Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

In developing an interfaith strategy, we learn from that and we are taking the opportunity to reflect on how best we in government can support it, where and in what circumstances interfaith activity works best and how we can work in partnerships with faith and non-faith-based communities and organisations to take this forward. We are continuing to explore the role that different government funding programmes might play in supporting increased interfaith activity. We are thinking about where additional investment is needed to help secure a more sustainable footing for interfaith activity and how this might be deployed in the most effective way. It is informed by the continuing evaluation of the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund; the findings of research currently being carried out by the Inter Faith Network, the Faith Based Regeneration Network and, importantly, the Local Government Association, which we should perhaps focus on most particularly today.

The responses that we have received to our interfaith consultation document Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side: A Framework for Inter Faith Dialogue and Social Action, will continue to inform our decision-making process and will be taken into account in our decision on the nature and extent of any future funding. Our strategy will be published in July.

We are building on a long history of people from different faith communities in the United Kingdom working together to build mutual understanding and respect and develop strong and positive relationships with one another and with wider civil society. That is not to say that the Government do not recognise that at times religion can be a source of conflict and tension. Many noble Lords referred to that, including my noble friend Lord Macdonald and the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. But evidence suggests that faith communities in the United Kingdom can also play an important role in resolving conflict by building community cohesion and acting as a vital source of social capital in their local communities.

Breaking down the barriers between communities, identifying shared values and commonalities and working together are essential components to building a cohesive community. However, as my noble friend Lord Macdonald said, we need to have robust dialogue—a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I hope that there is consensus around that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, made an important contribution in that sense when she spoke about the need to break down barriers in her difficult and challenging work with Islam and feminism. That is a groundbreaking area of study which has cast interesting light on that whole debate.

I recognise that faith is not the only occupant of the public domain in this regard. It is populated by multiple identities of faith, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, belief and non-belief. Multiple identities are the norm

1 May 2008 : Column 402

in our society and no one route working in isolation will build the bridges between polarised or shared identities needed to achieve our vision of cohesive communities. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Improving interfaith dialogue is one route, and has shown itself to be positive and productive.

Let me reflect for a moment on the diversity of our society. Each of us has our unique identity, made up of a complex mix of identities that govern the different roles we play in our everyday lives. While it is important that we recognise these distinct differences, it is equally important that where there are common links between faith communities we use these shared values to encourage constructive and open debate on the issues where there may be differences. Interfaith dialogue acts as part of the social glue that joins our differences in culture, faith and ethnicity.

This great diversity of our society is, I believe, a great strength, but if there is no room for debate, misunderstandings fester, and are more difficult to remove. The Commission on Integration and Cohesion has highlighted the importance of going beyond interfaith dialogue to encourage meaningful dialogue between people of faith and no faith and people of different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. This has been echoed by those who feel excluded at the table of interfaith dialogue.

The key rubbing point for many interfaith forums is the role of “secular” society in this dialogue. The commission recommended that,

We aim to reflect this in our strategy. Our different religious traditions offer us many resources for this and teach us the importance of good relationships characterised by honesty, compassion and generosity of spirit.

I end with a reflection on shared values. In Britain today people of many faiths and beliefs live side by side. The opportunity lies before us to work together to build a society rooted in the values we all treasure. These are shared values which are recognised across a range of traditions, both religious and secular, and across the whole of society. Significantly, these shared values were expressed in the shared act of reflection which was developed by faith communities for the millennium. These values are: community; personal integrity; a sense of right and wrong; learning; wisdom and love of truth; care and compassion; justice and peace; respect for one another, for the earth and its creatures. These values will define our future and strengthen our communities. I am confident that the Government’s policy on building more inclusive and cohesive communities chimes with all these.

I call for dialogue which is face to face and side by side. I call for an understanding of differences to promote social unity. On this election day above all we need to reflect that we cannot ever allow a vacuum to develop because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, said, the extremists will follow in if we do. We need to be ever vigilant in pursuing this debate and its value to our society and our communities.

1 May 2008 : Column 403

4.34 pm

Lord Hameed: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the consensus in the House that interfaith friction in interpersonal relationships should be dealt with with all seriousness. I therefore recommend that the House revisits this subject, which acts as a catalyst in helping to treat and eradicate our fear of one another.

With great humility I salute noble Lords for their contribution this afternoon on a cause we all hold dear to our hearts. For me, it has been a great privilege and an immensely useful experience to listen to such valuable contributions. I thank noble Lords and I am encouraged by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, the Minister, for his well thought-out discourse on interfaith work. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Alcohol Labelling Bill [HL]

4.35 pm

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Warnings on alcoholic beverages]:

Baroness Coussins moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Baroness said: I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, for being kind enough to rearrange the Committee stage of the Bill so that I could be present to speak to my amendments following an absence of several weeks after an accident. I am most grateful.

