Malcolm looks at the serious effects of alcohol misuse in Scotland, and how to address them
Debate on alcohol misuse Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (Lab):
I congratulate James Dornan on securing the debate in a week in which there has been an amazing concentration of health debates and meetings, including the one last night to which members have referred, which I shall mention in a moment.

The reason why I have become increasingly concerned about the issue was shown on the graph to which Fiona McLeod referred, which Peter Rice used last night. It showed a 700 per cent increase in chronic liver disease in Scotland over the past 25 years and, in particular, a steep rise over the past six or seven years, demonstrating that alcohol is an even greater public health issue now than it was a decade or so ago.

We ought also to remember the association between violence and alcohol. I recently visited the Scottish violence reduction unit and asked the experts there, whom I greatly admire, what percentage of violent crimes were associated with alcohol. With a straight face, the wonderful Karyn McCluskey said, “All violent crimes.” I feel that must be a slight exaggeration, but the point stands.

We need a range - a jigsaw - of measures to deal with our serious problems with alcohol abuse, and I hope that the forthcoming alcohol bill will allow a range of actions to be taken. I believe that minimum pricing is the necessary glue to hold the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Some interesting additional evidence was provided by Professor Tim Stockwell at the meeting last night. I accept that the situation in Canada is different - Richard Simpson pointed to the fact that the Government has a monopoly of alcohol sales in Canada - but that does not alter the effect that minimum pricing has. I also accept that, as Kezia Dugdale said, there are differences in the detail, some of which are quite interesting.

For example, in Canada there has been a much bigger increase in the minimum price of strong beers than in the minimum price of light beers, which has led to an astonishing 52 per cent reduction in the consumption of strong beers in Saskatchewan. That reinforces the general point rather than weakening it.

Professor Stockwell started with the general point that hundreds of studies link price, consumption and harm. As Fiona McLeod said, his final words were, “Never doubt that evidence.” I do not imagine that anyone in the chamber doubts the generality of that evidence, to which he added recent research that he has conducted in Canada on the effect of minimum pricing, particularly in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

I should point out that the man is a world expert in his field. I had to stop reading his curriculum vitae before I got to the end, or I would still be reading it. He has worked for the World Health Organization and for various health bodies in Canada and Australia. He made it absolutely clear that the research that he has done in Canada not only substantiates the general point about the link between price, consumption and harm but shows that raising the minimum price has a direct effect on consumption. For example, raising the minimum price by 10 per cent in Saskatchewan produced a 5 per cent reduction in consumption.

A body of evidence shows that those who drink harmfully tend to gravitate towards cheaper forms of alcohol, so the effect is even greater among such groups. In the debate in June 2010, I referred to a study by Dr Jonathan Chick and others at the Royal Edinburgh hospital that showed that the lower the price a patient who was a harmful drinker paid per unit, the more units of alcohol they consumed.

My last point is about culture, to which the motion refers. I argue that price is a part of culture. Cheap alcohol affects the culture, as was said last night. To change the culture, we must do something about the price.
September 28th 2011