Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 473)



  Q460  Chairman: You all welcome that? Second, in terms of the consumption of alcohol Channel 4 obtained information about the number of women who had been detained for alcohol-related offences. There were 5,891 women detained for such offences compared with 3,847 three years ago, so there has been an increase in the number of women drinking alcohol despite the overall consumption figures. It was suggested by another senior police officer, the chief constable of Northumbria, that discounted drinks, happy hours and alcohol advertising should be banned. Does anyone disagree with that?

  Mr Lowman: I think that the banning of alcohol advertising is a very heavy-handed blunt instrument. I want to see the evidence that that move would tackle the particular forms of alcohol harm that we are talking about today and elsewhere.

  Q461  Chairman: Do you all agree with that?

  Mr Chester: I would agree with that.

  Mr Brown: I think there is room for a responsible approach to the advertising of alcohol and perhaps the trade should contribute to, say, one in six adverts as promoting responsible drinking or giving that message that runs through all alcohol advertising. It is important that people are aware of what choice is available to them to enable them to make their own shopping decisions.

  Q462  Chairman: Mr Hayward mentioned various issues that had been taken up by his association. What about the banning of discounted drinks and happy hours?

  Mr Hayward: I indicated that I would make available to the Committee our policy in relation to responsible promotions including happy hours. That is the actual phrase we use. We do not ban them but believe that there are ways to restrict them so they produce responsible behaviour in general terms. This is something on which we have worked both with ministers and the police. In relation to alcohol advertising, I do not believe there should be a ban. One must have a dynamic market. There are new products—this is true of any industry—which are subject to all sorts of restrictions in terms of advertising and that should be the case.

  Q463  Mr Winnick: If the advertising of alcohol should not be banned—there may well be a case for taking the same position you adopt—would there not be an argument that on bottles there should be a warning about excessive drinking? I have in mind what happens with cigarette advertising where for many years there have been warnings about the danger of smoking.

  Mr Chester: Every single Asda beer, wine and spirit product has clearly marked on it the units and a message about responsible drinking.

  Q464  Chairman: Does it have on it the warning "Don't drink"?

  Mr Chester: No, it does not say "Don't drink" but that you should enjoy drink responsibly. It is made clear the number of units one will consume if one drinks that bottle.

  Q465  Chairman: Does Tesco have that on its bottles?

  Mr Brown: We do. We put on it the alcohol content and what it means in terms of units in fairly simple graphics. That is supported by what we call shelf-talkers and Tesco TV in the particular aisles to promote the need to drink responsibly.

  Q466  Mr Winnick: Could it be given a higher profile?

  Mr Brown: It is difficult to see how it could get a higher profile in those specific areas. It is very apparent to shoppers that there is a need to enjoy this product responsibly.

  Mr Hayward: I led the negotiations on the question of labelling for the whole sector. There are five requirements which we agreed with the Department of Health. It has just undertaken a benchmark survey to establish the current position and there will be a review later this year as to what has changed, and the products to which my colleagues refer will be included in that. Those five requirements include a warning about consumption during pregnancy.

  Q467  Mrs Cryer: I understand that in Canada every bottle of beer or any form of alcoholic beverage that is sold must have a health warning similar to that put on packets of cigarettes. Would all four witnesses oppose its introduction here?

  Mr Chester: I would unless there is any evidence that drinking one bottle of beer will do you any harm at all. As long as there is clear information to the consumer about alcohol content and drinking responsibly I believe that is adequate.

  Mr Lowman: I think the challenge is about communicating properly the message about responsible drinking. I agree with Mr Winnick that there is scope for us to do more to get that message across.

  Mr Hayward: I echo the comments that have been made.

  Mr Brown: I agree.

  Q468  Chairman: Mr Chester, Asda's president Mr Bond wrote to the Prime Minister on 25 February saying that Asda would be donating £1 million to youth projects aimed at reducing underage alcohol consumption. How much money has been donated so far?

  Mr Chester: We are currently working with Business in the Community to devise how we will spend that money and there are ongoing meetings.

  Q469  Chairman: So, no money has been spent?

  Mr Chester: We want to make absolutely sure that it is properly targeted in the right areas. The idea is to identify projects and discussions are ongoing.

  Q470  Chairman: So, all five of the points about which you wrote to the Prime Minister are being actioned?

  Mr Chester: Absolutely. We have stopped selling in all our town centre stores between 12 and six; we have adopted challenge 25—up from challenge 21—in all stores. Forgive me if I do not mention the others, but they are all implemented.

  Q471  Chairman: I ask you finally about the youth action plan published yesterday by the government which states that parents might face a ban on giving alcohol to young children in households. Do you agree that more responsibility should be placed on parents to ensure that they prevent their children from drinking?

  Mr Chester: Parents have a very tough job, but it is clear from research done both by government and Asda that parents are a very likely source of alcohol for children, unfortunately. Clearly, they need to be part of the solution.

  Q472  Chairman: Mr Lowman?

  Mr Lowman: Yes.

  Q473  Chairman: Mr Hayward?

  Mr Hayward: Yes. Parents must accept some responsibility. The police are being asked to cope with nightmare circumstances. For example, over the previous weekend parents were driving 13 and 14 year-olds to a beach party in Hampshire, dropping them off and handing them multi-packs.

  Mr Brown: We would align ourselves with the need for people to drink responsibly. We have a responsibility to ensure they know what that means.

  Chairman: We may write to you asking for further information as the inquiry progresses. I thank all of the witnesses for coming to give evidence today.

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