National Assembly for Wales

Y Pwyllgor Iechyd, Gofal Cymdeithasol a Chwaraeon

Health, Social Care and Sport Committee

11/01/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Angela Burns AM
Dai Lloyd AM
Dawn Bowden AM
Jayne Bryant AM
Julie Morgan AM
Lynne Neagle AM
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Bethan Roberts Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Janine Hale Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Tracey Breheny Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Vaughan Gething AM Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Claire Morris Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Gareth Pembridge Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Philippa Watkins Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Sargent Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle y mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da i chi i gyd a chroeso i gyfarfod diweddaraf y Pwyllgor Iechyd, Gofal Cymdeithasol a Chwaraeon yma yn y Cynulliad—cyfarfod cyntaf y flwyddyn newydd, a dweud y gwir. Felly, croeso i bawb o'n blaenau. A allaf i'n benodol, felly, yn gyntaf estyn croeso i'm cyd-Aelodau gan ddatgan hefyd yr ydym ni wedi derbyn ymddiheuriadau gan Caroline Jones y bore yma? Nid ydy hi'n gallu bod efo ni, ac nid oes dirprwy. A allaf i'n bellach egluro fod y cyfarfod yma'n ddwyieithog? Gellir defnyddio clustffonau i glywed cyfieithu ar y pryd o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg ar sianel 1 neu i glywed cyfraniadau yn yr iaith wreiddiol yn well ar sianel 2. A allaf i atgoffa pawb i naill ai ddiffodd eu ffonau symudol ac unrhyw gyfarpar electronig arall neu eu rhoi ar y dewis tawel? Dylid dilyn cyfarwyddiadau'r tywyswyr os bydd larwm tân yn canu. 

Good morning to you all and welcome to this latest meeting of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee here at the Assembly, the first meeting of the new year. So, welcome to everyone before us this morning. Can I please welcome my fellow Members and also let you know that we have received apologies from Caroline Jones this morning? She's not able to be with us, and there is no substitute. Can I also explain that this meeting is bilingual? Headphones can be used for simultaneous translation from Welsh to English on channel 1, or for amplification on channel 2. Can I remind you, please, to either turn off your mobile phones and any other electronic equipment, or switch them to silent? Also, please follow the directions of the ushers should the fire alarm sound.

2. Bil Iechyd y Cyhoedd (Isafbris am Alcohol) (Cymru) – sesiwn dystiolaeth 8 - Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
2. Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill - evidence session 8 - Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services

Felly, gyda chymaint â hynny o ragymadrodd, gwnawn ni symud ymlaen i eitem 2 a chraffu ar Fil Iechyd y Cyhoedd (Isafbris am Alcohol) (Cymru). Sesiwn dystiolaeth rhif 8 ydy hon, ac rwy'n falch i groesawu Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol yma i'r pwyllgor, Vaughan Gething, a hefyd, yn ychwanegol, Tracey Breheny, dirprwy gyfarwyddwr polisi camddefnyddio sylweddau Llywodraeth Cymru; Bethan Roberts, gwasanaethau cyfreithiol Llywodraeth Cymru; a hefyd Janine Hale, prif swyddog ymchwil economeg iechyd Llywodraeth Cymru. Croeso ichi i gyd. Yn ôl ein harfer rŵan, fe awn ni'n syth i mewn i gwestiynau, felly, gyda'ch caniatâd, fe wnawn ni ddechrau efo Rhun ap Iorwerth.

With those few words, therefore, can we move on to item 2, scrutiny of the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill? This is evidence session 8. I'm glad to welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services here to the committee, Vaughan Gething, and also, with him, Tracey Breheny, deputy director, substance misuse policy, Welsh Government; Bethan Roberts, legal services, Welsh Government; and Janine Hale, principal research officer on health economics, Welsh Government. Welcome to you all. As is our usual practice, we will go straight into questions. Can I begin, therefore, with Rhun ap Iorwerth?

Bore da iawn ichi. Un o'r materion sydd wedi cael cryn drafodaeth gennym ni fel pwyllgor ydy pwy yn union sydd yn mynd i gael eu taro gan y ddeddfwriaeth arfaethedig yma. Pwy sy'n cael eu targedu? Mae'r Llywodraeth, rydym ni'n gwybod, yn hyderus y bydd isafbris am alcohol fesul uned yn targedu yfwyr peryglus a niweidiol yn benodol, ac na ddylai yfwyr cymedrol ofni y bydd hyn yn effeithio arnyn nhw ac ar y pris maen nhw'n ei dalu am alcohol. Mae'r pwyllgor, serch hynny, wedi cael tystiolaeth o sawl cwr sy'n awgrymu y bydd yr effeithiau yn llawer mwy eang na hynny, sy'n codi cwestiynau eithaf sylfaenol ynglŷn ag, er enghraifft, yr honiad mai dim ond cynnydd o £3 y flwyddyn i bob yfwr cymedrol byddai'r ddeddfwriaeth yma'n ei chostio. A fyddech chi'n caru gwneud sylw ynglŷn â hynny, achos mae'r £3 hynny o bob man rydw i wedi ei weld yn edrych yn afresymol iawn o isel?

Good morning. One of the issues that have been discussed quite widely by us as a committee is who exactly is going to be struck by this proposed legislation. Who is targeted? The Government, we know, is confident that minimum unit pricing will specifically target hazardous and harmful drinkers, and that moderate drinkers should not be afraid that this will impact on them and on the price that they pay for alcohol. The committee, however, has received evidence from many places that suggests that the impact will be much broader than that, and raises quite fundamental questions about, for example, the claim that an increase of £3 every year is all that this legislation would cost moderate drinkers. Would you like to comment on this, because that £3 from everywhere that I've seen looks very unreasonably low?

Thank you for the questions. I don't think it raises fundamental questions at all about the points and purpose of the legislation and its efficacy in helping to deal with hazardous and harmful drinkers. There is a welter of evidence that people are price sensitive, and if you introduce cheap alcohol, people consume more, just as if you raise the price of alcohol, people consume less. The challenge is whether we have a taxation regime to do that, which has been ineffective—we've had a high-tax regime on lots of alcohol for a large period of time; retailers have demonstrated over a long period of time they can absorb that cost and still provide really cheap alcohol in high volume—or whether you set a minimum unit price. That is where we are. There is limited evidence from Canada about that, but, actually, we've got modelled evidence about it. That's where we really are: we've got modelled evidence of what we're talking about.

So, I think the definitions that we use are actually really important. What the Sheffield report has done, and I think entirely reasonably, is it's defined moderate drinkers as people who drink within the guidelines, which are the joint chief medical officer guidelines from across the United Kingdom. In the original report, you will recall that the guidelines were 21 units for men and 14 units for women as adults. They've now been reduced, actually, down to 14, and you'll recall that's the guidance that CMOs have produced, not the Governments interfering. So, that's the advice we have about what a moderate drinker is. So, I think you really need to understand whether people really think that's what a moderate drinker is, because that's the basis on which the report is written.

I think it's entirely reasonable to think that if you only consume, on average, about 14 units of alcohol a week, then you're not going to have a huge impact from price. I don't think that's an unreasonable position to take at all, and I think it's convenient for a Minister to say that that's modelled evidence that we have, that's the basis on which Scotland have proceeded as well, of course, and it's the basis on which we will proceed here as well. I think it's an entirely reasonable basis on which to proceed.

09:35

We've had written evidence supplied to us with scenarios mapped out—very feasible scenarios. I think I put forward a scenario myself about somebody drinking a bottle of wine a week, which would be within the limits of moderate drinking, but if it was 20p a week, 20p a bottle more, that would be way more than £3 a year of an increase in the cost of alcohol. We have people modelling people drinking one can of branded lager a day, and suggesting that would be an increase of £65 a year. We have a glass of sherry a day costing £30 per year. The £3 hasn't really convinced us.

