The next item, therefore, is a statement by the Minister for Social Services and Public Health on the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill. I call on the Minister to make her statement, Rebecca Evans.
I was pleased to introduce the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill to the National Assembly for Wales yesterday. The Bill affirms the Welsh Government’s continuing commitment to take a lead in public health and to do everything we can to improve and protect the health of people in Wales. The aim of the Bill is to tackle alcohol-related harm in Wales. This includes reducing the number of people who are treated in hospital every year as a result of drinking alcohol, and cutting the death toll linked to alcohol. This Bill aims to reduce the alcohol consumption among people who drink hazardous and harmful levels. The impact of alcohol-related harm in Wales makes for difficult reading. In 2015-16 alone, there were 54,000 hospital admissions in Wales attributable to alcohol. Alcohol-attributable hospital admissions cost the NHS an estimated £120 million a year. In 2015, 463 people died because of alcohol and every one of these of these deaths was preventable. This Bill is about reducing these harms. We already have a range of actions to tackle alcohol-related harm in Wales, from public health campaigns to promote sensible drinking to treatment services for people who need help and support, and this work will continue as part of our substance misuse delivery plan. We have made some important progress to reduce levels of excessive drinking and alcohol-related harm in recent years, but we need to do more. Our ability to deal with the availability and the price of alcohol has been a key constraint, particularly in terms of reducing consumption amongst hazardous and harmful drinkers. We recognise that action to combat the availability of cheap alcohol is a key gap in our strategy. I am therefore bringing forward this Bill to introduce a minimum price for alcohol to address this gap and as part of our wider and continuing approach to promote a healthier relationship with alcohol. This Bill provides for a minimum price for the sale and supply of alcohol in Wales and makes it an offence for alcohol to be sold or supplied below that price. The minimum price for the supply of alcohol in Wales will be calculated through a formula, taking account of the minimum unit price, the percentage strength of the alcohol and its volume. The actual minimum unit price will be set in regulations. Introducing a minimum price will not increase the price of every alcoholic drink, only those sold below that price. The Bill will also introduce a series of offences and penalties relating to the new minimum pricing system and proposes giving local authorities new powers and duties to enforce it. We know that the price of alcohol matters. The demand for goods and services is strongly influenced by price, and this is a relationship that extends to alcohol. Evidence from around the world suggests that introducing a minimum price could have an important impact on levels of hazardous and harmful drinking. We believe this will have a critical impact on reducing alcohol consumption, alcohol-related harm, including alcohol-related deaths, and the number of people treated in hospital. And it could reduce the costs associated with those harms. The 2014 University of Sheffield research estimated that a minimum unit price of 50p, for example, would be worth £882 million to the Welsh economy over 20 years in terms of reductions in alcohol-related illness, crime and workplace absence. We have commissioned the University of Sheffield to update its 2014 analysis of the potential effects of minimum unit pricing policies. We have asked them to model the impacts of different minimum unit prices, ranging from 35p to 70p, and this analysis will be published early in the new year. This analysis and other factors will help to determine the minimum unit price for alcohol for Wales. Evidence suggests that the introduction of a minimum unit price would only have a small impact on moderate drinkers. The largest impacts would be experienced by those people who drink hazardous and harmful amounts of alcohol. These are the people who are most likely to drink alcohol that would be affected by a minimum unit price. They are also the very people that this legislation is aimed at helping. We have consulted widely about the need for a minimum unit price for alcohol in Wales. The proposal was part of the Welsh Government’s public health White Paper in 2014, and we introduced a draft Bill for consultation in 2015. Two thirds of people who responded to the draft Bill consultation supported the idea of legislating for a minimum price for alcohol in Wales. In particular, there has been widespread recognition amongst stakeholders that introducing a minimum unit price could make an important contribution to reducing the costs associated with excessive drinking on individuals, public services, businesses and communities. The way in which minimum unit pricing is specifically targeted at increasing the price of strong, cheap alcohol means that it can have an important impact on reducing hazardous and harmful consumption amongst young people. It will also contribute to addressing related issues, for example the rise in pre-loading or pre-drinking, where alcohol is drunk at home before going out to a bar, pub or nightclub. Minimum unit pricing and its effectiveness at reducing consumption among hazardous and harmful drinkers has been at the centre of the alcohol debate in several countries around the world. Relatively few countries have proposed this exact type of legislation, specifically designed to target strong, cheap alcohol. As in Scotland, here in Wales we are proposing to use the minimum unit price, the strength of the alcohol and the volume of the alcohol to calculate the applicable minimum price. But what we do know is that where countries have introduced similar legislation, there has been a reduction in levels of consumption and associated reductions in alcohol-related harm. In Canada, for example, a 10 per cent increase in average minimum alcohol prices was associated with a 9 per cent reduction in alcohol-related hospital admissions. Ultimately, increasing the price of alcohol through the introduction of a minimum unit price will reduce hazardous and harmful levels of alcohol consumption. It will improve health and, ultimately, it will save lives. We are still waiting for the outcome of the appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association in relation to minimum unit pricing in Scotland. But, by introducing this legislation now in Wales, we have an opportunity to realise the potential of minimum unit pricing and deliver health and wider socioeconomic benefits across Wales. There have long been calls—across most political parties in this Chamber and from civic society—for Wales to redefine its relationship with alcohol. This legislation provides us with an important opportunity to do just that. I look forward to the scrutiny process that will follow and to the constructive engagement of the many organisations who have an interest in making this Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill a success. Thank you.
