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House of Lords

Tuesday, 2 March 2010.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

Health: Alcohol


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Thornton): My Lords, the level of alcohol-related hospital admissions, and indeed crime and deaths related to alcohol, is of course unacceptable. In the Department of Health we are determined to try our best to turn this round but there is no one simple solution. The Government's response includes the alcohol improvement programme, which supports the NHS in reducing hospital admissions-two-thirds of PCTs have already chosen this as a priority-the Alcohol Effects campaign, helping people to understand how much they drink and what the health risks are; and a new mandatory code introduced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, which tackles the worst promotions.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Arising from it, can she think of any particular reason why the annual number of hospital admissions involving people with an alcohol-related disorder, from injuries sustained while drunk to liver disease, has risen by no less than 69 per cent in the few years since the hotly contested passage of the Licensing Act 2003?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, statistics published over the weekend suggest-very puzzlingly, I think, given the concern on this matter-that drinking levels have not changed much since 1992. Those statistics from the Office for National Statistics raise some interesting questions. However, the noble Lord makes a very important point. We do not accept that the changes in the licensing laws have led to this situation but there is no doubt that 9 million adults regularly drink more than the NHS advises and long-term are placing their health at risk, and that 2 million adults regularly drink double the amount that we suggest is safe. Therefore, it is very important that we concentrate on a number of things, one of which is informing people about the risks that they face by abusing alcohol in this way. We make sure, for example, that doctors and hospitals now take account of the many people who come to them with alcohol-related issues. However, there are many different ways in which this matter needs to be tackled.

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Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the alarming statistics produced by Professor Christopher Day and Dr Christopher Record of Newcastle University, which clearly demonstrate a very serious and substantial continuing increase in the incidence of alcohol-induced liver disease in young people in Tyneside? That increase is clearly related to promotions for cheap alcohol in the pubs and clubs of that area. Is it not time that the Government reviewed and reconsidered their decision not to impose a minimum charge per unit of alcohol?

Baroness Thornton: We are looking at that as one of the solutions; there is no question but that we have to look at all the solutions. However, although there are pockets of the country where this is a very serious problem, the fact is that fewer young people are drinking now than were drinking a few years ago. The problem is that those who are drinking are drinking more. The Chief Medical Officer's first-ever guidance on drinking for young people and their parents says that it is healthiest for children under 15 to avoid alcohol. The Government need parents-and all of us-to take responsibility not to give their children alcohol in an inappropriate way, for example. That is why in January 2010 we launched a new social marketing foundation aimed at young people, and this is having an impact. There are many different ways in which we need to tackle this.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, what can be done to reduce what seems to be binge drinking by young people? It is a rather distressing phenomenon which I think is a relatively recent development.

Baroness Thornton: Binge drinking, unfortunately, is not limited to young people, but it is absolutely true that it can make our town centres deeply intimidating and unpleasant places. Law enforcement officers-the police, trading standards and licensing authorities-have the power to do a great deal more about this. We have given them those powers and we urge them to use them to stop the anti-social behaviour which arises from excessive consumption of alcohol by young people in their town centres.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, we on these Benches support moves to try to deal, so far as possible, with alcohol-related problems outside of hospital. There are, however, challenges: challenges not only in detoxification, of course, but in trying to prevent incidents of self-harm and suicide outside of hospital. We know that alcohol and drug addiction is closely related to the increase in self-harm and suicide. Why, therefore, do the two most recent government directives on drugs and alcohol make no reference to self-harm and suicide, and why does the National Treatment Agency's main report on risk also makes no mention of self-harm and suicide? I declare an interest as the chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' commission on self-harm and suicide.

Baroness Thornton: I do not know why they do not refer to those issues. What I can say is that the treatment of alcohol misuse has been given inadequate attention

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for very many years, as I am sure the noble Lord and I would agree. Over the past few years we have provided resources, such as £2.7 million in new funding for regional alcohol managers, which I think means alcohol improvement programmes, and £8 million in funding for the early identification of new patients who are regularly drinking, for example. Moreover, as I said in my earlier Answer, two-thirds of PCTs are now working out ways of identifying people and getting them into treatment programmes more quickly than they were in the past.

Lord Mancroft: My Lords, if it is correct that the Government have put so much money into treatment-as they claim that they have, and as the figures reveal that they have-can the Minister tell us why so many rehabilitation beds are currently empty and, at the same time, the waiting list is so long?