Well, again, if you look at how much alcohol is sold and in what volume, if you're buying sherry, you're unlikely to be buying sherry at below the applicable minimum unit price at present, to be honest. So, it comes down to what form of alcohol we're actually looking to address at the time. And, actually, if you drink a can of lager a day, every day, then it's entirely possible you'd be at or above the applicable minimum unit price in any event. If you drink any more than that, then you're actually above the moderate drinking recommended limit. It also depends on whether people really are drinking a bottle of wine every single week as well. So, we're talking about what people currently purchase and how it might change their purchasing habits, and whether or not there really is a significant impact overall. 

We could all give examples of people at either end of the scale in terms of what they currently buy and don't buy. We're talking about the average overall impact. And I think, again, that's a reasonable basis on which to proceed. Otherwise, you're just dealing in extremes in policy making, and that's not a rational basis on which to make a policy, let alone on which to pass legislation. 

What about somebody buying their alcohol in bulk to be—? I'm not talking by the van load, but more than a can at a time, say, at a discounted price, to drink very moderately over an extended period of time. They would almost certainly be hit. Is that acceptable? Is that an acceptable collateral of this Bill?

Well, you go back to my previous point. You look at the overall impact and you then decide whether that is a basis on which the health gain that we expect to make in fewer incidents of people suffering alcohol-related harm, including alcohol-related deaths, is worthwhile doing or not, and I would say, 'Yes, it is.' If you're actually saying that there is someone who is prepared to purchase in bulk, in advance, and then use that alcohol within the limits, if there is an impact then, you say, 'Well, does that mean you then have to avoid taking action to prevent the alcohol-related harm that this measure could provide?' And I would say, 'Yes, it is; it's absolutely worth doing because this is a public health measure.' This is about whether we think that making a change to the minimum price of alcohol—setting a floor below which alcohol cannot be sold—is going to provide that benefit overall, not just to the nation's health, but the individual health of people as well. 

So, just to confirm, you say that it is acceptable as a means of targeting hazardous drinkers that some moderate drinkers have to pay more. 

You have to set a national measure, and the answer is 'yes'. Otherwise, you're really saying that what you need to do is give people a questionnaire to decide whether they're hazardous or harmful drinkers before they buy alcohol, then change the price only for them. The reason why this measure has been taken is that, actually, we understand that the great majority of below minimum unit price alcohol at present, if you set it at a 50p bar—the very cheap, high-strength alcohol—is actually purchased by hazardous and harmful drinkers in any event. So, this is the best means of targeting that particular health gain to be made. And you either say, 'If it's not perfect, you can't do it' or you say, 'Is this measure worthwhile doing with the health gain it brings?' Our view as a Government is that this is a worthwhile piece of public health legislation that will make a real difference. There are, of course, other things we need to do to try and educate people about their alcohol use, but that's a different question and not a reason not to pass this piece of legislation.

But, citing the £3 a year increase in the price of alcohol doesn't strike me in that context as being particularly honest. If you—

I find that quite objectionable. It is an entirely honest thing to do. We haven't set that out. The Government has not decided that we want this to be the answer. We've gone away to an independent group of experts—they're acknowledged not just within the UK, but across an international field as having real expertise in this field—to provide us with an objective basis, not just for the harm and the severe void in the health gains to be made, but the impact on different groups of drinkers. It is entirely honest to present that as the average impact on that group of drinkers. You're setting up something that says, 'If there are people with extremes, it's not honest to then present an average and an overall impact', and I just do not accept that.  

09:40

I think it's right that we question this and it is a matter of perception. It is something that—

It is not a matter of perception. If you want to take extremes, then you're setting something else out there that is—

There is a clear perception amongst witnesses who gave evidence to this committee, either orally or in writing, that there needs to be a lot more convincing done that the cost for a moderate drinker is likely to be as low as £3 a year extra. 

I don't think it's helpful to set up straw men to knock down and give credence to that form of view, rather than look at the overall impact and having some honesty in actually understanding the evidence that's been given, and the independent evaluation report that's been provided. If the evidence from Sheffield had said something different, we may well not be here because we may well not have been able to make out and to understand that this legislation could have had the public health gain that we think it will do. We're not alone in that; other jurisdictions right across the world are looking at this piece and, of course, Scotland have already proceeded. We know there's interest in the Republic of Ireland too, and other jurisdictions too. So, this is an issue for lots of countries in the world, including Wales, and I'm very proud that we are prepared to take this measure in Wales, and I look for support from people across parties, looking at the evidence and not looking at anecdote and extremes.  

And I won't apologise for being personally doubtful of that £3 a year figure. Because of the perceptions that people have, there will need to be an educating process. There will have to be a communications process. The explanatory memorandum sets out an estimated £100,000 in communication costs required for Welsh Government, including £80,000 for publicising the change to businesses and £20,000 for a public communication campaign. Is that enough? 

It's comparable with the sort of communications that we've undertaken in other pieces of legislation. For example, the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 that we passed in this term had an estimated £60,000 in the first year. I'm thinking about similar campaigns on implementing smoke-free open spaces. Now, that's a reasonable estimate, I think, for the amount that we would need and, of course, there's plenty of publicity and interest in the legislation as it goes through. And if there is a need to do more to better educate the public, we're of course able to reconsider that, but I think it's a reasonable basis on which to proceed, yes. 

Okay. A final question from me; it's about challenge to the evidence presented in the explanatory memorandum from Professor Jon Nelson of Penn State university in the United States—emeritus professor of economics at Penn State university. He describes the evidence presented in the explanatory memorandum as incomplete, selective and misleading, and states that some of his own work in this field has been misrepresented. What's your response to that? And in the light of that criticism, are you confident that the EM provides a full and accurate representation of the evidence base? We always look for as wide an evidence base as possible, and this professor's evidence should, I guess, be considered alongside that of Sheffield. 

And, to be fair, it has been. His work is referenced in the explanatory memorandum. The explanatory memorandum itself was peer reviewed by two different academics within the UK as well. And it's pretty clear—and you need to be honest about this—Professor Nelson does not believe that minimum unit pricing will work, so he comes at it saying, 'This is the wrong thing to do'. And, you know, he's perfectly allowed to express that view, and it's not as if people aren't aware of the views that he's had or that he's not been in correspondence directly with the Government as well. We'll of course consider what he has to say, but we actually think that the weight of evidence provided by Sheffield is an entirely reasonable basis on which to proceed, and you would be amazed if you reached a decision like this and there was absolute unanimity within the field of academic experts that this is absolutely the right thing to do around the world.

So, I don't doubt there'll be people who'll be able to provide an answer that this probably isn't the right thing to do, but I'm still confident that the memorandum is an accurate and reasonable basis on which to proceed, and I'm confident in the evidence base Sheffield have provided. And, of course, as we proceed with this legislation, should the Assembly agree and pass this piece of legislation, we'll have real live evidence from Scotland before we actually introduce our price. We'll have more than a year of minimum unit pricing in Scotland by the time we get around to introducing a regime here in Wales, if the Assembly agrees, obviously, and if we stick to our timetable of July 2019. 

09:45

Just to be clear, you said you had not been in direct correspondence with the professor—

Because it's about testing. It's important to test Sheffield's evidence as much as possible. That's done in academic studies by peer review, and I'm interested in what peer review Welsh Government has pursued in relation to Professor Nelson and Sheffield.

I know you're talking about the explanatory memorandum, but perhaps on the evidence from Sheffield, I don't know if Janine wants to say something about the peer review process for their work as well.

The University of Sheffield has published several papers around their modelling, not just their Wales modelling, but the modelling they've undertaken for other countries. All of those have been published in high-quality peer review journals, so they would have been peer reviewed anonymously by a number of academics. They also have their own steering and advisory group that involves a number of world-renowned academics and experts in the alcohol field, which peer reviews and advises on the approaches they take to their work. We haven't undertaken a peer review of Professor Nelson's work. It wouldn't be our role to peer review an independent academic's work. It would take a huge amount of resource for us to do that for every academic out there commenting on policy. We would be looking at it. We have considered his work and included it in the explanatory memorandum. I don't believe that his work has been misrepresented. We will be updating the explanatory memorandum and we will look at some of the additional references that he has provided and include them if necessary.

