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"Increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol. Consumers, including heavy drinkers and young people, are sensitive to changes in the price of drinks."
Some careful work has also been done by Sheffield university and others on the impact of pricing on alcohol consumption. Concrete results from the Sheffield studies show that a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol would prevent 1,400 deaths a year and produce an estimated reduction of 41,000 hospital admissions and 16,000 incidents of crime a year. According to Alcohol Concern, a minimum price of 50p a unit would result in 3,393 fewer deaths and 45,800 fewer crimes a year, and a total saving of £7.4 billion over 10 years.
I would also like to spell out some of the support for introducing minimum pricing or, at least, tighter controls on alcohol prices. Not just the police, the chief medical officer and others in the health world and the National Association of Head Teachers think that it would be helpful. There is also significant support in the entertainment and drinks industries themselves. Recently, the head of this country's biggest chain of nightclubs, Luminar, accompanied me to see an hon. Friend in the Home Office. We talked about the importance of providing a floor for alcohol prices to secure a more realistic base for the entertainment industry and reach a position where people choose their nightclubs based on the quality of the venue, not because they are engaged in a "how low can you go" competition in the price of drinks on offer.
I hope that when the mandatory code is introduced towards the end of the year, it will not only deal in very strict order with information and education, but have real teeth on pricing and, in particular, look at introducing minimum pricing to combat what has been a social menace. The issue was first raised with me by constituents concerned about the impact of antisocial behaviour by young people drinking on the Moulton Leys estate.
The second measure that I am really pleased to be able to discuss is the Child Poverty Bill, which has been carried over so that it can complete its parliamentary stages. I hope that all parties will support it not just with warm, fluffy words, but by giving real teeth to the regulations and secondary legislation that will be introduced in the new year. They will set out how our local authorities implement those measures and ensure that they tackle child poverty in their areas. However, I shall table some amendments to the Bill to strengthen its safeguards for poor families in housing, because, although the legislation already contains such proposals, they are not strong enough.
I hope also that the legislation from the Department for Work and Pensions will include some real opportunities to provide more support for parents' flexible working. I recently undertook some research in my constituency into the impact of the recession on families in Northampton, and, with information from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, it clearly shows that as a result of the recession more women are becoming the breadwinners. They say that they are the breadwinners and take primary responsibility for the financial well-being of the family, and that their partners are taking more responsibility for child care. In those circumstances, it is important that we extend flexible working arrangements to men, if appropriate, so that they can take even more responsibility for their children, and women can pursue their careers and increase their income for the benefit of their families.
One legacy of the recession will be changed family structures, roles and responsibilities, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will ensure that their proposals meet those challenges, so that families can build a more secure future.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who was quite right to focus on alcohol and the need for action on the problem. Indeed, there has not been such action in the past 12 years. The hon. Lady makes a good case for minimum pricing, and it must be looked at carefully.
We have a Scottish experiment on minimum pricing. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), whom I, too, commend on his maiden speech, referred to the Scottish experiment with Conservative Members of Parliament, and now we have an experiment with minimum pricing, so we will see whether it is a success. This is an important issue on which we must all reflect, but I commend to the Government the Conservative proposals for targeted tax increases on problem drinks such as alcopops and super-strength lagers. We need to take proper, targeted action in relation to the prevalence of alcohol and the menace that it causes in our communities. That reflects the fact that we have not achieved that yet, by any means.
As ever in our home affairs debates, I declare an interest as a just-about-practising criminal solicitor with a keen interest in yet another crime Bill. Reference has been made to whether there have been 28 or nearly 50 crime and justice Bills under this Government. It reminds me of childhood songs that my children now sing. They repeatedly sing the second verse of the same song a little bit louder and a little bit worse, and so it goes on. One feels that about the Government's repeated Home Office and Ministry of Justice legislation. I worry that we are just getting more of the same and more that is worse. The latest Bill has similar characteristics to all those that have gone before. In the theme of the season, we have a Christmas tree Bill. I fear that the members of the Public Bill Committee that considers it will see ever more amendments hanging off it as desperate attempts are made to introduce measures to plug the gaps, whether in relation to antisocial behaviour, crime or security.
