A recent study disclosed both the harm underage drinking can cause and also how it has changed over the years. It showed women developing alcoholic liver disease in Scotland at a younger age and hundreds diagnosed in their early 20s and 30s. Girls had been admitted to hospital as young as 16 and the youngest to lose her life was just 17.

Of course underage drinking has been with us since licensing laws were first enacted. I did it as did most of my friends. Partaking of the forbidden fruit was just part of a rite of passage. Trying to get served a pint of beer in a pub, a challenge to be risen to. A bottle of wine down a local park, bonding with pals.

So I’m not in a position to moralise excessively. However, experience has shown me how underage drinking has changed and for the worse. Moreover, the tragic consequences that can follow, not just a dressing down from your parents as happened to me. It’s for that reason that action needs to be taken, which raises the issue of searching young people for alcohol that has attracted much controversy.

When I was partaking it was more often 16 and 17-year-old lads seeking to be served beer in the pub or the indulgence in the public park. Now it’s girls as well as boys as the gender divide has fallen. The age profile has dropped to 14 and even 12-year-olds. Moreover, what and where it’s being consumed has also changed. Checks at clubs and bars are regular and strict. Underage drinking in licensed premises is both risky and rare. It’s now invariable unsupervised in any form with consequences for safety as the police will testify too, whether through sexual assaults or injuries through foolhardiness. The alcohol being consumed has also moved from moderate strength beer or wine to high strength spirits or ciders.

Some of that is hardly surprising as it simply mirrors adult drinking patterns. Both the shift to home or off-site consumption and the growth of high-strength low-cost products has been driven by adult not child drinkers. It’s not just cost and the smoking ban but mirroring adult behaviour that has resulted in that, before the blame is laid on the shoulders of the young underage drinker.

There are issues that follow from drinking and not just some anti-social behaviour in our communities and public spaces. It’s also the potential consequences for those young people not just in slightly later years as the liver study shows, but at the time.

During my tenure as Justice Secretary I recall meeting a young man not yet 21 but needing a liver transplant due to excessive drinking long before it was even legal. Young livers are not made to cope with that. He’s one of many needing transplants and the queue is lengthening but growing younger. I recall being introduced to an inmate at Polmont Young Offenders. He was from a small town in the West of Scotland not a peripheral housing scheme in one of our cities. He never ran with a gang or carried a knife. But, he told me he got horrendously drunk one night at a party. An argument flared and hence he’d be leaving Polmont to serve the rest of his sentence in an adult institution as he’d committed a very serious crime. He wasn’t a bad lad but he had to face the consequences of his actions. But, as he said if he could roll back time he’d not get as drunk and lose control. I’ve also met distressed parents whose children died whilst drunk and incapable of getting home safely.

So it’s not just party pooping, there are serious issues arising from underage drinking. Ensuring they don’t access alcohol is vital. Great strides have been made in stopping the sale to youngsters and much that they acquire is through what’s called agency purchase. That’s adults for whatever reason buying it for them. Hence the legislative change to make it an offence to supply as well as sell it. But, they will still get it, just as we drank in certain pubs in my day. The young are ever resourceful.

So that brings us to stopping and searching young people for alcohol. While illegal for them to buy or be sold it, it’s a different matter if they have it. There’s legitimate concern over potential harassment and relations between the police and young people need nurtured. However, those young people I’ve mentioned and the parents I’ve met would all have welcomed action being taken and tragic consequences being avoided. Young people have rights, of course, but there’s also a collective duty of care for them.