ID cards for young drinkers

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The Independent Online
A National identity card for teenage drinkers is to be launched this month in a move that could make it impossible for those without one to buy alcohol, writes Stephen Castle.

The scheme is likely to be accompanied by new powers for magistrates to act against retailers who fail to adopt it.

Under the plans, backed by a committee of government ministers, all retailers would be expected to ask to see the card before selling alcohol to those who look as if they might be under 18.

The drinks industry is also expected to announce a new code of conduct for retailers governing packaging and advertising of alcoholic drinks designed to appeal to young people.

The substantial cost of the identity card scheme will be footed by the drink producers and big retailers.

Concern in Whitehall has been heightened by the row over alcopops which led to the establishment of an eight-strong ministerial committee, chaired by the Home Office minister, George Howarth. It includes several other high-profile figures including the health minister, Tessa Jowell, and Peter Kilfoyle, minister for public service.

At present the Portman Group, the drinks industry-sponsored pressure group for responsible drinking, funds a limited proof-of-age card which is likely to be the basis of the new national scheme. Costs of start-up and administration may be as much as pounds 1m-pounds 2m but details have yet to be finalised.

The plan is being welcomed by ministers who may also want to take additional measures to enforce the tough new regime against under-age drinking. At the minimum these are expected to involve more powers for magistrates.

Ministers believe that shops, rather than pubs and off-licences, are the biggest offenders. They think that, with the Goverment backing the new ID card scheme, it could eliminate the problem altogether.

The plans may upset some campaigners if they are seen as the first step towards a national identity card scheme. That initiative, which was backed by the last prime minister, John Major, has not been ruled out by the Government but is on the backburner.