Thank you, Minister, for bringing forward your statement today and bringing forward the aims and objectives of this Bill. There’s no doubt about it, alcohol addiction is a pernicious social evil, and it is an excuse to abuse others as well as oneself. It is something where I agree with you totally, towards the end of your statement, when you said that Wales needs to redefine its relationship with alcohol. So, we do support the aims and principles behind this Bill. However, I have got a number of concerns as to whether or not it’s going to achieve its objective. The Welsh Conservatives believe that this should be looked at in the round and that, as the Minister in charge of taking this Bill through, we would hope and seek for you to look at other measures that should be put in place to support people who are addicted to alcohol. We all know that addiction is an evil thing once you’re in the grip of whatever it is you may be addicted to. It is extremely difficult to wriggle out of it. We don’t want people to start stealing because they cannot afford alcohol. We don’t want people to go down an addictive route and start taking drugs because they happen to be cheaper than the bottle of whisky or whatever it might have been that they were previously used to. So, I would like to see, Minister, you put forward, when you go forward with this, a range of measures that would support not just alcohol addiction but all the other addictive behaviours that surround alcoholism, including co-dependency, because that is actually a very important thing that people very seldom look at as to why people drink, and a lot of it is to do with co-dependency. You say in your statement that you’re very keen to tackle the whole area of getting our young people to be better educated, not to become addicted to alcohol. It isn’t just our young people. I was speaking to a mother only a few days ago who said that her young 15-year-old daughter went to a party where the mother had brought bottles of vodka for those kids to have. So, it’s about educating the young people in the schools, it’s about educating parents and it’s about educating society. I would like to understand, Minister, what you’re going to do and how you’re going to include those kinds of elements in this objective you have for public health. I know that on a statement we only have time for a few questions, and there are a lot to ask on this, so, as far as the Welsh Conservatives are concerned, we are very keen for you to be able to progress this, and we will be lobbying you with questions and amendments as we go through the process. But I would like to make just a couple more comments, if I may, Presiding Officer. You say that officials believe that more affluent, high-risk drinkers will also respond to price changes, and they insisted it was not a tax but a tool to change behaviour. Again, I think this is an area where I’d like to see how you’re going to work that one through. Those who are affluent can easily afford another 50p, or another £1, or the high-end drinks that won’t be affected by your tax. They’re going to be drinking Glenlivet, not supermarket, bog-standard whisky, or whatever it might be. This shouldn’t be a tax; this is about public health. I want to make sure that, as this goes through, we are very, very clear that this is a public health issue and not a tax-varying issue. I’d also like to seek reassurance from you, Minister, that any moneys raised from minimum alcohol pricing would actually be ploughed straight back into prevention and support for people. Finally, Minister, I would like to ask again why you are pressing ahead with this now, and get clarity on that situation, because we are aware that the Scotch Whisky Association have put forward an appeal, and I would have thought it would have saved public time and public purse if we could have seen how successful that was going to be before you brought forward that, so that you would be able to do any lessons learned exercise. I do think we have to be very careful on this issue. It’s got great intent. We absolutely support that intent, but we also need to recognise that the countries that have had success with this are countries that have had a history and culture of prohibition and cultural change. Wales is not that kind of country yet, so we need to make sure that what we put in place will actually reflect and can be implemented successfully in our country to help to defray the pernicious evil that is alcohol addiction.
I thank you very, very much for those questions and for outlining the support for the aims and the principles of the Bill. I think that we all reflect on the previous public health Bill and the important role that scrutiny played in that, and certainly in strengthening the Bill and in testing the Bill, and I think that we can look forward to similarly robust scrutiny as this Bill makes its way through the Assembly as well. In terms of the ‘why now?’ question, that’s an excellent question, and actually, in an ideal world it wouldn’t be now, but unfortunately the powers that we have in this area are powers that will be removed from Welsh Government when the Wales Act 2017 comes into force in April of next year, so we need to have cleared Stage 1 within the Assembly in April of next year. So, that’s why we’re taking this particular moment to introduce the Bill. I would have much preferred to have waited until the outcome of the Scottish court case had come to a resolution, and I had hoped it would have been before now. I do understand it will be fairly imminent, and, obviously, when that judgment is made, we’ll have to consider what implications that does have for our Bill. But it is very much a situation of having a very small window in which to act at the moment, so we’re taking this window while we can. I completely agree with you as well that the minimum unit pricing can only be one part in a much wider jigsaw in terms of tackling substance misuse in the round and particularly supporting people with an alcohol dependency and preventing people from having that dependency in the first place. So, there are a range of ways in which we’re already trying to tackle alcohol consumption and harmful and hazardous drinking, particularly across Wales, and those were set out in our ‘Working Together to Reduce Harm’ substance misuse delivery plan 2016-18, which was published in the Assembly in September of 2016. Examples of some of the actions in that include working to tackle the excessive consumption of alcohol through better education, through prevention, and of course through those treatment services to support the most harmful drinkers, as well as support, of course, for the families of people who misuse alcohol. That has been recognised as one of the significant adverse childhood experiences, which is something that all Ministers have a real concern about as well. You also referred, quite rightly, to the issue of unintended consequences, and I really do recognise the concerns that you and others have raised that there are some vulnerable groups who might continue to purchase the same amounts of alcohol despite the increase in price. For example, in terms of household spend on areas such as food or heating—making those choices as well. So, I’m very aware of that potential issue and we’re already looking with our area planning boards on how we can ensure that local services are as responsive as possible to vulnerable groups’ needs in