How long is arm of the law?

QI'm confused about the penalties for serving alcohol during a test purchase. Can you please clarify what powers the police have?

A Shane Brennan, public affairs manager of the Association of Convenience Stores, points out that individual police forces can decide what tactics to employ if a store fails a test purchase, "although most will be using Penalty Notices for Disorder £80 fine, issued in store".

He adds: "There have been recent examples of staff being taken to police stations and having their photo, fingerprints and DNA taken alongside the issue of a PND.

"The police or Trading Standards may request a review of the licence on the basis of test purchase failures - this could be as little as one failure, but commonly is after two or three."

It gets more alarming. "The police have new powers under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006," he continues. "These powers provide for a police officer or Trading Standards officer to issue an immediate closure notice against a premise if three under-age sales offences have taken place at the premises in a three-month time period. The closure notice is for up to 48 hours.

"The notice is served at the premises and the manager or designated premises supervisor has the right not to accept the closure."

If this happens the matter will be taken into court and a magistrate has the power to rule for a fine of up to £10,000 or a six-month licence suspension.

"Some lawyers are advising that the offence of persistently selling alcohol to the under-age is one of strict liability - in other words there is no due diligence defence," he adds. "All that is required is the fact that three sales took place. This is a big departure from the Licensing Act 2003 offences that we have been working with up to now."

QIs Britain alone in having a pub-dominated beer-drinking culture? And are we becoming more like other countries in our habits or are they becoming more like us?

A Although brewing beer was once a commonplace activity in even modest homes, it became centred around those who had the time and expertise to do the job well and these were the first public houses.

Until Louis Pasteur arrived, bottled beer didn't last long so pub drinking was usually a better alternative to home consumption. And centuries ago, not many people had the sort of homes that lent themselves to entertaining.

In continental Europe, beer consumption is split more or less equally between take-home and on-trade and in most markets this appears to be stable, with perhaps a shift in favour of off-trade consumption here and there.

In the US , where alcohol consumption is associated with many moral hang-ups and some strange legislation, more than 80 per cent of beer is consumed at home, away from the prying eyes of the community.

In the UK, 35 per cent of beer is drunk in the off-trade and the figure is growing all the time. Experts predict some sort of parity with the on-trade within the coming decade, perhaps aided and abetted by the smoking ban.