07 March 2007

S2M-5692 Alcohol Misuse

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 7 March 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 10:00]

… … …

Alcohol Misuse

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5692, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on tackling alcohol misuse.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): My colleague Christine Grahame told me that she first highlighted alcohol as a greater problem than drugs in 1999, when she asked the Executive to hold a debate on the problem of alcohol, which it duly did in spring 2000, so we have discussed the subject for a considerable time.

In my brief speech, I will focus on

"the ... links between alcohol abuse and crime and antisocial behaviour",

to which Kenny MacAskill refers in his motion. Like Richard Baker and others, I have been out with the police. Last weekend, I was out with the police van between 11 o'clock on Saturday night and 4.30 on Sunday morning. No issue that we met in those five and a half hours was other than related to drink—none at all. No shout that the van dealt with and no incident that we encountered ad hoc was other than alcohol related.

I will give two brief examples from that evening to illustrate the effect of alcohol on people, which I guess will chime with others. The first is of an adult who, having drunk an excessive amount of alcohol, was asked to leave licensed premises. On the way out, the adult decided that revenge was appropriate, so he picked a fight with the glass door of the licensed premises and charged into it head first. The door won that battle. The individual ended up with about 8 square inches of skin hanging off his skull and blood was to be seen everywhere. The person was so inebriated that he was barely conscious of the damage that he had done to himself. He fought the Scottish Ambulance Service staff to prevent them from taking him to hospital; six policemen had to take him there to have his wound attended to.

The second example is of a 17-year-old youth who was drunk out of his mind. The police with whom I was out on patrol offered him the choice of being taken home to his mother or spending a night in the cells. It was a tribute to his mother that his first preference was a night in the cells. However, the police persuaded him that his mother would still be rather irritated with him in the morning and that he might as well get it over with. In the back of the van, he was so agitated that he sought to destroy the cage in which he was being held. He then lowered his trousers and urinated in the back of the van precisely to cause the maximum irritation. He was correct to fear his mother. We met his mother, and I have every confidence that she was going to deal with him.

Access to drink is a huge social ill when that drink is abused excessively. The problem is not new and we should not pretend that it is. In one of his books, T C Smout described a village in East Lothian in the mid-1800s that had one pub for every 14 people. In 1916, David Lloyd George introduced legislation that restricted drinking in the dockyards by ensuring that distilled liquors were held in bond, first, for two years and, later, for three years. When I first entered work in 1964, it took me 22 minutes to earn the money to buy a pint of beer; today it takes people on minimum wage only 15 minutes.

We need to address a huge range of problems, and I support my colleague's motion.


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