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Although I am a teetotaller, I am not suggesting that people should totally abstain from drinking, but I am sure that we would all like to see people drinking in moderation and behaving responsibly. If you go to any town centre on a Friday or Saturday night, what do you see? You see people drinking excessively, fighting among themselves, confronting the police and security staff, causing property damage and dirtying the streets. This type of behaviour is unacceptable and needs to be corrected urgently.

The cost of binge drinking in the United Kingdom is estimated to amount to around £20 billion. This includes the cost of alcohol-related illness and crime, the cost incurred by the police and local authorities, industry and the National Health Service. Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom doubled between 1991 and 2006, with a 4 per cent increase between 2005 and 2006 to 8,758 in that year.

Deaths occur due to a variety of obvious causes such as liver problems and not-so-evident causes such as different kinds of cancers. In addition, alcohol plays a major role in crime and different types of disorders. There are of course bodily injuries and the cost of damage to property relating to such activities is in excess of £8 billion a year. Numerous road traffic accidents are the result of excessive alcohol consumption and hundreds of people are killed or maimed, and there is of course damage to vehicles and other properties. Drinking alcohol results in a number of domestic violence cases and in people being absent from work. There is also a problem relating to excessive drinking among teenagers and children, and a number of school children have been suspended for drinking alcohol in schools.

I should declare that I am in the insurance industry, and a considerable number of the claims that we deal with are due to excessive consumption of alcohol. These claims relate to personal injury and property damage.

One reason for the increase of binge intoxication is the gradual increase in the alcohol content of wines, beers and particularly lagers. Twenty years ago, the average alcohol content of beers and lagers was

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3.5 per cent or 4 per cent. Now these drinks have on alcohol content of 5 per cent or 5.5 per cent. In certain lagers the alcohol content could be as much as 8 per cent.

It seems inconceivable to me and to a great number of other people that the Government appeared so relaxed about the introduction of 24-hour drinking. Indeed, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation recently commented that,

This measure has put enormous strain on the resources of the police and has been responsible for an explosion in the number of incidents of anti-social behaviour. I should like to see a reversal of the Government’s unleashing of 24-hour drinking on our towns and cities by providing local authorities with the discretion to apply powers as they see appropriate. Local authorities are best placed to consider the particular needs of the communities that they serve, and they are accountable to those electorates. I should appreciate the Minister’s response to this suggestion.

We need to take action to address the problem of loss-leader sales of alcohol, where alcohol is sold below the cost price. A proper review of the alcohol duty regime would be helpful, with a particular view to increasing the duty on those drinks most associated with binge drinking—alcopops, super-strength beers and super-strength ciders. More effective use of the tax system to tackle binge drinking should be considered. I would kindly ask the Minister to comment on the matter of taxation in this regard.

I hope also that the Minister will be in a position to update the House on what steps are being taken as a consequence of the recent alcohol price, promotion and harm review conducted earlier in the year. The Government have reported that they received more than 3,300 representations on the Department of Health’s proposals for the introduction of a mandatory code of practice for the alcohol industry. Although it is not possible to calculate the exact costs of treating alcohol-related conditions, it is estimated that the cost of treatment drugs has doubled in the past 10 years. The Alcohol Needs Assessment Research Project, published in November 2005, found that in 2003-04, a total of £217 million was being spent by the National Health Service and local authorities on specialist alcohol treatment, treating some 63,000 people for alcohol-related disorders. It is estimated that around 1.1 million people were actually dependent on alcohol.

We need to consider carefully how best we can tackle the scourge of alcoholism in this country. The UK Alcohol Treatment Trial has estimated that for every pound spent on alcohol treatment, the public sector saves £5. Yet the problem of binge drinking appears to be growing out of control. In April of this year, the number of people receiving structured treatment for alcohol misuse was 44,863, according to the Government, and the consequential costs that all of us are having to bear are spiralling.

It is apparent that we have a major problem and that the Government themselves have recognised that more action needs to be taken. I hope that the Minister can provide more assurance that appropriate action

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will be taken. We are looking forward to receiving details of the proposed measures. I would certainly welcome co-ordinated measures which give local authorities powers to ban “happy hours”, all-you-can-drink offers and other price promotions. We should like to see cigarette-type health warnings in the media and cans and bottles must show alcohol unit content. Some of the supermarkets and retailers are selling alcohol at a cheap price and we need to consider banning the sale of alcohol at less than cost price.

