March 07, 2008

The dottiness of an ex-Cambridge don

The former Chancellor of Cambridge University, Lord Broers, yesterday morning, asked a question in the House of Lords. He said,

My Lords, have the Government considered increasing the age at which young people can buy alcohol to the level in the United States? I have observed in the university world that young American students coming to this country are amazed at the alcohol consumption of our undergraduates.

Lord Broers's solution is daft, just think for a moment about where that would leave the ages of consent. He seems to be saying that you should be able to vote (age, 18), drive a car (age, 17) and even have a child (age, 16) but that raising a pint in a pub at the age of 20 is somehow beyond your ken. Its interesting that Lord Broers seems to want to make childhood extend so long that it takes people into their twenties, thinks that a pint in a pub is a more serious act than voting for a government or even having a kid, and considers the best way to deal with a problem for some is to make something illegal for all. What's interesting about Lord Broer's comments is their paternalism: ultimately irresponsible people voting doesn't matter because voting doesn't matter, but irresponsible people getting drunk at midnight on the street does matter because one might be leaving the opera then. Furthermore if 10% of 19 year olds in the UK can't handle their drink, that's obviously a reason for the other 90% to have alcohol forcibly removed from them.

We will never solve the problem of young people drinking in this way- as the minister noted a prohibition would be deeply ineffective- it would also alienate teenagers rather than persuade them. Public information campaigns- the drink driving campaign is a great one to emmulate- even city centre planning regulations- are likely to be much more successful instruments in dealing with this problem. Raising the drinking age would merely criminalise a large segment of the population who are behaving perfectly sensibly and betrays an attitude of mind where the first response to a problem is what should be the last resort- having recourse to the statute book to ban someone from doing something.


Anonymous said...

I read that they were to have the larger supermarkets put up the price of alcohol to prevent underage drinkers, this is not fair for the hard working man who enjoys a can at home because this is all he can afford.

They need to recruit more law enforcement not only on the streets but behind shop counters - so that Joe Bloggs on a low income can enjoy his favourite tipple.

ThunderDragon said...

I've observed that all American students who come to the UK spend more time drinking in the bar than any UK student does - because they can't at home, they go way overboard here. Because they enjoy having the freedom to drink.

Ruthie said...

Prohibition wasn't particularly effective here.

Re: Thunderdragon's comment-- in my own very limited experience this is true. I have a few friends who spent a semester or two studying in the UK and went WAY overboard drinking there because they couldn't here in the U.S. To the point where I was seriously worried about one of them.

Gracchi said...


Anonymous said...

I am English and reside in a small town in the mid west of the USA. People drink just as much here as they do in England. It is a lie to infer that because the people here have to "endure" waiting until they are older to get legally drunk that somehow this leads to less irresponsibility concerning booze. You can't just say well so and so leads to so and so. Some things become more attractive if they're off limits.
If the ex Cambridge don (does that fact that he's an ex Cambridge don have anything to do with it) wants to be taken seriously by the common man he should start by asking why the commons bar is stuffed full of the latest plonk and why it doesnt have the same restrictions as other bars!