The Government strengthened the existing law against under-age drinking by the introduction, in 1990, of a statutory embargo on unsupervised sales by those under 18 in off-licence or wholesale premises. Changes have been made to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 to facilitate the prosecution of offences involving the sale of alcohol from off-sales to under-age persons. Much of the work of the Health Education Board for Scotland focuses on the young drinker and several initiatives, bearing particularly on young people, are under way or planned during 1995–96.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. While it is an offence for young people to buy alcohol, for others to buy it for them, and for youngsters to procure it in any way, it is not an offence for young people to drink alcohol. Should not my hon. Friend deal with that problem?
I am aware of the significant representations that my hon. Friend has made on this issue on numerous occasions. He is to be commended for treating this subject so seriously. He is well aware of our view, which is that byelaws can prohibit the consumption of alcohol. Those have been successfully introduced in parts of Dundee, Motherwell and East Kilbride, but we have no plans to introduce a general offence focusing on drinking by young people under the age of 18 in public places.
The Minister is trying to suggest that the Government have been assisting in dealing with that problem. The pilot schemes in Dundee, Motherwell and Ettrick and Lauderdale took place from 1990 to 1993. Subsequently, Dundee district council asked the Secretary of State to allow it to promote byelaws banning the drinking of alcohol throughout the city, but the Scottish Office refused to support it. The council then put specific proposals to allow it to introduce byelaws that would ban youths under the age of 18 from drinking alcohol anywhere in the city, and the Scottish Office still refuses to support it. When will Ministers get off their backsides and do something?
We believe that byelaws can be introduced to prevent drinking in public places where nuisance is a problem. We recognise that alcohol misuse is one of the eight priority areas for action identified in the 1991 national policy statement, "Health Education in Scotland". A target has been set to achieve by the year 2000 a reduction of more than 20 per cent. over 1986 levels in the proportion of population who exceed the recommended sensible limits—the hon. Gentleman may disagree with these—of 21 units per week for men and 14 units per week for women. We believe that education is the best way forward. Although byelaws can be introduced, it is up to local district councils to decide whether they are appropriate.
My hon. Friend will be aware that both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) have raised this matter on a number of occasions because of the experience in Tayside, to which the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) referred, that, when under-age drinkers are banned from one area, they simply go somewhere else. That problem must be resolved. The answers that I received previously were that the Government were studying the matter and keeping it under constant review. Can my hon. Friend assure me that is exactly what is happening?
My hon. Friend is right to say that, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), he has made significant representations on the subject. The Government are always willing to listen to argument, but at present we believe that the impracticality of introducing new legislation overcomes the situation and that the current byelaws are capable of dealing with public nuisance. We are, of course, always willing to discuss the issue and to hear further representation.
Does the Minister accept that the problem of under-age drinking is an extremely complicated one? Current policy is to prosecute the individual or shop owner who supplies alcohol illegally to people who are under age. What consideration has been given to changing the policy so as to prosecute those under age who knowingly seek to buy alcohol for themselves?