The Scottish Government’s plan to ban alcohol off-sales to the under-21s but still allow them to drink in pubs tacitly admits what the real problem is: sales to underage drinkers – a problem with an obvious and simple solution.
As Hamish Macdonnell points out in The Scotsman:
At the end of 2006, there were 17,234 liquor licences in operation in Scotland. A total of 1,380 licensing offences were recorded by the police in 2005-6 and there were 167 convictions. But most of these convictions (83 per cent) resulted in just a fine. Only 30 licences were suspended during the year and only half of these were for off-sales.
In a recent test purchasing exercise, under-age teenagers were served 14 per cent of the time by off-licences. The figures for Lothian and Borders were the most alarming. Of the 51 off-licences tested, 17 failed the test.
What this means is that about a third of off-licences in the Edinburgh area are breaking the law and only about 1 per cent of licensees are having their licences suspended. That cannot be right.
Yes, we have a problem with binge drinking, yes we have to do something about it but it would help if the current laws were enforced properly and effectively before we start telling students they either have to go to a party empty-handed or break the law.
It does seem unfair to tell everybody under the age of 21 that they cannot buy alcohol from shops in an attempt to catch an irresponsible minority.
It also seems misguided to change the law before the existing ones have been tried, tested and implemented as they were intended.