Symudwn ymlaen. Mae'r cwestiynau nesaf o dan ofal Lynne Neagle.

Moving on, then. The next questions are from Lynne Neagle.

Thanks, Chair. The committee has received written evidence that a minimum unit price set beyond 50p would be disproportionate and would go against the spirit of the Supreme Court's judgment on the Scottish legislation. How do you respond to that?

I assume there's no pun intended about 'going against the spirit'. But look, I just don't accept that. I think that's a bit of a red herring, because we've set out an illustrative level. It's fairly easy to explain when set at 50p. The formula to calculate the minimum price is quite easy to do then. But we've got more evidence coming in another report from Sheffield that will look at the public health difference in 5p increments from 35p up to 70p. We'll then need to make a choice about that. I've indicated before that we'll need to consider the evidence for that in setting a price. We also then have to think not just about the initial price if we go ahead with this, but what we do to make sure that the impact isn't dulled. So, for example, if we have the same minimum unit price for five years, as prices rise, the impact will be less. So, we'll need to think about all of those things, not just introducing a regime, should the Assembly agree, but if we're going to maintain that and maintain the impact that it will have on health as well. So, I don't think it would go against the spirit. Far from it. What the Supreme Court actually said was that a minimum unit price is a proportionate manner in which you can achieve a legitimate objective. It is about how you reduce the harm caused by misuse of alcohol.

No pun intended as regards 'goes against the spirit of', no doubt. But anyway, carry on, Lynne.

Can you provide some more information on how you intend the internal review of the level of minimum unit price to work? Who will be involved in the process, and will the findings be made publicly available?

It might be helpful for my official to explain where we're going to go with that internal process and how we expect to make it available and feed it into our considerations going forward.

The first point to make, I suppose, is that we have to allow enough time, obviously, in any internal review for there to have been an impact, and we're expecting it to take a little while for behaviours to change, and indeed for the industry to respond to the policy. What we envisage is that that internal review will be carried out by Welsh Government policy officials aided by our analytical expertise in-house at the two-year mark after implementation of the Bill. We'll look at a range of factors there, such as alcohol consumption levels at that point, hospital admission data, and the other data, really, that we've set out in the explanatory memorandum as being the key measures by which we'll measure the impact of minimum pricing.

09:50

We'll also, of course, have evidence from Scotland as well, from their own regime that they will have introduced too. So, there'll be lots of us to learn between the two countries.

Is it your intention to make that information available then, publicly?

Well, what we would normally do is, obviously, provide advice at the time to Ministers, and there will be an opportunity then to issue a written statement or—

We would expect to provide information about the review and its conclusions and recommendations and how we would or wouldn't take them forward. I think that'll be the right thing to do. We're in a new area of law making and of policy, and I think it'll be the right thing, if we've signalled we're going to have the review, that we then say, 'This is what we've got and here's how we're going to respond to it', in addition, of course, to the evaluation at the five-year point that we've indicated we'll have as well.

Thank you. Can I just move on to guidance now? There's no requirement for guidance on the face of the Bill, and we have had various pieces of legislation in this Assembly that have had a requirement for guidance on the face of the Bill. Given that the committee's heard that an understanding of the Bill's requirements will be key to the success of the policy, can you just tell us a bit more about why you've decided not to place the requirement for guidance on the face of the Bill?

Well, the Government has a general power to issue guidance. I'm not particularly precious about the drafting, in a sense. I know different people have different drafting preferences, both within and outside Government. For me, I think it's about whether we get the legislation right. We've indicated that we do expect to issue guidance. There's a debate to be had in the run-up to Stage 2 about whether we want that formally on the face of the Bill—a permissive power to issue guidance—or not. But I'm keen not to overcomplicate the face of the Bill, and I don't want to get too prescriptive about what the guidance must and must not be, but we would expect to issue guidance to help a range of people, both those people on the enforcement side of it, as well as retailers themselves.

Thank you. Given the updated Home Office guidance that accompanies the Licensing Act 2003, can you confirm that online purchases of alcohol made from an address in Wales but distributed from England will not be subject to the provisions of the Bill?

That's correct, because of the way in which it's defined and where the point of sale is. So, it's where the alcohol is. It's essentially separate and put apart—that's where the sale effectively takes place. So, those online sales, if that were the scenario, would not be covered. Again, we're into how people purchase their alcohol and use it, and the changing nature of the world. But, again, if you're talking about the alcohol we're most interested in, hazardous and harmful drinkers and people who drink very cheap, high-strength alcohol, I'm not aware that there's a huge amount of that alcohol that is being bought online by that particular group of drinkers.

Thank you. Just finally, then, from me, are you confident that the minimum pricing provisions and their application to online sales are sufficiently clear and robust, particularly in relation to cross-border elements?

Yes. I think, actually, the law is pretty clear. The way in which consumers behave—. If you think where people are and where and how they buy their alcohol—and I do accept that more people are purchasing more things online, including alcohol—but when we look at that group of hazardous and harmful drinkers, at the way in which they behave and the determined efforts people may or may not make to avoid a minimum unit price, they'd need to know whether or not that alcohol is being packaged in England so they could avoid the regime in any event. It would take rather a lot of effort to get there, and, actually, the people that we think it's most likely to have the biggest impact on are people who buy alcohol really quite locally.

So, it's not just about online, it's even people getting in the car to go and buy alcohol. Well, actually, if you're prepared to make a cross-border journey, you've got not just the cost of doing that—the fuel and the parking—but you've also got your time as well. Actually, people's time is quite precious to them. So, that's why lots of people do buy alcohol in very local settings, and lots of those places sell very cheap alcohol, as well. It's not just supermarkets, it's local venues as well, and that's where we think that this Bill will have the biggest impact.

I hope that, actually, might change the behaviour of some of the producers, too. It's possible that producers will lower the units of alcohol in drinks. It wasn't that long ago that, actually, a normal-strength beer was about 4 per cent or less. It's relatively recently, actually, that beer and lager have got much stronger in the way people buy. Actually, that could make a difference in terms of the price, but also what then happens when people are consuming it, as well. So, I hope there will be some reconsideration given to the way in which alcohol is produced as well as purchased, and this is not the only way, but part of the way, in which we'll change the debate and the way in which people choose to use alcohol. I'm not someone who abstains completely, but we all have choices to make and this is part of what we want to try and do to avoid alcohol harm in the future.

09:55

Ocê. Symudwn ymlaen ac mae'r cwestiynau nesaf o dan law Julie Morgan.

Okay. Moving on to the next questions, please, from Julie Morgan.

Diolch. I'm going to be asking about evaluation. The Cabinet Secretary has already mentioned the fact that the Scottish Act will be there for us to see and we'll be able to learn from it. In fact, the Scottish Act does put much more detailed provision about evaluation in the Bill with reference to how particular groups will be affected, for example, by gender and those sorts of issues. There's much less detail in this Bill about the evaluation process, so I wondered if you could tell us why there's not more detail.

The Scottish Government ended up taking out a prescriptive approach on the face of the Bill, and I think, honestly, that was about getting the Bill passed, and about dealing with lots of the fears and anxieties people had. I think the problem with that is, if you put it on the face of the Bill, whether, actually, you're not just setting a number of things to consider but, actually, whether you're maximising what happens then as well.

I'd rather take account of the evidence that we get, not just from Scotland, but from within Wales as well, and how an evaluation covers all those points. I don't think we could anticipate now what we might choose to do or we think would be entirely desirable to do in having that full evaluation in six years' time, because we'll not just get to passing the Bill; it's five years after we introduce a minimum unit pricing regime, so we're talking about—if we introduce minimum unit pricing in July 2019, we'd be talking about what we'd do in 2024 in terms of evaluation. I think our ability to accurately forecast that is something that is not best put on the face of the Bill. But we need to make sure that the commitments that we give are real and meaningful and that there's proper engagement with stakeholders, not just within this place, but outside, about how to design an evaluation that is meaningful. And, again, that's really important to us, because it affects the willingness of whoever is the Government of the day and the Assembly to continue with the minimum unit pricing regime. So, it's not something to be brushed aside or to think we can get away with having a piecemeal or whitewash approach, because that will undermine the confidence of people who will need to vote positively for a continuation of that regime.

