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Under-age Drinking

Volume 447: debated on Monday 19 June 2006

3. What assessment his Department has made of the case for additional measures to reduce the incidence of under-age drinking; and if he will make a statement. (77872)

The Government are determined to crack down on those who sell alcohol to children. Through almost 17,000 test-purchase operations funded by the police standards unit, increased penalties in the Licensing Act 2003, and Government work with the licensed industry, the rate of sales to children, measured through test-purchase failures, has fallen considerably. Both the on and off-licence sectors have committed themselves to seek to eliminate under-age sales.

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. She will be aware that the increase in drinking among the young has caused increased vandalism and antisocial behaviour. Is it not time that we looked at giving proper sentences to the people who retail that drink? Can she look at alcopops in particular, and their effect on the increased alcohol abuse prevalent among the young?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He will be aware that young people who reported drinking once a week or more committed a disproportionate volume of crime, accounting for 37 per cent. of all offences reported by individuals between the ages of 10 and 17. I can give him some comfort, however, as the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which is proceeding through the House of Lords, will introduce a new offence of persistent selling of alcohol to children, with offenders risking a £10,000 fine and suspension of their licence, or closure for up to 48 hours. The majority of 10 to 17-year-olds who have drunk alcohol in the past 12 months reported that they had obtained that alcohol from their parents, so there is a message both for the industry and for families.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) about alcopops, will the Minister look again at the way in which the Portman Group is supposedly regulating the matter? It is time for Government intervention, because that advertising is targeted at youngsters, creating a problem that should not exist. Will the Government undertake to look again at the way in which the Portman Group is allegedly regulating that activity?

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the document on social responsibility standards for the production and sale of alcoholic drinks in the UK that was released last November includes guidelines on the marketing of those alcoholic drinks and supplements the existing guidelines from the Advertising Standards Authority and the Portman Group’s code of practice on the packaging, marketing and sale of alcoholic beverages. We must keep the matter under review, because those drinks are particularly attractive to young people, but I accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend will know that many retailers take their responsibilities extremely seriously and ask young people for proof of their age when they purchase drinks. However, many young people get older people to buy their drinks, so has the Department liaised with the police to ensure that when youngsters are seen drinking publicly in our communities they are apprehended and their parents find out about it?

My hon. Friend may be aware of the alcohol misuse enforcement campaigns—AMEC—of which there have been four, which have been very successful. They are aimed at shop owners who sell to under-age young people and do not ask for proof of identity. They also target those who are under age and purchase alcohol. Those measures are designed to deal with young people who purchase alcohol and others who purchase it knowingly on their behalf, and it is important that the measures and powers available to the police are used, because when they are used, they have some success. We know, for instance, that the number of young people who report using alcohol has dropped, inasmuch as the proportion of schoolchildren who have never had a drink is at its highest level— 42 per cent. Clearly, there is much more to do in this regard, but the powers exist and we encourage their use both in the AMEC campaigns and outside those campaigns.

My constituent, Blake Golding, was savagely attacked outside a Milton Keynes nightclub by a young person on new year’s eve 2005. Since then, his mother, Marjorie Golding, has run a campaign—which has attracted over 100,000 signatures, is the subject of early-day motion 385 and was the subject of an Adjournment debate in the House last year—to change glasses and bottles in nightclubs to plastic. Does the Minister think such a measure would help to curb the rise in alcohol-related violence?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He will know that among the measures that local authorities and the police have been taking with local public houses in the run-up to the World cup, they have recommended and in some cases insisted that they use plastic glasses. Clearly, the police think that that is a measure that works in public houses where there is a problem. Other measures, such as drink banning orders and alcohol disorder zones, are also being used to deal with unruly public houses.