Page last updated at 11:58 GMT, Sunday, 1 June 2008 12:58 UK

Drink campaign to target parents

Average consumption by young people has risen markedly

Parents who allow their children to consume alcohol in public could be prosecuted under new measures to target underage drinking in England.

The proposals also include handing the police tougher powers to disperse gangs of young people congregating outside.

A new offence would make it illegal for someone under 18 to be regularly caught in the possession of alcohol.

Opposition politicians say that criminalising people was not the best way to tackle underage drinking.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg believes the government's emphasis is wrong.

Shadow children, schools and families secretary Michael Gove said new laws alone could not solve the problem.

But Justice Secretary Jack Straw said behaviour could be changed, in the way that football fans' behaviour had been changed.

'Moral imperative'

As well as urging greater take-up by police of existing powers to confiscate alcohol and disperse young people, ministers are spotlighting parents as a means to tackle underage drinking.

Nick Clegg criticises the new measures as government 'spin'

Those who fail to get their children to "change their ways" and stop abusing alcohol could be required to attend parenting courses.

Ultimately, they could be prosecuted.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said professionals would be called in where parents were unable to handle their offspring.

She added: "Parents must play their role. I want to see greater use of parenting orders and parenting contracts and anti-social behaviour orders when young people are caught persistently drinking in public.

"If parents and children need to meet a trained worker to get them back on the right track then so be it."

Meanwhile, Mr Straw told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that there were a number of measures that could be taken to change behaviour.

'I think you can by changing the law, by greatly improving enforcement and also by making a kind of moral imperative towards parents, as well as those young people, you can start to change behaviour," he said.

"And there's a big moral imperative in my view on the supermarkets, on the corner shops and on the drink producers as well.''

Anti-social behaviour

The government is keen to make the link between the abuse of alcohol and anti-social behaviour by young people.

These new measures are designed to set clear boundaries
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith

Ms Smith said: "Groups of under-18s drinking in public is an all-too-familiar sight

"The type of drinking increases crime, puts young people in vulnerable situations, and I want to put a stop to it.

"These new measures are designed to set clear boundaries."

Under the plans, teenagers persistently possessing alcohol in public will be subjected to anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) and acceptable behaviour contracts.

The suggestion that police would be given new powers to tackle underage drinking in public were first outlined by the home secretary in February.

'Underlying problem'

In February, Ms Smith said she was in favour of making it easier for the police to prosecute under-18s who drink in public, by removing the necessity to prove "reasonable suspicion" that an offence could be committed.

Under-age drinking is not the problem. It's those who get drunk, misbehave and become violent or destructive who are the problem.
Oxford Don, Oxford

The action plan will be released by Ms Smith together with Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls and Health Secretary Alan Johnson on Monday.

The government said the number of 11 to 15-year-olds drinking regularly had fallen from 28% in 2001 to 21% in 2006.

However, average consumption by young people who drank had nearly doubled from 5.3 units in 1990 to 11.4 units in 2006.

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats reveals that more than 30,000 young people were excluded temporarily from school due to alcohol or drugs.

They and the Conservatives say the government is failing to deal with binge drinking among under-18s.

Treatment services

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the government's latest plans were misguided.

He told the BBC: "Trying to get parents involved is a good thing but once again the government is trying to create great fanfare for a new offence when criminalising people is not always the best way to deal with it.''

The party suggests that pubs and shops caught selling alcohol to children should be fined and have their licence revoked at the first offence.

Michael Gove told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "We will wait to see the detail because one of the things we have seen from the government over the last 10 years is to come up with legislation, often well intentioned, but it hasn't tackled the underlying problem."

While welcoming the government's plans, Frank Soodeen from charity Alcohol Concern said more needed to be done to address the ready availability and affordability of alcohol.

Jill Shaw, from social care charity Turning Point, said the government's plans should include improving access to alcohol treatment services which adopt a whole-family approach.

"The strategy should address the major challenge of parental alcohol misuse: over a million children live with parents who have alcohol problems," she said.

"Without important interventions at vital stages of these young lives, they are much more likely to go on to have alcohol problems themselves."

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