So, I think it is the right thing to do and we want to learn from what they're doing in Scotland as well. And, again, we'll have the opportunity, because they're going through this first, to think about what we do and things we might want to avoid if we think they're not really desirable in taking the whole scheme through to try and deliver the public health benefit we think is there to be made.

So, are you saying that the evaluation will look at things like age, gender and various different characteristics?

You haven't got it on the face of the Bill, but you would expect—. Because I think that's very important, how it does affect particular groups.

Yes. Well, we'd certainly want to understand its impact on a different range of groups and how much evidence is there to allow a robust evaluation and conclusions to be drawn. But we may want it to look at more than that as well, so that's why we're—. I think getting to a prescriptive list on the face of the Bill is not where we want to be. We want to have a proper conversation before we get into having that evaluation about what needs to be in there. And then we'll need to set out, transparently, the terms of that evaluation before it's done, and then, transparently, we need to provide the results of that evaluation before Assembly Members in the future are asked whether they wish to continue with a minimum unit pricing regime.

And we heard that the Scottish evaluation of the legislation will include a focus on dependent drinkers. So, what is your view of that?

Well, again, we want to consider the evidence around that, as well, because the legislation isn't set up as having the biggest impact on dependent drinkers. That's part of the understanding that we're not saying that this Bill is a silver bullet for all ills when it comes to alcohol-related harm. Dependent drinkers, I think, are a different category, and some of those may be less price sensitive about their behaviour. So, this is about hazardous and harmful drinkers in particular. We'll have evidence from Scotland, because their evaluation will consider the impact on dependent drinkers and we'll then have an evidence base to consider both in Wales and in Scotland about whether we want our own evaluation and to actually consider that as well.

So, it's not about saying, 'Absolutely, no, it won't happen', but I think it would be wrong for me to try and give a definite commitment now that that would absolutely be part of what we would want the evaluation to look at. We need to think about the evidence at the time.

Right. And the fact that Scotland is so much more prescriptive: are you saying that they had to do that in order to get support for the Bill? Is that what you said earlier on?

10:00

Yes, I think that's part of the reality of getting something done and dusted. Every Government and every person that wants to pass legislation, you make compromises along the way. Whether, objectively, you think that's the base on which we'd want to proceed—having that level of prescription on the face of the Bill—I'm not convinced that would be a sensible place for us to get to.

We do want to get to having a proper regime that is understandable, that is supported by people and has safeguards in there—so not just the internal review, but the evaluation we're discussing, and the fact that the Assembly would have to positively vote to maintain the regime after an evaluation has been done. So, it isn't just 'take the word of the Government'; there will be a proper evidence base for people to make that choice in the future.

We were also told by stakeholders that the evaluation should be independent. What are your thoughts on that?

Yes, we would commission an independent evaluation, in the same way as the Government regularly commissions reports. So, it isn't that the Government would ask itself what it thinks the answer should be, there'd be a brief that would be set out that would be independently evaluated, and it would be available to Assembly Members and the wider public.

Right. So, it would be independent. What about the effect on children and young people, for example? Will that be a key part of how this will work?

Again, I'd expect that to be considered, yes. If you think about the reality of hazardous and harmful drinkers, lots of them are in households with children. So, it would be unusual not to think about what impact that has had more broadly, yes.

And then, lastly, the timescale. We have had a bit of a discussion about the timescale. Some of the people giving evidence thought two years would be early enough to see a change. Have you thought about early monitoring?

We've got the internal review at two years, so we're looking at an earlier point before the five-year evaluation. So, we are thinking about different points in time to understand what the evidence is. And whilst we think there is learning to be taken from Scotland, because, in terms of other parts of the world, you'd have thought that other parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland—our closest neighbours and our closest culture—are things we could learn from, but we want to have an evaluation that looks, again, at the impact here in Wales as opposed to simply reading across from Scotland then Wales automatically.

So, we've got the internal review that we discussed earlier in Lynne Neagle's questions; we'll make public recommendations from that review about what we'll then do as a result of it, and we'll also have this five-year independent evaluation as well. So, I think that puts us in an entirely reasonable place to make more choices for the future. It may or not be me, it may not be people in this room, making those choices at that time, but we want to make sure that a future Assembly is properly equipped to make that choice.

Ocê, Julie. Symud ymlaen nesaf nawr te i Angela.

Okay, Julie. Moving on, therefore, to Angela.

Actually, could I just follow on from the questions, or answers you gave to both Lynne Neagle and Julie Morgan, about the Scottish evidence? Did you at all consider holding back the implementation of this Bill until you had seen how it had worked in Scotland, and what the rates of success were? Because you've talked a lot about how you'll balance the evaluation and look at what's happened in Scotland. They're implementing their Bill—I believe it is 2018; you're looking to implement this Bill in 2019. Would it not be worth waiting a few years and seeing whether or not it is successful? What's your rationale? Did you consider it? And if not, why not?

Scotland are looking to start their minimum unit pricing regime from the start of May this year. Should the Assembly pass this piece of legislation, we're looking to start a minimum unit pricing regime in July 2019. So, there'll be more than a year of practical experience in Scotland before we would start a regime here. I think the danger is, if you then say, 'Wait another couple of years', you potentially end up just putting aside all the evidence behind the drivers to have this piece of legislation about the public health good you will gain, the alcohol harm you will avoid, and if, actually, you think that the regime is working and having an impact in Scotland, you then look at well, why have we waited and had an extra two or three years of potentially avoidable alcohol-related harm? If we did—[Inaudible.]—we'd have to go through another cycle of then deciding again what is our evidence base by setting a minimum unit price again, and I think we would actually just shunt the issue into the long grass. I don't think that's the right thing to do.

This has been discussed for a very long time. I think it's the right measure to take. I think the timescale for implementation is entirely appropriate, and I certainly don't have any plans to try and push that further back.

The two areas of real interest I have—. The first is about substitution and I'd like to try and understand what work the Welsh Government has done to particularly address key areas, such as young people, to ensure that those who now drink as a relief from life and part of their habits don't then start turning to drugs or increase their use of drugs. We as a committee have actually found it quite hard to get hard evidence about poly-use.

In fact, we've just had a little bit in from—I think it's Public Health England's national drug treatment monitoring system. It's the 2017 drug strategy. It talks about, particularly, younger co-users of cannabis and alcohol. I think there's a dearth of evidence; we've all agreed that. I just wonder: what have you looked at, what did you find out, do you have any concerns about the substitution-element costs et cetera? Because we understand—actually, I don't know if it comes in a bag, but I think a bag of Spice is probably cheaper than a bottle of White Lightning, or whatever it is. [Laughter.] Sorry. I don't know. Does it come in a bag? 

10:05

Well, I'm impressed by your knowledge of the very cheap white cider end of the market, Angela. [Laughter.] You've clearly done your research. But, look, I think there is a range of different challenges, and what I don't want to confuse is the important purpose of the Bill with other challenges that we know we have. If I were to say that the point and purpose of this Bill is that, children and young people who are mixing alcohol and other substance use already, this Bill will stop that, that would not be the case; that is not the basis on which we set out the legislation. It's not the evidence base we have from Sheffield to do this either. We recognise that there are other issues about substance misuse more generally. You know, if price infrastructure changes in one form of substance misuse then some people who are engaged in that field will think about moving into a different area, unless they're already dependent on a particular substance, and that brings its own challenges.

Part of the challenge with alcohol, though, is that it is generally lawful and freely available in a way that, even with unlawful other substances—they're more available than we might want them to be, but actually alcohol itself is everywhere, and there's a challenge about how easy it is for people to procure that. So, this is about trying to do something about the price of alcohol and the recognised harm that it causes.

