Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alcohol: Or, the police could do their job...

The papers this morning are full of discussion about the Law Commission's alcohol report [PDF]. The big news is that the government has ruled out the best idea - making alcohol users pay the cost of the social harms they cause. I guess they think liquor industry profits are far more important than public health. Unfortunately for us, this leaves them with options that are far more intrusive on personal liberty than price increases: either a nationwide closing time, or blaming the young by raising the drinking age. And given that there are votes in pandering to the prejudices of the old, then I guess we'll be getting paedophobic wowserism. Oh joy.

Meanwhile, the other practical response is ignored. The police are concerned about public disorder, alcohol-related crime (a staggeringly high percentage of offences are committed while under the influence), and youth drinking. But it is currently a crime to serve an intoxicated person, and to serve alcohol to a minor. Unfortunately, these laws aren't enforced - as part 4 of the report [PDF] points out, there were only 91 prosecutions for supply to a minor last year (resulting in 27 convictions), and only one for supply to an intoxicated person. This is lowered because some offences are handled through the Liquor Licensing Authority, but still, the general picture is one of non-enforcement. Which suggests an obvious solution: the police should do their bloody job, and enforce a zero-tolerance regime on bars which admit minors or sell to drunks. No additional powers would be required (though some of those suggested by the Law Commission would be helpful). But again, that might interfere with liquor industry profits, and the police would rather spend their time arresting harmless dope growers and spying on political protestors.