Finally, it would be welcome if we considered introducing compulsory training for staff in any premises selling alcohol. At present, this training is voluntary, but we need to think about making this mandatory.

8.09 pm

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, in the gracious Speech we were reassured that Her Majesty’s Government would continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. Before I move on to talk about some of the recent constitutional developments in Scotland in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom, I wish to highlight one area where I very much hope that there will be close co-operation. It relates to the coroners and justice Bill, which has been mentioned a number of times. What progress is being made on the jurisdiction and arrangements for inquiring into the deaths of Scotland-based service personnel who are killed on duty overseas? I tabled a Question on this in April and was advised by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, that:

“Contacts between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive continue on this sensitive and complex issue”.—[Official Report, 21/4/08; col. WA218.]

I have not heard anything about the content of the Bill that might reflect that, but perhaps the Minister can update us on where we have got to. It is an important issue that does not simply concern jurisdiction. Families of deceased personnel living in Scotland have to travel to the inquests and at the moment the bodies are returned to England, which is where the inquests take place.

I declare an interest as a member—I hasten to add, unremunerated—of the Commission on Scottish Devolution, or the Calman commission, to reflect the chairmanship of our distinguished chair and public servant, Sir Kenneth Calman. The commission was established by a vote of the Scottish Parliament in December last year and was subsequently given official support by the United Kingdom Government. Its terms of reference, as approved by the Scottish Parliament, are:

“To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom”.

It started its work in April and published a first and interim report last week. By the very nature of an interim report, it did not reach any major conclusions and, in the absence of a shopping list of more functions for further devolution, it inevitably received a somewhat

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muted press. However, it came to one important conclusion: that the Scotland Act 1998 has worked well. To those of your Lordships who laboured hard for many hours trying to secure the passage of that legislation, I hope that that is some reassurance.

The evidence and views received by the commission indicated that the devolved institutions have established themselves in Scottish life and are widely valued by a majority of Scots and that devolution within the union remains by some margin the preferred constitutional model. In a debate in which we have discussed the relationship between government and the people, it is important to remind ourselves of some of the underlying principles behind devolution—bringing government, and indeed parliament, closer to the people. It has allowed an opportunity for different policy approaches to take account of different circumstances and for there to be different methods of delivery.

Furthermore—this is something that I always hoped would happen through devolution in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland—it has allowed for comparisons of different approaches and the opportunity to learn from each other, be it the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly or this Parliament in legislating for England. Noble Lords will recall that earlier today at Question Time my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill raised the issue of the Scottish approach to DNA samples. The Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition took a different approach and it is possible that there is something to learn there.

We should be conscious that we do things differently now and we should be able to share each other’s experiences—something that goes two ways. I have to confess that the Calman commission found that the second report of this House’s Constitution Committee in the 2002-03 Session, on interinstitutional arrangements in the United Kingdom, had not been paid too much attention north of the border—I was as guilty of that as anyone. There were important findings in that report about the structure of the relationships between the United Kingdom Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, and between the Government of the United Kingdom and Scottish Ministers, to which we would certainly do well to pay further attention.

The report also dwells on Scotland’s place in the union and gives a persuasive analysis of what makes us a united kingdom. Behind the political and legal union, with the monarchy and the United Kingdom Parliament, are important, fundamental principles such as those referred to in the debate by my noble friend Lord Goodhart and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy: the rule of law, the culture of human rights and the independence of the judiciary. The international dimension, in which the United Kingdom exercises its functions as a sovereign state, provides us with defence and national security and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. There is also the economic union. The 1707 Act created perhaps one of the most successful single markets of modern times, very much to Scotland’s advantage. We have seen the hurricane blow through the financial markets in recent times and that economic union continues to be to Scotland’s advantage. I would rather that our interests were shared with the rest of

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the United Kingdom than see them linked to the arc of prosperity with Iceland, as proposed by Scotland’s First Minister.

