expert jury confronting Britain's drink problem

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should there be a national strategy to tackle alcohol abuse?

Mary Anne McKibben

Assistant Director, Alcohol Concern

We were heavily involved in producing the report released this week by the all-party group of MPs - Alcohol and Crime: Breaking the Link. We agree with its recommendations about curbing alcohol abuse - and there should definitely be a national strategy to tackle this problem. We recommend a lower limit for drink drivers, more rehabilitation and education. And we agree that pub drinkers shouldn't be allowed to drink from bottles - they could be used as missiles in fights.

It is hard to make a causal link between alcohol and crime, but for this report we talked to a lot of people in the know and there seems to be a big link between alcohol and crime. The police, in particular, are adamant about it - they come across alcohol abuse on a daily basis, whether it is in a domestic crisis or in pub brawls, and they think it is a big problem which should be curbed.

Alan Milburn MP

Chair of the all-party group of MPs on alcohol abuse

Despite the weight of evidence, alcohol-related crime has remained a hidden problem. While we regularly see new initiatives to tackle crime, not one has ever made a serious attempt to address the role played by drink.

Every citizen has the right to protection from the fear that so many experience as a result of the drunken and disorderly conduct that blights many of our streets when the pubs close. We recommend a Government-sponsored national campaign to encourage safer drinking and safer communities. It's time that alcohol misuse was no longer viewed in more relaxed terms than drugs misuse simply because it's legal and drugs are not.

Phyl Swallow

Landlady, Henry Addington pub, east London

I am very concerned about the link between alcohol and violence. My own husband was put in hospital after being attacked. But I'm not sure that you can prove a link between alcohol and crime. It might help criminals to pluck up the courage, but the crime is in their heads already.

I do think that drinking is a matter of individual responsibility, though. It is up to people who drink to know their intake limits. If you are old enough to drink, then under the law you are considered to be an adult. If you can vote, you should be considered old enough to govern your own drinking habits.

Dr John Rae

Director, Portman Group (drinks industry representatives)

I welcome the recent report, and I think most of it is constructive and helpful. There are certainly problems to do with alcohol abuse which should be tackled, and I warmly welcome the idea about better checks on alcohol education in schools. I am a former headmaster myself.

However, I don't think the case for random breath-testing has been proved, and the link between alcohol and crime is still a matter for some argument. Also, to say that you can't sell bottles in pubs seems to go rather too far. If you really wanted to start a fight you could use billiard balls, fists, darts - anything. A real danger is that alcohol can become a scapegoat for all sorts of bad, and even criminal, human behaviour.

Dr Mac Armstrong

BMA spokesperson

The BMA is very concerned about the health aspects of alcohol abuse. A national strategy would be a very good thing, and is much needed. One of our conclusions when we gave evidence to the recent MPs' committee was certainly that there should be no move towards lowering the rate of taxation on alcoholic drinks - that would encourage the problem.

Alcohol and crime are certainly related, even though it is difficult to prove a causal link. For example, alcohol is involved in between 60 and 70 per cent of murders, and is an major element in many other crimes.

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