§ 6.3 p.m.
§ The Viscount of Falkland rose to call attention to increasing alcohol abuse of all kinds in British society, and to the case for a thorough examination of the national and cultural attitudes connected with it, and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I believe that we may claim credit in your Lordships' House for drawing and focusing attention on the abuse of drugs in this country, and in particular the harder type of drugs which are not considered socially acceptable. The efforts that have been made throughout society to prevent the manufacture, distribution and use of those drugs are extremely laudable and those efforts are preventing a good deal of misery, degradation and indeed, loss of human life.
§ However, we still have the best known and most available drug of all in our society, where the effects 648 mount daily. This is a very timely debate this afternoon because there have been several reports on this subject recently. I am glad that we shall have speaking in the debate this evening the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, whose report on young people and alcohol came out yesterday—and a very startling report that was too, and one which received very proper coverage in the press today. I think the noble Baroness will have some very interesting things to say to us later on.
§ The way the Motion is phrased may seem odd to some noble Lords, but I believe that the situation has become very grave as regards this drug. I repeat, it is a drug. A lot of people in the country do not realise that alcohol is a drug, a psychoactive drug which has very similar effects to many drugs which are not acceptable in our society. Very few people realise the actual dangers which follow the abuse of alcohol.
§ Not everybody abuses alcohol. It has a central cultural role in our society and many people use it sensibly. They give the right example to their children on how to use it. They use it in all the normal ways: they drink at their children's christenings, they drink at marriage ceremonies, some even drink at funerals or after them. We toast our monarch, we drink when colleagues leave their employment, we drink to relax, we drink to make ourselves feel more confident. From time to time we drink to make ourselves—those of us who are male, I stress—feel more masculine. That is something we shall return to later.
§ The danger of alcohol is that it is lawful and institutionalised in our society, which makes it difficult for many people to accept the full danger of the drug. As prosperity increases—which I hope will continue, though there may be signs of a check in that area—it is quite clear that, as people become more affluent and their disposable income increases, more alcohol is consumed. One fact which is irrefutable is that the greater the amount of alcohol consumed, the higher the level of alcohol abuse.
§ When I mention alcohol abuse, I mean not just the old rather narrow view of unfortunate people who develop an addiction and who are generally known as alcoholics, though that is a very difficult term to define. I mean of course those who abuse drink by becoming intoxicated. In fact, it is one of the more remarkable facts about our society as opposed to some of the others that maybe we are not as high as some of our neighbouring European countries in the league table, if I may put it that way, of addiction. We are somewhere down the list.
§ So far as intoxication and its immediate effects are concerned, and increasingly among the young, we are seeing a most incredible tally of damage, destruction, unlawful behaviour, misery to families and so on. It is upon this intoxication aspect that I suspect many noble Lords will touch tonight, because it receives a lot of publicity, for example, in relation to football violence and crime levels. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, who had great experience of this, was telling me before I came into the Chamber that 50 per cent. of murders are alcohol related. Most crimes which involve assault and battery, particularly at certain times of day, are alcohol related. The list is endless.649
§ Perhaps I may add a point which I think has been very curiously neglected in our press: the level of child abuse which people deplore, is, where proved, often connected with alcohol abuse of one form or another. Alcohol is a very strong factor in the abuse of children, whether it involves violence or sex, or a combination of both.
§ It is a curious thing which I have discovered in my researches into this whole matter that human beings seem universally attracted towards psychoactive and mood-changing drugs of some kind. There is hardly a group in human existence which does not, or has not at some time, found something which is used and becomes institutionalised, accepted and lawful; whereas other things become unlawful. For a period in the 17th century in Russia smoking was punishable by death. I believe that for a period in Turkey if a pipe smoker was discovered he had his nose pierced with a pipe and was paraded through the community on a donkey. Those punishments seem extremely drastic to us.
§ A friend told me recently that he was talking to some businessmen from the Yemen where, being Muslims, they do not drink alcohol. They have exactly the same reaction to a drug which they chew called khat. They react exactly the same to that drug as we do to alcohol. They say, "I really must give up khat at lunch-time because I fall asleep after lunch if I chew it." It does not matter what drug is concerned, it has the same effect on the brain and on the nervous system
§ In this country—and I hope other noble Lords will take up this point—it behoves us to face the situation head on. We do not want to fudge the issue—to use a current term. The fact is that alcohol is being consumed in greater and greater quantities. It is cheaper, in real terms, than it ever was. It is a curious fact that tax on alcohol has risen at nowhere near the rate of inflation. Effectively, someone buying a drink out of his disposable income today is much more able to afford it than he was 30 years ago.
§ We also have this worrying shift to the use of alcohol as a mood-changing drug for the young. Young people have much greater incomes at their disposal. They use their incomes in exactly the same way as previously in our society, but perhaps with less control and less example. Therefore, I urge your Lordships—and I urge the new inter-departmental Cabinet Committee which has been formed, the Wakeham Committee, which I welcome—to take on board all those aspects. I urge the committee, as I am sure it will in the course of its deliberations, to take evidence from all members of our society—from policemen, teachers, nurses and from anyone who can throw light on the problem. Psychiatrists should also be consulted. There is an excellent report, recently published, from the Institute of Psychiatrists. Evidence should be obtained from the armed forces and from anyone who can throw light on all aspects of alcohol consumption and abuse.
§ The harmful effects of alcohol abuse can be split into three categories. The social category is as long as one's arm. Marriage break-up is often associated with drink abuse. There is also child abuse. A recent 650 survey shows that in hospitals, for example, a high percentage of people admitted into casualty and accident wards are under the influence of drink. There are assaults on nurses. I regret that I did not ask one of the noble Baronesses who was a nurse, or has had nursing experience, to speak in the debate because the abuse and the attacks which nurses face in the course of their daily or nightly duties from people under the influence of drink are horrifying. The list is endless, but I need not go through it because I am sure other noble Lords will draw attention to the various examples.
§ The physical aspects of alcohol abuse are easy to observe. I do not suppose that there are many noble Lords who have not had contact, directly or indirectly, with someone who has suffered from the effects of alcohol abuse. The most obvious effect, of course, is damage to the liver. Everyone talks about the risk to the liver from alcohol abuse. That organ is immediately affected and I am glad that I asked a noble Lord who is a member of the medical profession to speak tonight. I shall be interested to hear his observations on that aspect.
§ There is, of course, risk to every organ and system in the human body. Women are particularly at risk. They are drinking increasingly as public houses become more attractive and because they have more time available to them. There again, I hope noble Lords will speak about that aspect. Because of their size, their body weight and the disposition of their organs they are vulnerable to concentrations of alcohol much more quickly than are men.
§ Heart disease can arise. The heart muscle is affected by alcohol, not to mention the brain, the memory, and so on. In addition, and very important to most people—I hope still to your Lordships—there is the question of sexual activity and virility in men. That is very much affected by alcohol abuse and, of course, further social problems follow. I shall not bore your Lordships with more examples from the list—it is endless. Everyone realises that the problem must be faced.
§ For those who are not moved by the examples I have given of the physical and social effects I put the matter in economic terms, which may appeal to others. The cost of alcohol abuse throughout the country is astonishing. On the latest count the bill for industry alone is £1.5 billion. That figure comes from the Centre of Health and Economics at the University of York—an institution from which the Government draw their statistics. That figure covers absenteeism, accidents at work, people who have to end their working life prematurely, and so on. The cost to the National Health Service must be nearly £100 million, and is probably more. The trouble is that many incidents are probably not reported, but I am sure that the figure is not less than that.
§ Traffic accidents are another scandal in our society and, again, I suggest that we have not faced that aspect head on. We complicate the problem with all kinds of arguments. We delay action and the tally becomes greater and greater. Christmas is approaching and I suggest to your Lordships that the accident rate will again be a horrifying figure. There is also the cost of criminal investigations into crimes related to alcohol.651
§ Having given your Lordships this catalogue of misery I wind up my speech by saying that I believe that this is an urgent matter which must be dealt with properly. I was interviewed on a London radio station today. I was asked—and I was glad the question was put to me—whether I drank. I said that I did and that I drank normally. It is a significant that many people who now drink normally, who live normal lives and who do not abuse drink but drink in a way that is socially acceptable, are interested and concerned about alcohol abuse. We no longer want it to be the preserve of abolitionists, helpful though they are in their contribution to the state of alcohol abuse in the country. It is important that people who are normal drinkers should take up the cause and help to push forward a new approach, a new view and a new realism as regards alcohol, to children, the unwary, the uneducated and the vulnerable. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.19 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I applaud the decision to have a debate on this subject this evening. I am sure I speak for all who heard the noble Viscount in thanking him for having made this possible. He spoke cogently on the subject and I support his views entirely. My contribution will, I hope, be to add some comments to two or three of the elements of the subject in pursuing what the noble Viscount said in general. I propose to do this under two headings. The misuse of alcohol arises because of circumstances and requirements which are different for each. My first heading is drink and driving, and my second is drinking to excess and drunkenness.
Under the first, the situation surely calls for the solution that no alcohol should be drunk at all when one is likely to be driving a motor vehicle. I do accept that a single glass of wine, particularly if of the dimensions complained of from time to time by my noble friend Lord Chelwood, would not do harm and would of course be within the limit under present legislation. However, surely the best solution is to drink non-alcoholic potions when about to drive a car.
