I’ve never thought much of Robert Crampton as a newspaper columnist: he always comes across as one of those who writes whimsical, knowing drivel that doesn’t actually say very much, in other words much like every writer in the unlamented Punch magazine. Indeed, I remember a column he wrote a few years ago in which he effectively said “I don’t see the point of pubs. I once went in one and didn’t like it.”
However, he’s spot on in a recent column in the Times, which I can’t link to because it’s behind a paywall, but which has been reported in the Morning Advertiser. In this he argues that tolerating under-18s drinking in pubs is a way of socialising them and teaching them the rules of the adult world, a point that has been made before by Tim Martin of Wetherspoons, amongst others.
“Part of the tacit arrangement with the landlord was that we had to keep a low profile, behave ourselves, act in at least a civilised manner, learn the etiquette of communal socialising.Unfortunately, the current draconian insistence on age-checking paradoxically makes the problems of underage drinking worse, not better.
“If you got too gobby, you would be chucked out. Literally chucked out.
“Being in a pub meant that you absorbed a code of behaviour and that code did not include being an annoying little prat, or what is nowadays called antisocial behaviour.
“A pub is actually a very good place — much better than a street — for older men and women to pass on words of wisdom or warning to those who need to hear them.”
What is needed is not a change in the law, but a tacit acceptance that, unless trouble is caused, a blind eye will in many circumstances be turned. If you know you are underage, you haven’t a leg to stand on if you step out of line. A similar blind eye is often turned, for example, with underage sex and many minor motoring offences, so it can’t be said that it never happens.