My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I believe that more effective measures are needed to prevent under-age drinking in public places. When there is a suitable legislative opportunity, we propose giving the police a new power to confiscate alcohol from under-age people drinking in public. That would give the police the means to deal with the problem immediately and at source.
I thank my hon. Friend for that commitment. I draw to his attention the fact that it will be warmly welcomed in my constituency, where alcohol abuse by youngsters under the drinking age is a cause of constant aggravation. Can he assure me once again that there will be early legislation on that matter?
I am sure that I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In doing so, I congratulate him on the way in which he has campaigned vigorously for a change in the law. Only a few days ago, at the Scottish Grand Committee meeting, my hon. Friend once again referred to the matter. We do not quite know the vehicle that could be used—perhaps a private Member's Bill would be the most appropriate—but we are keen to see that change in the law, because it will have an impact on what is undoubtedly a considerable nuisance.
Will the Minister acknowledge that the promise of action to tackle the possession of alcohol by young people follows the initiative taken by Labour-controlled Coventry city council to limit drinking on the streets? Will he also consider stiffer penalties for those who sell alcohol to under-age young people, to ensure that action is taken on the issue and that we do not just have words? Given that the Minister has had legislative opportunities coming out of his ears with the number of Bills that the Home Office has introduced in recent years, does he accept that he would have the co-operation of the Opposition if he were positive about bringing forward legislation at an early date?
I am almost gobsmacked by an offer from the Opposition to support Government measures to bring about greater law enforcement—it is rare for them to do so, but I welcome it. Perhaps in the meantime, I might tell those local authorities that are concerned with the problem, as Conservative Members are, that they now have the ability to take action under byelaws if they so wish. Although prosecutions of those who sell alcohol to underage people continue, the number of such offences, I am glad to say, has been dropping in the past few years.