It has been a cultural union—the “bond of sympathy”, as the late 19th-century Scottish jurist James Bryce said—with family and business links. There was even the success that we shared in Team GB at the Beijing Olympics. There is also a common social citizenship—the fact that we value and cherish some very fundamental principles. The obvious ones are free universal school education, free healthcare at the point of need and a common system of social security benefits, which are accessed by people whether they come from Surrey or Shetland. If those people move from Surrey to Shetland or from Shetland to Surrey, those things will still be available to them as citizens of the United Kingdom.

I think that we can be confident of Scotland’s place in the union. In my view, the work of the commission is to see how we can better serve the people of Scotland by building on the devolution that we already have. There was no overwhelming tide of opinion where there was a wish to transfer one particular function rather than another, and that may reflect the strength of the 1998 Act. However, the commission has agreed to look further at issues such as the misuse of drugs, drink-driving limits, firearms legislation and aspects of health and safety. We welcome the fact that, according to the gracious Speech, the Marine and Coastal Access Bill will make provision for further executive and administrative devolution to Scottish Ministers.

Crucially, we must also look at the future of finance. I think that tomorrow the House is due to propose a committee to look at the Barnett formula. That will be very important provided that we all work together and that account is taken of what the Calman commission and the Welsh Assembly Government Commission on Funding and Finance are saying. The point about the Barnett formula is that it has not produced an extra penny for Scotland compared with what the position would have been if there had been no devolution. The formula continues. It establishes not the amount but the annual change in the base, the base having been established in the late 1970s. Although it has the advantage of being predictable, it does not have the advantage of accountability.

In delivering the 2003 Donald Dewar lecture, my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood said that,

I believe that that is the challenge that we now face on the question of how to make funding the Scottish Parliament’s expenditure more accountable and more transparent. We want to look at the balance between a direct grant, assigning tax revenues and tax devolution itself. In a recent submission on fiscal powers to the commission, Reform Scotland recommended that each tier of government should be responsible for raising the bulk of the funding for its spending. We must look at that as we move forward because the status quo is not an option. We have been asked to improve the accountability of the Scottish Parliament and so we

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must look at the range of options available to make those who take the decisions on spending much more accountable to the voters.

I conclude by echoing the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who said that Tony Blair embarked on devolution but became rather frightened by it after the genie was out of the bottle. We do not need to be frightened. Scotland can be confident of its place in the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom can be confident of the glue that keeps us together. I am afraid that that fear influenced the evidence that the commission received from the United Kingdom Government. However, as Professor Robert Hazell said in his keynote address to the Constitution Unit’s annual devolution conference in May this year:

“The UK government can and should be far more confident about the future of the Union than it appears to be. I have suggested that the Union rests on much broader and firmer foundations than the government seems to realise ... The panic which gripped UK ministers last summer after the formation of the SNP government was extraordinary. They confused the threat to their party with a threat to the nation. They need to calm down, be a lot more confident”.

I very much hope that we can reflect some of that confidence as the Calman commission moves into its next phase.

8.19 pm

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, despite having put my name down to speak today, rather than on Thursday when health will be discussed, I assure the Government that I shall try to contribute on Bills that concern health as they come before the House. Today, I want to focus on the much awaited coroners and justice Bill. This vital piece of legislation is overdue, having twice previously been omitted from the gracious Speech. We debated this in the Moses Room in January and I hope that the Government have taken into account the many salient points that were made.

I have spoken to many colleagues in medicine about this. I am grateful to Professor Furness from Leicester, who assures me that, among pathologists, these proposals are welcome, particularly the reform of death certification and the introduction of medical examiners, which should do more to prevent the next Harold Shipman than any amount of medical revalidation. However, there are concerns about funding to underpin reform as well as concerns over whether the proposed new chief coroner will have sufficient powers to control coroners who have long experience of doing things in their own, and at times radically different, way.

The governance arrangements for medical examiners will be key to their function. With the appointment of a national medical adviser to the chief coroner, it was hoped that that person would have some managerial oversight of medical examiners, but it seems that coronial business remains the province of the Ministry of Justice, while medical examiners are creatures of the Department of Health. That seems disjointed. Are the medical examiners to be independent of coroners or a support for their work? If they are to be supportive, why are they answerable to different departments?