this respect. It’s also important to recognise that, overall, we do expect to see reduced levels of consumption amongst harmful and hazardous drinkers, and associated reductions in alcohol-related harms. However, it is important to make sure that those services are there, which is one of the reasons that we do invest £50 million in our substance-misuse agenda to try and ensure that the support is there for people who need it. I also noted some of the other concerns raised by stakeholders about unintended consequences. For example, families might, as I say, be forced to make those difficult choices as well, but as you suggested and others have suggested here today, individuals might switch to other substances. We think the risk that consumers could switch to illegal drugs or new psychoactive substances, for example, is considered low, as an illegal or untested substance is clearly qualitatively a big step and very different to the consumption of alcohol, and most people wouldn’t consider that to be a valid substitute. However, it is something that we intend to explore further with the Welsh Government’s advisory panel on substance misuse. They’ve previously commented that they don’t believe that this is likely to be an issue. However, it’s something that we’re very much alive to as well. In terms of referring to this as a tax, we are very clear that this isn’t a tax. It’s very much a minimum unit price. The evidence suggests that higher taxation alone wouldn’t be as effective as a minimum unit price. In fact, you’d have to reduce taxation by a large amount to achieve the same kind of benefits to health and the NHS that we would expect to see from a minimum unit price alone. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to look at this very much as a minimum unit price. It does allow us to target those high-strength very cheap alcohol products rather than taking a blanket approach and raising the price of all alcohol as well. An interesting note to this is that the 2014 modelling suggests that high drinkers purchase more of their alcohol below an example minimum unit price of 50p at the moment. These are people at all income levels. High-risk drinkers in poverty buy 42 per cent of their alcohol below the 50p per unit, as compared to 21 per cent for moderate drinkers in poverty. High-risk drinkers not in poverty buy 28 per cent of units below 50p, compared to 14 per cent of moderate drinkers not in poverty. So, the minimum unit price would change the price of approximately a fifth of the alcohol purchased by moderate drinkers in poverty, whereas an increase in taxation would affect the price of all drinks purchased by people living in lower income households.
Can I thank the Minister for Social Services and Public Health and welcome her statement, and welcome the general direction of travel? In Plaid, we are in support of minimum alcohol unit pricing. It has been in our manifestos for the 2011 and 2016 elections to this Assembly, once we had gained the powers after the 2011 referendum—obviously when we had some powers to do this sort of thing. More in a minute about losing those powers, come next Aril fools’ day. Anyway, back to—. We’re talking here about the minimum price for alcohol, which, as you say in your statement, is a formula combining volume of alcohol with the strength of that alcohol and the minimum unit price. I would just like to explore a bit more about that formula and how those three areas are weighted up against one another, just in case you get some unintended consequences there as well, in that, unintentionally, people would be able to afford to buy a stronger alcohol if the weighting of that formula was, in some ways, not as it should be. Sometimes, there can be unintended consequences just because the formula weighting isn’t quite correct. I echo some of the other unintended consequences as Angela Burns and Leanne Wood mentioned earlier, in terms of other drugs, both illicit and legal, being used as a substitute. But that’s down to this being a public health measure, and we would expect additional public health services, in terms of drugs and substance misuse services, to be available once this piece of legislation comes in. But, at the end of the day, this piece of legislation is about saving lives. Not every piece of legislation we pass in this place saves lives, but we have had a smoking ban that saves lives, and we’ve got an opt-out organ donation law that also saves lives. So, we can add this one to that list—just thinking from a medical point of view of the high numbers of accident and emergency attendances brought about by alcohol. On some nights in A&E, over 90 per cent of attendees are there under the influence of alcohol. It has a huge impact on health, as we all know, not just causing cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure, but various cancers as well, due to the corrosive effect of drinking strong spirits—from mouth and tongue, oesophageal cancer downwards—as well as huge rates of domestic violence, general assaults, huge policing issues and individual lives wrecked by alcoholism. So, there’s a definite need to address our relationship with alcohol, as you say, and this is but one plank in that. The modelling already referred to from Sheffield in 2014 attests that there would be 53 fewer deaths in Wales annually, and 1,400 fewer hospital admissions annually, caused by alcohol, if we brought in this sort of legislation. We are very supportive of this. I’d like some idea of the details, as I mentioned, and also, what of the response to any Supreme Court decision in Scotland? What legal advice have we got as standby, whether the Supreme Court approves what the Scottish Government are trying to do, despite the vehement opposition of the whisky industry, or whether it is rejected? We need to know where we are going, because we’ve known about the issues of how to tackle the problems of alcohol, i.e. making it more expensive, making it more difficult to get hold of, and measures against drink driving and underage drinking—that was revealed in a World Health Organisation study. As far back as 2004, there’s been a need to act on this. In this country, in the UK generally, we’ve known about these issues and the need to do something about them urgently, so, ‘Why the delay?’ is another question, particularly now, with the Wales Act 2017, we face losing the powers to enforce this. Obviously, if this measure, this Bill, comes before the health committee, we would be looking to enable the Minister to get it passed as soon as, in view of the fact that the clock is ticking, before April fool’s day 2018. Well, if we haven’t reached Stage 1 by then, this falls. That’s why this party voted against the enactment of the Wales Act 2017, uniquely in this Chamber, because we have lost powers and we are losing powers, and this is a very vivid illustration of that loss of powers. So, I wish the Minister well. There’s a lot of detailed work to be done on the different levels of unit alcohol pricing—30p per unit, 35p, 50p, 70p, or even more—but you say you’ll have the results of those in the new year. Really, as I said, the clock is ticking—we need that evidence now, Minister, because we need to get this legislation passed. Otherwise, the whole thing falls down, and a lot of brave words said in here about the health implications and how we’re going to save lives will mean nothing if the legislation is lost. Diolch yn fawr.