The other characteristic of such home affairs legislation is that the Government are dealing with a problem of their own making. In the case of the DNA database, for example, the Government are trying to catch up with
court judgments and the values of our country. We have heard about mission creep and the over-involvement of innocent people, and the Government's use of secondary legislation has meant that we have not had the opportunity to debate the issue during consideration of primary legislation. A welcome aspect of the Bill is that we will have the opportunity to debate the important principles that have been under attack from this Government and the need to ensure that we have a proper balance between security and liberty.
The Bill fails to deal with issues of repeal. In our desire to have new pieces of legislation to deal with issues of crime and justice, we must recognise the need to repeal elements of what has gone before. It is a shame that the Government do not recognise the extent of their mistakes. They would do well to look at previous legislation and to implement it-and enforce it-better. We need only look at the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a large proportion of which is not yet implemented. Parts of that Act, like many others that have gone before, are now largely discredited-for example its provisions on automatic release, particularly as they apply to people with short-term sentences. An example was recently reported in Essex of a person with a short sentence who was released automatically. Partly because of home detention curfews and their having been sentenced on a Friday, they were given the grant for their release and turned out. It is unacceptable that automatic release happens without any conditions in relation to the person's behaviour while in prison.
I want to focus briefly on what is and is not in the Bill. It gives welcome attention to the whole area of domestic violence, particularly against women. That is a significant problem in all our communities. A particularly pernicious problem is that of repeat victimisation. That needs to be tackled in several ways, whether through enforcement-we must look carefully at those provisions in the Bill-or, as has been mooted today, through education and prevention. Many victims experience the problem of going to report an incident and facing up to seeking help. We need to recognise the role of the voluntary sector, not least in areas such as mine. There is a particular issue in relation to domestic violence in the Asian community. Organisations such as Naree Shakti-it means "women's strength"-play a role in that. The point of that organisation is to provide women with the strength to come forward and receive the ongoing support that the voluntary sector is so good at giving. We need to consider in the round how we can best tackle the problem.
The Government wish to focus on education about domestic violence prevention, but wider matters have to be brought into sharp relief, such as the important part that drugs and alcohol sadly play in domestic violence. When one considers that, one sees the lack of funding and direction in our prevention programme. The Government and the Home Office pay all too little attention to the matter, and that needs to change. Perhaps in some ways we should not be surprised, because the Home Office's drugs strategy has led us down that path. It is less about prevention, enforcement and recovery and more about harm reduction, which has meant that the Government's focus has been on managing the problem rather than getting to the root causes of it and seeking to tackle it. We have seen the outcomes of that approach.
Today, the Home Secretary seemed remarkably complacent about the problem of drugs in this country. Drug deaths continue to rise-they are the highest in Europe-and the cost of drug abuse, through crime and health services, has been more than £100 billion since 1998. It is important that we deal with the situation, because it is not just a crime and justice problem, but a problem for health and the wider community.
We should not get away from the fact that the prevalence and usage of drugs has got worse. The age of initiation has come down, and we need to do more to tackle the fact that the UK is the worst in Europe for drug use. We need proper and effective treatment, but let us look at the outcome of the admittedly large amount that has gone into it. In the past year, of the 202,666 problematic drug users in treatment, how many had completed programmes to the point of becoming drug-free? Just 8,980. That is unacceptable, given the investment, and we must consider why it is the case. One problem is the Government's focus on managing the problem rather than seriously tackling it, and another is the fact that between January 2008 and this October, 20 residential rehabilitation centres closed.
