a huge concern and that we have the worst rates in the whole of the UK, I must point out that we have had the fastest decrease in rates of such deaths since the peak in 2000.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

We are doing lots. On the inequalities issue that Graeme Pearson highlighted, I note that the ratio for alcohol-related mortality rates between the most and least deprived areas reduced from 12:1 in 2002 to 6:1 in 2013. The evidence is there, but what we are talking about is a slow burn. Unfortunately, it is not a case of firing some magic bullet.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

I do not deny the progress that has been made since 2001—indeed, I will refer to that when I sum up—but I have a major concern about the budget, in which the alcohol and drug partnerships will have their funding cut by 23 per cent. I would like the minister to guarantee on the record today that health boards will be required to make that money up from their general revenue, because the transfer from the justice portfolio has not been ring fenced and the 23 per cent cut to ADPs will endanger the alcohol and drug recovery programmes.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

The member will be aware that some health boards were not passing on the justice-related money to the ADPs. We know that health boards can make up that funding and ensure that there is no reduction in funding to ADPs.

We are not working alone on measures to tackle the misuse of alcohol in our society. In relation to advertising, I said in my opening speech that we will take forward work that is based on research that has been carried out, but we need to take an evidence-based approach. For example, when I spoke to the experts from France, I discovered that much of what was in the loi Evin, which Dr Simpson and I discussed during my appearance at committee, has been rolled back since that legislation was introduced. We have to ensure that the advertising controls that we put in place work and are based on evidence that they work.

Nanette Milne made a considered speech about many of the bill’s aspects, some of which I will go into in a bit more detail. For example, on the proposal for a minimum price for packages that contain more than one alcohol product, she is right that supermarkets and other sales outlets would try to get round any legislation that we put in place; we have seen that happen with multipacks. The effect could be that people would not be able to buy a single unit of alcohol; it would have to be part of a multipack. Minimum unit pricing would help in that area.

I see that Dr Rice and Eric Carlin from Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems are in the public gallery. SHAAP suggested that the evidence on caffeinated alcohol is highly variable and that the focus should be on overall consumption. The Government agrees with SHAAP that it is the increasing availability, affordability and excessive consumption of high-strength drinks that causes problems in Scotland and contributes, as Graeme Pearson said, to many of the problems that relate to people who are up in court for offences. Focusing on one product misses the real problem of excessive consumption.

In relation to age discrimination in off-sales, we believe that it is right that powers exist to apply restrictions that limit off-sales at outlets that have particular problems or which have been found guilty of an infraction of the law. That does not mean that a blanket condition should exist for an entire local authority area. I am glad that the Health and Sport Committee agreed with the Government on that point.

The bill proposes allowing the police to request that licensing boards make participation by off-sales premises in a container-marking scheme a licence condition.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

You need to start to wind up, minister.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

We know about the pilot projects in Newcastle and in Fife. We are concerned that the widespread use of container marking would be disproportionate and we are not convinced that legislation is required.

I am glad that Richard Simpson decided to withdraw the alcohol policy statements. Nanette Milne made a good point about drinking banning orders—

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

—and everybody should go and look at what Aberdeen has managed to do. It used to be a place where people would not go for a night out, and now it is very much a safe place to go for a night out.

We recognise and welcome the intent behind Dr Simpson’s bill to change Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, but we are not convinced that this is the way to achieve it.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Thank you, minister. Dr Simpson, you have until 6.15.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I hope that my voice holds out until then. Unfortunately I have a slight cold.

I thank members for participating in the debate. I am still concerned that it has been the briefest debate for any member’s bill, certainly for some considerable time. Given that the bill has been the longest-running bill since 1999, that is very disappointing. We did not oppose the bureau motion setting out the business for today because of the substantial pressures that exist towards the end of the session. Nevertheless, I think that a little bit more time could have been devoted to the debate because, as Jackson Carlaw said, we have not had much in the way of debate on alcohol in this session.

Duncan McNeil rightly reminded us that we—

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

I will take an intervention a little later, once I get a bit further into my speech.

Duncan McNeil rightly reminded us that, as a society, our consumption of alcohol is still far too high. The damaging consequences, which may be costing us £2.5 billion to £3 billion, are very significant.

Graeme Pearson drew attention to the fact that Scotland has a much higher level of alcohol-related deaths than in the rest of the UK. It also has a higher level of consumption. As Dr Calderwood said in her excellent annual report, which has just come out, alcohol remains one of the major public health issues that we face.