I thank you very much for those questions, and also for indicating Plaid Cymru’s long-standing support for this particular approach. In terms of how the minimum unit price itself will be calculated, that is expressed on the face of the Bill, and that’s by multiplying the minimum unit price at what it is set by the percentage of alcohol and by the volume of the alcohol being sold. The actual minimum unit price isn’t on the face of the Bill, actually; that will be set through regulations as well. We think that that’s a more appropriate response, because it does allow us to look at experiences elsewhere where the minimum unit price has been set but hasn’t allowed that kind of flexibility that would be needed, perhaps, to change to respond to the changing circumstances within the economy as well. I am absolutely as keen as anybody to have the results of the new minimum unit pricing remodelling work done by Sheffield University. I would have liked to have brought this in sooner, but, actually, this was something that had been passed—this approach had been passed—by the Scottish Parliament back in 2012. So, it’s spent the last five years going through various courts. Obviously, in an ideal world, we would have the outcome of the Scottish judgment, which is now sitting with the Supreme Court, in order to make up our minds as to what the appropriate response would be. However, the circumstances are such that we need to take this action now. In terms of what will happen if the case is rejected in the Supreme Court, I think that Welsh Government will have to consider, alongside our lawyers, the basis on which it would be rejected and consider what our approach would be moving forward from that. But you certainly outlined the stark reasons why it is important that we take this particular approach to tackling some of the harmful and hazardous levels of drinking that we have in Wales. Although we have made real progress, I would say, over recent years, through education, through preventative approaches and so on, the levels do remain too high. According to national survey data, one in five adults is currently drinking above the new weekly guidelines, and almost a third report drinking above the previous daily guidelines on at least one day in the previous week. So, although we’re making progress, as I said in my statement, in 2015, the year we have the most recent figures for, there were 483 alcohol-related deaths in Wales. Obviously, all these deaths are tragic. They’re all avoidable, and they all leave family, friends and other loved ones behind. So, this demonstrates the urgency for further progress as well. As you’ve quite rightly outlined as well, it’s not just alcohol-related deaths. Alcohol-related illnesses are a real concern and remain stubbornly high in Wales. Just as one example, in 2015—again, the most recent figures—807 people died from liver disease in Wales, and that’s an increase of 131 over the past five years. Also, alcohol-related liver disease accounts for over a third of these liver disease deaths in Wales. You referred to the importance of the modelling, and that modelling work estimates the impact of minimum unit pricing on moderate drinkers will be minimal. The Sheffield alcohol research group research showed that hazardous and harmful drinkers combined constitute 26 per cent of the drinker population, but they actually consume 72 per cent of all alcohol. Furthermore, consumption changes will differ across the population, but based on a 50p minimum unit price the analysis estimated that high-risk drinkers will consume 293 fewer units per year, spending an extra £32 a year, whilst moderate drinkers will only reduce their consumption by six units per year, increasing their spending by £2 a year.
Well, unlike previous speakers to this statement, as the Minister will have anticipated from my question to the First Minister earlier on, my party will not be supporting this measure. That’s not to say that we don’t support the aim, which is to cut the problems that flow from excessive drinking. But we do not think that this measure is likely to achieve that, and even to the extent that it does, it will do so with the effect of imposing unacceptable costs upon the overwhelming majority of people who drink, like myself, who are not regarded as problem drinkers. Well, others may regard me as a problem, but that would be for different reasons than drink. Will she confirm the figures that are quoted on the BBC website about the impact of this measure—that it is, under a 50p formula, likely to increase the price of a typical can of cider to £1, a bottle of wine to at least £4.69, and a typical litre of vodka to more than £20? Because I think it is vitally important that the public at large realise now, before we even begin debating this measure properly, what the likely impact of it is likely to be. The Minister says that it’s aimed at problem drinkers, not at the general population at large, but these are the people who are least likely to be affected by a minimum price for alcohol, not the people who are most likely to be affected. We know from research that has been done that what we might call problem drinkers are price sensitive between brands, so that if you increase the price of one, they’ll switch to another, but there’s no real evidence whatsoever for showing that they will reduce their consumption of alcohol overall, still less become teetotallers. The price elasticity demand for a real problem drinker is almost by definition zero. It will have no impact upon his or her drinking. One of the issues that is important, of course, is the public order implications of excessive drinking, especially in city centres. We all know the problems of the war zones in city centres on Friday and Saturday nights. So, what matters is not so much the overall consumption of alcohol—you can be a non-drinker for five days of the week and a binge drinker at the weekend. You can have a drink after work and a pleasant conversation and then go home for five days a week and then decide to get hammered at the weekend. This measure is not likely to have the slightest impact I think upon binge drinkers, who are there for that specific purpose. They want to get hammered, and the difference of a few pounds is very unlikely to make any difference to their social behaviour. The Minister has mentioned international evidence for the claims that she’s made. I am actually not aware of any evidence internationally and academically on this specific problem of the impact of minimum prices upon problem drinkers. It is very important not to make the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc and look at the health statistics on the one hand and then ascribe them to legislative measures that might have taken place as though there are no other factors that might have influenced them. We know that in recent years there has been significant reduction in the problems created by alcohol. This