This brings me to random tests, which are in the news again. This has been a subject which has been discussed for almost as long as the breathaliser has been incorporated in legislation. I remember in particular when I was in the other place a Bill being before Parliament. This was the 1966 Transport Bill, which contained provisions for random tests. There was then a general election and the Bill was lost; but when the Bill returned those provisions had been removed. Of course not many people noticed that, and those who had been against it were not going to complain. Clearly there had been difficulties for the government of the day, and I am sure many of those difficulties still exist.
Perhaps the best illustration of the kind of question which arose then is this: what do I advise my wife and daughter if driving on her own, when one or two persons try to stop her car at night in an unfrequented area? They appear to look like police but not convincingly so. In almost every other situation one's advice would be, do not stop. That was the kind of 652 problem which arose and I think made it too difficult for the Government to continue with their proposals in 1966. However, for my part, I support the Government in further attempts to overcome such difficulties and to discourage drinking and driving.
My second heading is drinking to excess, drunkenness and alcoholism. These are damaging to health and the cause of social ills of various kinds of which the noble Viscount gave us some particulars.
I understand that a report has just been presented to the Home Office concerning young people under 18. Presumably it is as a result of investigation in England and Wales and not Scotland, as it is for the Home Office. That has happened in just the last day or so, and no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, will say more on this when she comes to speak, because I understand she chaired the committee. We shall no doubt hear the Government's proposals in due course, I hope soon, although there are important matters raised in the report.
In another place a licensing Bill has been introduced by the Government to extend licensing hours in England and Wales. There have been references to the reform carried out in Scotland 10 years ago. Because I was the Secretary of State for Scotland who initiated that reform in 1971, appointed Dr. Clayson and his committee and then received his report and started the action which led to the 1976 Bill, I might be able to help your Lordships with a few words on this subject.
I must say at the outset that there was a different situation in Scotland from England and Wales, and any close comparisons would not be valid. Nonetheless, I believe that the results of the changes in Scotland after 10 years' experience are worth looking at. Some misleading mythology may also be created unless the facts are recorded.
First, in 1971 my main concern when setting up the committee and then dealing with its recommendations was to avoid any increase in drunkenness. Before the reform, closing time in Scotland was early and there was an incentive to drink against the clock during the restricted hours. The Clayson Committee shared my view that relaxation of the hours would help to make drinking more civilised and relaxed and an accompaniment to social gatherings; in particular that men would take their womenfolk to pubs. In many parts of Scotland this had been unheard of—the pubs were drab drinking dens to which only men went.
We have the benefit of a survey by the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys, the OPCS, on the first eight years of the reform in Scotland. The main findings are, first, on consumption, that men are now drinking about the same amount as they did before. That women are drinking about 35 per cent. more but that they are still drinking over three times less than men. The effect in relation to women, the 35 per cent. increase, may be surprising to those meeting it for the first time. However, it was not surprising to me and to those others concerned with the Clayson Committee's recommendations. It was part of the new sociable drinking which we hoped would evolve that more women would be included and they would therefore be drinking more.
653 Consumption was of course spread over more time. I am glad therefore that the OPCS was able to report that drunkenness had decreased, and the records since 1976 confirm that. There was a change in prosecution procedures in Scotland in about 1980, so that it is not possible to make precise comparisons, but nonetheless the figures are very reassuring. Those of us whose homes are in Scotland have been able to observe during the 10 years that there has been an improvement. Three-quarters of those interviewed by the OPCS during its survey said that they considered that the new licensing hours were an improvement on the old ones.
There have been suggestions that health in Scotland has suffered. However, here a detailed study by the specialist alcohol unit at Edinburgh University concluded that the effect of the change in licensing law had been neutral. That was reported at the end of 1985 and a summary was published in the British Medical Journal in January 1986.
Should alcohol be sold or drunk at all? I have given my views on driving. At other times in daily life I believe this is a matter of choice and, like the noble Viscount, that it should be in sensible quantities. I do understand those who drink no alcohol on principle, although I do not share their attitude, in the same way that I understand vegetarians. However, there are other stimulants. When on a visit to Salt Lake City I was made very much aware that some, if not all, Mormons do not drink coffee or tea because they are stimulants too.
When I was in the other place and speaking on the exports and industrial health of the distilling industry I invariably reported the general advice which I have received from the medical profession that for a normal person whisky is an excellent beverage, taken of course in moderation. There were probably more distilleries in my constituency where my home is in Northern Scotland than in any other constituency. Paradoxically my own surgical and medical troubles of the last 42 years have meant that I cannot myself drink whisky.
I hope that the Government and everyone else in a position to exert influence will give very high priority to reducing and eliminating the misuse of alcohol.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, the first debate I heard when I came to your Lordships' House three weeks ago was on the procedures of the House. One matter that soon became clear was that shorter speeches would not only be welcome but would add to the efficiency of your Lordships' House. For the past six years it has been my privilege to be chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party. During that period, one of my continuing tasks was to encourage shorter speeches at meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Bearing in mind those experiences, I hope that the brevity, at least of my first contribution to your Lordships' deliberations, will be welcome.
I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on calling attention to what must surely be one of the most serious problems of our society today. In the short time that I intend to take, I shall deal with only 654 one aspect of alcohol abuse, that of drink driving. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, dealt with that matter because I feel that it cannot be referred to too often. There is no doubt that there is increasing public concern about the effects of drinking and driving and a feeling that the present law is inadequate. Of course, as soon as anyone suggests, as I intend to do, that there should be a change in or a tightening up of the law, there will be protests, understandably, about further restrictions to civil liberties and human freedom.
We cannot support the retention or the extension of freedom for some people in our society if the interests of others are damaged by it. I said "damaged". In the context of drink driving, we can use the word in its literal, physical sense. Last year, 1,100 people died as a result of drinking and driving. That rate has continued so far this year. We can say with some certainty that during our debates in your Lordships' House today, four more people will be killed as a result of drink driving. Last year there were 47,000 casualties, 50 per cent. of whom had not been drinking or driving. Again, in 1986, 61,000 drivers were given roadside breath tests after a personal injury accident and no fewer than 12,000 failed the test. Those figures are the official Department of Transport statistics.
In this country deaths arising from drinking and driving are three times greater than deaths from murder, drugs and acts of terrorism. I have mentioned drugs. I shall repeat something that the noble Viscount said. I find it difficult to understand why the Government should devote so much time, energy and resources to the drugs problem, policies with which I entirely agree and fully support, while at the same time paying less attention to the much more widespread problem of alcohol abuse. Alcohol kills 10 times as many teenagers as does heroin. A few moments ago I gave some horrifying statistics about deaths and injuries caused by drink driving. I could give more.
The real horror of those figures can only be appreciated in personal terms. We must think of our wives, our husbands, our sons, our daughters and our grandchildren being killed or perhaps confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. Of course we all say to ourselves, "Yes, it is terrible, but it will not happen to us". I have not the slightest doubt that the relatives of those 1,100 people killed every year said exactly that before they lost their loved ones. I think too of those people when I hear that stupid but chilling phrase, "I drive better when I have had a drink or two".
One in three of the drivers killed on our roads had excess alcohol in their blood. In the face of the frightening and overwhelming evidence, some of which I have given, I find it deeply worrying that the Government are not doing more to combat the problem of drink driving. I know that Ministers point to their publicity campaigns. I do not object to that, but by themselves they have been largely ineffective. Within the past few days I have seen an estimate that next month the drinks industry will spend £20 million encouraging us to drink more over Christmas. The total budget of the Department of Transport on safer drinking for a full year is £2.5 million. Those figures 655 speak for themselves. Something much more fundamental must be done if the number of deaths and injuries is to be reduced. It should take the form of a change in the law. The scale of the slaughter—I have to use that word—is now so great that random breath-testing must be introduced.
The Minister will no doubt tell me that legislation to deal with this matter already exists. He will say that Section 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 authorises a constable in uniform to stop any vehicle, and that Sections 6 and 7 of that Act reinforce the position. Those sections deal with the testing of breath, blood and urine. That of course is the position. With the sheer scale of drink-related deaths and injuries on our roads, I fail to see how anyone can say that the present law is a sufficient deterrent. Random breath-testing can of course take various forms. I do not intend to go into them in detail, but I wish to emphasise one point. Drivers must be made aware that there is a considerable certainty of being tested. That will be the greatest possible deterrent against over-limit drinking.
The evidence in some countries is abundantly clear. It is that an easily seen and specialy marked police presence at the roadside will reduce drink driving. I emphasise that it is necessary for drivers to know that such units are there for random testing. That is the crucial aspect of the matter. As a matter of urgency the Government should look at what is happening in other countries which have random breath tests. They should study what is happening in Australia, Finland, New Zealand and the United States of America. Ministers could not fail to be impressed by what they see.
Ministers should listen to the British Medical Association, the Guild of Advanced Motorists, the Parliamentary Council on Road Safety, the Road Traffic Committee of the Magistrates' Association and many other organisations, which I could name, that have studied and support random testing.