Jackson Carlaw enunciated the problems of hospital admissions and talked about number of people who get into trouble with alcohol and become involved in the criminal system. Those all have massive costs for the individual, for their families and for our society. It therefore behoves us as a Parliament to maintain the pressure on this subject. That was partly why I introduced my bill. Despite the acknowledgement in 2011 that minimum unit pricing would not be a magic bullet, my feeling at that point was that the Government would rest on its laurels for the next few years until minimum unit pricing was brought in. Apart from the reduction in the drink-driving limit, which I very much welcome, that is exactly what has happened.

I therefore looked for small measures that I could propose. The measures in the bill are not huge measures; they are small, incremental measures that would allow us to advance the situation and to have a good debate on the topic, which is equally important.

Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

Dr Simpson has described his proposals as a series of small measures. Does he accept that, through its fairly extensive work, the committee discovered that the view of a wide variety of stakeholder witnesses is that the problem with the various small measures that are proposed in the bill lies in the detail? The majority of the members of the committee felt that they could not ignore—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Dr Simpson has very little time, Mr MacKenzie.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Actually, I regret the fact that none of the SNP members of the committee has been able to speak in the debate. It might have been interesting to hear that point argued in a little more detail.

We have been on a journey since 2001, when alcohol deaths were peaking and, as Jackson Carlaw said, the numbers around liver problems, for example, had gone up massively. As a justice minister, I instituted the Nicholson review, which led to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005. I also got approval from the Lord Justice General for test purchasing. That was not done without difficulty—the proposal was somewhat opposed to begin with and there were problems around its introduction. However, it has proved to be successful in supporting a system in which we do not have much in the way of underage purchasing.

We are left with the problem of proxy purchasing, which is one of the reasons why I suggested bringing in an alcohol container marking scheme, which was supported by the police as being a useful addition to the toolbox. In the submissions, there were some interesting views on the proposal. I was heartened by the committee’s reaction to its visit to the alcohol watch scheme in Newcastle, where it heard that the bottle-marking scheme was well received by licence holders as it could help vulnerable staff in licensed premises feel more confident in refusing to sell to underage people, as well as helping to identify proxy purchasing.

Contrary to the apparent misconception on the part of some people, it was never the intention that, as the minister hinted in her speech, the scheme should be rolled out on a national basis. The suggestion is that it should be introduced at a local level in a limited number of licensed premises and only in cases in which the police had intelligence that suggested that underage or proxy purchasing was going on. Further, it would not apply to all alcoholic drinks but only to those that the police identified as being most likely to be involved in underage or proxy purchasing. That would mean that, as can be seen in Newcastle, the costs for each retailer would not be high. The minister said that such a scheme could be implemented without legislation. That happened in Dundee, but it was abandoned for being too bureaucratic. I hope that, even before the framework comes in, the minister will support the police in ensuring that the scheme is brought in more widely.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

There is far too much chatting from members who have just come into the chamber. I ask all members to do Dr Simpson the courtesy of at least listening to him.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

We have been waiting since June for the introduction of MUP, and we will wait now until next June for the court to decide whether it is legal or not. The Labour Party, through Chancellor Alistair Darling, introduced the duty escalator on alcohol. That is a much better measure, because it attacks all alcohol at all levels and, as there are more hazardous drinkers in the upper deciles of income groups than there are in the lower ones, increasing price overall—which we are all agreed has an effect on consumption—is an effective measure. Indeed, that proved to be the case. Deaths from alcohol have continued to reduce in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the escalator was abandoned by the coalition Government and was reversed by the current Conservative Government. I can see no justification for reducing the tax on beer or spirits, given the alcohol problems that are faced by this country as a whole and by Scotland to a greater degree.

The minister has talked about the fact that the committee unanimously supported a more detailed consideration of advertising restrictions. I welcome the expert framework and the view that the committee has expressed. However, we could take that small step to ensure that there would be effectively no billboard advertising in Scotland. That would enable us to begin the process of denormalising alcohol. It is all about increments and continuing to apply pressure.

One of the measures that I dropped from my original 14 proposals related to arrest referral. I am still not clear whether the Government’s undertaking that that would be rolled out to every area—which it gave me when I dropped it—has been fulfilled. However, that is another programme that is effective and useful, and it needs to be undertaken.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

You need to wind up, Dr Simpson.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

In conclusion, as Jenny Marra said, we need a clear timetable from the Government so that, following the election, no matter who forms the Government, through the preparation and groundwork of civil servants to update the alcohol framework and through consolidating licensing legislation, we keep up the pressure on tackling our alcohol problem. It is still one of the largest public health issues, and it requires to be tackled effectively.

I thank members for at least listening to my proposals and I still hope that they will have a change of heart and allow the bill to go to stage 2, where we can amend it as substantially as the Government thinks appropriate. We can then introduce measures to keep up the pressure on our alcohol problem.