Alcohol Strategy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:28 am on 7th February 2012.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport) 11:28 am, 7th February 2012

I congratulate Dr Wollaston on securing the debate. For me and my constituents—as I suspect it is for many in the Chamber—this issue is probably the biggest problem in our area. I deal with related issues concerning community safety every day. I rise to give the perspective from Northern Ireland and to outline the critical and crucial programme that we have to ensure that issues caused by alcohol are addressed.

In Northern Ireland, on 1 March 2010, there were 5,846 individuals in treatment for drug and/or alcohol abuse—a very high number. More than 50% were in treatment for alcohol misuse, some 22% for drug misuse and a fifth of those for both. Approximately 75% were male, 27% female. Although it is predominantly a male problem, clearly a large proportion of females are involved. Valerie Vaz said that it is terrible to see young people drunk. It is always particularly upsetting to see young ladies and girls drunk and we certainly have to consider that. The last figures available show that the number of people receiving treatment increased by 5% in just one year, from 5,583 to 5,846—some 500 extra on that list, which again, unfortunately, is an upward-moving figure which we are concerned about.

There are some 1.5 million victims of alcohol-fuelled violence in the UK as a whole. Community safety is threatened by the misuse of alcohol. We have to deal with that. The police superintendents have outlined and advised that alcohol is present in half of all crimes. That worries me and I suspect that it worries all hon. Members here. It also shows that a high proportion of victims of violent crime are under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault. So alcohol runs, almost like blood itself, through all the violence and the problems.

Some 37% of offenders had a current problem with alcohol use; 37% had a problem with binge drinking; 47% had misused alcohol in the past; and in 32% violent behaviour was related to their alcohol use. As other hon. Members have mentioned, drinking starts slowly with small indulgence and increases, with peer pressure involved, then there is binge drinking and then misuse of alcohol, with the violence that comes off the back of that.

I want to focus on young people, who need to learn at an early age to drink responsibly when they are of an age to do so at 18. In Northern Ireland, the average age for young people to have their first drink is 11. When I read that I said, “My goodness me, that’s shocking.” I am aware, as an elected representative, of people who started with one drink, perhaps when their marital relationship broke down, and drank whenever there was alcohol in the house and whenever there was peer pressure. I fought a case for a liver transplant for a young boy who started drinking at the age that I mentioned and at 17 or 18 he found himself a candidate for a liver transplant. If such facts do not shock people to their core, they should. It certainly shocks me.