I know that the Minister in another place who has special responsibility for this matter constantly says that the main aim must be to change the public attitude towards this evil. I greatly admire the efforts he is making on this issue. I do not for a moment deny the importance of changing public perception, but the evidence is that random testing will do more to bring about that change than any other measure.
Shakespeare, as always, had a comment. In Henry V one of his characters says:I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety".I doubt whether the word "safety" meant road safety, but in the context of this debate it is true, and a statement which we would all do well to ponder.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
My Lords, I am sure that all Members of this House would wish me to begin with a word of congratulation to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, on the maiden speech we have just heard with such interest. His long experience of the processes of Parliament and passionate concern for society came through unmistakably and must be 656 the herald of good things to come. I venture to hope that he will not be too obsessed with brevity in future speeches.
I welcome the debate and thank the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for introducing it. It comes at an appropriate moment. There are signs that the nation in general and the churches in particular are becoming increasingly aware of the misunderstandings and dangers associated with this drug. I am sure that the churches warmly welcome the recent creation of the interdepartmental group of Ministers and civil servants.
The charity, Alcohol Concern, is currently calling for a 12-year campaign for safe drinking between now and the year 2,000, with achievable objectives such as a ten-fold increase in the expenditure on alcohol education, and a reduction in the permitted level of alcohol in the blood for drivers to at most 50 milligrams. Such objectives must surely have wide support.
The Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist Church have both published this year reports of their own working parties on the problem of alcohol abuse. The Church of England Board for Social Responsibility will produce a similar statement next month. There is undoubtedly a rising tide of concern and anxiety in many quarters, but near the heart of the problem are the largely unexpressed assumptions that we make about alcohol, both corporately and as individuals. They are assumptions which are often affected by misunderstanding.
For example, many believe that the problems connected with alcohol are confined to a small minority of heavy drinkers. That is not so. The fact is that a much larger number of what I suppose most of us would call moderate drinkers are seriously at risk themselves and may well be putting many others in the community at risk as well. We have to take account of the fact that the overall consumption of alcohol in our country doubled between 1950 and 1980. That cannot be ascribed to just a few people drinking to excess. The tide that is rising is not merely a tide of concern. It is alcohol itself which is gently pervading the common life of our society like a rising tide.
I believe that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York caught the reality of what is happening in some sentences he wrote in August of this year in a message to his own diocese. I beg leave to quote from the message. He wrote as follows:The vast majority of the population use mood-changing substances of one kind or another for a whole variety of purposes—to wake them up, to slow them down, to relieve anxiety, to act as a social lubricant, for kicks, pleasure, a means of escape or because the substance, whatever it is, has made escape impossible. Some substances like tea and coffee are virtually harmless in normal quantities … some drugs come with the sign of medical approval yet can create dependency every bit as damaging as the much more dreaded … illegal drug. But paradoxically the real killers are substances which still carry a high degree of public acceptability—tobacco and alcohol. Alcohol is as old as civilisation and its use has been hedged around by … many social conventions. In many contexts it can be used responsibly and enjoyably. But in contexts where social conventions are changing or breaking down, or where the inducements towards excess are strong, the results can be devastating.We live in such a context today. Social habits have changed. A drinks cabinet in the living room, drinks before meals, drinks during meals, drinks after meals, a little stiffener between meals and an 657 evening out at the pub are widely familiar and accepted parts of our social scene. And yet those whose instinctive reaction in a crisis is to gulp down something strong are likely to be the first to react in horror if their children are caught taking 'drugs' … I am not saying that alcohol is worse than other drugs, or more dangerous, only that there is a lot more of it around. Its excessive use is one of the major factors in crime, domestic misery, accidents and premature death".There is clearly a religious dimension. Christians believe that alcohol is a part of the natural creation and is not therefore in itself evil. The Bible itself is ambivalent. The prophets rail at drunkenness but the psalmist can praise the wine that maketh glad the heart of man. But as with so much else in God's creation, it is within the exercise of our freedom to use it either creatively or destructively, either to enhance that enjoyment of life which is God's will for his creatures or to debase ourselves and endanger others. It is a matter of freedom, and the freedom is ours. In the end surely the way forward must be through education and not through restrictive legislation, though that will certainly have a part to play.
Everyone ought to know the basic facts about alcohol. One unit is the amount the normal body will process in an hour. We ought to know how many units there are in our pints of bitter, our glass of wine or our double whisky. Would it not help if this information always appeared on bottles and cans sold in shops and supermarkets? When we offer drinks to others can we increasingly remember to offer an attractive alternative to alcohol as a rule of our domestic and family living? There are at present too few firms in business who supply non-alcoholic wines and other drinks. But if demand increases, no doubt the trade will increase with it. Might we not come to expect an alternative to be offered to us without having to ask for something non-alcoholic when we are guests, or on the menu when we go out for a meal?
I regret to say that the churches themselves are not always guiltless in this matter. It is sometimes possible after a confirmation service or before a flower festival to be offered wine and cheese and nothing else—and here is a Bishop who intends to put that right in his own diocese at least!
It is not impossible for social trends, even deeply entrenched ones, to be reversed. We have seen it with smoking. We are seeing it with our habits of eating. A more disciplined and responsible attitude to alcohol is within our reach. I hope that the net result of this debate will be to encourage and strengthen those good people in our society who are working towards that very end.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, on his excellent maiden speech. Yesterday at the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention I introduced the report of the working group on young people, alcohol and crime. The debate of the noble Viscount today is most fortuitous as I can now recommend this report to your Lordships. I thank the noble Viscount for this opportunity.
Over the years I have witnessed at first hand some of the horrendous results of alcohol abuse. I married 658 into a family where one member was an alcoholic. She was intelligent and attractive and had both medical and experienced voluntary help by experts on the treatment of alcoholism. Nevertheless she died a tragic death due to her problem. Alcohol can be a greater problem to the female sex.
When I was working with a friend we became involved with a man whose personality and brain had been so damaged by alcohol abuse that he had no control over his actions. On one occasion he approached us with a carving knife. The sharp end of abuse can be very sharp indeed.
On another occasion a drunk man entered my car and it was only due to an eight-year old child in the back that I managed, with some difficulty, to get him out. This year I met a casualty of a brutal, heinous attack. Rob, a man in his thirties, was taking his dog for its evening walk in Worthing when he was set upon by two young men at closing time. They beat him up, breaking his neck. The two girls with the attackers were so horrified that they reported the men to the police. Rob remains paralysed today from the neck downwards. But for his fortitude and the wonderful treatment at Stoke Mandeville Hospital spinal unit he most likely would be dead. The two attackers have been sentenced to seven years and 15 years in prison.
Only a few weeks ago our son went to the help of a security guard in Piccadilly when four drunk Americans were beating him up. Our son, also doing security work, was thrown down some stairs, sustained a head wound, a suspected fractured skull and a wrenched shoulder. There is a growing number of such casualties flooding into our overpressed hospitals. I am sure that many Members of your Lordships' House could tell tragic tales due to the abuse of alcohol. As a country can we afford to sit back and do nothing about it? On the whole Britain is a law-abiding country, but now when alcohol takes over violence and disorder take control.
The committee on young people and alcohol recommends that the law needs tightening up. The aim of crime prevention is to deal with problems before they reach the stage of criminality. Throughout the country there is increasing concern about under-age drinking. The younger the children start drinking, the more dangerous it is to their health. By the time they reach the late teens and early twenties they are drinking at a serious level, which is shown by the peak reached at 18 by the rate of "guilty" findings or cautions for drunkenness per 100,000 population. This is shown in our report.
Earlier this year the Home Secretary asked me to chair the working group on young people and alcohol. Our group consisted of a brewer, a member of the retailers' association, a psychiatrist and a member of the Health Education Authority, a director of social services from Wales, a chief probation officer, a head teacher, a chaplain from youth custody, a youth adviser, a member of the Salvation Army, a chief-superintendent of police, a solicitor and clerk to the justices, a member representing ethnic groups, a paediatrician from Wales and our civil servants from the Home Office who were most helpful and diligent.
659 The group, representing so many interests, worked extremely well together and we soon discovered what an immense problem under-age drinking has become, how confusing the present law is and how difficult it is to implement. We found that, apart from some splendid initiatives such as Bentley's Night Club at Stockton-on-Tees and Sunderland, the Pop-Inn at Manchester, the Parrot and Palm Club at Worthing and West One at Welwyn Garden City—these are disco-type clubs for young people and they are alcohol-free—there are not enough attractive youth facilities to draw young people away from the alcohol/pub culture. Some pubs are now taking a responsible attitude by providing family rooms where non-alcoholic drinks are available. We were encouraged at the increase in non-alcoholic wines and beers and hope that these will become easier to obtain from the small retailer.
I have written to both Houses of Parliament suggesting that they provide a choice of nonalcoholic wine. They already have beer. Many young people visit your Lordships' House. Sainsburys has brought out a booklet on responsible drinking. If this attitude is spread around the country there is hope, but if society's attitude is to turn a blind eye to underage drinking, I am sure that the increase in various crimes will penetrate down the age groups, as shown by the revealing recent "Panorama" programme.
Young people watch television and go to the cinema a great deal. The other day my general practitioner went to the cinema and an advertisment was shown about the dangers of heroin. The very next advertisement was an alluring one promoting some type of alcohol. Many of the advertisements are group-watched and aimed at young people, even though there is a law stating that advertisements for alcohol should not show people under the age of 25. Because of the scale of the problem our group concluded that television and cinema advertising of all alcoholic drinks should be banned.
