HC Deb 21 March 1984 vol 56 cc1064-5 4.25 pm
Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the marking of the original gravity of all beers and lagers on dispensing taps, bottles, cans and other containers. In view of the extended and important statement that we have just heard, I shall be brief.

My first reason for introducing the Bill is that I believe that people should know what they are drinking. The report on beer of the Food Standards Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food received representations from consumer interests which favoured declarations of the alcohol content of the beer or the original gravity of the wort from which it was made". The report continues: A declaration of alcohol content would tell him"— the consumer— about one aspect only, the alcoholic strength, whereas a declaration of original gravity would tell him more about the indefinable concept of overall strength, as measured by the amount of fermentable raw materials used and by the excise duty paid. The consumer would … be in a somewhat better position to compare products. That is why I have chosen the orginal gravity rather than the brewed out gravity on which to base my Bill.

My second reason concerns health. It is unreasonable to expect people to take general advice about the health aspects of alcohol unless they know what they are drinking. The British Medical Journal, volume 283, states: Epidemiological comparisons of alcoholism are bedevilled by lack of uniformity in designating quantities. Statements such as `five drinks a day' are meaningless, if, for example, quantity and type of alcohol are to be related to physical damage … One pint of beer may vary in alcohol content from 12–40g according strength". The health problem caused by that is severe. The report states: An arbitrary level for the development of cirrhosis has been given as six pints of beer, a third of a bottle of spirits, or half a bottle sherry daily (60–80g alcohol), but this may be too high in some individuals. If individuals do not know the strength of what they are drinking, they could be in serious trouble and find it difficult to judge what to do.

My third reason involves safety. Many of us travel round the country. I had that experience before I came to the House. To northern tastes, southern beer is relatively weak. Only the following morning does one discover that it is not weak. Unless the individual knows the gravity, he must wait until the following morning to discover the disastrous effects of the mistake that he made the night before. My Bill would enable individuals who made that mistake to recognise at once that what they were drinking was not so weak as they had thought.

Finally, I pay tribute to those brewers who are already voluntarily marking original gravity on cans, bottles and other containers. Their public-spirited attitude is an example to the rest of the industry. I would not wish my Bill to be so narrowly drawn as to make it impossible for brewers to comply with the Bill's general objectives—namely, that people should know what they are drinking and that the strength of the drink should be clearly stated for health and safety reasons.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John McWilliam, Mr. Allen Adams, Mr. Harry Cowans, Mr. Stan Crowther, Mr. Mark Fisher, Mr. Martin Flannery, Mr. Ian Grist, Mr. Ted Leadbitter, Mr. Robert Parry, Mr. Terry Patchett and Mr. Barry Porter.