is certainly the case in Scotland. Nobody can prove—and indeed I think it isn’t even logical—that the minimum price legislation that the Scottish Government would like to see has been responsible for that. As regards the Canadian example, which is specifically mentioned in this statement, Canada is a very, very different market from Britain because virtually all liquor that is sold in Canada is state controlled or state regulated in a way it certainly isn’t in this country. They don’t have a minimum price system such as the one that is being proposed anyway. They have a reference price system that is different for different drinks, and different in different provinces of Canada. So, it’s very, very difficult, from the Canadian evidence, insofar as it’s undisputed, to draw any conclusions for the type of legislation that is now being proposed for here in Wales. There is another aspect that nobody else has mentioned so far this afternoon: Wales has a long border and a lot of people live quite close to it. Particularly in north-east Wales, Chester and Liverpool are right on the doorstep, what is the impact that this is going to have upon sellers of alcohol in areas like that? It would be very easy, especially now we can order online, to order from, say, Sainsbury’s across the border in England and have it delivered in Wales. The minimum price legislation that is proposed here isn’t going to apply to that. So, for a variety of reasons, which we’ll follow up in more detail when this Bill comes to be debated in due course, there are flaws in the logic behind it that undermine its very purpose. What we should be looking at is how to take measures to combat the ill-effects upon society, and indeed upon individuals, of excessive alcohol consumption, but not to penalise the many in order to try and fail to help the few.
I thank you very much for those questions and I do look forward to continued robust discussion and debate as the Bill moves forward to the scrutiny stages, and I’m sure that we’ll certainly be having a strong discussion in terms of the evidence base that underpins the proposals that we are making. I think it’s fair to say that it is a novel approach, and I think that we both would recognise that. We have evidence that, where alcohol price has increased and that increase has been passed on to individuals, then consumption does decrease and alcohol-related harms further decrease. That’s the evidence that we have and I think that’s quite compelling evidence. However, as I say, we recognise this is a quite radical and novel approach, so we have committed to publishing, after a period of five years, a report on the operation and the effect of the Act during that period. And, we’ll be commissioning a full evaluation and review of the impacts of minimum unit pricing in Wales, monitoring a wide variety of indicators where we would hope to see changes, such as the number of hospital admissions as a result of alcohol misuse, deaths from alcohol, longer term reductions in cirrhosis, and others of the measurable health issues that are attributable to alcohol. But, we’ve also included in the legislation a sunset clause as well, because we want to make sure that the legislation is delivering what we want it to achieve. As we know, the Scottish Government passed their Act in 2012, but they haven’t been able to bring it into force. So, you’re quite right in saying that no other country in the UK has implemented a minimum unit price for alcohol. Based on what other countries tell us, we are confident that it will deliver significant health gains, but, as I say, we do need to be confident that the legislation is working, so the sunset clause is inserted within the Bill. You asked me to confirm the prices of alcohol quoted on the BBC website if the minimum unit price was set at 50p, and of course it will be set through regulations that will be coming before the Assembly in due course, should the Bill pass through the Assembly. A bottle of wine at £4.49 would contain the best part of nine units, so, yes, that would be correct. A pint of lager, for example, would contain two units, so, again, 50p times two, so we would have £1 for that. And the bottle of spirits that is quoted on the website is actually a litre bottle, so that would be selling for £20, whereas I think most people tend to buy spirits in smaller bottles than litre bottles. The cross-border issues that you describe are ones that we’re very alive to as well. We do know that different regimes in England and Wales could have an impact on consumer behaviour, but that really would depend on people’s willingness and their ability to travel, along with, really, the price differential compared to the cost of the transport that they would have to incur as well. Cross-border shopping already exists, as we know, but we believe the impact of introducing a minimum unit price will be minimal, and this is because, for the majority of the Welsh population, purchasing in England would incur a cost in time and travel and the cost is likely to outweigh any savings on the price of alcohol. Actually people who do consume alcohol at harmful and hazardous levels are tending to be purchasing alcohol for immediate consumption, so that would obviously reduce the incentive to be travelling as well. The First Minister’s clear that this is primarily a piece of public health legislation. However, there are potential impacts elsewhere, and we do anticipate that it will have an impact on crime. For example, a 50p minimum unit price was estimated to result in a 4.7 per cent reduction in violent crime, a 4.6 per cent reduction in criminal damage, and a 4.6 per cent reduction in robbery, burglary and theft as well. So, benefits beyond just the physical benefits. And to return to the first point you made, which was the one about people who live in poverty and people on low incomes being affected by this legislation: people who live in poverty are much more likely to be abstaining from any alcohol at all and much more likely to be consuming alcohol at low levels. The research does suggest that for people who are harmful and hazardous drinkers, people who are on a low income or living in deprived areas are more likely to suffer from a long-term illness as a result of drinking too much alcohol, and so a minimum unit price can potentially reduce the levels of harmful and hazardous drinking in these communities, meaning the risk of alcohol-related harm would be reduced as well. A very stark statistic that I came across in preparing for this Bill was that in recent years, alcohol-attributable mortality rates in the most deprived communities for males are three times higher than in the least deprived areas, and that, to me, says that this legislation provides us with an opportunity to address what is a very strong issue of health inequality. I don’t think it’s okay that we should accept poorer health outcomes for people who live in our poorer communities.
