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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th February 2016.

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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.