Page last updated at 14:10 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 15:10 UK

Parents to get youth drink guide

Ed Balls explains why parents are to be given advice

Parents are to be given guidelines on how much alcohol their children can safely consume, in a bid to encourage teenagers to drink more responsibly.

The government's youth alcohol action plan will crack down on off-licences which sell alcohol to under 18s and aim to reduce drinking in public.

Children Secretary Ed Balls says he thinks parents will welcome help to prevent youngsters from binge drinking.

But the Conservatives and Lib Dems say legislation will not solve the problem.

Under the plans, the government will consult with the UK's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, to provide parents with information on how much alcohol their children can safely be given, how often and at what age.

'Two-strikes' rule

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

Teenagers persistently possessing alcohol in public will be subject to anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) and acceptable behaviour contracts.

Young people will always find a way to get round a ban
Edward Whitworth, 18

The police will receive tougher powers to disperse gangs of young people congregating in the open, including a new offence covering the persistent possession of alcohol.

Bars and off-licences are being told to ask anyone looking under 21 to prove they are over 18 before alcohol is sold.

And vendors will face a "two strikes" rule on selling booze to children in an attempt to curb binge drinking among teenagers.

The cross-Whitehall alcohol action plan was unveiled by Mr Balls, together with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Mr Balls says he wants to encourage a different perception of alcohol.

New 'attitude' needed

"We need a culture change about drinking, with everyone from parents, the alcohol industry and young people all taking more responsibility," he said.

"We need to fundamentally influence young people's behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol. This will involve talking to young people themselves, but crucially, parents tell us they want better, clearer information as they bring up their children."

It is illegal to give alcohol to a child aged below five
Under 16s can go into pubs under supervision of an adult, but cannot have any alcoholic drinks
Over 16s can drink beer, wine or cider with a meal in a restaurant
It is against the law for under 18s to buy alcohol in a pub, off-licence, supermarket or other outlet or for anyone to buy alcohol for someone under 18 to consume in a pub or public place

Sir Liam said while fewer young people were drinking, those who did were drinking more and were "probably unaware of the damage they are doing to their health".

"I will be working with an expert panel, as well as parents and children, to develop clear information for children and their parents about the effects of alcohol," he said.

However, shadow home affairs minister James Brokenshire called it "yet another series of gimmicks" and said the government "mistakenly think new laws are the answer".

He said: "It's breathtaking that even now they accept no responsibility for the consequences of the way they introduced 24 hour licensing."

Alcohol treatment

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg 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.''

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

Police officer on under age drinking scheme

But Deborah Campbell of the drug and alcohol treatment charity Addaction warned that "the problem with criminalisation is that they may just be driven to going to more dangerous areas".

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

Meanwhile, supermarket Morrisons has launched a "Task 25" scheme, where customers buying alcohol will be asked for a proof of age if they look 25 or younger.

A-level student Edward Whitworth, 18, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, said young people would get round any ban by getting older friends to buy drinks for them.

He told the BBC he had consumed alcohol from the age of 14 in a park near his home, and believed the illicit nature of alcohol added to its allure.

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

"Surely it would be better if we followed the example of much of Europe, where children are introduced to alcohol in the company of their parents from a young age and develop a respect for it," he said.

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.

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