We were alarmed that the recently-published Government proposals for a national curriculum failed to acknowledge the central importance of health and social education programmes in schools. We urge the Government to ensure that health education is given proper prominence in the national curriculum. We recommend that the DHSS should give urgent consideration to the appointment of serving teachers from the primary and secondary sectors to the Health Education Authority. We hope that the Government will consider a health warning on alcoholic drinks such as that carried by cigarettes. Education is a long process. Attitudes will not change overnight.
Our report has 50 recommendations but time does not allow me to go through them all. Any of your Lordships who are interested can obtain a copy from the Printed Paper Office or the Home Office and I have had copies placed in the Library. To make the law readily understood and reasonably consistent we recommend that the purchase or consumption of alcoholic drinks in all parts of licensed premises, registered clubs, wine warehouses, hotels and restaurants by those under 18 be made illegal. We hope that the consumption of alcohol in public places 660 by people under 18 will also be made illegal. In the city of Coventry there has already been an application for bylaws to make this possible and the Home Secretary is looking into it.
We recommend that the sales of alcoholic liquor be made by or effectively supervised by people aged at least 18. Where alcohol is sold or supplied to or for under-aged persons the onus should be placed upon the licensee to prove to a court that all responsible steps had been taken to prevent the offence. We recommend various codes of practice and training for magistrates and that a standard code of licensing practice be established for the guidance of licensing justices and licensees. More training is a theme which runs through the report for all people in positions of responsibility involved with alcohol. The Home Secretary has told us that the report will now be considered by the committee of the right honourable John Wakeham in another place. I hope that many of the recommendations will be acted upon. We owe that to our young people and to their future. Alcohol has become a problem in all sections of society. There are tragedies within the homes of some ethnic groups who need counselling and support from people who understand the culture.
There are serious problems from public schools to inner-city housing estates. To tackle these problems we need concerted efforts by local communities, both statutory and voluntary groups working together. I hope that your Lordships will do something about encouraging responsible drinking so that we have a safer and more stable society to live in.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Whaddon
My Lords, excessive drinking is a curse on the addict and his family and a grave burden on the whole of our society. There has been a great deal of debate on just how many deaths and injuries are caused by excessive drinking. The Scottish whisky distillers organisation has questioned the estimates of the general practitioners. The general practitioners consider that 40,000 of our people a year go to an early grave because of alcohol addiction. The distillers disagreed with this, but then they would, would they not?
My own feeling is that the doctors are likely to have the better of the argument. But whether that figure is exact or whether it is not certainly tens of thousands of our countrymen go to an early grave each year through road accidents, by suicide, by murder, by fire, by cirrhosis of the liver, all of which show a close correlation with the amount of drinking.
In addition it is generally recognised that there are 750,000 people in the country with a serious drink problem. It occurred to me that 750,000 drunks means 750,000 familes who suffer from a bad drinking problem, which means that 2 million-plus of our people are constantly living under the shadow of the bottle. When a man or woman is a constant drinker the family life is also ruined.
What about the economic cost? We spend a lot of time in this House and in another place considering how we may cut down the loss to industry from strikes, and rightly so. And yet alcohol causes five times the loss of industrial production as do all the 661 strikes put together. Yet where is our priority? How much priority do we give to discussing this in Parliament?
There is one special aspect which horrified me the other day when I learned of it to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention, and that is some work recently carried out by Professor Kaufman of Edinburgh University. We have had some dreadful examples given tonight of the effects of overindulgence in alcohol by adults and by young people, but Professor Kaufman has carried the work to an earlier stage.
He points out that it has been known for a long time that women who drink heavily during pregnancy are liable to cause foetal alcohol syndrome in newly-born children—low weight, and mental retardation. But Professor Kaufman has studied even earlier developments and found that the conceptus—the newly fertilised egg cell—and even the egg cell before fertilisation suffer serious damage from alcohol drunk by the pregnant woman or even the woman before she becomes pregnant. The damage is quite horrifying, because there is a distinct link between the amount of alcohol and damage to the cromosome numbers in the egg and in the conceptus. This, as your Lordships will be aware, leads to the most dreadful, crippling syndrome in the newly-born child. It is a dreadful burden on the child and on the family.
The lesson is clear. The conceptuses which are so damaged are in most cases automatically aborted; but quite a number come through to become crippled children. What can we do about it? There is no cure, only prevention. Women must realise that throughout their fertile years they must cut down on their drinking if they want to safeguard their families—and cut down even before they have conceived.
The media have a great part to play in the fight against excess drinking. The people of our country are bombarded with the most subtle advertisements. There is great pressure from the advertising industry, and there is great pressure on them from social quarters as well. It is expected in so many social circles that you should drink to show that you are a man; to show that you are sophisticated. We have to learn to counter that, and countering that attitude can only come by an attack from several points at once. The Government have their part to play; but simply passing a law against drinking is never likely to cure the problem. America showed us that during Prohibition. But the Government must nevertheless have a part to play. The media have in my opinion a crucial role which nobody else can replace.
I remember what must be 40 years ago seeing a film which has been in my mind ever since; "The Lost Weekend". It was a most dramatic film which hit the headlines in its time. It showed as it is the effect on a man and his family when he is in the grip of alcoholism. But where are the playwrights or the scriptwriters now? Where do we see on television the equivalent of "The Lost Weekend"?
Week after week "Coronation Street" shows the Rovers Return as a wonderful rendezvous for all the 662 family. Many pubs are like that, but do not let us overdo it. When will "Coronation Street" show another pub with its filthy toilets, its filthy glasses, and its drunken people brawling and vomiting all over the place? Such pubs exist, and the media have a duty to show the other side of the coin.
We all have our part to play. Every leader of society, whether it be an employer, trade union leader, officers in the Army, police officers or teachers must set an example to those whom they lead. Employers must make it clear that they do not give priority in promotions to people who turn up at office parties and knock back more than anybody else; that if somebody turns up and drinks soft drinks they are as good as anybody else. It takes the real man to say no to alcohol.
We all have our part to play, and I should like to wind up my remarks by paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Falkland. In raising this topic this afternoon he has greatly contributed to the campaign that we should all be waging. The Government cannot get off the hook. They have to form a legal framework within which other pressures may be applied.
The prices for alcohol have been allowed to drift downwards in real terms and inevitably consumption goes up. We have seen this not only in the United Kingdom but in all countries in the world. It is imperative that the Government realise their responsibility to maintain and increase the prices. They should also consider carefully the law on advertisements. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, spoke of the dangers of advertising to the young. Yet, what do we see in last month's Drinks Retailer? In one column there is reference to an advertising campaign by one of the biggest distillers in the country. It is a new and expensive advertising campaign specifically aimed at the young. The article states that it is hoping to attract more younger drinkers by spreading the word about its well-established reputation as a brand of quality.
In another part of the magazine there appears a quotation from one of the main brewers which states that it has pierced the youth market and has aimed single-mindedly at 18 to 24 year-olds. Advertisements such as those are carving away the lives of our youngsters. The Government have their part to play in suppressing that kind of advertising activity because no-one else can do it.
The law on drinking and driving has been mentioned several times. I wholeheartedly support the need to reduce the 80 mg. level to 50 mg., as a start, and to introduce random breath testing. That is the only way in which we shall get a grip on the drunken driver. Health warnings should be printed on every bottle of alcohol, as with cigarettes; it is every bit as dangerous. Children should be instructed in the dangers of alcohol and tobacco as part of the compulsory school curriculum. This framework of legislation is necessary if the other social pressures, of which we are all aware, are to be applied to the vulnerable young people who will otherwise be the future victims.
I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Falkland. This afternoon he has helped the House in pointing out the hell that lies behind the statistics.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, and other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on bringing the subject forward for discussion this afternoon.
All noble Lords who have spoken have mentioned the problem of alcohol abuse. It is a serious problem which needs studying. We know little about alcoholism. We need to know more about whether it is an illness, part psychological or part physical. Those subjects definitely require increased study.
In this debate most noble Lords have mentioned the different serious aspects of alcohol and its evils. I find that I shall be in a minority once again—as I frequently am in this House—by saying something about the benefits of alcohol and why it is perhaps not such an evil in many circumstances as has been made out. I believe that it is important to stress the other side of the coin.
I welcome this debate for another reason. Two weeks ago the Licensing Reform Bill had its Second Reading in another place. The Bill will come before this House in the New Year and it will have my wholehearted support. On Second Reading in another place the debate appeared to become confused by the subject of the misuse of alcohol and by the temperance bodies and other abolitionists. I think that our debate this evening will clear away some of the undergrowth and confusion and enable us to discuss the health aspect. Therefore, when we discuss reform after Christmas we can stick to the facts. I presume that it is for that reason that tonight we have a health Minister answering the debate and not a Home Office Minister, which will be the case after Christmas.
I should like to deal with alcohol in general. In this country 94 per cent. of men and 89 per cent. of women drink. It is part of the social fabric of our country, but I do not think that we are a drunken nation. My statistics and research reveal that according to the tables, the UK comes ninth in the consumption of beer, which is the most popular drink, it is 18th in the consumption of wine and it is 19th in the consumption of spirits. Within countries in a comparable economic position we stand near the bottom of the league in consumption. That is an important aspect.