Before tackling the amendment I should declare various interests. Noble Lords should know that until September 2006 I was the chief executive of the Portman Group, an organisation funded by major alcoholic drinks producers to promote sensible drinking by consumers and responsible marketing by producers. I was also a member of the Alcohol Education and Research Council. I am a paid non-executive adviser to a global wines and spirits company, Brown-Forman, and I have undertaken various projects for other drinks producers in my capacity as an independent consultant. In my earlier career in the voluntary sector I worked and campaigned for several organisations concerned with maternity and infant welfare issues.

I also acknowledge the valuable assistance that I have received from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and the British Beer and Pub Association in preparing the amendments to which I wish to speak. The WSTA represents about 90 per cent of wine sales by volume in the UK market, 80 per cent of imported spirits and

1 May 2008 : Column 404

all of the major multiple alcohol retailers. The BBPA represents 98 per cent of all beer sold in the UK market. The amendments in my name are also supported by the Scotch Whisky Association, the Gin and Vodka Association and the National Association of Cider Makers. I make that roll call not just to thank those organisations but to demonstrate the willingness of the industry to act effectively on the issue covered by the Bill and to demonstrate their willingness to make it workable in practice.

Legislation making it mandatory for labels to carry pregnancy advice is somewhat premature, if I may use that expression, at a time when the voluntary labelling agreement negotiated between government and industry is getting off the ground and attracting significant positive compliance. Nevertheless, my main concern has been to work as constructively as possible with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, to make sure that if and when his Bill becomes law, it will be as workable and non-contentious as possible in practice. I appreciate that his overriding concern is to see pregnancy advice on labels and that how it gets there is of secondary importance. I am therefore very glad that he has added his name to most of my amendments, which are designed only to acknowledge and honour the voluntary scheme and to keep any statutory provisions as a failsafe mechanism or back-stop.

Amendment No. 1 proposes to insert,

after “ensure” in line 2. It is a shame that we have to start with one of the amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, has not added his name. I wish to make it clear from the outset that my intention is absolutely not to provide a device that lets companies off the hook.

As I said, in general I believe that the Bill’s measures should kick in wherever the voluntary scheme is not complied with. However, some types of package, container or label formats would make it very difficult to comply with the Bill’s requirements. Miniatures are the obvious example. There is a requirement in the United States for pregnancy advice on labels, but I have seen writing on some bottles so miniscule that I question the value of such a format to the consumer. Surely it is a tenet of all UK and EU labelling requirements that the information concerned should be meaningful to the consumer and proportionate to the goal. We certainly should not go for a measure that includes miniatures just because we know that they do that in the United States. After all, there are some very strange rules in the US relating to miniatures that I do not think we would go for here at all. I understand that in Washington DC, for example, it is illegal to sell miniatures singly. They have to be sold in six-packs because it is thought that selling them singly somehow encourages misuse. I should have thought that the opposite would apply, but that is a bit of an aside.

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, introduced the Bill some time ago and has since changed the wording of the text of the advice to bring it into line with the wording now advocated by the Department of Health and which is in the voluntary agreement. I still hope

1 May 2008 : Column 405

that I may be able to change his mind and that he will accept this amendment, which would bring the Bill into line with other aspects of, and assumptions behind, the voluntary agreement.

There is also the question of disproportion, which I touched on at Second Reading. There are certain packages and label formats where disproportionate cost, even to the point of threatening commercial viability, would be an issue for certain companies if this provision became a mandatory requirement for every single label on every single brand. That would apply, in particular, to small businesses, especially in the wine sector, where thousands of brands are tested each year in the UK market using hundreds of UK agent companies. We are talking about a very small fraction of the market. If this had been government legislation, it would have needed a regulatory impact assessment. However, just because it is a Private Member’s Bill, I do not think we should forget that there are regulatory impact issues for small businesses and, indeed, for consumer choice. As I said, hundreds of companies would be faced with the choice either to comply at cost or simply not to supply the UK market at all. I would not be concerned about these small businesses and their predicament—even if it were a cost predicament—if I thought that, by making the requirement mandatory for 100 per cent of labels on 100 per cent of brands, we would be doing women a favour, but the shortfall that would occur as a result of the kind of exemptions that I have in mind would make no difference at all to women’s awareness of the advice. We do not need 100 per cent of labels to carry this message. Labels are only part of the information stream bringing this vital message to women. The voluntary agreement between industry and government acknowledges that the labelling regime will play,

The word “practicable” could also deal with another situation that I have in mind to make the requirement more practical—that is, to acknowledge that it is not reasonable to expect all brands to comply all at the same time with a single enactment date. In practice, I think that it would be reasonable to allow the gradual phasing-in of a labelling requirement for some niche brands with a very small market share but a long shelf life. Many of these brands will be owned by large global companies and so cost is obviously not ultimately a barrier, but the logistics of label production mean that it might be practical to deal with these brands later rather than sooner—for example, within two years rather than two months. Again, the voluntary agreement envisages that those considerations should be taken into account. It says that the Government understand that these labelling changes will happen as part of normal industry cycles for making changes to labels.

