Labour hints at review of licensing reforms

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Clearly stung by the criticism, James Purnell, the Culture minister, said that if the fears expressed by senior judges that it could lead to a rise in rapes and violent offences proved accurate, the Government would act.

"As the Act is implemented, we will continue to work with the police and the judiciary and continue to evaluate it. If we evaluate it and it does turn out there are problems, we will act on it," he said.

He refused to withdraw the proposals, which have to be approved by Parliament by mid-November, but there were growing calls to delay the new drinking laws, which are supposed to come into effect on 24 November.

The Liberal Democrats and the Tories said they would try to block the measure by voting against a parliamentary order setting the date for the start of the new hours. Labour is confident of defeating the opposition in the Commons, but it could face a serious battle in the Lords. The Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, could be forced to reach a compromise, as she did over the introduction of regional casinos.

The governing body representing 600 circuit judges warned there would be "an inevitable explosion in alcohol-fuelled violence" if the laws were implemented.

Judge Charles Harris, QC, a member of the council of circuit judges, said: "A very high proportion of crimes of violence are ignited or fuelled by alcohol."

The amounts people drank for pure leisure were "quite astonishing", he said. "The trouble is, continental-style drinking requires continental-style people, who sit quietly drinking away at cafe tables, not standing up shouting at each other in crowded bars trying to consume gallons of beer at a time.''

Binge drinking turned some young people into "savages", he added. "The situation is already grave, if not grotesque and to facilitate it by making drinking facilities more widely available is close to lunacy."

The Association of Chief Police Officers stepped up calls for the implementation of the laws to be delayed until local authorities had installed more public lavatories and ensured nighttime bus or rail services were available to cope with the aftermath.

Mr Purnell contacted Acpo yesterday to discuss its warning that the changes could turn Britain's streets into Mediterranean-style party zones such as Faliraki. He said: "They are not against the changes per se - they want to see the infrastructure put in place."

Mr Purnell told The Independent yesterday that a delay in legislation would be "the worst of both worlds".

'Drunk patients are abusive'

Don MacKechnie is a consultant in Accident and Emergency medicine at Rochdale Infirmary:

"We are a medium-sized A&E, treating 57,000 patients a year. On Friday and Saturday nights after 11.30pm, 90 per cent of our patients have injuries that are alcohol related.

Fights are a common cause - we have a lot of women injured in fights which wasn't the case 10 years ago. Women can be violent to each other, then they will be full of regrets. Often they fight over men. Lads will fight over anything. It's an alcohol-fuelled testosterone surge.

Then there are the falls. Those who bang their heads and are brought in unconscious are the most worrying. We tell junior doctors they must be careful to exclude head injury as the cause of unconsciousness before they can assume it is alcohol. Many of the symptoms - slurring words, disoriented in space and time - are the same for drunkenness. Often it means a brain scan.

Drunk patients tend to be abusive, which makes A&E a threatening place. You may get rival factions at A&E after a fightand it is not unusual for the fight to kick off again. We have security guards on duty routinely now. I don't think 24-hour licences will reduce the number coming to A&E but it may spread them out. The peaks now are when the pubs close then again a couple of hours later when the clubs close."