24-hour drinking: a sober assessment

The licensing laws change at midnight, but is the glass half-full or half-empty?
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The Independent Online

Binge Drinking: Will 24-hour licensing laws increase it?

Ministers say the move will lead to Continental-style drinking. Instead of gulping down pints towards 11pm, drinkers will be under no pressure. Police can close rowdy bars and fine licensees for selling to drunkards and children. Disorderly drinkers will face £80 on-the-spot fines.

Medical and academic experts are pessimistic: by increasing availability, the amount of drinking will rise. It is likely to follow existing patterns which will mean binge drinking, particularly among young people. Academics cite experiments in Iceland, the Republic of Ireland and Australia as evidence.

Long-term health: Will the new laws lead to a rise in health problems caused by excessive drinking?

The Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, believes people will become more sensible drinkers, so the prevalence of illness will decline. In any case, Britons are not the heaviest drinkers in Europe. In a European study last year, Finland and Ireland were the worst offenders. Britain was third.

Doctors expect more liver and heart disease, mouth cancer and injuries from accidents, fights and falls. Liver disease is rising among heavy drinkers, particularly women. Martin Shalley, president of the British Association for Emergency Medicine, says: "The laws will make things worse."

Violence: Will the new laws increase drink-fuelled disturbances?

Violent crime has risen relentlessly over the past decade, fuelled by alcohol, and convictions for being drunk and disorderly have doubled. Ministers say inflexible licensing laws are the problem, encouraging binge-drinking and forcing revellers on to the streets at the same time.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies concluded liberalisation led to more violent disorder. A police report predicted an "increase in the number of investigations of drink-related crimes, such as rape, assault, homicide and domestic violence". Hospitals fear there will be more victims of crime.

Culture: What cultural impact will late-night opening have?

Ministers are seeking a "café society", where families can drop in at all hours to share a bottle of wine or have a beer. Tessa Jowell said existing laws implied the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Australians and the Scots were "more biologically civilised than the English".

The new flexibility will produce a booze free-for-all that blights, rather than benefits, towns and cities. Unlike England and Wales, other countries with relaxed licensing laws have a mature attitude to alcohol that sees no merit in all-you-can-drink promotions and happy hour deals.

Profits boom: Will 24-hour drinking be a financial bonanza for the pubs?

The industry says few pubs will open for 24 hours. Most will open an hour or two longer, and may lose money if they attract few drinkers. They will have to pay for extra running costs. The new system increases the cost of licences. The British Beer and Pub Association predicts "little or no profit".

Pub industry takings could rise significantly. One estimate is that the turnover could increase by £1bn for 30,000 pubs seeking an extra five hours. Andrew McNeill, of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: "These new laws are about selling more alcohol and larger profits for the drinks industry."

Public support: Is there widespread backing for 24-hour licences?

The Government believes the silent majority backs liberalisation, and argues that people are frustrated when on a night out they cannot enjoy a drink after 11pm. Ministers say holidaymakers returning from the Continent wonder why this country cannot have the same late-night bar culture.

A Populus poll in September found that 62 per cent opposed the changes. Women were three to one against later opening. Only those in the 18 to 24 age group were in favour. Four out of five of people over 65 were opposed. More than three fifths of the public feared "serious problems for society".