I very much support the Bill because of the, I think, considerable range of harms that alcohol abuse and problem drinking are responsible for in Wales: health; working days lost, so the economic impact; and, indeed, the sort of society we are and the cultural aspects of that. I very much take on board what the Minister has just said that it is a health inequality issue as well. We know that there’s a big gap in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy between our most affluent communities and our poorest communities, and health impacts from alcohol abuse and, indeed, smoking are a considerable part of that. We’ve taken action on smoking, we continue to do so. We need to take further action, I believe, on problem drinking as well. I think we’re all familiar with some of the problems around binge drinking, for example. I’ve heard many visitors to Wales remark on what they see as a horror scene in our cities and town centres on Friday and Saturday nights, for example, with the binge drinking that takes place. I do believe that this legislation could have a positive impact on that problem, because I think, again, we should all be familiar with the so-called pre-loading that takes place, where there’s a lot of purchasing of strong and cheap alcohol from supermarkets, from corner shops, which is then consumed before going out to pubs and clubs. So, I do think we could have a very positive impact on some of those anti-social behaviour issues from this measure. And, of course, it’s strongly supported by those with experience and expertise in delivering services around alcohol abuse. Alcohol Concern Cymru, for example, in response to this statement today, provided a briefing strongly supporting the legislation and pointing out, for example, that they did some shopping recently and found, in corner shops and supermarkets, for example, 3 litres of strong cider for sale for £3.99, a unit price of 18p; 70 cl of fortified wine for £2.99, a unit price of 27p; and 70 cl of vodka and gin on sale for £10, a unit price of 38p. Those are the sorts of products that are purchased and pre-loading then follows. Kaleidoscope, for example, in my constituency, an organisation that provides very valuable services to those who have problems with alcohol abuse, again strongly support this legislation. They say that, in their experience, there are a great deal of problems around domestic violence, driving accidents and anti-social behaviour from strong and cheap alcohol. I think that support from Alcohol Concern Cymru and Kaleidoscope is very indicative of wider support from those agencies that are tasked with dealing with the problems that arise from the sale of strong and cheap alcohol. Also, I think it’s quite interesting that Public Health England supports minimum unit pricing, and I think it’s a great shame that the UK Government isn’t paying more attention to what Public Health England want to see and the evidence that they provide. So, in short, Llywydd, I strongly support this legislation. I’m very pleased that Welsh Government and the Minister are bringing it forward, and I look forward to its successful passage through the Assembly and the benefits—health, economic, social and cultural—that it will bring.
Thank you very much for those comments and for reminding us at the start of your contribution about the importance of this legislation in terms of tackling health inequalities in Wales, and also some of the health benefits that we would expect to see from the legislation, not least saving 50 or more lives a year as a result of the legislation and 1,400 fewer hospital admissions in Wales as a result of alcohol as well. You referred to binge drinking, and I think that it’s important to see this piece of legislation within the wider context of our work on the night-time economy. I recently attended a unit in Swansea to launch our night-time economy framework, and that’s about all of the partners involved in the night-time economy working hand in hand to support people and to ensure people’s safety and ensure safe drinking levels and so on. I think that this piece of legislation can help us do that, partly because it also includes specific action in there to address drinks promotions as well. We know that this can be a particular issue in the night-time economy. It also addresses special offers in relation to multi-buys of alcohol and in relation to the supply of alcohol with goods and services, including buy-one-get-one-free offers and so on. It also sets out how the applicable minimum price under which alcohol can’t be sold should be calculated where the supply of alcohol forms part of a special offer, for example, dining for however much and so on. So, there are opportunities, I think, within the legislation to ensure that we capture all of these different ways in which there’s a potential for selling alcohol underneath the minimum unit price.
Just a few points from me. I will refer to what we heard from Dai Lloyd on the timing of the introduction of this. The fact is that this couldn’t be done following the changes that will come into force under the new Wales Act, which raises the question of why other parties in this place voted in favour of that particular piece of legislation. Plaid Cymru, in several manifestos, has included references to introducing a system of this kind, and therefore our support is there for you. I am also aware of the concerns that exist, and we should all be sensitive to those concerns that this, in not getting it right, could have a disproportionate impact on moderate drinkers who have less money to spend. I do look forward to hearing evidence as this goes through the Senedd in order to alleviate the concerns of people outside the Senedd mainly, but also people within the Senedd. A couple of questions—. We’ve talked a lot about how, hopefully, this can drive a change of behaviour amongst consumers. We know from evidence relating to sugar levies—pop taxes, if you like—globally, that manufacturers have often responded by reducing the sugar content of their drinks, for example. Can I just ask what assessment has been made by Government of the possibility, the likelihood, that some manufacturers will actually try to achieve a lower alcohol content within their drinks? Because we’re a market of 3 million—if Scotland does this, that’s another market of 5 million. It’s not a tiny market, and, certainly, in Singapore, I think, all the major drinks manufacturers came together to reduce sugar content in response to changes in legislation on sugary drinks. So, I wonder if the Government has made an assessment of that, because lowering the alcohol content of drinks would also have a beneficial effect. Secondly, what assessment has been made of what happens if consumer behaviour doesn’t change as much as the Government envisages? Because you will know that, in Scotland, the Labour Party refused to support legislation on minimum alcohol pricing. So, politics does play a part in this, and the reason given by Scottish Labour, as I understand, is their concern about what would happen to a possible windfall for retailers or manufacturers of alcoholic drinks because they were charging more, because of legislation, for their product. So, what assessment, again, has the Government made of that and what would be the monitoring process? And what would be the actions that the Government would wish to see if, suddenly, retailers or manufacturers have a windfall?