Baroness Thornton: I undertake to find out why that might be the case-I am very surprised to hear it. We are very keen that rehabilitation beds should be used, and used to the maximum. As the noble Lord will know, the more people we get into rehabilitation, the better our chances of combating this awful scourge.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, can the Minister give us any information on those with a double addiction to drugs and alcohol and, in particular, whether any assessment has been made of the effect that this is having on families, especially families with young children, and the somewhat chaotic circumstances in which they live?

Baroness Thornton: My brief does not contain information about the effect on families of a double addiction to alcohol and drugs. However, I think that good sense tells us that that is indeed an appalling situation. The systems in place to deal with addiction and with alcohol and drug misuse need to be brought to bear in those families even more than in others.

Israel and Palestine


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Dykes

Lord Brett: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is in regular contact with Israeli and Arab partners making clear the need for the parties to resume negotiations as soon as possible. He reiterated the priority that he attaches to peace in the Middle East during his meeting with his counterpart Mr Lieberman on 22 February and in his conversation with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on 23 February.

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Lord Dykes: Is it not a growing tragedy that the ridiculous antics of the Netanyahu Administration are having the effect of making an excellent country, Israel, almost as unpopular as apartheid South Africa, much to the detriment of millions of its decent citizens who want a peaceful settlement? Does the Minister agree that this farce cannot continue? When will the EU insist on the reversal of recent settlements and on real, proper negotiations, not ones in which the Israelis pretend as they have done in the past?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I sense the frustration in the noble Lord's question, which I am sure is shared in many parts of the House. There is no shortage of hard words about all the parties involved in what we hope is a move towards negotiations for peace in that part of the world, so I should not add to them. Suffice it to say that we continue to believe as a Government-and this thought is held more broadly in Europe-that sharing a full and frank dialogue with the partners in Israel and Palestine is the best way to bring forward what at the end of the day is the only solution, which is a move towards negotiations. While the frustration continues and this question continues to be asked-it is only a week since I replied to a similar Question and one can appreciate the frustration-at the end of the day perseverance will be the answer.

Baroness Deech: Does the Minister realise that the ability of this Government to influence any action by the Israeli Government is greatly undermined by, first, the threats to Israeli politicians who might visit this country and, secondly, the rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents, which tend to be connected with events in Israel, so that the relationship is seen as hostile? What does the Minister propose to do to change this situation?

Lord Brett: The short answer to the noble Baroness is that the Government do all in their power to seek to influence. If people refuse to be influenced, that is indeed a difficulty. We are candid-some would say critical-friends of Israel and Palestine. We do not abandon that friendship, but neither should we abandon the candid and critical views that we have. For example, we hold to the view that settlements are illegal and a barrier to moving towards peace. That is not a view that we should change simply because the parties involved do not accept it.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, can my noble friend identify one single benefit to the Palestinian people in the past 43 years since 1967 that has arisen out of the diplomacy to which he referred and to which David Miliband referred yesterday?

Lord Brett: I note my noble friend's comments. A week ago his advice was to break the blockade, but I think that his advice is fairly nihilist on this occasion. We cannot allow our frustration at the parties to lead us to abandon the only course. The two-country solution is the only viable one. I understand the frustration of my noble friend and others, but our abandoning the field and leaving it to others would not bring that date nearer; it would push it further away.

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Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Will the Minister spell out the achievements of Mr Tony Blair as head of the Middle East quartet?

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Brett: I do not find too much amusement in the situation in the Middle East. It is a tragic situation in which all the parties are trying to do their best. That includes Mr Blair, who has made a significant contribution to those aims through his work as a quartet representative, as evidenced by the quartet's continued confidence in him. We welcome the achievements of the quartet's representatives and their efforts to bring about transformative change in the occupied Palestinian territories. Most important, we will continue to support those efforts rather than scoff at them.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is it not essential that talks should take place without preconditions as soon as possible? It does no good at all to have both sides hurling allegations around. Do the Government support the view of Senator George Mitchell and the European Union that talks are essential and that we are losing valuable time by not having them?