The situation is bleaker when we consider prisons. There has been a 64 per cent. increase in methadone prescribing, and few drug-free referrals are taking place. That is unacceptable and needs to change. The UK is becoming the easiest and cheapest place to get drugs, whether on the streets of Enfield in my constituency or on a wing of Pentonville or other prisons. We need to move away from simply providing treatment and towards management and recovery. We need to get away from the bureaucratic commissioning process that has led to just 3 per cent. of problematic drug users becoming drug-free. We also need to reform how we deal with criminal justice interventions, which are still leading to too much reoffending and too many damaged lives. We need to examine drug and alcohol problems and polydrug use in the round and realise that the evidence of the Home Office itself points to therapeutic communities as a way forward.
Another matter that the Government did not touch on in the Queen's Speech was extradition, and particularly how it affects my constituent Gary McKinnon. It is welcome that the Home Secretary is considering the new medical evidence, which is compelling and significant. It deals not just with the risk of my constituent's health being affected by extradition to the United States, trial and detention, but with the fact that he has significant mental health problems aligned with his Asperger's syndrome. It is important that the Government and the Home Secretary take proper account of that evidence. I pay tribute to the Select Committee on Home Affairs for its work on the matter under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).
It is important that the Home Secretary does not hide behind the previous court judgment. He needs to realise that he cannot simply ignore the fact that a prosecution could take place in-country, and he cannot simply say that the bar is far too high for the case to attract his discretion because of human rights concerns. We all recognise that extradition arrangements need to be in place to fight global crime and ensure that we are not a safe haven for criminals, but Gary McKinnon does not fall into that bracket. He is a vulnerable man who hacked into computers and is now at significant risk.
His life is at risk, and in a recent case in the High Court, Lord Justice Stanley Burnton recognised that if extradition did not take place, Gary McKinnon could be prosecuted here.
We also need to recognise the important principle of proportionality. That needs to be balanced to ensure that the mental health concerns that are now prevalent are taken properly into account. There is no assurance of bail and repatriation. Holland and Israel were able to reach an agreement on the matter, but this country has not, which has done a disservice to British citizens. We need to review the extradition treaty-and a new Government to do that-but with Gary McKinnon, who is a victim of an unbalanced process, we need to recognise that the medical reports give ample grounds to ensure that human rights can be played in his interests, as they need to be. He needs to stay in this country.
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): I welcome the measures in the Gracious Speech because they will be good for Britain, the north-east of England and Sedgefield. I believe that they build on the successes of the Government over the past 12 years. This Government's record is built on proud achievements. When faced with an international crisis, they have stepped up to the plate and delivered.
When I survey my constituency and see how it is coping with the global challenges that I see around us, I see that unemployment has risen since 2008, but that is still half what it was in the mid-1980s. I ask myself why. Is it because the recession is being left to run its course, or because smart government, not dogma, is getting us through it? In Sedgefield, about 19,000 pensioners receive the winter fuel allowance and 9,500 people receive tax credits. Is that because of an act of charity, or is it because of smart government acting on behalf of our society to look after the most vulnerable in it? In 1997 in County Durham, one in four young people who left school did so without a qualification; today the figure is just over one in 10, and beneath the national average. Is that a result of a whip-round by parents to buy extra books and pencils, or is it because of investment in children, schools and teachers, because this Government know that our children need to be properly equipped for the 21st century? An international survey of 10,000 health practitioners says that the NHS provides the best primary health care in the world. Is that a result of charity, or is it because of public investment in thousands more doctors and nurses by a Government who created the NHS and who believe that health care should be free at the point of need-a principle that is deep in the DNA of the Labour party and the Labour Government?
The answer to all those questions is obviously smart government-this Government, who are guided by the principles of compassion, solidarity and an understanding that the wealth the economy creates is there for the many, not just the few.
When I hear accusations of a broken society, I think back to the 18 years immediately before 1997. When we look at unemployment, it is only right that we remind ourselves of those times. Today, there are more than
2.5 million more people in work than in 1997, and about 1.5 million people on jobseeker's allowance. In the 1980s, more than 3 million people were claiming the equivalent benefit. Of those, 40 per cent. had been on the dole for 12 months and more.