I did a small amount of research on the way in which the word “practicable” has been interpreted by the courts. I was relieved to see that it seems to have been interpreted in a fairly tight way. It is certainly regarded as much stricter than the phrase “reasonably practicable”. It is regarded as meaning feasible rather than “if you feel like doing it”. I stress that this is not meant to be a device to let anyone off the hook. If I am unable to persuade the Minister to accept the

1 May 2008 : Column 406

phrase in my amendment, I would ask him at the very least to consider bringing back an amendment on Report or at Third Reading with a new clause or schedule for the specific exclusion of things, such as miniatures, which it seems reasonable to exclude from the requirements of the Bill. I beg to move.

4.45 pm

Lord Monson: I am very glad to be able to support my noble friend Lady Coussins. She has moved the amendment with great skill and most comprehensively, for which I am grateful. I have had no chance to discuss any of these amendments with her before today's debate, but quite independently I arrived at the same conclusions concerning miniature bottles.

Miniatures contain either five centilitres or, occasionally, only three centilitres—usually when the bottle contains cognac. It is almost impossible to get any meaningful warning on a bottle that size. If there were lettering a millimetre high it would swamp the rest of the bottle. I do not think anyone would willingly buy a miniature, not least because they are terribly bad value. If you multiply a miniature by 15 to get the price of a bottle, it would be enormously expensive. Mostly, you get given them free on British Airways flights, no doubt to compensate for your delayed luggage. British Airways are very good at that: I have a collection of empty miniature bottles which are useful for various things.

This is an unanswerable point. I suppose that there may be other containers which are difficult to label, but the miniature bottle is certainly one. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, to think very carefully about it.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I was slightly horrified when I learnt that I had to deal with this Bill, not having been involved with it previously. However, when I looked at it closely, I came to some conclusions, which are mine and not necessarily the policy of my party. I shall oppose all the amendments before us today because I believe that the Bill's proposals are right, so I shall speak only once. I have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins’s, explanation of this amendment, with the insertion of the words “so far as is practicable”, but I still find it very difficult to understand. Those words must be open to all sorts of interpretations, so I cannot accept this amendment and nor can I accept any of the others.

We, in this Committee, all know the dire consequences of drinking to excess but many young women do not. Alcohol-related deaths have almost doubled since 1991 and continue to rise. The costs to the NHS are huge. Alcohol-related injuries and disease cost around £1.7 billion a year and about 353,000 people were taken to hospital in England in 2006 as a direct result of alcohol abuse. Clearly and unambiguously, labelling is now necessary, especially for pregnant women or those hoping to conceive. The Government’s labelling of every cigarette packet has certainly got the message across about smoking being dangerous to health. Now that message must be followed through to the labelling of alcoholic drinks. A toned-down warning, something that says, “We hope that you abide by this”, is absolutely no use whatever, and these amendments suggest that. I am sorry, but I will not be supporting them, and I support the Bill in its entirety.

1 May 2008 : Column 407

Lord Monson: The noble Baroness talks about alcohol abuse. Does she not concede that the greatest alcohol abuse occurs in clubs and pubs, but there will be no need to have labels put on the glasses served to the mainly young people concerned? That is the problem. It has little to do with whether there are labels on the bottle or cans.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: That is missing the point. The consumption of alcohol, wherever it is, is what is important.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I in large part echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. Reading through the amendments, I have particularly concerns about the first. I am rather disappointed that, in moving the amendment, there was no suggestion that the label on the bottle should be clearly displayed at the point of sale, when somebody is purchasing it. That creates a loophole within the Bill. People will perhaps then argue through various bits of case law that their bottle or label is too special, precious or different in shape to warrant carrying the relevant warning.

My other concern is that there is no requirement for the warning to be legible. We all know and have seen times when, for example, the sell-by or the shelf date of a product is stamped in such an illegible way that we need two pairs of glasses and a strong light to see which year it was, let alone which day or month. I am concerned that exactly the same method could be used to print pale grey on a light background, or a shade of green on green or whatever, so that the label would not be clearly legible. In that spirit—and I use the word advisedly—I have grave concerns about the amendment.

The Earl of Listowel: Briefly, I warmly welcome this Bill in Committee, the co-operation and work undertaken between many of the interests involved, and the work of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, in bringing this forward. I do not intend to speak any further in Committee, but am grateful for the work that has been done.

I share the disappointment expressed about the amendments. It should be as strong as possible. After all, we were recently reminded by a report from Alcohol Concern that 1 million children have an alcohol-dependent parent. Of course, we are particularly concerned about the foetus at this point. This is an opportunity to break some women and mothers from their use of alcohol when their child is at an early stage, so that the children do not experience their parent with that dependency.

I want to quote briefly from a report from the mental health charity Rethink. Referring to what we have learnt from advertising on cigarette packets, it states:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page