Alcohol Strategy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:17 am on 7th February 2012.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South 11:17 am, 7th February 2012

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Caton, and I congratulate Dr Wollaston on securing it. She is a doughty campaigner on the issue and a valued colleague on the Select Committee on Health. Who would have realised that alcohol would be such a hot topic this week? I am not going to name the beer concerned, but clearly certain beers need a name and a photograph to endear themselves to the punters.

The issue is not about responsible drinking or drinking responsibly; it is about dealing with a problem that is getting out of hand both for society and the health and well-being of members of society. One has only to look at the awful images of young people in the street—I do not know why, but it is more offensive when females are involved—lying down and not knowing where they are or who they are. There is a tension between the people who want to make a living and—dare I say it?—effectively, people who want to live.

If people are offered two for the price of one, they find it difficult to resist the offer. A can of beer can be bought with 38p. A packet of M&M’s is 60p and if someone goes to Portcullis House, they can buy a banana for 40p. That is more expensive than a can of beer. The fact is that alcohol is a poison; it has an effect on the physiology of a body. For young people who see adverts of people enjoying themselves by drinking, it is very difficult to resist peer pressure. My niece is a doctor who has worked in A and E. She says that the majority of cases are a result of people who are drunk and who become very abusive. I suggest that any hon. Members who do not believe that that happens should visit their local A and E departments. Let us also consider other public servants, such as the police, who have to clear up the mess on Saturday evenings at a cost of £13 billion. Such problems affect my constituency, too.

The facts are simple. The medical profession believes that almost 250,000 lives can be saved over the next 20 years if strong action is taken. I have checked on the Department of Health’s website and it links drugs with alcohol and tobacco. It must therefore believe that alcohol is an issue. If it is an issue, the Department of Health must act; a do-nothing strategy does not work.

Sir Richard Doll made a link between lung cancer and smoking. It is only now that people believe that link. What about the link between alcohol consumption and other diseases? I can go through a list: alcoholic hepatitis, oral cavity cancer, hypertension, acute intoxication with loss of consciousness, psychiatric problems, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, loss of libido, fetal alcohol syndrome, impaired performance at work and relationship problems. The list goes on: violent crimes, domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. According to the website, one in 16 hospital admissions are due to alcohol-related illness, with a cost to the NHS of £2.7 billion. In peak times in A and E, that accounts for 70% of admissions. The hon. Member for Totnes mentioned that England is number three in the top 10 drinking countries. Why can we not be the Eddie the Eagle of drinking countries?

Clearly, something has to be done. The hon. Lady should be supported in her attempts to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol. Other measures have been proposed by Alcohol Concern and a coalition of Churches, which have already written to the Prime Minister. There should be a change in licensing hours and pubs should shut at 10 pm again—people knew when they were supposed to go home. Gone is that clarion call of last orders; I urge the Minister to call last orders on binge drinking and to support the hon. Lady.