Youth unemployment is a worry to us all, but of 943,000 unemployed, more than 250,000 are full-time students. If we take those out, the unemployment rate for under-25s is just over 9 per cent. In the 1980s, it was 13 per cent., and in the 1990s, it was 12 per cent. Today, because of smart government, 70 per cent. of JSA recipients are back in work within six months.
How can people say that we live in a broken society when the murder rate is at its lowest for the past 20 years, and when overall crime is down by 39 per cent. and violent crime by 41 per cent? How can we be in a broken society when more than 70 per cent. of adults volunteer at least once a year, and when three quarters of all 13 to 19-year-olds take part in sports or clubs or volunteer? A broken society is mentioned only by those who do not care about public services because they do not need to use them, and who say that charity is the answer because they know they will never need it.
Charities have a role, but they can never be a substitute for smart government. Smart government gives millions of British people a fair deal. That is the responsibility of an elected Government; they must speak up for the needs of society and not outsource them. I always find that people who want to get the Government off their backs are usually those who think they can afford to be without the Government. They want to see less government and less regulation. But they are the first to come to the taxpayer if their business is going under or their bank has failed and wring their hands because regulation was after all too lax. Smart government says that the public and private sectors should work together, and that the people should always come first.
There is of course an alternative. It is an alternative that says that instead of Building Schools for the Future, parents or a charity can rent an office block to set up a school. It is the alternative that says that 18 months for an operation is not too long to wait. It is the alternative that says it is the role of financial markets to make money out of other people's misery. It is the alternative that puts Britain on the fringes of Europe because it ignores the fact that 60 per cent. of our trade is with Europe and 3 million jobs depend on it. It is the world of little Britain, not Great Britain. It is the alternative that breaks cast-iron guarantees while the party that represents that alternative is still in opposition, where long may it remain. It is an alternative of a party whose shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) bizarrely says that it would be on the side of the NHS, when actually it is the party of a past in which patients waited six months for an appointment and two years for an operation. It is an alternative that thinks that the NHS is a mistake 60 years in the making. It is an alternative that will use the means test in reverse by saying to pensioners that they can have social care as long as they can put £8,000 up front. It is the alternative of a party whose leader said in his conference speech that
"it falls to the modern Conservative Party to fight for the poorest".
On hearing the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) say that on the television, I immediately changed over to the weather channel to see whether hell had indeed frozen over, because that will be the day that I will believe that statement.
The Opposition are no longer just the Conservatives apparently: they are now progressive Conservatives. But how can they be progressive and conservative at the same time? I checked the "Oxford English Dictionary" to get a definition for both words. It defined progressive as "favouring change and innovation". For conservative, it said, "averse to change or innovation." So there we have it-a political philosophy that is a contradiction in terms, schizophrenic, Jekyll and Hyde, pulling one way then another, pointing in two directions at the same time, and just plain wrong.
We know the Opposition: we met them on the street corner of the communities they closed down in the 1980s. We saw them turn their backs as child poverty soared under them. We heard them when they said that unemployment was a price worth paying. What they say and do are two different things-just look at their commitments and compare them with those of the Government. The first alternative policy they have to smart government is to reduce inheritance tax and give a £200,000 tax cut to each of the 3,000 richest estates. They will cut payments for people on incapacity benefit without investing in the measures needed to find them work. The Opposition put thousands of people on benefit when they were in power in the 1980s and 1990s, and a generation was lost. It was left to this Government to pick up the pieces, as we have been doing.
The hon. Member for Tatton keeps saying that we are all in this together, but he wants people on modest incomes to take a pay freeze and work longer. It is easy to say that we are all in this together when you are a millionaire, can retire when you want to and do not have to worry about paying the bills. The Government have introduced a 50 per cent. tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 a year, because we do believe that we are all in this together.
The right hon. Member for Witney blames "big government". In my view, it is just as well that our Government were big enough and smart enough to take the decisions to save the economy from total collapse. It is just as well that our Government are big enough and smart enough to fund 100,000 jobs for young people; help 300,000 families with their mortgages; and sign 200,000 agreements with businesses allowing them more time to pay their tax bills and keep people in work.
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