In his interesting speech the right reverend Prelate took the increase in consumption from the base point in 1950. It is worth pointing out that the consumption figure for alcohol in the United Kingdom in 1950 was the lowest for 250 years. Therefore, if one takes that base point one will have some peculiar incremental statistics. Secondly, the right reverend Prelate quite rightly mentioned Christian philosophy. Noble Lords should be reminded that Christ's first miracle in Canaan of Galilee was to turn water into wine.
Turning to the medical aspect, there are deaths from alcohol-related disease, which is a terrible thing. I am informed that the incidence of cirrhosis of the liver is declining relative to the population. That has been so in Scotland since 1979 and I find it particularly interesting. I wonder whether there is any correlation between that and the reforms which 664 were introduced in Scotland by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. I believe that matter to be worthy of further study and thought.
There is good evidence, with which most medical practitioners will agree, that moderate alcohol intake is beneficial. It has much to do with preventing cardiac arrest; so there are benefits to be gained by moderate and sensible drinking, quite apart from the fact that it forms a vital part of our social fabric.
I do not believe that alcoholism is caused by public houses, hotels, restaurants and other leisure establishments. Nor do I believe that it is caused by the availability of alcohol in retail outlets where drink is available at more reasonable prices than in leisure establishments such as public houses. I am not sure that there is a direct correlation between availability and consumption. In many countries in Western Europe and elsewhere where regulations are far more strict, consumption is much higher and the problems are much greater. For example, in two countries of an advanced economy, Sweden and Finland, drink is more expensive, more highly taxed and less freely available and there is a greater incidence of drunkenness.
It is important to remove some of the myths in considering the problem. Several noble Lords mentioned the fact that when the United States of America indulged in total prohibition the results were catastrophic and the misery profound.
Another important myth which should be removed concerns advertising, which several noble Lords mentioned. I believe that, by and large, advertising by the drinks manufacturers is extremely responsible. Very strict standards of control are employed by the advertising industry. Advertising is not directed to increasing consumption; it is directed to increasing the brand share of a particular product. There is no evidence that any alcohol advertising is directed towards increasing basic consumption and that is also an important aspect which should be clarified.
I believe that controls on the supply of alcohol will not reduce consumption but will have quite the reverse effect. I also believe that people with alcohol-related diseases tend to be rather reclusive, do not go to public houses and are anti-social. Certainly from my experience, and from people in my family who I know to have had this problem, alcoholics and others who are considered to be alcoholics—if that is the right word to use and it is the word in common parlance—seem to be rather reclusive and anti-social. That is not to say that we do not need to know a great deal more about it.
Several noble Lords have mentioned the interesting fact that drugs, tobacco and problems associated with their use attract enormous budgets for research. Alcohol has always seemed to be something of an orphan. Problems have been ignored where they exist and there has been very little unbiased research into the causes of alcoholism. Like the noble Viscount, I should like to encourage the Government to provide more funds for research to be undertaken. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something more on that subject. However, we must not confuse necessary research into aspects of disease caused by alcohol and its abuse with the 665 questions of where, when and how alcohol should be made available to the great mass of the British public. Alcohol is part of our national life and it brings considerable benefits.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I, too, should also like to congratulate the noble Viscount, particularly on his remarkable sense of timing. The report of the noble Baroness's working party was published today and she has given us a very good, if brief, resume of its most important findings. Moreover the consensus statement of all the medical and surgical colleges of the United Kingdom was released on 8th November. That statement made 14 clear recommendations on reducing the damage caused by alcohol.
In the past two years important reports have been published by the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Psychiatrists and General Practitioners, together with reports from the British Psychological Society, the faculty of Community Medicine and the World Health Organisation. Anticipating the criticism of their new Bill to permit longer opening hours, the Government have set up the Wakeham Ministerial Group to look at the whole problem. I very much hope that that important group will take into account the views that have been put forward in this debate as well as the weighty evidence in the reports that I have mentioned.
From time to time royal colleges have a way of producing reports which urge governments to act. In 1726 the Royal College of Physicians submitted a petition to Parliament drawing attention to:the fatal effect of the frequent use of several sorts of distilled spirituous liquors upon great numbers of both sexes, rendering them diseased, not fit for business, poor, a burden to themselves and neighbours, and too often the cause of weak, feeble and distempered children".I must say that that statement arose from the fact that at that time gin was being hawked around London at one penny a pint. The purpose of the petition from the Royal College was to try to persuade the Government to put a tax on gin and encourage people to drink beer, which was then less likely to be contaminated with sewage than was the water supply. Although the words were different in 1726 from the words of the royal colleges today, the message is the same: beware of strong drink and use it moderately.
I have to declare a fourfold personal interest in alcohol, one interest being positive and three negative. I admit to enjoying drinking alcohol and I think that I imbibe—I hope that is the right word—rather more than the allowed 21 units per week, which is equivalent to three bottles of wine. Sensible drinking is not only pleasurable in itself but enhances friendly communication between people.
A few years ago in the United States a study was undertaken on the effect of introducing beer, cheese and crackers on six afternoons a week at the Cushing Hospital for Old People in Boston. That study showed that the introduction of what was called "the cocktail hour" greatly reduced incontinence, greatly increased active mobility and completely abolished the need for sedation among the old people. It may have had those results because more staff joined the 666 patients for their beer and cheese and thus increased personal contact with them.
Alcohol can be a most useful social facilitator, or perhaps I should say lubricant. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord. Montgomery, that there is evidence of a beneficial effect of light to moderate consumption of alcohol on the prevalence of arterio sclerosis and coronary heart disease. However, if one drinks more than a certain amount above the permitted or suggested levels, one starts running into trouble.
My negative experiences of alcohol are very powerful. My family has suffered severely through excesses of alcohol—and I admit to them being my blood relatives and not relatives by marriage, as mentioned by the noble Baroness. One relative has died from cirrhosis of the liver, having previously made a suicide attempt by threatening to jump off Westminster Bridge. Another relative killed himself at the second attempt, after he had lost a prestigious and well-paid job as a result of excessive drinking and his consequent unreliability. The health of two other members of my family suffered severely from alcohol dependency, although they eventually died from other causes.
I belong to a profession that has a high incidence of mortality from cirrhosis of the liver caused through heavy drinking. The mortality rate for doctors is exceeded by that for only a few other trades; examples are those who are engaged in the drinks and catering trade, those who go to sea and journalists or people in the advertising trade. I do not mention the health of Members of Parliament because they are too few in number actually to be classified by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. The stress of looking after the severely sick or of witnessing death has often been held to be the cause of the heavy drinking habits of doctors, although the reasons are probably more complicated and may be due to the tradition of heavy drinking which starts in medical school. Nowadays the heavy drinking that exists among some junior hospital doctors can, I think, be laid at the door of the long hours which they work in inadequately staffed wards.
My main negative experience with alcohol comes in my daily practice. Every day I see the results of excessive drinking. Even so, a number of heavy drinkers are not aware that they are in danger and do not come to the doctor until they suffer a complication, when it may be difficult and sometimes impossible to reverse the damage. There is thus a real need for doctors to obtain a "drinking history" from every patient who comes to them for whatever reason. Today people are more ready to give that information and the techniques for obtaining it are described very well in the report of the Royal College of General Practitioners which I have mentioned and which is entitled Alcohol, A Balanced View.
However, many patients do come asking for help with their drinking problem and there is a great deal that GPs can do, especially in conjunction with counselling, rehabilitation services and detoxification facilities. All those services are in need of expansion and better funding and I must say that I think it would be money very well spent, because of the 667 enormous costs that excessive drinking of alcohol imposes on society.
I suggest that the importance of alcohol consumption as a health problem should be given much greater emphasis in both undergraduate and postgraduate medical training. The report from the Royal College of General Practitioners which I have mentioned gives great weight to promoting education of the profession and to health education more widely of the public in general. As many speakers have already pointed out, as a nation we are woefully ignorant about the damage that is done by alcohol to our physical health. If time permitted I could spell out an uncomfortable list of serious diseases caused by heavy drinking. However, I will spare your Lordships, and the highly skilled, hard working Hansard writers, whose Latin and Greek may well be a little rusty. The Office of Health Economics, as has already been mentioned, has estimated that 2 per cent. of the adult population—over 700,000 people—are problem drinkers who are already in deep psychological, social or physical trouble. Another 3 million—that is, 8 per cent., of the adult population—are drinking more than the recommended safe levels.
The social cost to industry, the National Health Service and the law and order services—if I may call them that—has been estimated at £1.6 billion in 1983 and now it is much more likely to be over £2 billion. This figure is considered to be an underestimate. Much of the damage to family life is almost impossible to assess in financial terms. There is a great need for more research—and here again I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery—into the extent and nature of the effects of alcohol.
One survey found that 25 per cent. of all male hospital in-patients had alcohol-related problems. This implies an enormous cost. Another 32 per cent. of casualty attenders had excessive levels of alcohol in their blood.