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, too, feels that the coroners and justice Bill is long overdue. It praises the proposals to make it easier for

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parents of a stillborn child or a child who dies in the neonatal period to have access to all the relevant paperwork without having to initiate litigation. The obstetricians also welcome the provision that would give coroners the power, in cases of, for example, stillbirth as a result of negligence, to demand that a hospital not only carries out a full investigation but also sets out how it will prevent the same problems from happening again.

It is a sad reflection on our society that elder abuse seems rife. My noble friend Lady Greengross posed a Question on that today. Those concerned with the welfare of the elderly and who are trying to improve their quality of life are looking to this Bill to ensure that coroners can bring cases of abuse to light. At present, some suggest that too few deaths among older people are referred to a coroner and there is serious concern that elder abuse is currently going undetected.

Coroners, area coroners, assistant coroners and those assisting them will all need to receive training on these issues and processes, particularly those pertaining to child deaths. There is a tension concerning child deaths, where investigation can prove particularly distressing to the bereaved and yet any abuse or negligence must be identified to protect other children.

I, too, have a question for the Minister on the proposed citizenship, immigration and borders Bill. How will it affect doctors from overseas who want to pursue their studies in the UK or remain here permanently if they are able to secure a position? It is worth noting that a shortfall in the number of doctors applying for posts seems to be emerging since the recent changes in the Immigration Rules.

Although not for today, I am concerned that reforms to welfare may have unintended consequences of discriminating against those with fluctuating disability from conditions such as multiple sclerosis. I hope that the Government will ensure that the equality Bill takes account of such fluctuations. I shall not repeat my comments concerning that Bill, which are already in the record of the debate in this House earlier in the year.

Let me return to the business of today. I am glad that the policing and crime Billwill include legislation on alcohol. The NHS sees on a daily basis the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. The most recent figures estimate the cost of alcohol misuse to the NHS to be £2.7 billion a year, from having to deal with violent and aggressive patients in accident and emergency, from caring for people and their families suffering from long-term conditions as a direct result of drinking alcohol and from treating the victims of accidents caused by drivers being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Why have the Government not had the courage to say, “No drink whatsoeverif you hold the car keys”? There is confusion about just what a unit of alcohol is in practice. The current guidance tempts drivers to go up to what they think is the limit, but they may well be over it. Some people are more impaired than others by even a small amount of alcohol. That is partly due to tolerance, some of which is genetic. Surely it is time that we move to a policy whereby, “Don’t Drink and Drive”means do not drink and drive.

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If these Bills are courageous, they can make a difference to protect the vulnerable and the innocent.

8.25 pm

Lord Elton: My Lords, in the gracious Speech, the Government promised measures to strengthen the role of Parliament. One has to view with a little cynicism any promise from the Government to strengthen the role of Parliament. We have to remind ourselves that the Government existed before Parliament and that Parliament was invented to protect the British people from the Government. Therefore, the Government are offering to make a rod for their own back. Parliament was first brought into existence to protect the rich and powerful, their liberty and their money, against the operation of the Crown, but down the years, through successive broadenings of the franchise, it extended to protect the whole of the electorate, the adult population of this country, their liberty and their money from being stolen as taxes. That being so, it is extraordinary that at present the great mass of the people has almost no interest whatever about what is going on in Parliament, how the constitution works or whether it works at all.

It was not always so. There have been a number of causes of the way that has developed over the past 50 years. The most striking, and the least noted, has been the Government’s increasing control of the use of information, which has been dramatically illustrated in the past few days. I well remember that in the 1960s, when I was a parliamentary candidate and took a close interest in these things, if a Minister was so ill advised as to make a statement about government policy outside the House of Commons, at a guildhall dinner, a constituency fete or anywhere else, and let out of the bag some small item about what the Government were going to do, he was immediately hauled back by the Speaker to answer in an emergency debate in the House of Commons. He made the leak; he intended to give the news in order to grab the headlines; he got the headlines all right, but they were not about the policy but about his humiliation in being brought back to the House, where he was drubbed for his misconduct.

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