Leading Article: It is our drinking culture that needs reforming, not the law

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THE MANDARINS at the Home Office have commissioned a study on alcohol abuse and, lo and behold, it reveals what any patron of the Duck and Drake has known for years: drunk people misbehave; they are a social liability; they are violent; they drive badly; they don't pull their weight at work. And, to top it off, they have taken to binge-drinking at "happy hour".

So far, so obvious; but the important thing is to suggest some new, and practical, remedies. Here, the Home Office combines its worst nanny- state instincts with the Blair Government's predilection for high-flown rhetoric combined with unduly modest measures. Their researchers have looked around the world and taken note of a couple of novel initiatives: the authorities in Victoria, Australia, have persuaded local publicans to abolish "happy hours"; and the US has raised the minimum legal age for drinking to 21 (gun ownership remains lawful at lower ages, of course).

The claim is that these measures have had some success in reducing alcohol- associated nuisances and crimes. Or, in Home Office speak: "Evidence suggests that controlling elements of the physical and social drinking environment can reduce the potential for alcohol-related offences." Well, blow us down! Have people not spent years thinking of ways of removing drink from the hands of football hooligans?

Alcohol abuse is an area in which citizen-led, rather than governmental, initiatives are in order. The 18th-century preacher John Wesley made his name, and did a lot of good, going around the country holding open-air services in which he warned about the evils caused by the demon gin. Not so many years ago, it was considered cool to brag about how you had driven home drunkenly from the previous night's dinner party; now it is a matter of shame. And, in our own industry, changes in what behaviour will be tolerated in the office has just about rid journalism of Lunchtime O'Booze and his drinking buddies.

Every adult has discovered that, as in so many matters relating to human appetites, the Aristotelian motto "all things in moderation" applies here. The difficulty is in applying it. And that is a matter, if anything ever was, for personal responsibility.

There is a role for social regulation of alcohol. Pubs must be licensed and their locations controlled; knowingly supplying alcohol to children should remain an offence. But raising the drinking age beyond the voting age and micro-managing the details of when, and how much, people drink is just busybodying.