It must be said that our main health problems today are all connected with unhealthy lifestyles. Cigarette smoking tops the list as the greatest of the merchants of death, accounting as it does for around 100,000 deaths annually. Alcohol, while it causes fewer deaths directly—only about 4,000 mentioned on death certificates—does cause more social havoc and contributes to many other illnesses not directly or obviously due to alcoholism itself. These deaths, as has already been mentioned, have been estimated by one body of the medical profession as amounting to 40,000. In fact, there is so much leeway in the estimates that it backs up my other request for further research: we do need to know much more about the effects of this drug.
Individuals themselves need help to change their lifestyles. Here I would disagree with the right reverend Prelate. Education, alone, is not enough: incentives, both sticks and carrots, are needed as well. As regards alcohol, I feel that the best combined stick and carrot that the Government have at their disposal is the excise duty. In other countries—and here I must disagree with the noble Lord—putting up the price has caused a reduction in consumption. In this country there is a fluctuation which shows that there is an effect when prices are put up. This applies 668 to all levels of drinking: heavy drinkers and light drinkers.
I suggest that a price increase would be a carrot because money that is not spent on drink can well be spent elsewhere. It will be a stick if the price of alcoholic drinks rises more than the real rise in earnings. Such an increase would have to be several percentage points above the retail price index. As has been pointed out, the hours of work needed to earn the cost of a bottle of whisky now, are only about half what they were before the war. But if this is done I would emphasise that the price of cigarettes should also rise correspondingly, otherwise one evil will simply tend to supplant another.
I should have liked to say something about drinking and driving, but my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington, in his very cogent maiden speech, has argued the case so well that I need say nothing more except that I thoroughly agree with all his remarks.
I would commend to your Lordships this excellent consensus report from the royal colleges, and I am sure that the Minister has already seen it. The report makes 12 recommendations, of which the tax increase that I have mentioned is one. I hope that the Government will respond positively to this document and likewise to all the other suggestions of noble Lords this evening.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ The Marquess of Headfort
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for putting down the subject of alcohol abuse this afternoon. I also view with alarm the increasing amount of alcohol abuse that we see everywhere in the British Isles today and in particular with young people.
To my mind it is no wonder that many more young people are tending to drink heavily when their sight is bombarded by frequent advertisements on television, in magazines, in newspapers and on advertising hoardings. These advertisements all tend to tell the same story: that to enjoy life all that is necessary is to drink some spirit or other, wine or beer.
I would ask the noble Lords in this House what then can be done? Obviously better education in schools by showing films on the disease of alcoholism—because that is what it is—may help to inculcate some caution in those who have the opportunity to see such films. However, nearly all of us in this House know of a friend or associate, possibly even a member of our own family, who suffers from alcoholism to a greater or lesser degree. How can we help these unfortunate people? We know from the medical profession that the ultimate end of the chronic alcoholic is almost invariably either insanity or death.
However, there is one strong ray of hope for the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, who suffer from drink problems. This is the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. This fellowship was founded in the mid-1930s in the United States of America by two professional men, one of whom was a doctor. Both these men suffered severely from continuing 669 bouts of alcoholism. From those early days the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous has grown immensely, spreading to nearly every country in the Western world.
All that it is necessary for the chronic alcoholic is to telephone the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous centre—the addresses of which are in the Yellow Pages, the telephone book or can be obtained through directory inquiries—and simply ask for help. AA members, who may only a few years or months previously have been in the same situation as the person in trouble, will come around to where the sufferer is and explain to him or her about the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. They will arrange for him or her to attend a meeting and subsequently other meetings where they can meet other members who have cured themselves from and got over their drink problems through the practice of what I suppose is really group therapy. However, it is not only group therapy; there is also a schedule of 12 steps contained in a book which you are supposed to read, understand, do and then ultimately discuss.
Eventually the desire to drink leaves them. It is definitely a policy of abstinence and it is not a question of teaching you to drink normally. Many people who go to Alcoholics Anonymous say, "I am beginning because I am going to be taught to drink properly, not get tight, and cause embarrassment". That is not the point; it is to teach you abstinence.
I have discussed this matter with many people in the medical profession and those who have experience of attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings—either because they needed it themselves or because they wanted to give a lecture and pass on their medical knowledge to the members—say that in their opinion it is the only thing which really works properly in regard to this problem.
The members of Alcoholics Anonymous will also take the new person and guide him or her if that should be necessary, to enter a hospital or nursing home in order to be dried out under medical supervision, because there are problems when somebody has been drinking very heavily if he is taken off it all at once.
I should like to conclude by adding my congratulations on his maiden speech to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on introducing this debate and linking it with the day on which the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, came out, so close to the time when a Bill is to be debated in another place. It was extremely well timed. I want also to express my very sincere thanks and congratulations to my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington, who gave an outstandingly good and very moving maiden speech. He always used to be fed up with my speaking in another place, but I shall look forward to his speaking here.
The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, mentioned in his opening remarks that he thought he would find himself in something of a minority. I think 670 that is true and I am rather happy that he is in a small minority in the circumstances, because concern has been expressed in all parts of the House about alcohol abuse. I emphasise that we are not talking about moderate, sensible drinking. Many of us have admitted that we are moderate, sensible drinkers; I am one. But we are talking about those whose drinking habits are not moderate and are often dangerous.
I want to sum up the facts as I see them. The facts are not as the Scotch Whisky Association—I was going to say Whisky Galore—sees them or as the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, does. I see them as follows. Roughly 3 million people, or about 8 per cent. of the population, are heavy drinkers. Even more, 25 per cent. of men and 8 per cent. of women, drink more than the recommended safe levels, thus increasing the incidence of heart disease, excessively high blood pressure, breathlessness and other medical conditions. The medical evidence is absolutely overwhelming. I am glad that reference has been made to the consensus statement signed, so far as I can see, by all the medical colleges, as well as by organisations like Action on Alcohol Abuse, Alcohol Concern, the Faculty of Community Medicine etc. It was a remarkable statement and I shall touch upon its recommendations later.
The Royal College of Physicians in a different report puts deaths due to excessive alcohol at about 35,000 a year. The Royal College of General Practitioners in its calculations suggested that in addition to 80 per cent. of deaths from chronic liver disease, alcohol accounts for 40 per cent. of deaths from injury and poisoning, 12 per cent. of deaths from digestive diseases, 11 per cent. from respiratory diseases and 12 per cent. from heart disease. These are very high figures, which no one can simply ignore.
If one looks at another field, police and Home Office evidence has established that alcohol is a factor in, they suggest, 45 per cent. of violent crimes, 50 per cent. of all murders and 20 per cent. of child abuse cases. The figures also show that 78 per cent. of assaults, 67 per cent. of incidents of domestic violence and even 44 per cent. of cases of theft are connected with alcohol. That is Home Office evidence.
The Department of Transport concludes that one-quarter of all road deaths are alcohol linked in some way or another, as are one-third of domestic accidents, 40 per cent. of fires, 20 per cent. of drowning fatalities and two-thirds of attempted suicides. All those are linked with excessive alcohol.
We also have massive work loss. This is not just a class factor. You can see it across the whole spectrum of people who extend their lunch break to more than an hour, drink as much as they can during that short period and in the afternoon are too sleepy to concentrate effectively. They cause more accidents, they are more inefficient in their work, they are slow and they are clumsy. That applies whether they are at management level or on the work floor.
I wondered what was meant by the Home Secretary when he was talking to the Licensed Victuallers Association in October last year. He said:The essence of it is that the dead afternoon makes no sense in British society in 1986".671 He went on to explain why he was going to introduce a Bill. But we do not have a dead afternoon; we have a drinking afternoon, which leads to more deaths later and a great deal of tiredness and inefficiency. I do not understand why the Government have chosen this time to introduce the measure that they have.
The costs to the health service are well over the £100 million mark, which must be of great concern to the Minister at a time when the health service needs all the cash it can get, quite apart from the social costs in terms of cruelty in the home, broken marriages, damaged children, rape and child sexual abuse. The Centre for Health Economics at the University of York put the quantifiable cost of drink abuse at nearly £2,000 million last year. That is across the whole spectrum of transport, health and social affairs.
The Government know all this, because most of the facts come from government sources. They also agree that something must be done. In fact they have set up a committee of representatives of government departments to look at the problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and her committee have looked at what I think is the most serious problem of all, which is young people. Sixteen year-old boys are now at greater risk than middle-aged men. That is a new factor which we have to take into consideration.
A recent study by Exeter University found that 11 per cent. of 14 year-olds interviewed in a random survey had consumed the equivalent of 10 pints of beer the previous week. This is a very frightening thought when one is talking of children of 14. A recent survey on BBC "Panorama" showed that half the weekly income of youngsters aged 15 to 17 was spent on under-age drinking. I have not read the noble Baroness's report, as I have not had an opportunity to do so, but I am sure that those facts were available to her and that they led her to the conclusions that were reached.
Mr. Norman Fowler, when Secretary of State for Social Services in February 1978, said:A change in public opinion surrounding alcohol should be a high priority for us. Because it is so widely and pleasurably used, the general public is largely ignorant of the cost of alcohol misuse in our society and the levels of consumption which may cause harm. I believe that a change in attitudes to alcohol must be our first priority".As the Minister knows, I do not normally go around praising Ministers to excess. I merely say that that former Secretary of State was talking real sense and I believe that there has to be a change in attitudes. This was strongly argued by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.
