Monday, 23 April 2012

We must all work together to tackle the problems of excessive alcohol consumption

As a nation we have a problem, a problem that has crept up on us over a number of years- large numbers of people are regularly drinking too much alcohol. This is not just about binge drinking in our town and city centres, all too often people of all walks of life and all ages drink far too much in their own homes.

We are all going to have to get involved if we are going to prevent the human suffering that this excess drinking is causing. The Science and Technology Select Committee (of which I am a member) has given us a good steer. 

Like all Select Committees, this group of MPs from the main political parties, investigates issues of interest to the public. A wide range of experts visited Parliament to discuss with MPs alcohol consumption in Britain today. The work that came out of these discussions has helped the Government to develop its Alcohol Strategy.

A long list of actions has been identified in the Strategy, including better education about the risks of drinking too much alcohol; action on supermarkets promoting and selling alcohol cheaper than bottled water and new punishments for people who persistently drink too much.

I was particularly pleased that the Government is giving powers back to communities on how many outlets, including supermarkets, have a licence and the hours of the day and night when alcohol can be sold. Your parish and town councils now have these new powers so I encourage you to discuss with your local councillors what you think they should be doing to ensure people enjoy a quiet drink in the local pub, club or bar without harming themselves and our communities.

Ask anyone who works in the A&E at Treliske or as a paramedic, firefighter or a police officer and they will tell you of the human misery that too much alcohol can bring and the extra cost to our public services.

A key way in which alcohol related hospital admissions can be reduced is through increasing effective treatment for dependant drinkers. The Alcohol Strategy commits the NHS to improving access to the support services that can help people turn their lives around. From next year decisions on how NHS money is spent in Cornwall will be made in Cornwall so now is a good time to be thinking about this.

Just like many readers might not be aware of the useful work MPs do on Select Committees, they might not be aware of the quiet and invisible work we do directly with Ministers. For months I have been making common cause with like minded MPs of all parties who were worried about cuts to the legal aid budget.

We won concessions from the Government so that clinical negligence cases for babies, victims of domestic violence as well as some welfare cases will be eligible for legal aid. I am now assured that we will continue to have the best funded legal aid system in the developed world - with only Northern Ireland spending more.

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