By Stephen Gilbert MP - 1st November 2011
Stephen Gilbert MP says more needs to be done to change the culture of drink in communities, following widespread problems of parental supply to young people.
Following widespread problems of parental supply to young people visiting Newquay in my constituency, I am pleased to have secured today's Westminster Hall debate.
Let me say at the outset that I believe the vast majority of parents introduce their children to alcohol in a measured, supervised and responsible way. But a number of parents are putting their children in harm’s way by supplying them with vast amounts of alcohol for consumption without supervision and often in an unfamiliar environment.
Police, hotel and guest house owners are regularly seizing alcohol from parents who send their children to Newquay with bags of it. One guest house seized 67 cans of special brew from 4 children who were visiting for a weekend. Another reported finding 350 items of alcohol in one room let out to just 6 children who were visiting the town. A local caravan site seized, from children, over 353 can and bottles from 16 year olds over a 10 day period. This included 117 bottles of Stella and 5 litres of vodka. And on one day in July, 443 cans and bottles were seized by Police from children arriving in Newquay. The bulk of this was supplied by parents.
When Police and other authorities, like hotel and guest house managers, try to reproach parents they are often met with hostility. Police were told by the parents of one 16 year old boy who had 64 cans of special brew seized from him that they were "spoiling his fun".
In Newquay, much like other seaside towns, local public authorities effectively adopt the responsibility for younger people when they are in the town. Together with police and other services they have to work closely with schools and businesses to ensure that the children's welfare is, as far as is possible, protected.
Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, published in June, found that if a young person finds alcohol easy to obtain, it will increase their chances of drinking excessively four-fold. And if they have seen their parents drunk, it doubles the chances that they will get drunk. Across that report, parents emerge as one of the really crucial influences on teenage drinking. Just this weekend, we’ve seen further shocking research from the Schools Health Education Unit, which suggests that children as young as 12 have said that they drink the equivalent of 19 glasses of wine per week.
Legislation is sometimes too big a sledgehammer, but we must acknowledge the role that some parents play in our drinking problem – which is a widespread cultural problem.
The government is doing more to crack down on those who sell alcohol to children, including doubling the fine for under-age alcohol sales to £20,000, but we all need to do more to change the culture of drink in our communities and – yes – that includes parents too.
Stephen Gilbert has been Lib Dem MP for St Austell and Newquay since 2010