So what are the Government doing in the face of all this frightening evidence? First, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his contribution by reducing the real cost of drink by failing even to increase the tax in line with inflation. I thought that that was a very extraordinary decision to take. Of course it was popular with a small number of people. I suppose it was popular with all drinkers, because it meant that they were actually drinking at lower cost than before. It is one way of gaining popularity, but I do not think it was a very sensible or a very socially minded decision to take.
In the past 30 years alcohol consumption in the United Kingdom has almost doubled and the relative 672 price has halved. Approximately £43 million is spent every day on alcohol, more than on personal clothing, on house repairs or on motor cars. The real price of whisky and wine has dropped dramatically over the years, though the price of beer—due more to the acquisitiveness of the brewers than to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—has stayed closer to the retail price index.
All right, the Chancellor has made some contribution to this problem but law enforcement is slipping. Prosecutions for under-age drinking have fallen dramatically in a most disturbing way, as if the law did not exist. In fact the under-18 rule is openly flouted without any action that one can see being taken. The Government must concentrate their attention on that.
Now apart from establishing an interdepartmental committee the Government propose to extend the licensing hours. That is quite contrary to the recommendations of the Masham Report and to the evidence available, which I have quoted. I find that almost unbelievable.
Let us look at the simplest recommendations from the consensus taken by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. One can see that it recommended, first, raising the price of alcohol, although it did not say by how much; secondly, the immediate introduction of random breath testing; thirdly, no further extension of licensing hours and proper enforcement of existing licensing laws; and, fourthly, closer surveillance of alcohol advertising. Each one of those proposals has been argued by noble Lords during the course of the debate. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister a very clear exposition of what the Government intend to do about what I think is a very serious problem. Alcohol Concern has called that problem a national disaster.
Let us consider this problem from the aspect of a Bill that is in another place. All the evidence shows that the longer the licensing hours the more alcohol is consumed. That is the evidence that has come from other countries. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has suggested, it seems to be the evidence from Scotland.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, as I pointed out, the survey by the OPCS of the first eight years after the reform was carried out in Scotland indicated that there had not been increased consumption among men and that there had been a small increase in consumption among women. But on the whole there had been an improvement. I pointed out that the situation in Scotland was different, but I wish to make quite clear that what has happened in Scotland has been an improvement. That should not be challenged.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I do challenge that because the figures that have been suggested show an increase of 13 per cent. I accept that that includes women as well as men but it shows that there has been a 13 per cent. increase in alcohol consumption in Scotland. I know that the noble Lord said that he expected that women would drink more. I do not look forward to that prospect or consider it a great success. It may be that women are also smoking more and are doing more damage to themselves.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, the noble Lord really should have listened to my speech. I said that that situation was to be expected in Scotland where women used not to be taken into pubs. The drinking that took place was thoroughly unsociable and in a number of places the men were there simply to try to get drunk before closing time. Therefore it was to be expected that more women should now be drinking. Of course I am not suggesting that there is a direct comparison with England and Wales, but the noble Lord should not try to change history as regards Scotland.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I am not trying to change history. I am simply saying that the facts show that there was a 13 per cent. increase in drinking during the eight years that I mentioned. That figure was mentioned by the OPCS.
Is there public pressure for longer drinking hours? I do not think that there is. Poll findings suggest that that is not so. They have consistently shown that around 60 per cent. of the population want to keep pub opening hours as they are. The findings show that barely a third of the population support longer licensing hours. Those figures have been revealed to a slightly varying degree by Gallup and Marplan.
There are of course advocates of extending drinking hours. Alcoholics and heavy drinkers find it nicer to be able to continue drinking in the afternoon rather than be turned out of the pubs and have to sit around waiting before being able to go back again in the early evening. I do not know what was discovered by the noble Baroness, but school-age drinkers who are attracted by the prospect of a drink in a pub after school want to see the hours changed.
Lastly and most importantly, the brewers themselves quite obviously are the advocates of the case. I would not link the brewers with any contributions that they may make to party funds, but there are some who would do that. I think that the brewers should be told that it is not the Government's task to ease their job of selling more drink. That is what the brewers want to do and any argument that the purpose of advertising is not to sell more drink is one that I find absolutely spurious.
I want to know what the Government are going to do about that. I also want to know what they intend to do about the proposed sponsorship that I read about two days ago of the Football Association Cup by Courage. It is absolutely appalling that a major sporting event should be sponsored by a major drink producer. That is so blatant as to be disgusting. I hope that the Government will have a very substantial case to make for the policies that they wish to pursue. I hope that when the Bill comes to the House we shall be able to argue it line by line. Although the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, will support it, I can assure him that I shall not.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, the House will be unusually grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for giving us the opportunity to debate a topic of concern on which there is quite rightly increasing public debate. From what we have heard 674 today it is quite clear that alcohol misuse is a complex subject of multiple dimensions. It is a subject about which many of your Lordships are clearly concerned and one on which many differing views are held about what action needs to be taken.
I was particularly struck by the maiden views, if I may put it that way, of the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington. I hope that we shall hear from him both soon and often. Clearly the right reverend Prelate has rather softer views on the use of the law and I am sure that noble Lords will have drawn their own conclusions from that.
Many years ago the lecturer who gave me a grounding in economics used to tell me to define my terms. Alcohol misuse comes in various forms and results in harm ranging from personal, social and criminal damage at one end of the spectrum to cirrhosis of the liver and ultimately death at the other. The House will have noted that in relation to Europe this country has one of the lowest per capita incidence of death from liver cirrhosis. Indeed the noble Viscount himself noted that particular point.
It is also noticeable that in Sweden, despite tough methods designed to control alcohol consumption which have been operating for many years, the figure is three times as high as it is here. Experience from Sweden and elsewhere does not lead me to suppose that swingeing government measures in the form of tax, which have been called for by many noble Lords tonight, are the answer. Nevertheless I shall of course refer the comments of the House and particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I am afraid that I must disagree with my noble friend Lord Montgomery on the cirrhosis figures. In England and Wales they have in fact gone up, not down, from 1,944 in 1974 to 2,750 in 1986. However, just looking at how things are going from the incidence of cirrhosis of the liver is not what this debate has in the main been about. As we know, long before an individual has become physically dependent on alcohol the consequences of persistent overconsumption will have given rise to a variety of problems for the drinker himself, his family, his friends and, even worse, total strangers to say nothing of the effect on the general economy through loss of productive work. That point has been made by one noble Lord.
Let me take those consequences in order. The drinker, male or female, will start with a social drink. That may continue for several years. In that period, which may start in childhood with overindulgent or uncaring parents, there will be an occasional bout of recklessness resulting in at best a hangover from which the individual can hopefully learn how much his body can cope with. Childhood drinking is the particularly worrying aspect of the OPCS report which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. That study found that by the age of 13 most adolescents had had their first alcoholic drink. Weekly drinking rises steadily with age. At the age of 13, for example, 29 per cent. of boys and 11 per cent. of girls have taken alcohol at some stage in their lives. By the time they get to the age of 17, the figures are 61 per cent. and 54 per cent. respectively. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, may be interested to know 675 that Scottish adolescents drink much less frequently. I am not saying that those figures prove anything.
The majority of young drinkers drink moderately. Older adolescents and particularly boys drink more, which is not surprising. A quarter of all 14 year-olds and 40 per cent. of all 16 year-olds in England and Wales say that they drink in pubs. As a member of the Government and as an individual, I find that an absolutely scandalous statistic, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, does, together with every other Member of this House. What they are doing is breaking the law. That cannot be right. The problem—as with drink-driving, to which I shall turn in a moment—is to identify the law-breakers. That problem is something which we shall have to consider. However, there can be no excuse.
The reason for drinking, which I think was put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, is that alcohol is a legal drug and, taken in moderation, it does little harm. It may even do good in that it induces a mild euphoria and relieves stress. That is socially acceptable and the Government do not believe that it would be right to crack down on the sale or consumption of alcohol per se. However, we believe that social acceptability is the key to dealing with the problem. It must be made unacceptable for the stage of mild euphoria to be translated into a stage of total euphoria where imbibers are no longer responsible for their actions.
If we look, as several noble Lords have done, to tobacco as a parallel, education there has made smokers well aware of the bad social image of the habit. I believe that we should aim to make total euphoria or drunkenness as socially unacceptable as smoking has become. The macho image of downing as many pints in as little time as possible must go.
What I am saying in my longwinded way is that the Government's primary policy is education. The noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, is right in saying that. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, called it "changing attitudes" but what is in a word? Last year the Health Education Authority and the national voluntary body, Alcohol Concern, spent some £1 million of DHSS funds on alcohol education and services. Other government departments have been improving the teaching of sensible drinking in our schools and tackling drunken driving. I should like to record my support for the hard-hitting campaign of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport which is aimed at keeping drunk drivers off our roads, for which I think he has been quite unreasonably criticised in some quarters.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, indeed. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, and others spoke eloquently on the subject of random breath-testing. That has been a matter of considerable controversy for over 20 years. The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, does not inhibit me from saying that the police may use their general powers under Section 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 to stop vehicles at random in order to decide whether there are grounds for requiring a breath test under Section 7 of the Act where there are reasonable 676 grounds to suspect that the motorist has alcohol in his body, that he has committed a moving traffic offence or that he has been involved in an accident. The law as enacted permits random stopping but not random testing. The Association of Chief Police Officers has stated that it sees no need for wider powers.
