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10 Mar 2010 : Column 349

It is simplistic beyond belief for people to stand up in here and say, "I know, if we put an extra 40p on a bottle of wine, or 50p on a can of beer, the whole problem of youth drinking and people causing carnage in town centres is going to disappear." I would be worried if anyone seriously believed that, because it would show how out of touch with how the world works they were-but I suspect that people who say that know full well that such a price rise will not make that difference, but it suits their argument to say that it will. I should like to get back to reality.

I support one part of what the Select Committee said. Following on from what was said by the hon. Members for Leeds, North-West and for Selby (Mr. Grogan), from anyone's perspective in this debate, it would be absolute folly to increase duty on alcohol, because that would be yet another nail in the coffin for many pubs in our constituencies around the country. As the Health Committee very sensibly said, when a pub sells only alcohol, it must pass on to its customers any increase in the duty on alcohol, but supermarkets sell about 40,000 products in each store, so they can absorb any increase in duty, by offsetting it on to the other 39,000-odd products that they sell across the store. So an increase in duty would be absolutely calamitous for pubs, and I very much hope that, whatever the Government do, they do not increase duty.

Mr. David Hamilton: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and the early-day motion tabled in my name last year that we should change the duty on draught beers and ciders, because that would assist local pubs and clubs in the community?

Philip Davies: I am incredibly sympathetic to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, because the duty is excessive for many pubs, many of which are closing or are on the brink of doing so, and we need to do something to help them.

I want to comment on some of the points made about advertising, and then I will finish. The whole approach to marketing and sponsorship is completely wrong and simplistic. I used to work in marketing, for my sins. I am sure that hon. Members are familiar with this, but it is a point worth making: marketing attempts to improve brand awareness and increase market share. For example, when Cadbury sponsored "Coronation Street", I do think that anyone anywhere in the country leapt off the sofa the moment that Cadbury's logo came up at the start of the programme, switched off the TV and rushed to the nearest confectioner to buy a bar of Dairy Milk. That is not the purpose of marketing. Its purpose is that the next time someone goes to buy a bar of chocolate they will buy a bar of Dairy Milk, rather than a Kit Kat. That is the whole point of marketing.

When I did my marketing for Asda, we did not expect anyone to get up following a TV advert and rush to the nearest Asda supermarket, much as we would have liked them to, no doubt; we just hoped that the next time that went to the supermarket, they would go to Asda rather than Tesco. All the banning of advertising, sponsorship and so on does not make a blind bit of difference to consumption overall, but it does make a big difference to how much of each brand people drink.

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Kelvin Hopkins: The classic argument used by tobacco and cigarette producers was that advertising was intended not to encourage people to smoke, but to encourage them to smoke one brand rather than another. We thought that that was nonsense: we dismissed it, and we introduced the ban on advertising.

Philip Davies: Yes, indeed, and that was folly as well, but I am afraid that that is one element of the nanny state that has already got through. I am trying to prevent the next swathe of the nanny state from being introduced.

Mr. McGovern: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there seems to be no evidence to suggest that since the smoking ban came in fewer people smoke, so putting a minimum price on alcohol does not suggest that people will drink less?

Philip Davies: There are long-term trends, and what is reducing smoking is not the ban on advertising brands, but the fact that fewer people are smoking anyway, as part of a longer-term trend. Alcohol consumption is going down. Alcohol consumption may drop after introducing such measures, but that does not mean that it has fallen because of them; it will probably fall anyway. The hon. Gentleman is right: minimum pricing and banning advertising will not make any material difference to people who want to go out and get drunk, despite all the problems that they will suffer as a result. However, there will be a big knock-on effect on many other people.

Let me explain why I think some of the proposed alcohol advertising bans are so simplistic. The Committee recommends a ban on cinema advertising in relation to films classified for under-18s. Superficially, that sounds like a sensible way to stop advertising to young people. The problem is that a film's classification bears no resemblance to the age of the people watching it. I am happy for anyone to argue otherwise, but I suspect from reading the report, in which it gets only a passing reference, that that the Health Committee did not go through the idea in any detail. I bet that the age profile of audiences of films with an 18 classification is younger than that of the audiences of many 12 or PG-classified films. Many older people do not want to see an 18 film, because it is full of gore, violence and sex and all sorts of things that they do not want to see. Films classified 18 are often targeted at a younger audience than PG or 12 films. Allowing alcohol advertising only in relation to 18-classified films will probably ensure that more younger people see such advertising than the current arrangements allow. Superficially it seems like a good idea, but like much of the report, it appears that the Committee did not think about it in any great detail, let alone analyse it.