We have different, I think, policy challenges that I'm not trying to suggest that this Bill, and the Act that I hope it will become, is the vehicle to try and address. We've got the broader substance misuse action that we're taking on trying to educate people on making informed choices and to understand, actually, the drivers that put people into that field in any event. I don't think trying to say changing the pricing regime for alcohol will resolve issues in families and communities that lead people to consider taking unlawful and hazardous substances in any event—. So, I just don't want to confuse this Bill and the problem that you're setting out. That's a different area for the Government to try and understand, of course, and that's part of our broader substance misuse action.

I totally understand that, but we are talking about unintended consequences, and I'm sure that every Assembly Member—. I know that I can take you to areas in my constituency where you can get wholesale strips and strips and strips of antidepressant drugs for pennies compared to the cost of alcohol even now. I'm particularly worried about young people because I think that, in some ways, they are more vulnerable and also, because of their youth, if we can prevent them from entering a particular pathway then they've got a better life chance all the way through. So, I don't want you just to sort of brush it off, and I'm not really implying that you are, but I think it's really important that we understand the substitution.

Now, you talked to Julie Morgan and Lynne about evaluation and monitoring. So, when you go forward, will you undertake to actually look at this as a specific area to try to monitor what dangers there could be, as an unintended consequence of this Bill, in terms of substitution? Because, you know, great if we stop people from drinking harmfully, but not great if all we do is drive them down another pathway.

Having made the first point that I don't wish to confuse the objectives of the Bill with substitution, we have nevertheless got work ongoing with the Welsh Government's advisory panel on substance misuse to consider the impact of people using different substances and the potential for people substituting one substance with another. I will expect to have advice from that independent expert group in the coming months, and we'll then have to make a choice about what do with our wider substance misuse action. So, there is work ongoing, and we'll obviously consider that if it has an impact on this piece of legislation, but I think that's a broader piece of work that isn't just about this one piece of legislation and its impacts. But I hope that's helpful. I don't want to try to confuse by saying that the point of this Bill is to deal with substitution. There's a piece of—

No, sorry, I'm trying—I'm not trying to avoid the issue. I'm trying to be helpful about it. That isn't the point, but we have a piece of work that is ongoing with the advisory panel. We'll receive and have to make choices that may affect our view on part of this Bill and what we want to do around it, but will also have a broader impact, I think, on our substance misuse strategy as well.

10:10

Well, that neatly brings me on to my second area of concern. It is about the substance strategies and about services that are available. When you read the consultation responses, almost every consultation response talks about the fact that they believe that there will be greater pressure on the services that provide help for people who have addiction of any form. What I'd like to understand now is what plans you have in place to increase the support. Because we can only assume that if we achieve the consequence we want, which is that people give up alcohol or give up harmful behaviours with alcohol, they can't do it in isolation. They need support. What kind of support do you envisage, what are you going to put into place, and have you looked at the funding for that element of it?

Well, we currently provide about £50 million in the substance misuse area. We've not had to make significant cuts to that budget in the past. We'll have to make choices about what happens in that area at present. We think there's capacity for people at present. If there is a significant—because we'll need to think again about how we provide a service. We're trying to protect those front-line services. There were choices that I had to make in this year's budget process, in ending some of the joint programmes with the police, because we want to protect those front-line services. So, there's a commitment to protect those services and the capacity they have to provide, but I would much rather have the problem of people who are presenting and seeking help, rather than people who are acquiring greater alcohol harm and they are not presenting to services. We'll then have a better idea about the nature not just of the demand that we have, but how we try and fund it. None of these things are easy. We're getting a bit into that budget scrutiny, again, about how we make choices, and the growth in the health budget and the costs it makes in other areas of Government policy—[Inaudible.]—the fact that demand itself increases in a wide range of areas. But I'd much rather have that as a problem, rather than the amount of alcohol-based harm we recognise already exists.

So, it's not a 'No, I will never consider it and no Minister will ever consider it', but it is about the capacity we have now, the protection we've provided for front-line substance misuse services, and, of course, we'll consider that in the future.

But surely that is the point. Here we are, looking to make a probably solid piece of legislation that we really hope is going to make a difference to somebody's life. If that somebody then goes somewhere else to get help to break this cycle that we are trying to break here, and we don't have that support in place, then that truly is a mad situation, because we're not actually achieving our goals. The whole of this Bill is predicated on saving the NHS money in the long term, on avoiding adverse childhood experiences, on public health outcomes, on people being fitter for longer in their older age, et cetera. So, I have a concern about the provision of services. A lot of services now are provided by the third sector, who are facing a financial squeeze.

None of us here are idiots; we all understand the absolute pressure (a) the NHS is under and (b) the financial element of it is under. But you are clearly setting out to achieve an objective, and it seems to me that you're putting in place A through to X, but you're not doing the final bit. I wait to be convinced by you, Cabinet Secretary, that you've looked at what Z should be, you've looked at what the services should be, you've identified the lack of services or if we have enough. You haven't actually said if you think we have enough throughout the whole of Wales in a consistent, equitable way. If at least you've done that work, and even if you turn round and say, 'But I need another £20 million to do it, and I haven't got it today', at least we know it's there, that the thought process is there, the plan is there, so that if we can then get to a point where we can fund it, we can fund it. But I don't want to see that we've done this bit of the equation and not really had a good look at it, because there's such fragility in the third sector as well that some of our support services for people with drug and alcohol problems—if they fall apart, then the whole thing becomes an exercise that is ultimately rather pointless.

Well, I think it's fair to say that we have looked at our current ability to service the needs of people. That's why we've made choices about protecting the front-line services. We're actually seeing an improving trend in waiting times in the substance misuse field, and the choices we've made have actually increased the amount for front-line services. That's the choice that we're already making. So, we do think we've actually planned and tried to understand what current levels of demand are and what the future might be.

But there's something about this that isn't predictable, because whilst we're seeing more people looking to acquire help, we also think that some people will moderate their behaviour to potentially avoid those people coming in, and so that’s part of the point of passing the legislation—to change people’s behaviour in itself. So, at this point, I think we’re in a position where we’ve increased funding to the front line; we’re trying to understand what we need to do to do that. We do then have to look at the evidence coming in to us then as well to make other choices.

Even when you have a plan, moving forward, you can’t pretend that it isn’t a dynamic process, and there are changes in the evidence that comes in about where it is and where we are, and that, of course, means a grown-up conversation between the third sector and the statutory sector and our other partners as well. So, that’s where we are now in trying to design and deliver a substance misuse strategy that delivers against the real needs that we recognise exist in every part of the country. The choices made under the budget support that, and we need to think about how we continue to do that in the future, with a very challenging financial climate, as you recognise.

10:15

We had 52 responses to the consultation from other bodies. I haven’t read every single one, but I have read a lot of them. Every single one of the ones that I’ve read—and as I say, I’ve read a lot of them—says that this will not work without having adequate support. So, I absolutely just have to keep pressing you on this, because I think it is vital that it’s not just—it’s about mental health support, it’s about the addiction behaviour. The health boards who’ve all replied have all said that we need to have more support services in place: the primary care people—‘We need to have more services in place’—the doctors, the psychologists—. And then we had Alcohol Focus Scotland, we had the Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs—I pick out those two because they do drugs and alcohol. They talk about extra support services, the Public Health England—.

So, I suppose my last set of questions is: do you intend to commission either a dedicated evaluation on it, or are you doing any other research or evaluation on this Bill on whether or not you’ve got all the other parts of the jigsaw in place and enough funding to do it? Or are you saying, ‘Right, we’ve done everything. This is it, we’re just going to go ahead with the Bill’?

I'll ask Tracey to talk about what area planning boards already do both currently and in trying to meet the future needs as well.

The Minister mentioned the resources that Welsh Government provide are provided to seven area planning boards in Wales, and they're partnership bodies responsible for commissioning and delivering local substance misuse services. Now, that's done on the basis of a robust needs assessment, so I think the point we would make is that the need in the local area, for whatever—and it is combined, it's drugs and alcohol need—would be picked up in the needs assessment and then the services, half of which are provided by third sector providers, meet that local need. That's the way in which the system, if you like, works.

