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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 14:55 GMT
Pupils give MSPs alcohol evidence
Drink in supermarket
The price of alcohol is at the centre of the debate
Pupils calling for an inquiry into the public health impact of cheap alcohol have given evidence to MSPs.

The Public Petitions Committee left its Holyrood base to host a meeting at All Saints Secondary School in the Barmulloch area of Glasgow.

The school said the move proved to students that those in power did take notice of young people's opinions.

Earlier this month, three pupils from the school presented the 1,000th public petition to Holyrood.

The committee heard the pupils' evidence, which was gained by conducting research in the shops around their school where they found alcohol on sale for less than the price of a bottle of water.

VOTE RESULTS
Do you think alcohol should be made more expensive?
Yes
 33.71% 
No
 66.29% 
4076 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Their petition was the first of eight being considered by the committee on Monday, all of which have been submitted by petitioners from the Glasgow area.

James McKee, one of the pupils behind the petition, said: "I think Scotland is awash with cheap alcohol.

"In our research we found cans of cider and cans of bitter as cheap as 20p in some places. It's disgraceful."

Sarah Richford, a teacher at All Saints School, said the three students had been looking forward to putting their case to the committee.

"They are delighted to be given this opportunity to speak to the committee directly," she said.

The government must heed its own advisers and all of the medical colleges' advice to reduce the price of alcohol.
Dr Martin Plant
Alcohol and Health Research Trust

"By coming to Glasgow and visiting All Saints, the committee is providing a great example to the whole school of democracy at work."

Also on Monday, Health Minister Andy Kerr, who represents East Kilbride, was meeting the firm which distributes Buckfast, the fortified wine which is said by critics to be contributing to Scotland's youth binge drinking problem.

His ministerial colleague, Cathy Jamieson, has called for the drink to be banned from sale in her constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in Ayrshire.

Jim Wilson, of J Chandler and Company, said: "We're constantly blamed for anti-social behaviour among youngsters. How can we be responsible when we're not targeting these youngsters?

"Once a bottle is sold we're not in control of it. We can't follow it everywhere."

Drink toll

Last year, 750 children aged 11 to 16 were admitted to hospital in Scotland with alcohol-related problems.

Paediatricians have said they are seeing increasing numbers of intoxicated children.

In January, a study in the medical journal The Lancet showed that the number of male deaths in Scotland from cirrhosis of the liver had quadrupled since the 1950s, with the female death rate almost trebling.

Dilusha Pathirana, Roisin Craig and James McKee (picture courtesy of Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)
Dilusha Pathirana, Roisin Craig and James McKee with their petition

Scotland needed a "major cultural shift" to address a faster rising rate of drink-related deaths than anywhere in western Europe, it warned.

Dr Martin Plant, professor of addiction studies at the University of the West of England and chairman of the Alcohol and Health Research Trust, said the Buckfast issue was a "complete red herring".

"The problem is we have allowed alcohol to become more and more affordable," he told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme.

"Alcohol consumption has doubled since the Second World War and the price we are paying is that in Scotland alcohol-related deaths have trebled since 1980.

"The government must heed its own advisers and all of the medical colleges' advice to reduce the affordability of alcohol. That would cut the level of problems including binge drinking at a stroke but it takes political courage."

The SNP's culture spokesman Stewart Maxwell, who has previously called for action to be taken, said: "I welcome the work of these school students in raising the profile of this important issue.

"The latest statistics show that only 44 individuals in Scotland were caught illegally buying alcohol for children during a high profile crackdown this year, and so our first priority must be to ensure that those who break the law face the full consequences of their actions.

"It's time to crack down on illegal drink sales."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
See interviews with pupils



SEE ALSO
Minister meets Buckfast company
29 Oct 06 |  Scotland
'Passing the buck' over Buckfast
30 Oct 06 |  Scotland
Children submit 1,000th petition
04 Oct 06 |  Scotland

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