Some bunch of earnest, concerned, interfering types in England called Alcohol Concern recently proposed that parents should be prosecuted if they allow their children under 15 to drink alcohol in the privacy of their own homes. This does, of course, beg the question: Are they out of their fucking minds?
First of all, there are already in place a set of perfectly satisfactory laws governing the age at which one can consume alcohol in the United Kingdom: 16 for beer, wine, cider or sherry with a meal, and when you reach 18, then you can drink anything, with or without a meal (Except absinthe -- that was banned some decades ago. I wonder what it tastes like?). Of course, these laws apply to licensed, public premises only. There are no laws which impose a minimum age limit on alcohol consumption on private premises -- except, for medical reasons, no child under five may be given alcohol under any circumstances. There is no need to replace these laws and I’m glad to say that neither the government nor the opposition has shown the slightest interest in taking up this ridiculous suggestion. The public had been less than enthused too. For a selection of comments see what they said in the Daily Telegraph and on the BBC website.
Apart from anything else, there is no way to enforce such a stupid law as this would be, short of spying on people in their homes, kicking doors in on spec, and relying on people to inform on each other -- disgruntled neighbours mostly. I suspect that the police probably have more than enough to do without being given all that extra work.
But if Alcohol Concern are genuinely concerned about alcohol, surely they can see that being gently introduced to alcohol in one’s own home is far better than putting it on the forbidden list. When I was a child I was allowed the occasional taste of beer or wine. I didn’t really like it and I lost interest in it for many years. There was nothing wrong with that. The point is that children drinking alcohol at home with parents are not going to be getting drunk. They will be monitored and their drinking will be controlled. They will be slowly introduced to one of life’s pleasures. Just as in France and Italy, for example, children are introduced to wine from an early age, usually diluted at first.
It is when teenagers are turned loose on their own, or in packs, that there is a risk they’ll get drunk because no one is there to control them. Especially if alcohol is demonised and it somehow becomes their holy grail. Placing obstructions in the path of people who want to drink is what actually makes the problem worse. We have the example of Prohibition to consider, which reduced drunkenness not one bit but resulted in the rise of the Mafia and a lot of dead people.
And in places where the drinking age is set at the utterly ridiculous level of 21 years -- everywhere, public and private -- we have the grotesque spectacle of teenagers, and even 20-year-olds, being arrested and brought before the courts, treated like criminals, stigmatised, and even sent into rehab for doing what other people the same age are doing perfectly legally all over the world. It is a thoroughly destructive process, but it is exactly what this proposition seems to want to reproduce in Britain. Kudos to all parties at Westminster for refusing to touch it with a bargepole.