The government hopes that liberalised licensing laws will curb binge drinking but the police remain unsure, explains Sebastian Pattinson
Following changes to current licensing laws, bar and club owners will now be able to apply for licences to stay open throughout the day. Though the licences are not due to take effect until November of this year, they have already caused a great deal of controversy.
The changes are part of a process of liberalisation aimed at both urban renewal and encouraging self-restraint in drinking habits. In the 1990s, local councils were looking to attract young people to inner cities, mainly for the reviving effects of their economic activity. It was thought that this could be achieved by bringing back the city’s nightlife, with 24 hour licences as the main aim. In this respect the policy has been very successful, as morning commuters mingle with dazed clubbers in newly vibrant cities throughout Britain.
Supporters of the new laws argue that allowing people to drink over a longer period of time will reduce their tendency to binge. More flexible opening hours and staggered closing times will prevent large groups of inebriated people from being thrown out on to the streets at the same time, with the hope of reducing many of the violent crimes often associated with the over indulgence of alcohol.
Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, whose department is responsible for the licensing, has said that “we are promoting flexible hours to reduce violence at last orders. This will put a long-needed end to the double madness of people gulping two or three rounds of drinks to beat last orders then all being chucked out at the same time.”
Generally, it is hoped that Britons will come to resemble more moderate southern Europeans in their drinking habits, improving public health as well as law and order.
Alcohol is involved in 40% of violent crime and so any reduction in excessive drinking would have sizeable effects on overall levels of crime. Sadly, this is where the policy has run into trouble. People who are intent on binge drinking will continue to do so and will perhaps make use of the new laws to do so more often.
The average adult drank 11.2 litres of pure alcohol in 2004, which is an increase of 12% since 1997. This could explain the increase in violent crime in recent years. It is also the reason why both doctors and the police have decided to oppose the new licences, despite a raft of new powers which local councils are to be given to use against troublesome pubs.
Chris Allinson, of the Association of Chief Police Officers has said that “We continue to have concerns about extending the hours during which people can drink given the culture of excessive drinking that already pervades our society. Over the last few years we have seen premises being allowed to open later and later. At the same time we have seen a sharp increase in alcohol- fuelled violence and antisocial behaviour.”
One thing seems certain though, the government has invested too much in the credibility of the reforms for it to change now.