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Birmingham Post: The spirit of the law and sterner measures.

Anti-social behaviour is a plague on too many communities across the country today. In some parts of the Midlands, residents complain of encountering loutish and aggressive behaviour at their local shopping centre, or simply outside their home, during the day.

But even more dramatic is the situation in town and city centres at night, particularly at weekends.

The sight of drunkenness in the streets was once uncommon. Sadly, it is now to be expected in many places, including some of the traditionally more genteel shire towns and cathedral cities, as well as major city centres.

There may be many reasons why standards of behaviour have fallen, but the problems we see on our streets are caused in part by young people who have got hold of alcohol and drunk too much.

Irresponsible pubs and off-licences must take a share of the blame for this.

They have a social duty as well as a legal one to ensure drinks are not sold to people who are under-age.

Police and trading standards officers have discovered they are failing to do so.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is to write to the pubs identified as failing to abide by the law, and insist they change their ways. This is welcome, but it may not be enough. In Britain, responsibility for refusing under-age drinkers appears to rest primarily with the licensee.

In the US, it rests with the person serving the drink. We have no desire to see British bar staff facing the sack, or legal action, but if an American-style system was introduced here that would probably not be the result.

The US system works. Anyone who looks too young to drink can expect to be asked for identification. And if they don't have it, they are very unlikely to be served.

There are already industry-backed voluntary ID schemes in this country for young people, but they are ineffective because identification is so rarely needed.

Bar staff already have tough jobs and are certainly not responsible for all society's ills, but strong measures to ensure they do refuse to serve anyone who could be under 18 would benefit everyone involved.
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Title Annotation:Comment
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 18, 2004
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