The House may be interested to know that in 1986 the police carried out more than 300,000 breath tests of which 28 per cent. were positive. It may also have escaped your Lordships' notice that last week leave was given in another place for the introduction of a Bill to bring in random breath-testing under the Ten Minutes Rule. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, will know more than I do about the likely prognosis for the Bill. I understand that it is rare but not impossible for such Bills to get on the statute book. I can only say that when and if it arrives in this House we shall subject it to our customary scrutiny.
At present the Government have no plans either to amend the present blood alcohol level for drunk driving or to increase the recommended period of banning which is imposed on convicted drink-drivers. I do not know whether we are going to have our annual transport Bill this year; I rather suspect that we shall. If noble Lords feel sufficiently strongly, no doubt we can debate that matter in the context of the Bill.
Home Office studies on how alcohol underlies crime have included that of the excellent working party chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, to which the Government are most grateful. Our debate has been much enlightened by the noble Baroness's contribution today. However, she will not expect me to respond blow by blow to her working party report at this moment. That will clearly involve a certain amount of consideration.
Perhaps I may make one comment concerning the speech of the noble Baroness. In my view, it was most unfortunate that she coupled her plea for non-alcoholic wine in the House with the visits which young people make to the House. Non-alcoholic wine for youngsters can easily start them on the slippery slope that we all know so well. That is a matter upon which I for one feel extremely strongly.
All the Government action to which I have referred now has a single focus in the new ministerial group on alcohol misuse. Since advertising is a factor which might influence groups which are at risk, such as young people, I imagine that it may well be considered by the ministerial group on alcohol misuse. In particular, the noble Baroness will have noticed that my right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal has taken children as his first priority.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, does the Minister agree that young people like to follow adults? We are not going to stop adults drinking wine. Would it not be advisable to let children understand that non-alcoholic wine is safe and quite likeable when they learn to drink it?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, likeability is a matter of personal taste. I shall not get into that argument at this moment. Perhaps I may mention 677 that I am a notorious chocolate eater. However, I have been able to educate my children not to touch it. Bits of Easter eggs are still littered around the larder at my home on Christmas Day. That says a lot for the state of my children's teeth. However, I do not want to go into that at the moment either.
Targets and messages are important and they can be co-ordinated and action directed more positively through the ministerial group. I believe that all those measures will reassure those who have expressed worries about the effects of the Government's proposals to relax opening hours in England and Wales. Far from being a source of harm, that removal of unnecessary restrictions seems to me to be a positive step to encourage more leisurely drinking and to do away with the "last orders" rush. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy mentioned the experience of Scotland. That is evidenced again in the OPCS survey. I totally agree with my noble friend's conclusions.
Apart from government many others have been playing their part in tackling misuse. I was particularly grateful for the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Headfort, on the rationale and the way of dealing with the problems of alcoholics which Alcoholics Anonymous has developed over a considerable period of time. The Government, the Houses of Parliament generally and much more importantly the alcoholics themselves are and will be eternally grateful.
The drinks industry has put a lot of time and money into research and education. I particularly welcome its latest national campaign to reduce under-age drinking and drunken driving. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester reminded us that the Church has given care and support for many years to those whose lives have been damaged by alcohol. Employers and trades unions have shown how important is the work place in tackling alcohol problems.
Last but by no means least the medical profession in this country has made sure that we have expert advice on how we can safely use alcohol. During the last year the medical royal colleges have revised their safe drinking limit to lower levels, which is a significant change and of which all of us should take careful note. When noble Lords ask for more research, I find it difficult to understand what research they are talking about. It seems to me that this subject is already very well covered.
The report of the royal colleges is part of the health education which we were talking about earlier in the debate on the Statement on primary health care. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that the subject of alcohol should figure more strongly in medical training outside and not inside the medical student. I actually blame rugger for the latter, but let that pass.
All these efforts to educate are starting to bring about signs of change in the habits of at least some people. One of the more encouraging things in this respect was for me to go out to lunch recently with a multi-million pound company making, among other things, medical equipment. I am currently responsible for the procurement and export of such products. Although I was offered alcoholic beverages 678 before the meal, there was a vast array of soft drinks on offer. The point of this story is that no wine, either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, was offered with the lunch itself. Only water was served and even more importantly no comment was made. Your Lordships may well have similar tales to recount, but this is far from always being the case. We need to create a social climate where non-alcoholic beverages are always set out side-by-side with alcoholic drinks. In passing I congratulate our refreshment committee on stocking non-alcoholic beer in two—why only two?—of our three main refreshment points.
The strategy to educate has raised public concern about two particular areas, the wine drinking habits of our young people and the unacceptable loss of life and injury on our roads caused by the drunken driver. I am sure that the House will welcome the decision of the ministerial group on alcohol misuse to consider as a first priority the question of young people and alcohol.
I have been asked various questions especially by the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, who I think was the only noble Lord to ask me direct questions. I will answer them. The noble Lord spoke about a suggestion for having alcoholic-strength labelling and health warnings on bottles of alcohol. The European Community has decided that all pre-packaged alcoholic drinks should be required to show on their labels the alcoholic strength quoted as alcoholic percentage by volume. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has decided to extend this requirement to cover dispensed drinks provided through outlets such as hotels, restaurants and public houses. These are expected to come into force in 1989.
As regards health warnings generally, the noble Lord suggested that they should appear on all containers of alcoholic drinks in line with warnings on cigarette packets. The Government are not convinced by this on the grounds that it is the misuse of alcohol which does the harm. However, I shall take on board the suggestion that warnings could be phrased in such a way that it is the misuse to which attention is drawn.
Several noble Lords have talked about alcohol and the advertising thereof in the media. I do not know how many know of a recent Department of Health and Social Security conference on the prevention of alcohol misuse. It took place on 20th February. One of the six main topics under discussion was the role which the media could play in influencing public opinion. The conference was attended by representatives of the voluntary sector, professional bodies, government departments, industry and both the advertising sector as an industry and the media itself.
I am happy to advise the House that the media representatives reached a concensus that they had a very important role to play in educating the public on the subject of alcohol. I do not know how many noble Lords occasionally watch the soap opera "East Enders". It is extremely good in the educational respect in that non-alcoholic beverages are frequently seen to be drunk on the screen by the actors.
Furthermore, during that conference it was agreed that journalists and broadcasters needed to change their attitude to drinking before they could influence 679 others. The effective aim of the media should be to make inebriation as unacceptable as smoking has become.
As regards advertising, in the non-spoken media this is regulated by the alcohol chapter of the Advertising Standards Authority's code of practice. This chapter, which is voluntary, is drawn up by the drinks industry itself and is administered by the authority. Any complaints which noble Lords or any members of the public might have should be directed to it.
The department which I have the honour to serve was consulted when the code was reviewed and it naturally welcomes the revised procedures which came into operation at the beginning of 1980 as a significant improvement over previous procedures. I have not noticed myself a slipping of standards but after the comments made in the debate this evening I shall certainly look very much more closely at the matter and try to get an historical base from which to judge.
The drinks industry in this country has demonstrated a responsible attitude towards alcohol misuse and it has supported research and prevention initiatives. We are particularly pleased to see its latest national initiatives aimed at preventing under-age drinking and drink-driving, which are the two areas where the law has a part to play.
Finally, it is far from easy to tackle the abuse of a substance which is legal and which is solidly entrenched in our national and cultural attitudes. Alcohol is not a substance like heroin or cocaine where a clear message can be given about the harm in using it. No such message is appropriate to the use of alcohol, only to its misuse, which is a point I have already made.
This is a complex issue which it is difficult to address in a clear and unequivocal manner. Yet we must address it, fostering and informing debate at all levels of our society to bring about sensible and balanced opinions. I am sure that our debate here today has provided a valuable contribution to the overall national discussion and a constructive input to public awareness. On behalf of the Government, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, we have had a useful, interesting and productive debate and it only remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I should like to congratulate in particular the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington. I think we are extremely lucky to have had in this debate today such an eloquent and experienced speaker making, well within the bounds of convention, so forceful a point. I hope the Government will take on board the need to tighten up the law as regards drinking and driving. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester made reference to the need for education, and I believe that that is something with which we all agree. Many noble Lords were kind enough to say that my timing was extremely good. My noble friend Lady Stedman, sitting at my side when one of those remarks was made, muttered to me: "Everybody has to get lucky at some time". I think that was probably the right attitude.
680 As an arbiter in the disagreements about the Scottish figures, I think we can interpret the Scottish figures in several ways. It does seem that abuse in terms of intoxication and its disastrous effects in law-breaking and so on at a time which one associates with end-of-session drinking has definitely subsided in Scotland. However, the figures for cirrhosis of the liver in Scotland have increased more than in England, and drinking among women has also increased. Some of the figures may appear a little untrustworthy because certain offences which were formerly the subject of prosecutions by the police are no longer brought in that form. Therefore, some police statistics are perhaps not entirely reliable.
I end on that note of peacemaking and thank all noble Lords for their excellent contributions to this debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.