As the Cabinet Secretary mentioned, for 2018-19, the resources that the Welsh Government are providing to the area planning boards have been protected. I think the other point that I would want to make is that we're in very regular quarterly formal meetings, very regular contact with area planning board leads. So, my team regularly, for instance, attends all area planning board meetings, and also we have formal meetings with those. I chair a meeting of the chairs twice a year, together with those quarterly lead officer meetings. So, I would say we've got a very tight handle on what they're doing and what services they're providing. In fact, the services that they provide through the individual projects come into Welsh Government. My team assess those and then agree the award of funding. So, it's an agenda that's fairly tightly controlled, I would say, from our perspective.

The point relating to the Bill that I would want to make is that, obviously, we've already started talking to them about any unintended or other consequences arising from the Bill.

Okay. Rhun, you had a supplementary on this point before we move on.

Yes, it was on this point and on the effect on dependent drinkers, picking up on what we discussed earlier about the financial implications. There will clearly be a financial implication for dependent drinkers who currently spend £3.50 on a large bottle of white cider and who will then have to and will feel compelled to spend £11.50 on the same bottle, because they will have to have the bottle, unless there is a new approach to targeting dependent drinkers and giving those dependent drinkers assistance to deal with their addiction.

In reviewing the explanatory memorandum, is there room to give a clearer undertaking to review the way dependent drinkers are addressed, or dependent drinking is addressed as a—it's not quite an unintended consequence of the Bill; it is a consequence that is kind of intended, if it helps bring them off alcohol.

10:20

Well, I'm not sure the explanatory memorandum is the place to do it. Going back to some of the questions that Julie Morgan was asking—the place of dependent drinkers and the evaluation of impact or not. I think that's a slightly different piece of policy work, but it is a piece of policy work that we would want to do, because there is a study that is going to take place in Scotland. Part of their work is looking at dependent drinkers, and we again would want to look at that. Scotland actually has a bigger alcohol problem than we do, so they were particularly interested in this area of work. So, we are definitely interested in the study they will undertake, and actually there are very constructive and regular relationships between the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government on the piece of legislation and our approaches to evaluation. So, we are deliberately setting out to learn as much as possible.

So, on a policy undertaking, rather than trying to think about the piece of legislation, then, yes, of course, we want to understand what impact, if any, this piece of legislation would have, and what we then need to do about our services, bearing in mind what you just heard about the way in which we look to meet the need that exists in each of the areas of Wales where we have that partnership, where there are planning boards and the way in which those services are provided. That then comes into the budget choices we make as well. So, these are things around this area, and that's why we say that this Bill needs to be seen in context and the context of all the action we're looking to take.

That's very useful, and I don't think this is something that we would expect to be in the Bill. But in the selling of this legislation to people, which is very, very important—. It's very important, I'm sure you'd agree, to get the narrative right about what the intention is and what response there will be to the consequences of bringing in this Bill. I think the more clarity we have from you and Welsh Government about the assessments, the evaluations that are going to be made, the more useful it will be in terms of dealing with some of the perceptions of the Bill.

Well, we've tried to provide clarity about the review and about the evaluation and that we want to understand the real need and impact, if there is going to be an impact on substitution. There's work we've already got in train to try and deal with that and there's also the work on trying to understand and dynamically plan to meet the need that exists in the broader substance misuse field as well, including people who are dependent on substance misuse. So, we recognise those challenges and we want to try and make sure that's done in a way that's coherent and for the Bill to be recognised as being able to contribute to part of the harm that alcohol causes. There's other work to do on persuading people to think again about their relationship with alcohol.

You're done. Happy. Great. 

Symud ymlaen, felly—y cwestiwn nesaf gan Jayne Bryant.

Moving on, therefore—the next question is from Jayne Bryant.

Thank you, Chair. I would like to move on now to the impact on the industry and retailers. I understand that there's going to be a meeting between Welsh Government officials and the Welsh Retail Consortium happening in the new year. Has that already happened or is it due to happen?

It was due to, but at the request of the retail consortium, as some of them weren't able to attend the original date, that's been rearranged. So, it will still happen this month and, obviously, we'll try and make sure that people are informed if there is something useful that we can say from that meeting, because it is an important conversation to have. Not every retailer is in exactly the same position on the proposal, and we want to try and talk to retailers as a group about not just the successful implementation of this legislation—they're not all in favour of it—but also there are other questions that have been raised about what might happen after a new regime comes into place.

Thank you. Have you considered in detail the imposition of a compulsory levy or a voluntary contribution scheme for retailers, and are you able to provide any update on the potential for a levy or voluntary scheme from your discussions with the retailers?

I'm not convinced that we will actually have the powers to impose a levy. The challenge about a voluntary levy is, of course, that it's voluntary. The challenge then gets into: are we looking to raise revenue on the back of this as a Government? That might take away from some of the drivers. Is this really a revenue-raising measure or is it really a public health measure? We are very clear it's a public health measure. But I think there is a conversation to be had—and it'll be part of the conversation that officials have with retailers—about the fact that, if the model evidence is right and this results in there being additional profit being made by retailers, in particular the larger retailers, what then happens. I think some retailers may take a different view about what they would then do. 

Every retailer will say that it takes its corporate social responsibility seriously. People in this room and outside may say that some of them have a more generous approach to that corporate social responsibility than others. I think actually having some in-principle discussions now is the right thing to do, and we then get into wanting to have evidence about, if there's an increase in profit, can we identify it, and can we then get into the position where, practically, we're looking to have a voluntary contribution back, and what would that be. Would it be in general areas of corporate social responsibility? Would it be about us saying, 'We want you to make a contribution back so that you're part of helping to fund people to have a sensible relationship with alcohol' or not?

So, that conversation isn't complete, and I don't think it will be complete, actually, until we get into having more real-world evidence of what's happened. Again, it's where I think Scotland will be useful for us as well, because they'll be going through this first, and I know they want to have that conversation with retailers, too. Again, you'd have thought that the UK-wide retail—and I won't publicise individual ones, but, if they're having that conversation in Scotland, it would be rather difficult to avoid having it here. Others, people like Co-op and Waitrose, may be in a different position to, say, other retailers about their willingness to have that conversation. But we'll have to talk to them as a group and decide what we can do, if anything at all, and what we can do on a voluntary basis, and to think about what powers we do or don't have on anything that's compulsory. But the compulsory element is something that is a different piece of legislation, I think, as well. So, we need to think about what that might or might not look like.

10:25

Before you go on, Jayne—. Could you just clarify: in terms of, obviously, the plastic bag levy, and the 5p that has gone to environmental causes, could not the same principle apply here to those retailers that are going to make a profit from this minimum unit alcohol pricing? There are various figures bandied about, but it would be an easier selling point for the whole legislation if you said, 'Right, okay, any profit from minimum alcohol pricing actually goes to alcohol substance misuse services', for instance.

Scotland, interestingly, on, basically, supermarkets, they introduced a levy for a period of time on the basis of selling lots of tobacco and alcohol, and it got moved away partly because they couldn't demonstrate that the revenue that came in was hypothecated, going to that particular purpose. So, the challenge to Government is about revenue and where that then goes if it's raised.

There's also a challenge about understanding what is the differential level of profit. If you look at a supermarket's profit and what it does and doesn't declare, if it says, 'Actually, we've made a loss this year', but you say, 'But, actually, even within your losses, you gained more income from this measure coming in in Wales', that's rather difficult for us to then go out and address. It's also then the challenge of whether we're really talking about—. The levy on plastic bags was for a different purpose. This would really—there'd be arguments about is this just a different form of taxation or not.

