A Cornish MP has called for a ‘tightening’ of legislation to stop parents supplying their children with alcohol.
Stephen Gilbert, MP for St Austell and Newquay, told the House of Commons parents are not sufficiently aware of the dangers of alcohol.
He cited statistics from police in Newquay who found 70% of under 18s caught drinking were given alcohol by their parents.
The current legislation bans proxy buying – the purchase of alcohol by parents for children – but Gilbert said any “well prepared brief can drive a ‘coach and horses’ through the law as parents can say they didn’t buy it for their child, the child just ‘happened to get hold of it’.”
While Gilbert acknowledges legislation may not be appropriate as the parental supply of alcohol exists as a “much wider cultural problem”, he warned the Commons the government must make sure existing legislation “isn’t making the problem worse.”
He claims parents should be forced to take responsibility and has called for supervision rules to be enforced.
Superintendent Julie Whitmarsh from Devon and Cornwall Police and joint project-lead for the Newquay Safe partnership – a campaign to reduce levels of alcohol-related anti-social behaviour - told NiP that meetings with a Home Office representative following the debate showed Gilbert’s calls were “well received” and she was “heartened” by the response.
Whitmarsh’s experiences of parents “regularly responded in an unacceptable and shocking way” to police officers who have contacted them about the behaviour of their children were read out to the Commons.
Comments such as “you’re spoiling their fun – didn’t you have fun when you were young” and one mother describing her child as “not being the usual riff-raff” were cited.
She acknowledged that parents behaving in this way are in the minority but they form a sizeable enough number to give cause for concern.
“It is certainly not just the odd one here and there,” Whitmarsh told NiP.
James Brokenshire, the Minister for Crime and Security at the Home Office, said he was “shocked” and “outraged” by the behaviour of irresponsible parents in Newquay.
Whitmarsh told NiP that she doesn’t believe an overly strict, over-burdensome piece of legislation is the way to go.
“We don’t want to penalise those parents who go for a picnic on the beach with their children and give them a glass of wine,” she said.
“But equally, we cannot let those parents that behave in an irresponsible manner to carry on.”
Education is key, according to Whitmarsh, and parents need to treat conversations about alcohol in the same serious vein as conversations about sex and drugs.
Practice nurses have a role to play in this shift, she said. While a police officer broaching the subject of a person’s child drinking may instantly jolt a parent into a defensive stance, nurses have a “unique” position to enter into an “open and honest conversation” with parents regarding their children’s drinking, she claims.
In a statement to NiP, Chris Sorek, Chief Executive of Drinkaware, said the charity’s research has showed 15 – 17 year-olds receive their main supply of alcohol through their family.
Nearly two thirds (61%) of those who had drunk at home in the last week said they had been given alcohol by their family and two fifths (43%) admitted their family had provided them with alcohol for house parties and birthday parties in the last week.
"Mums and dads are the most important influence in shaping their children’s attitudes towards alcohol,” said Sorek.
“Evidence shows that the majority of children say they would go to their parents first for advice about alcohol (65% would go to their mother and 51% to their father).
“Rather than providing alcohol to drink unsupervised, Drinkaware encourages parents to talk to their children about the risks of excessive drinking and how they can stay safe.”
Supt Whitmarsh details examples of parental supply of alcohol to children in Newquay:
1. One guest house in Newquay found families were regularly turning up with a boot full of alcohol.
Upon being told this was unacceptable by the owners, parents would leave and their children would meet them elsewhere to collect the alcohol to try and “get it back in”.
2. In a the weeks that followed the end of GCSE exams, police stepped up their checks and seized 353 cans and bottles from a group of unsupervised 16-year olds whose families where staying on a caravan site.
A significant proportion of the items, which included 117 bottles of Stella Atois and 5 litres of vodka, were seen to be delivered by the parents.
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