There is a recommendation that a 9 o'clock watershed should be introduced for television advertising, but that, too, is untargeted. The current rules already forbid alcohol advertisements in programmes targeted at under-18s, and those rules apply 24 hours a day. Given services such as Sky Plus and the ease of recording programmes, a watershed is meaningless. All such a measure will do is have a huge impact on the revenue of commercial broadcasters, many of which are struggling to keep going as it is. Huge damage will be caused, and if we are
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not careful, we will be left with a BBC monopoly, but we will have made no difference to the amount of alcohol consumed by people in this country.

The Committee recommends that

On what evidence was that based? Absolutely none. It is simply another way of introducing the nanny state. In fact, according to recent research by Cardiff business school, an alcohol sponsorship ban would have little effect on youth drinking patterns. That is the view of someone who has researched the subject-unlike the Health Committee, it seems, which is just scrabbling around for new regulations to introduce to increase the nanny state. It does not matter to the Committee if the measures make no difference; it just wants even more restrictions.

The study, which was published by the International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, found

Where is that mentioned in the Health Committee's report? Did the Committee read that study? Apparently not, because it did not suit their prejudices. What such a ban would do-if the Government were daft enough to introduce it-is make a huge hole in the funding for many sports in this country. Presumably, the Health Committee is one of those bodies that is always banging on about how people should do more exercise, take up sports and so on, yet here it is proposing a measure which the people who have studied the subject say will make no difference to alcohol consumption, but will take a huge amount of funding-perhaps £150 million to £200 million-out of sports, much of which is used to promote grass-roots sport in our local communities. Where is the sense in that from a health perspective?

Mr. Barron: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what sports would lose between £150 million and £200 million, if he is right?

Philip Davies: That is how much alcohol companies spend on sports sponsorship. Presumably, if the right hon. Gentleman's Select Committee had studied the subject in great detail he would know that, but it seems to have come as a surprise to him. That is a shame.

Mr. Barron: I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about one sport. I remember this argument being brought up years ago, when we decided to stop tobacco sponsorship of sport. The sponsorship of Formula One and other sports in this country by the tobacco industry was replaced by the promotion of far healthier products.

Philip Davies: The people who have studied the proposal, which the right hon. Gentleman's Select Committee seemingly has not done, came to the conclusion that there is no evidence that it would have any effect at all on alcohol use, yet his Committee is prepared, without any evidence, to siphon off- [Interruption.] That is what the Health Committee proposes-

That is virtually every sport one can think of.

Mr. Barron: Read the report.

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Philip Davies: I have read the report. Let us-

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Interventions, as the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) knows, must be made from a standing position, and not as interjections from a sitting position.

Philip Davies: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for being drawn into the right hon. Gentleman's sedentary interventions.

I know that we have other business to discuss today so I shall not detain the House any longer. I despair at the endless consensus that there seems to be in the House, which is for ever seeking to restrict people's freedoms in this country, to try to stop them doing things that they do legitimately and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, without any problem. For hon. Members to lecture people constantly about what they may and may not do, and what they should and should not say, is depressing beyond belief. The report is more of the same-more of the nanny state.

I know for a fact that the moment the proposed measures are introduced, the zealots represented on the Select Committee will be back for more, and back for more again. They are never satisfied. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) said that he wanted the Government to go a little further and do a little more. Unfortunately, he and the people whom he represents always want the Government to go a little further and do a little more.

Dr. Richard Taylor: I wonder if the hon. Gentleman knows the good that the ban on smoking in public places has done. The incidence of heart attacks in Italy, in Scotland and in this country has dropped. We, as a Health Committee, do not act for selfish reasons of self-aggrandisement or any such thing. We are thinking purely of the health of the nation. When parents are not providing adequate control, the nanny state has a place, if it is thinking of the good of all the people.

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me; I am grateful to him. I would never suggest that he or anyone else would make those recommendations for selfish reasons-but I think that they are making them for misguided reasons. The logic of his argument on smoking and alcohol is to ban them altogether. It can lead only to that conclusion.

Dr. Taylor: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Tobacco and alcohol are entirely different. I would ban smoking altogether if I could, but I would not ban alcohol because, as everybody has said all afternoon, drunk sensibly, it has tremendous benefits and is great.

Philip Davies: I am incredibly grateful, because there we have the first member of the Health Committee to break ranks in terms of its real motives-in relation to smoking, at least. I commend the hon. Gentleman for being open and honest about what he wishes to do, and I look forward to him commending that approach to the other members of the Committee, so that they can stand up and be honest about their real ultimate agenda.

