(Reply to email requesting clarification on minimum pricing)
Having sat on the Justice and Electoral Select Committee and paid careful attention to the many thousands of submissions that were made to the Committee, my view is that the Alcohol Reform Bill as currently drafted, is too weak to make a difference to our binge drinking culture.
Much of that evidence is summarised in the report of the Select Committee to Parliament, which you can find on the parliamentary website – Alcohol Reform Bill - and which I hope you will read. To change that, the evidence presented to the Committee showed:
- A minimum price regime for alcohol would make an enormous difference.
- More restrictions on advertising – ultimately with a view moving toward a health sponsorship council-type model as operates in the tobacco area – are highly desirable.
- Much greater restrictions on the availability of alcohol are urgently needed.
On the issue of age, I am not convinced that voting in isolation to raise the purchase age from 18 would make as much as a difference as a combination of the three measures I have referred. However, thanks to the way the National-led Government has set the debate up, age has so far been virtually the sole focus of the reform debate.
Labour MPs have a conscience vote on the Alcohol Law Reform Bill and on amendments to it.
A number of Supplementary Order Papers (SOP) are expected to be put up from the Labour Caucus members to deal with the problems of availability, advertising and price that all the expert evidence indicated to the Select Committee contributes to our binge drinking culture.
The minimum pricing one will go up in the name of Lianne Dalziel MP. I will put one up to give local communities a stronger say on the number, mix and opening hours of alcohol outlets in their communities. My colleague Iain Lees-Galloway MP will put up others, including on advertising.
The aim is to do what most of the thousands of submitters on the Bill asked Parliament to do – continue to leave people free to enjoy a drink responsibly but to try to start tackling the binge drinking problem.
I am not aware of any concluded view on what price should be. The SOP is an empowering provision only. It leaves up to the Minister whether to have a minimum price, and if so how it should operate. That power does not even appear in the Bill at the moment.
The evidence at Select Committee was that targeting cheap wine in supermarkets used by younger people for “preloading” – ie excess drinking before heading out to onlicensed premises for a night out – ought to be the main aim.
A minimum pricing regime could simply target that product, say by providing for a ceiling or cap of say $12 per bottle of wine so that other beverages were not affected. That would still double the price of the cheapest existing wine which can be bought at the moment for $6. Or it could be more complex.
Obviously it would need not to create unintended incentives to purchase other products in lieu of cheap wine on which to preload, or to penalize responsible drinkers.
I listened to all the submissions to the Select Committee. Apart from those from the alcohol industry itself, they overwhelmingly called for legislation that would better target binge drinking. The evidence was that a careful combination of rules about price, availability and advertising could do that while still allowing everyone else to continue to drink responsibly. All this SOP would do is allow price to go into the mix.
Charles Chauvel MP
Spokesperson for Justice
Spokesperson for Arts, Culture & Heritage