Thank you for those questions, and also for outlining your support for this particular approach through legislation. I referred earlier to the modelling work that has been undertaken, which demonstrates that moderate drinkers, for example, would only increase their spending by £2 a year, but would decrease their consumption by six units a year. And, as I say, we’re having that modelling work updated to take account of current market situations and also looking at the different differentials at different points between 35p and 70p. I think there is a great opportunity here for manufacturers in terms of producing lower strength alcohol drinks, and I would certainly want to see our fantastic Welsh drinks industry taking the opportunity for that as well. I’ve already had some discussions with some of the officials in the food division here as well to discuss what potential there is for the drinks industry here in Wales, which I know we’re all extremely proud of, and I’m sure that there are opportunities for them to be innovative and imaginative in terms of the opportunities available to them. The impact on the industry, the retail industry—the minimum unit price is expected to lead to an overall increase in revenue for both off-trade and on-trade retailers, and it’s predicted that, for all minimum unit price scenarios modelled by the University of Sheffield, there would be increased revenue for the alcohol industry as a whole. I’m not sure to what extent it would be a windfall, given that we would expect, on the one hand, some levels of alcohol consumption to be dropping amongst those harmful and hazardous drinkers, and also overall amongst moderate drinkers by a smaller amount. However, I think that it would be an opportunity for us to look, with the refreshed modelling, to see what the differentials between that 35p and 70p would mean for the retailers. But, ultimately, it is very much a public health piece of legislation, although the First Minister did refer in his contribution in FMQs today that it does also provide opportunities and benefits for publicans. The Institute of Alcohol Studies has published a recent report, entitled ‘Pubs Quizzed: What Publicans Think about Policy, Public Health and the Changing Trade’. And that was based on the results of a national survey of pub managers, which found that 83 per cent believe that supermarket alcohol is too cheap, and 41 per cent of them were in favour of minimum unit pricing, as opposed to just 22 per cent against.
I find the glass-half-empty attitude of some Members a bit irritating. Because it’s really important that we seize the moment. The Government has moved its position from considering legislation to actually seizing the moment and doing it, and I’m very, very pleased to hear that. I welcome the approach—the measured approach—from Angela Burns, and, indeed, Dai Lloyd, that we have to get on with this, because this is a really serious public health matter. This is the biggest killer of people between the ages of 15 and 49—not drugs, drink. And we absolutely have to address this. It is not acceptable that it’s more expensive to buy water than it is to buy alcohol. This is absolutely absurd. And it’s unacceptable that the supermarkets are using cheap alcohol to drive up their footfall. We should be acting against this, and we have to prevent it. We’ve seen from Canada—. Unlike Neil Hamilton—clearly, his alcohol consumption isn’t going to change one iota as a result of this, but that doesn’t matter. The point is we have to try and ensure that people will be influenced by the price to buy less of it, and not to go to supermarkets that are being irresponsible in the way they peddle it. So, we’ve seen from Canada that the systematic implementation and rigorous enforcement of this minimum alcohol pricing actually has worked, because it’s seen a very considerable reduction in the hospital admissions and alcohol-related deaths. So, I hope that the Health and Social Care Committee will learn from the Canadian experience to avoid the unforeseen consequences that Dai Lloyd explained. And we have to recognise that the last four budgets have actually cut taxes on alcohol, which is in my view not the right direction at all. I’d like to see the reinstatement of the duty escalator. But just because we can’t influence what the UK Parliament gets up to is not a reason for us doing nothing. And I hope that, collectively, we will get on and produce this legislation to beat the deadline of the Wales Act.
