More than half of the country's pubs have banned "happy hours" in a move designed to tackle binge drinking.

With the Government prioritising the fight against antisocial behaviour and claiming excessive drinking costs the country £20bn a year, there has been pressure to take action against growing numbers of drunken youths stumbling through town centres late at night.

In a move designed to prove the industry is capable of self-regulation and does not require "heavy-handed" government intervention, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) announced yesterday that its members - who represent 32,000 of the pubs in Britain - had banned such cheap promotions.

"I don't see any reason for 'happy hours'. They are not commercially advantageous and they are certainly not socially advantageous," said Bob Slator, the landlord of Clayton's Lounge, in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

"We needed a voluntary ban before the Government takes steps to introduce other measures.

"It is not in our interests to have people standing around our premises drunk. It doesn't help business and it doesn't help the local area."

The BBPA said it hoped the UK's remaining 27,000 pubs would follow suit. "This is all part of our drive to tackle binge-drinking and antisocial behaviour in town centres," said a BBPA spokesman, Mark Hastings. "We are targeting the sort of promotions that fuel excessive drinking.

"By setting this standard, we are expecting other pubs which are not members of the association to join in.

"And we are also calling on supermarkets, which sell the bargain-basement alcohol that also plays a role in town-centre drinking, to take part."

He also appealed to police to make more use of new powers to close pubs and bars which "act irresponsibly" and fail to take measures to deter alcohol- related crime and disorder.

The move - which coincided with a debate in the Commons on the Home Office policies in the Queen's Speech - was widely welcomed. Leaflets offering a pretend cheap drink on one side with an explanation of the association's ban were sent to all MPs.

Alcohol Concern described the ban as "a step in the right direction" while the Home Office minister Hazel Blears said: "We want to see an end to the grossly irresponsible promotions that encourage 'speed drinking' and in doing so increase the risk of alcohol-fuelled violence.

"The availability of this guidance will help reduce alcohol-related disorder while offering good practical advice to pubs and clubs so they can still be competitive and offer customers a wide choice."

Nevertheless the support was not unanimous. More than 80 per cent of Sky News viewers, said banning "happy hours" would be ineffective.

At present, UK pubs invest more than £60m in door staff, CCTV and general customer security every year.

"We have for a long time been extolling the merits of sensible drinking and of not binge drinking, which is why we are supporting this initiative," said Michael Hardman, spokesman for Youngs brewery, a member of the BBPA.

But many within the licensing industry have warned that only a shift in the UK's cultural attitude will have a lasting and penetrating impact.

Currently almost 30 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women exceed the recommended maximum weekly guidelines of 21 and 14 units of alcohol respectively. And those under 16 consume twice as much today as that age group did 10 years ago.

Government statistics show that binge drinking in the UK accounts for 40 per cent of men's drinking sessions, contributing to 1.2 million incidents of alcohol-related crime across the country every year. At present, 44 per cent of violent crime is alcohol related.

Drinking also leads to 17 million working days being lost every year while up to 35 per cent of all accident and emergency attendances are alcohol-related. "Happy hours are only part of the problem," said the Liberal Democrats' culture spokesman Don Foster.

"Before Labour brings in longer licensing hours, we need to see far more action on their 'alcohol disorder zone' proposals, more alcohol awareness education and better alcohol unit labelling," Mr Foster added.