Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Powers to curb under-age drinking come into force

Teenager drinking alcohol
The Conservatives want to raise the price of drinks like alcopops

New powers aimed at tackling the problem of under-age drinking in England and Wales have come into force.

The government says they will make it easier for police to confiscate alcohol from youths and to move on groups of teenagers who are causing trouble.

There will also be tougher penalties for shopkeepers who repeatedly sell alcohol to young people.

Commander Simon O'Brien said on behalf of police chiefs that officers welcomed the new measures.

'Two strikes'

From Friday, a police officer will be able to seize alcohol from suspected under-age drinkers without having to prove they intended to consume it themselves.

They will also be able to issue a so-called "direction to leave" order to children as young as 10 who are causing trouble - until now only those over 16 could receive one.

Teenagers say they will continue drinking despite the new powers

The government has also created a new offence for under-18s of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place.

Finally, any shopkeepers who are caught selling alcohol to under-age drinkers twice in three months will immediately lose their licence - a toughening of the law from "three strikes" to "two strikes".

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said: "The majority of young people are model citizens but there are a minority that are not.

"These powers will make it easier for police to take tough action against those groups whose behaviour can affect a whole community."

The government said it was also providing young people with activities and places to go, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, which would give them "positive alternatives to drinking".

Social activity

Commander O'Brien, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead spokesman on licensing, said: "The police service welcomes these new measures to combat the problem of under-age drinkers and those supplying alcohol to them.

"The ability to remove alcohol from under-age drinkers and take action against those who, through vulnerability or lack of personal responsibility, regularly misbehave under the influence of alcohol will assist the police in dealing with the complexities of alcohol misuse and misbehaviour."

But Jack Rivers, 17, told the BBC that drinking tended to be a social activity: "It's not that you go out purposely to get drunk - which seems to be a common misconception - but it's just trying to have a good time. Since everyone else is doing it, you join in as well."

And fellow teenager Arran Ward, who began drinking two years ago aged 15, said he did not think the new powers would have much effect.

He said he could drink up to 15 beers and spirits on nights out and that older people would buy the alcohol for him and his friends.

If we actually want to change behaviour it is much more complex than just telling people it is a bad idea
Rachel Seabrook
Institute of Alcohol Studies

"If you're looking for a good time, you won't really mind as long as you get the alcohol. You won't care if someone is trying to take it from you."

Rachel Seabrook from the Institute of Alcohol Studies said educational campaigns had not really worked in the past but this was a positive step forward.

She said: "If we actually want to change behaviour it is much more complex than just telling people it is a bad idea."

She said other factors that were important in tackling the problem including giving police more powers and clamping down on irresponsible retailers.

Dr Seabrook added that parents had to realise that their own attitudes to alcohol were important.

"Parents who get drunk from time to time will be setting an example that getting drunk is something you do and that becomes part of normal life.

"Parents who have the occasional glass of wine are also setting an example and that will influence how young people drink and expectations about drinking," she said.

But the Conservatives have accused ministers of merely tinkering with the problem of under-age drinking.

The Tories have pledged to go further, with a much tougher licensing regime and big tax increases on drinks such as alcopops that are popular with teenagers.

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