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High Court judges...are entitled to a private life and levels of privacy that accord with this,
would breach their privacy and would be unfair.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): The hon. Gentleman will recall the rest of my letter to him, in which I pointed out that if he read the court ruling carefully he would see that it refers only to the home addresses of Members of Parliament for which they claim allowances. As I hope he will agree, we should all be accountable for the allowances that we receive from the taxpayer. That is the point of the ruling; I merely suggest that he read it again.
On 11 July last year, the Prime Minister said in an oral answer that Mukhtar Ibrahim, the leader of the 21 July terrorist attacks, would have been deported under new laws. On 16 July I tabled a question asking for the legislative basis for that assertion, which was quite properly transferred to the Home Office. On 30 October, the ministerial reply came that the Home Office would write to me. It never did, so I asked again. On 29 November, 14 January, 12 March and 20 May, Home Office Ministers said that they would reply as soon as possible.
By any standards, refusing to answer a question for 11 months is an abuse of the Houses procedures. Is there anything you can do, Mr. Speaker, to persuade Ministers to stop behaving with such arrogant contempt for the House?
Mr. Speaker: Ministers are responsible for answering questions, but what the hon. Gentleman has described does not appear to be a very good record. He has raised the matter on the Floor of the House, and I hope that the appropriate Ministers will note his complaint.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate prices charged for units of alcoholic drinks; to regulate point of sale promotions, advertising and labelling of alcoholic drinks; to establish an industry council to administer the regulation of prices and promotions; and for connected purposes.
The Bill aims to tackle a growing and deeply damaging phenomenon in society: the widespread abuse of alcohol and, in particular, binge drinking. It is a phenomenon that we all see in our constituencies. We see the price that our communities pay in terms of ill health, crime, damage to young people and their education and, ultimately, damage to the economy. Last year a Cambridge university study put the total economic cost of economic misuse at £33.2 billion a year, including £3.2 billion in health costs.
Alcohol misuse is an issue that we have considered frequently in the House, but so far we have tended to focus on the role of pubs and clubs. The Bill concentrates on the role of the retail industry, both supermarkets and smaller shops. There has been a growing awareness of the role of the retail trade in alcohol misuse, but there is now also a growing sense of public angerexpressed just this weekend by the chief constable of Nottinghamshireat the deep discounting of alcohol which has caused beer to sell more cheaply than water.
Some supermarkets have taken steps to try to manage their alcohol sales more carefully, and there have been a number of good practice codes. However, the continued toll on the publics health, their safety and their patience is a sign that those voluntary measures have not produced the necessary results, and that legislative steps are needed.
Alcohol is accepted in our society. Almost all of us here enjoy a drink, and pubs are one of the great features of our country. Many of usprobably most of us herewill also drink too much on occasions such as holidays and celebrations. This is a difficult problem to tackle: we must draw a dividing line between something that is one of lifes pleasures, and something that is the bane of our society.
There is no fixed definition of binge drinking. The Department of Health describes it as drinking half the recommended weekly alcohol intakeabout 10 units for men and seven for women, or five pints of beer for men and three and a half for womenin a single session. Some might think that, by todays standards, that is not a vast amount of alcohol.
According to a Government report published in 2005, 23 per cent. of men and 9 per cent. of women said that they were involved in binge drinking. The numbers are increasing, and the consequences are appalling. Over the last nine years the incidence of cirrhosis has trebled, and it is now being found increasingly in younger people, including people in their 20s. The average weekly intake of alcohol by 11 to 15-year-olds has grown from five units in 1990 to more than 11 in 2005, and 13 children a day are now admitted to hospital with drink-related problems.
Alcohol is a factor in 33 per cent. of burglaries and 50 per cent. of street crimes, and in just over half of all
violent crimes. Just last weekend, a police officer was assaulted and hospitalised while trying to deal with a group of young people drinking on the streets of my constituency, and I am sure that all Members know of similar incidents in their constituencies.
Underlying these statistics is the trend that alcohol is becoming increasingly available at very low prices. Although we in this country complain about taxes on alcohol, according to the Office for National Statistics the ratio of price to average disposable incomes shows that alcohol is 69 per cent. more affordable now than in 1980. There is a strong sense that it is time to set some real boundaries around the sale of alcohol, which is what this Bill seeks to do. It seeks to do it through four key measures.
First, the Bill would provide for a compulsory system of labelling that obliged the manufacturers to show the number of units of alcohol in each container of drink, because in order to make responsible choices people have to know what they are drinking. Perhaps one of the worst examples of this is that a can of beer can contain 1.75 units or 4.25 units depending on the type of beer. That difference will have a dramatically different effect on peoples ability to drive home from a night out, for example.
Secondly, the Bill seeks to limit the promotion of alcohol in stores, for example by restricting sales to clearly defined and identified aisles. That would apply to smaller convenience stores as well as supermarkets, as it seems quite wrong that a community store designed for the sale of food should become taken over by alcohol sales, especially just before bank holiday weekends. Other countries have opted for tighter regulation, including the introduction of separate tills for alcohol sales within general stores, or gated areas. Under this provision, it would also be possible to limit promotional material for alcohol, such as prominent counter displays of alcohol.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the Bill aims to stop the very deep discounting of the price of alcoholic drinks by setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol. There are a number of different ways to deal with the very low prices of alcohol. Setting a minimum unit price would have no impact at all on the price of a pint in a pub or the cost of an ordinary bottle of wine at the supermarket. What it would stop, however, is very heavy discounting. This measure would also stop once and for all the happy hour type promotions, such as that of a pub in Northampton which advertises entry at £12 from 9 pm to 2 am with all drinks included; there would need to be a specification of how many drinks, and at what price.
