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ALCOHOL must be sold with [...]; Union wants minimum alcohol unit price, not new temperance drive.

Byline: David Williamson

ALCOHOL must be sold with a minimum unit price to curb the current culture of "frenzied drinking", chapels across Wales said yesterday.

Calling for government action to end easy access to cheap alcohol, the Union of Welsh Independent Churches called for a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol.

The union also said it supported a ban on alcohol advertising, and urged the youth-focused Urdd Eisteddfod not to allow alcohol to be sold on its field.

But a union spokesman insisted it was not launching a modern-day temperance drive and said chapels were concerned about the closure of pubs across the country.

Alun Lenny, the group's communications officer, said: "This is definitely not a temperance campaign. We have no problem with adults drinking alcohol responsibly.

"We just feel that the present climate as regards to alcohol and children is unhealthy. People who drink in pubs do so in a regulated environment and we haven't got a problem with that."

Mr Lenny said members were concerned about "the frenzied drinking that happens on the streets when people buy packs of lager and cider" and the unsafe drinking which can take place in the home when large amounts of cheap alcohol are consumed.

Claiming his concerns about cheap supermarket drinks were shared by the pub industry, he said: "The licensees are also anxious to see this measure introduced because 50 public houses are closing every week across Britain. On this matter, if you'll pardon the terrible pun, we are singing from the same hymn sheet as the licensees."

Calling for a ban on alcohol at the Urdd Eisteddfod from the National Eisteddfod in Bala yesterday, leaders from nonconformist traditions said: "We respectfully ask Urdd Gobaith Cymru to change its mind about allowing alcohol to be sold on its Eisteddfod field in future.

"At a time when alcohol is a particularly serious problem among so many 11 to 15-year-olds in Wales - worse than in any other country in Europe - we believe that providing alcohol at the chil-dreand young people's Eisteddfod is totally irresponsible.

"The Union of Welsh Independent Churches, the Presbyterian Church of Wales and the Baptist Union of Wales is in complete agreement on this issue.

"Between us, we represent over 75,000 Welsh Christians - the majority being Welsh speakers who are staunch supporters of the Urdd and its Eisteddfod."

However, Efa Gruffudd Jones, Urdd Gobaith Cymru's chief executive said: "The Urdd Council has decided to ensure that it is possible to serve alcohol in specific locations on the Urdd Eisteddfod's Maes. The plan is to present everything within the context of the food area.

"We will not be providing a bar as in other shows and festivals.

"Although the Urdd is a youth movement and a festival for children and young people, the festival itself attracts a cross-section of people to the Maes to enjoy a wide variety of attractions and services which are provided for them.

"The aim of this decision is to fulfil the wishes of a group of people who attend the Eisteddfod who want to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal, on the basis of research completed over the years."

The British Medical Association said a minimum price of 50p per unit would increase the average weekly spend on alcohol of moderate drinkers by only 23p per week, but would decrease the consumption by underage and heavy drinkers by 7.3% and 10.3% respectively.

Richard Lewis, Welsh Secretary of the BMA, said: "As doctors we see first-hand how alcohol misuse destroys lives. It causes family breakdowns, is a major factor in domestic violence, ruins job prospects, is often related to crime and disorderly behaviour and it kills."

And strong support for tougher alcohol regulation has come from the Assembly Government.

A spokesman said: "Alcohol-related chronic disease and ill-health is estimated at costing the health service between pounds 70m-pounds 85m each year in Wales alone.

"Given this evidence, we are therefore frustrated and disappointed that the UK Government is not prepared to legislate further in relation to price, licensing and advertising as part of our efforts to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on individuals and communities."

But David Poley, of the Portman Group, a body supported by the drinks industry to en-couragresponsible consumption, said: "Raising price is not the silver bullet to solve our problems. It is more expensive in Scandinavia but they suffer similar or even worse problems with binge-drinking."

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Comment: page 18 Eisteddfod: pages 20& 21

The temperance movement

WALES was awash in alcohol at the start of the 19th century but the backlash against heavy drinking was a pivotal moment in the birth of the modern nation.

The temperance movement had a strong puritan streak but sparked a Welsh cultural revolution which instilled a distinct sense of pride, confidence and purpose which echoes today.

According to the National Library of Wales: "The situation deteriorated in 1830 when the Beer Law was passed that allowed any taxpayer who paid two guineas a year to open a beer house.

"This led to a significant increase in the number of public houses, especially in the towns and industrial areas."

Fears of moral decline fermented in homes, chapels and businesses.

The tipping point came when three English lawyers with no knowledge of Welsh published the notorious Government-commissioned Blue Books of 1847. They presented a picture of a society with dubious morals.

This was perceived as an Anglican attack on the nonconformist faith of the majority of the population.

Establishing moral rectitude thus became a national cause.

As new chapels were built in the Valleys to support the fast-growing industrial population, support for temperance intensified.

Chapels encouraged mass membership of choirs to provide an alternative to drinking, and these churches helped foster a unique sense of Welsh identity.

In 1881, a rare piece of Wales-only law was secured when pubs were forced to close on Sunday. Spiritual zeal climaxed with the 1904 religious revival and in 1920 Anglicanism in Wales was disestablished.

The 1914 Defence of the Realm Act introduced sweeping regulation of the alcohol industry but the disastrous example of prohibition in the United States scotched any possibility of an outright ban.

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THE WAY WE WERE: Women's Christian Temperance Union members raid their local bar in the Forties
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 5, 2009
Words:1050
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