By RYAN TAYLOR
THE majority of underage drinkers in Shetland rely on their own parents to supply them with alcohol.
Members of the SIC’s area licensing board heard last week that up to 80 per cent of teenagers looking to buy drink get it from family members at home.
The news came as the committee discussed the possibility of raising the minimum age limit for alcohol from 18 to 21.
The debate was just one of the topics put to the board for consultation with the licensing forum ahead of planned legislation aimed at curbing binge drinking next year.
Environmental health officer Maggie Dunne said a questionnaire that went round secondary school pupils found most youngsters who drank alcohol could easily secure it from within the home.
“It appeared from the questionnaire one of the ways they were getting alcohol was from their parents, either unknown to them or as a case of, ‘here you go, have a drink,’” she said.
“I don’t think that would change if we raised the age limit to 21.”
One person in agreement with that was pub owner and head of wholesaler JW Gray, George Hepburn.
He said parents accounted for 80 per cent of “agents” – suppliers of alcohol for under age drinkers.
“If I go and buy alcohol and give it to somebody in the street I could end up in jail, but now we’ve got parents who are handing out alcohol willy-nilly to their children,” he said.
Attending the meeting was Tesco manager Paul Clelland, who said Tesco staff had seen children indicating to their parents what drinks they wanted them to buy for them. Once they had got to the checkout, he said, they were refused the drink.
North Isles councillor Josie Simpson said there was a “huge underage problem” in his ward, but added pushing up the age limit would only make things worse.
“With youngsters aged between 17 and 18, parents have a difficult enough task keeping it under control, and if we push it up to 21 we will push it underground,” he said.
Shetland West member Gary Robinson agreed there was a “bravado among teenagers about being able to get drink under age”, and said the problem would only continue if the minimum age was raised.
He highlighted the more relaxed drinking culture in France, where “bairns see sensible use of alcohol in their own home, more so than they do in our society”.
“You can get married at 16. You can do lots of things, but if you can’t have a drink until you’re 21 it’s nonsense.”
Police sergeant Findlay MacBeath said: “Over 18s are contributing members of society. There are many of them fighting for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are in danger of stigmatising the next generation by going for this.”
The idea of providing checkouts in shops and supermarkets dedicated to selling alcohol also came under fire from the committee.
North Isles councillor Robert Henderson said that move was “all very well in supermarkets”, but it was a “nonsense” in small country shops.
Mr Clelland, meanwhile, said that such a move would only serve to isolate people who drink alcohol responsibly.
Community planning and development officer Pat Christie said a similar scheme she had seen in Australia led people to buy their alcohol in bulk.
She said Australian stores tended to have dedicated outlets separate from the rest of the shop, which only seemed to encourage people to buy more drink, rather than less.
The board also criticised plans for a social responsibility fee.
Chairman Cecil Smith said piling “more and more fees” on licensed premises was not going to solve the problem.
Shetland North member Alastair Cooper said it might help deal with problems police have in big cities, “but in this community, I’m not sure this is the right way to fix it”.
Other possible measures were more warmly welcomed, however.
There was widespread consensus that special offers which encourage binge drinking, such as buy one get one free, should be shelved.
Ms Dunne said the proposal to curb offers would bring shops more into line with rules pubs already have to abide by.
“There has always been restrictions on pubs with things like happy hours, so this brings more equity among licensed premises,” she said.
“It’s making it fairer for pubs than it has been before.”
Mr Hepburn said bogofs, as they have become known, “only encourages abusing alcohol”, and added pricing policies had to be addressed to stop alcohol abuse.
“We’ve got adverts on TV where they are selling bottles of beer cheaper than a bottle of water – and there’s duty included on the beer,” he said.
Mr Clelland said he supported the moves introduced by the government.
He added the Lerwick store “don’t really do bogofs on beer any more”, and that Tesco would “go along with any legislation enacted by the government”.
Keeping parents informed about alcohol was regarded as a key priority by the board, which also welcomed plans for a minimum retail price, which would be set to reflect strength.