Leading article: Blurred vision on drink law

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The Independent Online

Her central argument is this: the culture among young people of drinking to get drunk has deep and complex causes - and flexible licensing hours are unlikely to have any effect on it. The evidence supports her. In Scotland, another nation with an alcoholic reputation, extended drinking hours do not seem to have made problem drinking worse.

Relaxing the First World War curfew on alcohol in public places after 11pm in England and Wales - misleadingly described as "24-hour drinking" - would have two clear benefits. One, it would allow responsible adults more choice over when and where to drink. Two, it would make it easier for the police to manage the fight'n'puke rush hour that hits so many city, town and village centres at 11pm. That may not solve the problem of why so many young people are so eager to seek temporary and repeated oblivion, but that may be largely beyond the reach of liberal democratic governments. There is little that the Government can or should do, apart from putting more pressure on the drinks industry to move away from a business model based on vertical drinking barns in which consumption is boosted by happy-hour promotions.

The scare campaign by sections of the press that has been taken up late in the day by David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, offers no constructive measures for tackling the underlying problem - it seeks only to obstruct sensible, liberal and long-overdue reform.

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