Lord Brett: I can both assure my noble friend and assist the House with a very short answer: we agree entirely with that point of view.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Question was about British policy on Israel and Palestine, which on the whole has been to follow the American lead, recognising that the United States has the greatest influence over what happens there, particularly in Israel. Now that it seems that the Obama Administration's efforts to relaunch talks with Israel and Palestine have been blocked by domestic opposition within the United States, should not Britain be pushing with our European partners for the EU to play a more active role in getting talks started again between the two sides?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I do not see the two things as alternatives. I believe that President Obama's Administration continue in their endeavours, in which we share as Europeans and as Great Britain. Therefore, I think that this is a false prospectus. We should indeed put all our efforts behind the EU and the United States and make our own individual efforts to bring peace to the area. Looking for division is a diversion.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that we need to give some traction to our diplomatic efforts by working with our European partners to bring effective pressure to bear on Israel?

Lord Brett: Effective pressure comes in many ways. The Goldstone report, which has featured in previous Questions, is a case in point. The resolution carried in the General Assembly on 26 February revealed changes in patterns of voting. The United Kingdom was able to vote with the majority to call for what we have been calling for for some time: a full, credible and

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1320

impartial investigation into all the allegations made by the Goldstone committee. The vote in favour was substantial: there were 91 votes in favour and seven against, with 31 abstentions. That is European unity at its best but also a recognition that the Palestinian delegation had moderated its text and had taken into account the concerns that we raised. Now we want to see those who are independent, on both sides, produce a clear picture of what happened as a way of moving forward.

Sport: Clubs


2.52 pm

Asked By Lord Clement-Jones

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, sports clubs are integral to our Olympic legacy plans to develop a world-class community sports system. We have a good record in supporting them-for example, by introducing the Community Amateur Sports Club scheme and intervening, where possible, to ensure that regulation remains fair and proportionate. A recent example has been with water charging. Although we are never complacent, it was pleasing that a recent CCPR survey found that sports clubs were,

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is slightly rose-tinted, as the CCPR and Sport England are very concerned about the future of these clubs. There are currently many problems with regulation, not least the proposed withdrawal of the exemption for PPL licences and problems under the Licensing Act 2003. Above all, there are problems as regards the 2010 rating listing, which shows significant increases in rateable value, especially where improvements have been carried out. Added to the proposed withdrawal by some local authorities of discretionary rate relief, this could be disastrous. These clubs are the backbone of sporting activity in this country. What do the Government propose to do about it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, sports clubs are local. The noble Lord identifies the withdrawal of discretionary rate relief but that is a local matter to be dealt with by local councils, as is their democratic right. We are concerned that this may have adverse effects on some sports clubs, but if they join the Community Amateur Sports Club scheme, to which I referred earlier, they may find some support there which takes account of the withdrawal of the relief.

Lord Addington: My Lords, would the Minister agree that amateur sports clubs provide the main driving force for adult sporting activity in this country? Bearing that in mind, would the Government agree

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that it is not enough to say that local authorities should give them support but that there should be positive action from the Government to try to withdraw as many burdens as possible? People do not join a sports club to become the secretary of the organisation; they join to take part.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I agree with every sentiment the noble Lord expresses, except criticism of the Government. The noble Lord will know that through the Community Amateur Sports Club scheme, we have given enormous support from central resources to sports clubs, but sports clubs are local institutions dependent upon their local communities. Decisions taken locally have to be respected. I am sure the noble Lord is not suggesting that we should intervene across the whole of the country in every case where a sports club is in some difficulty. What we have got is a scheme that can give some help.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the proportion of clubs that belong to the Community Amateur Sports Club scheme? If he does not have those figures to hand, I believe it is 3 per cent. That is not a high proportion of the 150,000 clubs in this country.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is because sport in this country has existed over a long period through voluntary effort and commitment and local understanding of the needs of sports clubs. Long may that situation reign. We have a scheme that offers help to those who may need specific relief in certain circumstances and additional funds, and that is how central government should respond.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, can I, through the Minister, congratulate the Foundation for Sport and the Arts on the assistance it gives to sports clubs up and down the country? It is notably illustrated by the fact that its smallest grant was £25, given to a village cricket club to fill in the rabbit holes on the boundary.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we all know the threat that rabbit holes present to deep fielders on the boundary. I am grateful that it has been remedied in that case. The noble Lord is right to identify the extent to which sport in this country has benefited from lottery funds. We are concerned that we should build up sport in this country as a preparation for the Olympics and as a legacy thereafter.

Lord Howard of Rising: If the Minister is so keen on improving sport in this country, rather than giving central assistance, could he consider removing some of the many impediments that sports clubs encounter? I declare an interest as chairman of the National Playing Fields Association.

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