I thank you very much for those comments. And, of course, Jenny Rathbone has long been a proponent of this particular approach, and has lobbied the Government very strongly on this particular issue as well. So, I thank you for the work that you’ve been doing in preparation for this, for the introduction of the Bill. And you make an important point, which I think has been lost in a lot of the debate that we’ve had over the last 48 hours on the issue of minimum unit pricing, that it is very much about prevention and early intervention. Of course, you mentioned young people, and young people, especially those who drink heavily or frequently, have been shown to be particularly sensitive to price rises, and in particular there is evidence that demonstrates a relationship between drink prices and the heavy prevalence of drinking, and particularly pre-loading, amongst young people. So, I think that this legislation provides us with a good opportunity to take that preventative approach and allow young people to start their lives with a more healthy relationship with alcohol. Because we know that the recent health behaviour in school-age children survey data showed that drinking amongst young people should remain a concern for us, with 7 per cent of boys and 5 per cent of girls aged 11 to 16 in Wales drinking alcohol at least once a week. And the proportions get higher as the age of those children and young people gets higher as well. We need to ensure that, for those young people who do begin to misuse substances at an early point in their lives, there is early intervention and early identification available to them in order to limit harm and minimise the chances of misusing alcohol and drugs in future. And that’s one of the reasons why we see this piece of legislation very much within a wider context of the support that we should offer to people in that preventative agenda, and that supporting agenda, if and when young people become involved in drugs and alcohol, and we do ensure that we have a range of services available. For example, we have counselling, emotional well-being—hidden harm services are very important, and those are services for children and young people impacted upon by problem alcohol and drug use by their parents, or their carers, within the family home as well. And, of course, education and prevention for young people under 18 is an important part of the work we do, as are brief interventions, for example, cognitive behavioural therapy, harm reduction advice, and relapse prevention as well. So, it does have to be seen within the much wider context of the work that we are undertaking. Jenny Rathbone also mentioned the importance of enforcement as well. I’m very grateful to the WLGA for their fulsome support of this particular piece of legislation, because the Bill specifically provides that the local authorities will be the ones to bring prosecutions, investigate complaints and take other steps with a view to reducing minimum pricing offences in their area. The legislation also gives them powers of entry, powers in relation to inspections and also powers to issue fixed-penalty notices to people who they have reason to believe have committed a minimum pricing offence as well. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the WLGA for their support of this legislation, and also all of those organisations who John Griffiths mentioned in his contribution and many others who see the benefit of this approach.
Finally, Simon Thomas.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Clearly, the Minister and the Government have made a compelling case for taking action in this area and the problems that we have with alcohol abuse within our nation, though it is worth putting on record, I think, that this is not simply a question of cost. There are countries with cheaper alcohol than we have in Wales today that do not have the problems we have. There’s a wider cultural issue that we need to address. This Bill may well be part of addressing that, but there are two issues that I’d like to touch on that I think do need ironing out as we take the Bill forward. The first I would like to call the ‘Hay on Wye Co-op question’, which is where you can go from the oldest pub in Hay on Wye, the Three Tuns—200 yards down the road and you are in a Co-op that’s in England—where we need to be absolutely clear about how this would work in terms of cross-border relationships and also internet orders and other issues. Having taken two Bills through in the Finance Committee that relate directly to taxation, I have to say that cross-border issues are a real issue that we had to deal with in that committee and I think that any committee looking at this Bill needs to thoroughly address those cross-border issues. It’s not an excuse not to take the Bill through, but it’s an issue that does need proper examination and ironing out. The second issue is, of course, that this is not a tax Bill but it is a fiscal measure, and we have a constant debate in the Assembly, quite rightly, about when and where is the most appropriate time to state your fiscal costs or taxes. Other Members have tried in the past to put the cost of, for example, stamp duty, which has now come in in the budget, on the face of the Bill. I’m content that that is taken forward as part of a budget process on the whole; I think that’s an appropriate way to do it. However, this is not a tax, and the public health arguments in particular do turn around what will be the minimum unit price, and all the figures that you’ve quoted today, Minister, have come from a 50p minimum unit price and you’ve referenced several reports that have dealt with a 50p minimum unit price. So, why isn’t that on the face of the Bill? What is the uncertainty about what this minimum price would be? I don’t think it’s good enough, because we’re trying to hurry this Bill through before we lose the powers, not to have a proper addressing of this question. If it’s too low, then it won’t have the effect that you’re hoping it will. If it’s too high, then it could have a disproportionate effect on moderate drinkers who come from low-income backgrounds. So, we have to get it right, and I suggest getting it right is a task for the whole Assembly and not a task just for the Government. Though I understand you’re taking regulation powers that will come to the Assembly under the affirmative method, I suggest it is better and more appropriate that, when we do pass this Bill, the minimum unit price is on the face of the Bill and you have powers to change that in the future with the approval of the Assembly.
I thank you for those questions and your broad support for the Bill. I would completely agree with you that this is a much wider cultural issue that we are dealing with here and minimum unit pricing is only part of the answer. The answer lies in a much wider suite of measures that goes all the way from education through to supporting families in the home where there might be alcohol problems, to our workplaces, to our own social lives and so on. So, I think there are opportunities across the board in order to try and have a much more healthy relationship with alcohol in Wales. But, as I say, this is only one part of it. The ‘Hay on Wye Co-op question’ I think is something that we will be discussing in more detail as the legislation passes through the scrutiny process of the committee. However, the Bill does deal with internet orders on the face of it and so on. We’ve tried to be as comprehensive as we can in thinking of the different ways in which people do buy alcohol and to try and futureproof it in that way. With regard to the 50p, as to whether or not it should be on the face of the Bill or set through regulations, again, I am sure that this is something that we’ll be discussing at great length in the committee stages. When the Bill was consulted on in draft form, it was the intention that Welsh Ministers would set the minimum unit price through regulations, and we’d have an opportunity to discuss that. The updated modelling, which will look at the price differentials from 35p to 70p, should be with us at the very end of this year, or very early at the start of next year, and I think that will give us all a much updated picture in terms of how many lives we would expect to save at the different levels, how many hospital admissions we would expect to avoid, how many lost days of work we would expect to avoid and what kind of cost saving we could expect for the NHS as well. And that will give us the opportunity to have a more informed discussion at that point. But I do think it is useful using that 50p as an illustrative guide at the moment, because it does put the issue into some kind of context for us, so that we can have an idea in our minds as to what kind of figures we are talking about. I thank all Members for their contributions to the debate today and I look forward to further detailed scrutiny as we move through the next stages.
Thank you, Minister.