Scottish Parliament Thursday 2 October 2008
[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]
Alcohol Sales (Age Limits)
First Minister's Question Time
Iain Gray: A few hours ago, along with many colleagues from the chamber, I met a large delegation of young people who were here to protest about the First Minister's proposal to stop 18 to 21-year-olds buying drink in a shop, while allowing them to drink in a pub or club. They think that the proposal is unfair, unworkable, ineffective and, frankly, daft. Will the First Minister listen to Scotland's young people and drop the idea?
The First Minister: The purpose of a consultation is to listen to a range of interested groups in Scottish society, and I welcome the contributions that young people have made to our consultation on proposals to tackle Scotland's relationship with alcohol—an issue that has not been faced or tackled for the past generation. However, we will have to come to our conclusions without the benefit of submissions from the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats or the Labour Party, which presumably decided not to contribute because, although they seem to know what they are against, they have no idea what they are for.
Iain Gray: We agree that Scotland has a problem with alcohol and, as parliamentarians, we want to debate in the Parliament what we should do about it. Labour wants an effective, mandatory proof-of-age scheme, tougher action on agents who buy drink for under-18s, and the removal of licences from those who are found selling to under-18s. We want strong enforcement of the existing legislation. The problem is that that debate is being drowned out by an idea that no one else wants. Will the First Minister drop an idea that no one agrees with so that we can start to explore actions that we can all get behind?
The First Minister: The only opinion sample that we have had on the proposal—the Young Scot poll—shows that one third of young people are in favour, one third against and one third are not sure. I suppose that those who are not sure will come to the other three parties and their non-submission to the consultation on facing the alcohol problem.
Iain Gray should at least acknowledge that there is substantial support in the community for firm action against alcohol abuse. It is all very well for him to say that he wants current legislation to be enforced; it is being enforced. What was the Labour Party doing during its 10 years in office that has allowed the problem to reach the scale that it has?
Iain Gray: The First Minister is trying to hide the fact that he has not even convinced his youth wing, the ultra-loyal student nationalists—[Interruption.]
Iain Gray: I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer. I meant to say the usually ultra-loyal student nationalists. He has not convinced his usually ultra-loyal Health and Sport Committee convener, Christine Grahame, either. She said on television that the proposal would alienate communities, traders and decent young people. He has not even convinced his cyber-nat midnight bloggers, and they would swallow anything. Will the First Minister listen to his own supporters and drop the idea?
The First Minister: The redoubtable Christine Grahame and the Federation of Student Nationalists have in common the fact that they bothered to submit evidence to the alcohol consultation, unlike Iain Gray.
Can we just have a look at the evidence on the ground from the six-month trial that has been running in Stenhousemuir, which finished just a couple of days ago? Iain Gray should address some of the evidence that the figures from that trial provide. The number of antisocial behaviour calls that were made in the Stenhousemuir area on Friday and Saturday evenings reduced by more than 40 per cent on the previous year, from 113 to 67. Crime is down—the number of cases of breach of the peace has gone down by 40 per cent, from 79 to 49, and the number of minor assaults has gone down from 51 to 37. That happened in an area in which there were no additional police resources for the period of the experiment.
As a Parliament, we should start to look seriously at some of the evidence that is emerging. We should do so not just because such work is in the interests of the general community. Given that, in the main, it is young people who are the victims of such crime, we should consider how we can support the whole community and generally tackle Scotland's relationship with alcohol. After a generation, proposals are finally being made to face down Scotland's relationship with the booze. Should not they be welcomed by the whole Parliament?
Iain Gray: No one takes antisocial behaviour more seriously than our party. We must look seriously at the pilots, but the fact is that the validity of those statistics has been questioned by Professor Bird. Indeed, Chief Inspector Bob Beaton, who led the crackdowns in Stenhousemuir and Larbert, said:
"It's difficult to separate the different strands to say which have been most successful."
This week the First Minister made his Colemanballs debut in Private Eye:
"That is not just a legacy, it is there for the future",
as he said himself. If he keeps coming up with policies that are as daft as the one that we are discussing, Private Eye will have to rename the column "Salmondballs".
If the proposal were to go through, an 18-year-old could work in, run or even own an off-licence. They could sell drink in that off-licence all day, but at the end of the day the one thing that they could not do would be to walk round the counter and buy a drink for themselves in their own shop.
Iain Gray: It is a daft idea, which Parliament will reject tonight. Will the First Minister listen to Parliament and drop the idea?
The First Minister: I might have made my debut in Private Eye, but Iain Gray made his debut in The Sun newspaper yesterday. The interview started off:
"Labour chief Iain Gray is halfway through a very long and boring tale when I lose the will to live."
I had a fellow feeling for the Sun reporter as I listened to that last question.
The article goes on to quote Iain Gray as saying:
"‘My campaign team suggested I changed my name to something more dynamic like Danny Invincible, the Kilmarnock striker.'"
From now on, I will refer to Iain Gray as Invincible Iain Gray or perhaps Interesting Iain Gray.
Throughout the experiment areas, there has been great support for the clampdown on alcohol distribution. From the police through to the retail outlets that co-operated in the experiment, people have said what a success it has been. If Iain Gray wants to question and argue against every single proposal in the alcohol consultation, that is his right, but sooner rather than later, it will be a question not just of what the Labour Party did not do over 10 years in government, but of exactly what its proposals are for tackling Scotland's relationship with the booze.
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