Ban happy hours to tackle binge-drinking, urge MPs

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Councils should outlaw irresponsible cheap drinks promotions by setting minimum prices for alcohol, MPs said last night. The Home Affairs Select Committee said not enough was being done to combat the surge in binge-drinking leading to violence.

It said pubs and clubs should be forced to make compulsory payments to fund policing in areas plagued by alcohol-fuelled rowdiness. The MPs noted that tackling such promotions as happy hours or "all you can drink" offers by setting minimum prices had been ruled lawful by the Office of Fair Trading.

"We recommend...that local authorities consider seriously the benefits of such a scheme, implemented through licence conditions and used in areas characterised by high levels of disorder," they said.

In a report on antisocial behaviour, the all-party committee said drink-related violence could only be combated in the long term by "proper city planning". The report said there was "no clear-cut evidence" whether 24-hour drinking would make the problem better or worse. John Denham, its chairman, said: "The attention on 24-hour licensing misses the point; problems of disorder are occurring now. Effective enforcement, mandatory contributions from pubs and super-clubs and minimum pricing policies all have a role to play."

Overall, they gave backing to government policies on antisocial behaviour and rejected accusations that they were too punitive towards children. But they said steps should be taken to reduce the 42 per cent of antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos) which are breached and called for the minimum two-year period for each Asbo to be reduced for under-18s.

Parenting orders, forcing mothers and fathers to learn how to cope with tearaway children, often worked well but were "under-used", and similar help should be available to parents before things reached crisis point.

Staggered closing times may reduce some flashpoints but may bring other problems for the police, it said. "The changes may make it more difficult for the police ... to predict where and when officers need to be deployed. We recommend that local licensing authorities work closely with police to ensure that this is addressed."

The Licensing Act should be amended before it comes into full force in England and Wales in November, the report went on. The controversial legislation should be changed so councils do not have to wait for someone to object to a planning application before they can prevent areas becoming "saturated" with pubs and clubs, it added.

This year, the Government stopped short of a compulsory up-front levy on pubs and clubs and ruled out banning "all you can drink" promotions and happy hours. Instead, disorderly premises in new alcohol disorder zones will be given a "yellow card" and allowed a minimum of eight weeks to clean up their act.

If they fail to cut drunkenness, all the premises in the zone will be forced to pay towards policing, street cleaning and NHS costs, with refusal leading to possible closure.

MPs said the Government should identify 50 areas with the highest levels of drink-fuelled problems and work with town halls to set up decent late-night transport to cut disorder.