I fear that despite the hon. Gentleman's moderate approach to alcohol, the arguments made by others that 40,000 people a year die from drinking alcohol
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mean that people want to ban that, too. They do not have the courage of their convictions, however, because they do not think that people in their local working men's clubs will tolerate being told that they cannot smoke or drink any more. It is not what they believe that affects what they say; what counts is whether they think that it will be acceptable to people in their local working men's clubs.

The hon. Gentleman has indicated that whatever measures are taken on any of those issues, the zealots will always want to come back for more; they will never, ever be satisfied. I therefore urge the Government to ignore those siren voices and base their decisions on evidence and the real world-and evidence and the real world alone.

3.56 pm

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): I congratulate the Health Committee Chairman, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). It was a privilege to serve under his chairmanship when I was elected to the House, and I know that he achieved a personal ambition with the robust report on smoking in enclosed public places. He was right about that issue, and he is right in his ambition to make a similar impact on alcohol. However, I differ from him on some of the ways in which it can be achieved.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) on highlighting the wider context of the debate and, in particular, the issue of access to alcohol: "Your granny's got a bottle in her cupboard," that's for sure. He made an important point and mentioned the value and increasingly important role that parents and parenting plays. He mentioned also the drinks industry and those who are more responsible than others. In that vein, I pay tribute to the licensees in my constituency, who have gone to considerable lengths to be responsible. Many have joined in with efforts to ensure that people can go out and have a good time in Guildford while also maintaining law and order and not letting things get out of control.

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), who is not in his place, talked at length about foetal alcohol syndrome, and about the licensing laws. Foetal alcohol syndrome has not had much of a mention, and I do not think that it was mentioned in the report, but it has been a long-standing problem and continues to be a serious one. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is about damage that women are doing to their children, perhaps unwittingly and unknowingly. They may be unaware of the impact of alcohol.

The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) made a valiant effort to scare us. His description of tubes was quite effective for some of us, and I congratulate also the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on his real passion. I do not profess to know a great deal about Scottish politics, but I have learned a little more today. The hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and many others mentioned the significant issues for pubs, given the huge discrepancy between their prices and the supermarkets', and the impact of that on pubs.

I know, and I think we all know now, that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) feels very strongly about this issue-about the nanny state
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and the public health police. The issue is about balance- [ Interruption. ] I am an eternal optimist, so I always try to achieve some balance. My hon. Friend is right about one point, however: we often have a knee-jerk reaction to such issues. It is terribly important to ensure that measures are robustly supported by evidence, but it is very easy to take the simple route and think, "Oh well, that's all right, we've now done something about it." If the evidence does not bear out the measure, however, we end up having no effect at all.

Some time ago, my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) wrote to the chief medical officer-he has not had a response to that letter-asking why he had specifically mentioned a 50p minimum price for alcohol. Although I agree, and Conservative Members agree, that pricing and taxation can play a role in market changes, there appears to be no real-

Stephen Hesford: I do not mind not being mentioned in the hon. Lady's tour d'horizon of hon. Members' speeches. My speech clearly did not have any effect on her, and that is a matter for her; I can take it. However, I asked her a question-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not have a second attempt at his speech now; I trust that he will put a question.

Stephen Hesford: Last week, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said in terms, in a Delegated Legislation Committee, that the Conservative party positively supported minimum pricing, and that that was its policy. There was an exchange about that, and he was absolutely clear. In my speech, I asked the hon. Lady to clarify whether that is the Conservative position, and I think that it would help this debate if she could come straight to that point now.

Anne Milton: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I certainly meant no offence to him in not mentioning him specifically. His speech added to the debate, and I am sure that the Minister will make due reference to it and right the balance should any offence have been caused. I have to admit that while he was on his feet I had to leave the Chamber for a comfort break, so I did not hear his entire contribution. I will certainly deal with his point as I progress, but I have only just started. I do not want to disappoint him with the belief that I will go on for too long, but I have a few other things to say. I did not attend the Delegated Legislation Committee that he mentions, so I have no specific knowledge of what my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said. I can, however, ensure that I clarify the Conservative position.

As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire has not had a response from the CMO. We agree that pricing can have a significant role to play in reducing alcohol consumption, but there is a lack of empirical evidence about the effects in terms of market changes, the economic well-being of low-income groups, and illegal trade. If we really want to tackle alcohol, it is very important that the measures taken are evidence-based. If not, we risk bringing Government action into disrepute, having no real impact on alcohol consumption and, yet again, being left with the negative impact of the unintended consequences of ill-thought-out legislation.

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