Finally, in order to set this minimum unit price and the standards for promotion, the Bill would provide for the introduction of an industry-wide council, which
would include people from the industry as well as people with expertise from wider society.
In looking at the options for this Bill, I met representatives of a range of organisations, and I would like to thank them for their time and input. Although some of the trade organisations obviously had reservations about some of the Bills measures, none was hostile to it, and some were particularly supportive. Alcohol Concern, the Police Federation, the National Association of Head Teachers, the British Medical Association and the National Union of Students were strongly supportive and provided help, advice and information. Pubs and clubs were also supportive, as they felt that they had borne the brunt of the existing legal and fiscal measures to tackle alcohol abuse. I am very grateful to these organisations for their support and advice.
Let me offer a final thought. Last December, a young woman was brutally and tragically killed by a gang of drunken youths for no reason other than the style of her clothing. One of the youths, Brendan Harris, aged only 15, admitted to what he had drunk2 litres of cider, a bottle of Stella Artois and quite a lot of peach schnapps. Let us forget for a minute that he should not have been buying drink at all; at todays prices, that amount of alcohol at our major supermarkets would have cost him just £1.42 for 2 litres of super-strength cideron special offer at £2.13 for 3 litres33p for the bottle of Stella Artois, on special offer at 60 bottles for £20, and just £1 for his share of the £5.99 bottle of schnapps. That makes a total of slightly less than £3 to get so drunk. We are talking about up to 20.1 units of alcohol, which is twice the level of even a binge drinker, for just £3, and that has to be wrong. That kind of pricing and availability is not about a fair return for retailers; it is about completely irresponsible marketing, for which the public pay a very heavy price, and this Bill sets out to limit it.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Sally Keeble, Dr. Ian Gibson, Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Dr. Evan Harris, Lynda Waltho, Martin Salter, Mr. Don Foster, Margaret Moran, Mr. Charles Walker, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Gary Streeter and Ms Dawn Butler.
Ms Sally Keeble accordingly presented a Bill to regulate prices charged for units of alcoholic drinks; to regulate point of sale promotions, advertising and labelling of alcoholic drinks; to establish an industry council to administer the regulation of prices and promotions; and for connected purposes.: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 119].
That, pursuant to the Order of 1st April 2008 (Counter-Terrorism Bill (Programme)):
1. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken on each of the days allocated for consideration and Third Reading as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.
2. Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On April Fools day, the programme motion for the Counter-Terrorism Bill was published. Of course, we had no opportunity to debate it at that stage because it had to be voted on without debate, so this is our only chance to speak on the programme motion. The Bill is extremely important, and this programme motion restricts debate. I do not understand whyperhaps the Minister will be able to explain thiswe will have to stop our debate tomorrow at the moment of interruption. There may be important statements tomorrow before the business begins, and I do not see why, on such an important Bill, the Government are restricting debate.
What happens so often is that junior Back Benchers do not get an opportunity to debate these matters because our Front-Bench spokesperson speaks, as do the Government and the Liberal spokespeople, and by the time the junior Back Benchers are reached the time has run out. Indeed, many amendments do not get discussed properly at all. Either hon. Members keep their comments brief to enable other Members to get in or other Members do not get in at all, so I do not understand the Governments thinking as to why we cannot carry on tomorrow nights debate.
Unfortunately, there is no way of amending the programme motion. Our only option would be to divide the House, but if we did that it would use up more time that could be used for debating the Bill. So I shall not
seek to divide the House on this. Let me just say that in future, unless this Government really want [Interruption.] The Home Secretary laughs; she obviously does not want a full debate on this issue. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, she says that she wants an opportunity to change my mind. That is exactly the point of this House; I will listen to the debate and make up my mind. If the debate is curtailed and if Back-Bench Members are not allowed to put their views, all we hear is what the Government want.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is there not a pattern to this, in that every time there is a serious Bill and real issues to debate, the time is artificially constrained? We are then given debates on things we do not really want to discuss very much and, all too often and all too early, we are then packed off. The Government want a part-time Parliament because they want there to be no scrutiny of their dreadful Bills.
We had an example only a week or so ago, when the Yes Minister Bill was given unlimited debate. It took two hours and 44 minutes, leaving three hours of this Chambers time unused. If a Bill is not controversial, we are given for ever to debate it, but on a controversial Billsuch as this one, or the one on the Lisbon treatyour time is curtailed.
If the Government must impose a programme motion, why do they not give us set hours? If there were statements tomorrow, we could at least proceed for that set number of hours, rather than finish at the moment of interruption.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, and I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that his argument that the Government are seeking to curtail debate is undermined by the fact that Conservative Front Benchers failed to use up all the time available in Committee.
Mr. Bone: I am not sure that that has any relevance to this part of the proceedings on the Bill. What those on the Front Bench do is not my interest; I am much more interested in the rights of Back Benchers to have their say on important matters. This approach reduces the importance of Parliament.
Martin Salter: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to give way again. He talks about the tenuous relationship he has with his Front Benchers, but he should also be aware that the attendance of Opposition Back Benchers in Committee was less than 50 per cent. Again his argument is blown out of the water by the actions of his own party.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the role of Back Benchers on both sides of the House is to scrutinise the Executive? Surely we should have a mechanism whereby Back Benchers could demand that extra time be found to debate serious Bills, in the name of democracy and fair play.
Mr. Bone: I am grateful for my hon. Friends intervention. There is much confusion around the House on this issue, because the Leader of the House said a couple weeks ago in business questions that we could always debate programme motions. That is of course not the case; we can debate them only when they are being amended. There should be a mechanism to allow debate in the Chamber on programme motions. There were 64 last year, which means 64 reductions in the amount of time Back Benchers have to debate issues. If the Government really are a listening Government and want to hear what hon. Members have to say, they must find a mechanism to allow proper debate.
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