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.