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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Minister defends drink proposals
Beer
Nine out of 10 pubs are thought to have applied for late licences
The government has defended its plans to relax drinking laws in England and Wales after being criticised by judges.

Licensing minister James Purnell said the laws would combat binge-drinking and violent crime, adding there were several safeguards to ensure this.

Although pubs will be allowed longer opening hours from November, they will face more stringent controls, he said.

But the Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Judges said violent crime would soar if opening times were extended.

Continental-style drinking requires continental-style people
Judge Harris

Mr Purnell told the BBC: "What we're trying to put in place is a much tougher set of powers to deal with the minority who do cause problems."

Licensed premises can apply to extend their opening hours beyond 11pm from 24 November, potentially to allow 24-hour drinking in some cases.

But Mr Purnell said the Licensing Act would also enable the authorities to close down pubs more easily, install CCTV, bring in new management or reduce licensing hours.

He added that the Act would be under continuous evaluation, hinting it could be altered if there were problems.

The assertion 11pm closing leads to binge-drinking is simply not supported by the evidence
Association of Chief Police Officers

The council of circuit judges, representing 600 judges across England and Wales, said they were "in no doubt" longer opening hours would mean an escalation in violent crime.

Those offences, they said, would include "rape, grievous bodily harm and worse".

Judge Charles Harris QC was particularly critical of the plans, saying a high proportion of British people become "pugnacious and bellicose" after drinking.

He contrasted this to the continental drinking habits, where people "sit quietly chatting away at cafe tables".

Conservative leader Michael Howard added his voice to the criticism, saying the government should not introduce the changes until binge-drinking has been brought under control.

HAVE YOUR SAY
After a short period of mayhem I think we will all benefit from an improved drinking culture
Jeremy, Herts

Earlier, a report by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) suggested liberalising licensing laws would create a holiday-resort drinking culture.

The report claimed there was "a strong link between the increase in disorder and the explosion of late-night premises".

"The assertion 11pm closing leads to binge-drinking is simply not supported by the evidence," the report stated.

Nine out of 10 pubs are thought to have applied to stay open an hour or two later - rather than all night as expected.


BBC NEWS:VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the type of drunken scenes police want to avoid



SEE ALSO:
Will new drink laws lead to violence?
10 Aug 05 |  Have Your Say
Whetting the appetite
19 Jan 05 |  Magazine
Head-to-head: 24-hour drinking
14 Jan 05 |  Politics


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