§ 2.42 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can give any assessment of the annual cost to this country of alcoholism, and whether, according to their information, it is increasing or decreasing.]
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET)
My Lords, I regret that no assessment is available of the annual cost to the country of alcoholism, or whether the cost is increasing or decreasing. Various studies have been made but no estimate of the prevalence of alcoholism in this country has yet been generally accepted. The consumption of alcohol has been rising in recent years and hospital admissions of alcoholics have also been rising, but this may reflect the improvement in facilities for treatment rather than an increase in alcoholism, for which there is no clear evidence.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of the troubles which lies at the root of this problem is the dearth of statistics which he has mentioned? And further, is he not aware that in the opinion of those who have given some study to the problem alcoholism in this country is increasing and is responsible for an enormous waste of the national effort? Has the noble Lord seen the figures for the county of Cambridge, where 76 persons out of 10,000 are said to be alcoholics? If that 159 proportion were evenly distributed over the whole country, it would be a much more serious problem than the Answer which the noble Lord has given to me would lead the House to believe.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I do not think I gave any answer that suggested it was not a serious problem. I agree with the noble Lord about the dearth of statistics, but would emphasise the difficulty of getting them because alcoholics do not automatically come forward, either for treatment or for anything else. It is therefore extremely hard to know, first, what is an alcoholic, rightly so-called, and, second, how many persons suffering that definition there are in the community at large.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to get in touch with the National Association which concerns itself with those matters? In view of the fact that we spend so much money on so many unnecessary purposes to-day, is it not possible to spend just a little of it trying to discover accurate statistics on this vital subject?
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, my right honourable friend is in touch with all the relevant bodies who concern themselves with this problem.
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned a definition. Could he tell us what the definition of "alcoholic" is so that we know when we may become one ourselves?
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, there are several definitions. Perhaps the most useful is that adopted by the World Health Organisation, which is:Those excessive drinkers whose dependence on alcohol has attained such a degree that it shows a noticeable mental disturbance or an interference with their bodily or mental health, their personal relations and their smooth social and economic functioning, or who show the prodromal signs of such development. They therefore need treatment.
§ BARONESS BROOKE OF YSTRADFELLTE
My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many special alcoholic units there are attached to hospitals under the National Health Service, and what the cost of them is likely to be?
My Lords, as a last question, may I ask the noble Lord to look further into this and to bear in mind that, while a great deal of public attention is given to drug addicts, a little more attention should be given to those who consume alcohol on the scale that he has just described to us?
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many prisoners in Her Majesty's prisons are reckoned to be alcoholics? That is one area that could be easily tested.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, a circulating population of about 2,000, and at any one time in the prisons about 1,000.
LORD ST. JUST
My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that there is a possibility that the drug addiction units that are being opened would be a good place for people who suffer from severe cases of alcoholism to be cured?