Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Cocktail for responsible drinking?

Fife councillor David Mogg hit the Sunday Post headlines at the weekend with his suggestion that 16-year-olds should be allowed to drink in pubs, while alcohol sales from off-licenses should be restricted to those aged at least 21, with the aim of Fostering a more "responsible attitude to drinking". The licensing board member says:
Personally, I would allow anyone over 16 to be served in pubs. This would remove most of the underage drinkers from the streets and allow them to socialise in a controlled, well managed and safer environment. At least in a pub, trained staff can tell them when they’ve had enough. We have to reach a situation where responsible drinking is encouraged and irresponsible drinking in the street is discouraged and I think there’s logic in this idea.
Anyone regularly reading this blog will be aware that I'm a bit dubious or even cynical...OK, it would be hilarious if it wasn't so funny...regarding the so-called "controlled environment" of pubs - perhaps as someone responsible for regulating the conduct of landlords it suits Councillor Mogg to portray them as always adhering to their legal obligation to act responsibly - but even if bar staff "can tell [drinkers] when they've had enough", the problem is perhaps not so much what takes place in the pub as what happens in the street afterwards, whether the revellers are stopped from buying further alcohol, leave of their own accord or are thrown out at closing time.

Thus perhaps Mr Mogg misses the point a bit, as seemed to be the case recently with Wetherspoons drinks mogul Tim Martin, when I said:
But the main problem relates to what happens when drunks spill out of pubs, with shouting, swearing, vomiting and urinating being merely the low-level tip of an iceberg of crime and disorder, but which in any case makes late night city centres such unpleasant and indeed menacing places for ordinary people.
Therefore it would be back to square one as regards the problems caused by drinking in the street that Councillor Mogg seeks to eradicate.

Unsurprisingly, though, Paul Waterson of the Scottish Licensed Traders Association is supportive of the idea. With a couple of caveats, however, one of which is that: "It only be allowed in suitable establishments which would have to apply for a special licence to ensure they adopted a responsible attitude."

Ergo, current licensees don't necessarily adopt a responsible attitude? Well said that man!

It's perhaps also worth noting that last year Fife Licensing Board pandered to late night drinking by extending opening hours in some parts of the Kingdom. Although fairly limited in scope, this surely sent out the wrong message, particularly as Scotland's liberalisation of the licensing laws a generation ago (I was a bit too young for the pubs when they closed at 10pm!) has hardly encouraged sensible drinking, and the more recent attempt by the Labour Government to create a continental-style cafe culture (sic!) south of the border has turned out to be the waste of time that a quick glance northwards would have predicted.

Thus Councillor Mogg's blueprint hardly seems the perfect cocktail for responsible drinking - more drunks spilling out of pubs even later at night seems as much the problem than the solution.


Andrew BOD said...

Hi Stuart

I'm surprised the old: "you can get married when you're 16 so why can't you vote or drink alcohol(?)" hasn't been rolled out! As an aside, my suggestion on this one is that the marriage age should be raised (sorry DC) and this would also cut the number of broken marriages/divorces.

And you're right, I've worked in a couple of pubs and "controlled environment" is not exactly how I'd describe those learned experiences. Coupled with the after hours street scenario, this indeed a cocktail for disaster.

Stuart Winton said...

Thanks, Andrew; can't really disagree with anything you say.

As regards comparative ages, I suppose that since the good councillor is proposing both lowering one age (buying in pubs) and raising another (buying in off-licenses) then it would be difficult to make comparisons with marriage etc without inviting ridicule.

But clearly Mr Mogg squares the circle by assuming the controlled environment of pubs, however this seems a slightly dubious assumption.

Indeed, if it's as controlled and well-managed as he seems to suggest then I suspect the current 16 and 17-year-olds would prefer drinking al fresco!