It's a conversation I don't think we should shut off, but I don't want to try and set out for the Government a position, or indeed for the finance Secretary a position, on what we might or might not want to do in that area. I think—[Inaudible.]—the public health gain to be made from this piece of legislation on the statute books. Let's make sure that's there, and let's continue to have a conversation about how we then get retailers into a position where not only are they not so hostile to what we want to do, but also we can try and think about how we then have a more grown-up conversation about their responsibilities as large-scale retailers of alcohol.

Thanks, Chair. You've mentioned your hope already this morning that the Bill will provide an opportunity perhaps to encourage manufacturers to produce lower strength alcohol, and others have mentioned that to us. What feedback has the Welsh Government received from the industry about the potential to reformulate existing projects and produce a larger range of lower strength alcohol products?

They have yet to come back to us to disclose the way in which they want to change their business model, and what they do and don't do. We'll ask them, but I'm not confident that they'll tell us that they are committed to doing something different. Apart from anything else, a number of those retailers at the moment are not in favour of the legislation as it is, but there's a clear difference in price. A beer or a lager or a cider that is 4 per cent compared to 5 per cent—there's a 25 per cent difference in the price of a 500ml bottle or can of that product, and that makes a difference to the people making choices as you go up and down an aisle. But, actually, I'm not persuaded it makes much difference to taste. When I drink—I consider myself to be a moderate drinker most of the time—price makes a difference to me, but, actually, if you ask me about the taste and my enjoyment of something that was 5 per cent or 4 per cent I couldn't honestly tell you that there was a radical difference in itself.

So, there's something for the industry to consider. A lot of these are commercial considerations and they'll simply make a judgment about what they want to do, and what area of the market they see themselves as being in. For some producers, it won't make any difference at all. Others may think again about the way in which they promote different products. And I hope, actually, it'll be part of changing our broader conversation in terms of generally low-strength products as well. In different countries in Europe, in particular, there's a very different attitude to either zero or very low-strength alcohol as well, and the way in which it's sold, marketed and produced in exactly the same way alongside branded alcohol products as well. 

10:30

Okay, thank you. We've had some written evidence from Asda, and they've talked about altering their pricing system in preparation for the Scottish legislation, and that that cost is in excess of £1 million. How confident are you that the estimates in the regulatory impact assessment are robust? 

I think they're robust and reasonable, and I would suggest that we should take with a pinch of salt a large retailer like Asda or others who are suggesting there'll be an enormous cost to changing the price of a range of products. Asda themselves change prices on a regular basis—you see a difference between, say, roll back, price cut. It's not difficult for them to do that in individual stores or across the country. Every time there is a budget and whoever is the Government of the day changes taxation on products, by the next day they're able to manage that and to deal with it, and they don't ever say, 'Don't you dare change alcohol taxes on this particular day and require us to do it within a period of time; it costs far too much money'. So, I take it with a pinch of salt and, actually, of course, you haven't had the opportunity to test that view because they and other retailers, I know, haven't accepted your invitation to give oral evidence. So, we'll consider their view in writing, but I'm not persuaded there's a need to change our assessment of the impact of this piece of legislation.    

You've mentioned that there's a difference between bigger retailers and smaller ones. How do you feel that you would work with both larger and smaller companies and retailers to minimise the implementation costs where possible for them? 

Again, even smaller retailers, when it comes to changing their stock and changing their price, they're able to do so, either voluntarily because they want to change the price of goods they have because they want to clear stock out, or, indeed, if they're affected by changes made in a UK budget on taxes and duties on alcohol. There's a different sort of challenge about wanting to make sure that retailers understand their duties, and so, when you think about local authorities and the conversations we've had with them, they recognise that most of their work is likely to be with those smaller retailers in terms of them understanding their new duties under the legislation should the Assembly pass it, rather than having to have a long and difficult conversation with a large-scale supermarket provider as well. So, I think it's a reasonable basis to have the conversation and the costs that will be provided for both smaller and larger retailers too. 

Looking at section 6 of the Bill, where alcohol is supplied with other products—things such as meal deals, which are quite prevalent now—it's been identified and suggested to us that this could be a loophole that retailers could potentially exploit. What steps do you feel the Welsh Government could take to minimise the opportunities for these loopholes?  

I don't think it actually is a loophole. We've tried to do this to try and avoid people using meal deals to sell alcohol below the minimum unit price. And so what we've set out is that we would stop people from being able to do that. If, for example, you had a meal deal that's £4.50 and included a bottle of wine, we would say, 'Well, actually, that can't be a meal deal including a bottle of wine because you're avoiding the minimum unit price in doing so', and that's what section 6 sets out. So, that is something that's come in in writing. We'll consider it in terms of if there's a drafting issue, but I think it's exactly the opposite—section 6 is there to avoid people using a meal deal to sell alcohol below the minimum unit price. 

Okay. You've mentioned you want to learn as much as possible from what's happening in Scotland, quite rightly. What consideration has the Welsh Government given to the need for consistent minimum pricing regimes in the UK? You say that you're in close discussion with them on a number of things; I presume that will keep going throughout this process. 

Yes. Despite the differing politics of the two Governments, actually between officials and on some of the policy agenda, there is, as I say, a constructive engagement about where we are. I would prefer it if there was a consistent UK-wide approach to minimum unit pricing. The big challenge of that is England, actually, because the United Kingdom Government are watching, waiting and looking at the evidence. Initially, when I first came into this department as a Deputy Minister, the UK Government were actually quite hostile. I remember having a conversation with a Home Office Minister who was very clear that he did not want to take any action on this because he was worried about the impact on the night-time economy, which I thought was rather odd, because, actually, if you're going out and drinking alcohol in a premises, then alcohol that is sold at below the current indicative level is very cheap indeed.

I think there's been some movement, but I wouldn't say that either the department for health and their colleagues across the Home Office and other parts of Government are in a position where they're enthusiastic about it. But should, again, the devolved nations lead in an area, it's entirely possible England will eventually catch up, and the plastic bag levy is a good example. I'm also not persuaded that we need to set out a position where, if another country makes a choice, we will automatically follow. We need to think about how we understand our own evidence about what the impact should be in practical terms as well as the health gain. As I say, we want to promote the opportunity to learn from each other, which we're doing actively with Scotland. We will have a proper objective evidence-led approach to how we set a minimum unit price that Assembly Members will have to vote on, and, if there is to be a confluence between the different nations in the UK on this, well, that would have to come in grown-up conversations between politicians and different Governments.  

10:35

Yes, well, Westminster has obviously followed us not just on plastic bags, but also on the smoking ban as well, really. 

Indeed, on a range of measures, and I think they'll do so again on a number of public health areas where they're reluctant, and eventually end up following what we've done, which is a good thing.

It is a good thing, absolutely. Devolution spin-off. The last questions are from Dawn. 

Diolch. Thank you, Chair. Cabinet Secretary, we talked about online sales earlier and the impact of that. I think you've clarified for us the position around that. I just want to deal now specifically with cross-border sales that are not online, and the potential impact that that might have around Welsh business and jobs. We share a very long border with England. People like me have family that live just over the border. By the end of the year, we're going to be losing the bridge tolls, so it's going to be cheaper to go over there and so on and so forth. So, have you given any consideration to the potential impact, not just on the sales, but potentially on businesses and jobs that maybe people going across the border to buy alcohol might have?

Yes. Look, the cross-border issue is real, if not—[Inaudible.]—the piece of legislation. We do share a large border and there are communities that have easy flow between the two for, if you like, normal retail activity. When we think about that, we're really talking about the off licence trade, because, actually, if you're talking about buying in a licensed premises, I don't think people are going to run down the road to go and drink in a different pub. I think there are different choices made, and, in any event, we actually think it will have a beneficial impact for the pub trade because the differential in price between products in other retailers will be lessened. 

And, again, this comes back to the challenge of do we really think that we'll see a significant change in people's behaviour, that they will look to go over the border, in terms of transport and in terms of their time, which comes back to the points I was making in answer to Lynne Neagle. There isn't lots of evidence that you'll see large flows of people looking to avoid the impact of the legislation and continuing with harmful or hazardous behaviour. We're thinking about the patterns that people currently adopt and that's not normally the way people do things. And it's more about convenience than anything else, actually. You may be able to give specific examples where it is convenient to do so, but you come back then to the challenge of is one particular example where it might convenient to do so a good reason not to take action where there are significant public health gains to be made. So, I don't want to dismiss you and say, 'There is nothing to see here' but, actually, I think it's overplayed as an issue. You need to think about the real impact on people's behaviour and convenience, the time and cost involved in going across the border, and, actually, not forget the fact that this is a public health piece of legislation. 

Sure. I understand that. And, presumably, that will be part of your impact assessment as well, in terms of how much is going across the border.

That's fine. This is interesting, given your answer just now on Asda's evidence. You might also think this is spurious because it did cross my mind that it probably was, actually. Because one of the things that Asda have flagged up is their concern about the environmental impacts of surplus stock that they might have to get rid of. 

I'll ask you anyway what your views on that might be.

Well, again, at this point in time, retailers, particularly larger retailers like that, are particularly adept at getting rid of surplus stock, either in cutting—

10:40

Packaging, yes, but there'll be a long time for them to get used to this. We're talking now about passing a piece of legislation for a regime that won't come into place—. If the Assembly passes the Bill, it won't become an Act until July 2019 and there'll be consultations to run about the minimum unit price before that as well. It's not as if we're talking about a measure where, say, on budget day, you potentially have some of the changes from midnight on the day that the statement is made; we're talking about something where they'll have more than a year's notice of what we're looking to do and then very specific notice of what that regime will be.

Again, I would take with a pinch of salt the idea that there's going to be a lake of unusable alcohol or a mountain of plastic bottles building up somewhere, that poor old Asda, with its limited means, can't possibly get rid of and there's a significant environmental impact. I would not say that that is at the more realistic end of the risks that we run with this piece of legislation.

Thank you for that. A final question from me around additional measures: in the answer that you gave to Angela earlier on around dealing with alcohol treatment services—I think you've covered that—but we've also heard stakeholders talking about the need for other measures that might involve you having discussions with the UK Government about things that obviously we don't have competence in. Those could be around health warning levels, restricting alcohol sales, alcohol advertising, legal blood alcohol concentration and strengthening the licensing system—none of which we have particular competence in. Have you given thought to discussions with the UK Government about how some of those areas might be strengthened to assist the Bill?

Yes. It's part of an ongoing conversation with the UK Government on things like advertising, where there are conversations across UK nations about alcohol advertising—not just about where adverts are placed, but actually advertising on the products themselves as well. There's an ongoing conversation.

Our view is that we think that there is health gain to be made in reducing the alcohol limits for driving—to have a similar measure to Scotland. That's consistent with the advice of the four chief medical officers. They've recommended that that's the right thing to do. We don't have competence to do that and the UK Government is not keen, or is not prepared at present, to change that in order to have a consistent limit of 15 mg across the UK. We think that would definitely reduce alcohol harm and would again change people's behaviour with the understanding that there really is a very small amount of alcohol that you can possibly drink before you can safely get into a car. It's not just about how people then behave when they're drinking, but also about not wanting people behind the wheel of a car or on a motor-bike, potentially, when they should not be.

So, there is a range a non-devolved areas where we do continue to have conversations with the United Kingdom Government, and obviously Public Health Wales and Public Health England have regular conversations. I know that the four CMOs talk about these issues as well. In addition, there are things that we do have some control over and want to do.

So, thinking about your drinking campaign at the start of this week, encouraging people to think again about drinking after most of us perhaps have had more than we otherwise would have done in the festive period, if we haven't been ill in bed, and then thinking again about what we then do. That's alongside the Dry January campaign and making use of our pharmacy network to have those brief conversations as well. So, there are a lot of things that we want to do that are outside the work that we can do, as well as continuing the conversation with the UK Government around areas that are not currently devolved and where we still think there is gain to be made.

So, you're looking to utilise all the levers that you have to assist this, but continuing the conversations with the UK Government on the wider issues that we don't have competence in.

Just as a supplementary: we've had a legal note that seems to suggest that alcohol advertising, we can do something about, in the Assembly, because it comes under food and drink. So, we could do something about advertising. Are you looking to do something?

There is an active conversation, for example, about labelling on products—that's what I mentioned. There is a conversation between all of the UK nations about what we might do about that. If we wanted to put out a piece of legislation on it, we would undoubtedly, I think, have a challenge, but it is an area where we would want to consider what we might want to do in the future. But there is an active conversation between the four Governments at present on that particular issue.

Just on advertising, it's very complicated in terms of our powers in that area, so we are looking at that. But, as the Cabinet Secretary has mentioned, that's an active conversation that we're having with lawyers at the moment, because it's not a straightforward competence in that area. I think, Bethan, that would be a fair reflection, given the exceptions.

10:45

There are various issues at play. So, in addition to the carve out for food, there are other exceptions we'd have to consider, such as broadcasting. So, it very much would depend what you wanted to do and the detail of the provision. But there is—

Absolutely. There's the issue about labelling on food, and drink is covered as part of food, and there's then the point about whether that goes into advertising and other areas as well. The division in powers is still not as clear as we'd want it to be, but there is an active conversation. This isn't an area where the UK Government are simply saying, 'No, we absolutely do not want to talk about this', because, as I say, I think there's been a bit of a shift in that there's a greater recognition and some willingness to think about how we can have more co-ordinated action to reduce some of these public health harms. If you think about the responsibility deal, the UK Government recognised it didn't really work. It didn't really produce the gain they wanted it to. So, I think there's a shift and an understanding that we may need to do some things that are not about encouragement and praise for people, but are actually about wanting to do some different things that might involve legislative action as well.

Ocê. Unrhyw gwestiynau eraill? Pawb yn hapus. A allaf i ddatgan felly fod y sesiwn gwestiynau yma ar ar ben? A allaf i ddiolch yn fawr iawn i'r Ysgrifennydd Cabinet a'r swyddogion am eu presenoldeb a hefyd am ateb y cwestiynau ac am bob tystiolaeth arall? A allaf i hefyd bellach ddweud y byddwch chi'n derbyn trawsgrifiad, fel rydych chi'n gwybod, o'r cyfarfod yma a'r trafodaethau er mwyn i chi gadarnhau eu bod nhw yn ffeithiol gywir? Gyda hynny, diolch yn fawr iawn i chi, fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen i'r eitem nesaf.

Okay. Any further questions? Everybody's content. May I state therefore that this question session has come to an end? Thank you very much to the Cabinet Secretary and officials for attending and for responding to the questions and for all other evidence. May I say that you will receive a transcript, as you know, of this meeting and the discussions, so that you can check it for factual accuracy? With those few words, thank you very much, and we'll move on to the next item.

3. Papurau i'w nodi
3. Paper(s) to note

Felly, eitem 3, papurau i'w nodi. Mi fydd Aelodau wedi darllen y llythyrau o dan papurau i'w nodi gan y gymdeithas ffisiotherapi, llythyr gan Age Cymru, llythyr gan y Gymdeithas Alzheimer's, gwybodaeth ychwanegol gan Alcohol Concern Cymru, a hefyd llythyr gan yr Ysgrifennydd Cabinet dros iechyd ynghylch cymhellion hyfforddi meddygon teulu. Hapus i nodi neu unrhyw bwynt i'w godi? Pawb yn hapus. 

Therefore, item 3, papers to note. Members will have read the letters under papers to note, from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, a letter from Age Cymru, a letter from the Alzheimer's Society, additional information from Alcohol Concern Cymru, and also a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for health regarding GP training incentives. Content to note or any points to raise? Everybody's content.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42.

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42.

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Eitem 4, felly, cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod. A ydy pawb yn gytûn i droi mewn i sesiwn breifat? Diolch yn fawr. 

Item 4, a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are you all content to enter into private session? Thank you very much.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:47.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:47.

Clarification has been received from the Government that Professor Nelson has written to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee and not the Welsh Government.

Explore the National Assembly for Wales