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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 10:23 GMT
Should Britain's licensing laws change?
Pub closing hours could become a thing of the past, after the Queen unveiled long-awaited plans to ease the UK's licensing in her annual speech to Parliament.
The pub bell looks set to be silenced, with 24-hour licences likely to be introduced as the UK moves in line with the attitude of its European neighbours to alcohol consumption in public.
Relaxation of the current licensing laws, which Labour promised in its election manifesto, will accompany new laws to combat disorder around pubs and bars.
The move has the backing of many police officers who feel that staggering the time pubs close at would reduce disorder.
Licensing laws in England and Wales have changed little since 1915, when they were tightened to stop factory workers turning up drunk and harming the war effort.
Will you welcome any changes to the current pub licensing laws? Will it tackle anti-social behaviour or simply encourage people to drink more?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Prohibition is the very thing that creates demand and therefore an underground mob culture to supply it. The idea of being able to drink 24/7 will very soon lose its appeal. After the celebrations are over, and some time thereafter when alcohol is deregulated, everyone will lose interest.
Perhaps the laws should change, but drinking behaviour in the UK won't change. No matter what time the pubs close, the same old sorry individuals will still try to drink as many pints as possible before closing time. Bars where I'm staying in the US close whenever they want up to something like 4am. The drunks are still in force fighting it out after closing time.
I remember when, not so many years ago, the law on drinking was relaxed to allow pubs to open all day subject to restrictions on earliest opening and latest closing times. The usual doom merchants were predicting the end of civilisation as we know it but nobody now gives it a second thought. The situation will be exactly the same soon after the introduction of the currently proposed legislation.
I am a resident who lives near a pub, and I regularly have to put up with drunks shouting in the street late at night. The new legislation is ridiculous. It means that hooligans who do not have to get up for work can keep the rest of awake all night.
A relaxation of licensing laws is much-needed. Where I live, in Glasgow, sees thousands of very drunken people spill onto the streets at exactly the same time every Friday and Saturday night. Everyone queuing for taxis, buses or for entry to nightclubs means frayed tempers, which often leads to violence. If we had similar laws to the rest of Europe, perhaps our drinking behaviour will change, although it will take time, there are a lot of week-end binge-drinkers out there. Initially one would have to expect a 24 hr licensing law to be seen as a reason to party even more wildly by some people.
Most people seem to be missing the point.
We are grown-ups and should be treated as such. The hallmark of a free market economy is choice. We should be able to choose when we drink and a publican should have the choice to open to suit his customers. I know pubs that open at lunchtime and are empty most of the time and have a roaring evening trade and others in business areas where lunchtime is packed and evenings are a waste of time.
Also all that nonsense of getting licences for the World Cup and other major sporting events would be a thing of the past
Pubs, and indeed all shops, should be free to open whenever they want.
If people's behaviour gets out of hand then they are committing an offence under the existing law and can (and should) be punished for that.
To have the state try and control people's behaviour by other means than the courts strikes me as "nanny knows best".
You can not compare Britain with other countries with respect to drinking culture. This will only be bad for the UK. Alcohol lies at the heart of so many problems, why make them worse?
Let them open when they want, but pubs and clubs must be held responsible for the behaviour of their patrons - inside and outside of their premises. As in parts of USA, a few complaints from local residents should mean the pub/club is closed for a week or two. They will soon learn to discourage heavy all-night boozing and to ban the yobs. They will also have to employ security staff to protect local residents from nuisance.
I can't believe some people think the pubs will be open for 24 hours, seven days a week, apart from places like central London. Relaxing this silly law will relax people in general, there'll be no more "quick get them in before last orders" routine. Anyway the point is, it is not how long pubs should be open that is the problem, it is the lout mentality that is plaguing this country, and that problem is centuries old!
The problem is that unlike on the continent, there are many many people in Britain (and I count myself as one) who don't know when to stop sometimes. This is not Spain - we have a different attitude to alcohol. The licensing laws have acted for long enough to give people an arbitrary point to stop drinking and go home. I hate to think of the increase in sick days taken if this goes forward.
In my experience most problems with behaviour occur just after closing time with everyone leaving pubs at the same time. Maybe by staggering closing times a congregation of intoxicated people could be avoided? Perhaps, just so the government show they aren't thinking of these changes for financial gain the taxes raised on drinks served out of current opening hours could be paid directly to the local police force to 'compensate' them for the extra workload? I mean, our government and leaders wouldn't make decisions purely to line their own pockets in time for their next 40% payrise - would they?
As a licensee I am very pleased that these changes are going to happen at last. I for one certainly won't be opening 24 hours but I think having the flexibility to open later will result in people leaving when they have had enough, not being put out on to the street along with a load of drunk people, which if course is when fights happen
I know let's not solve the drink problem within our culture, so in turn reducing the damage in causes to people in our society, this would mean a loss in tax revenue. We'll just allow people more time to get drunk, over stretch an already over stretched police force, because instead of having to deploy for a few hours each night in our cities to monitor people coming out the bars and pubs, soon the police will have to monitor for the fully 24hrs, because unless people take up residence in the bars they are going to have to go home sometime.
I would like to see a return of the good old days. The days when every shop closed at 5.30 pm Monday to Friday, 12pm on Saturday and only off-licences opened on Sundays until 1pm. I would also like to bring back the traditional Bank Holiday, where everything except coastal take-aways closed. This would stop road rage because no one would have any where to go.
So, no I would not like to become like other European countries or an Americanised state of 24 hour everything. Do we British not have our own minds and why do we have to do what everyone else does? Britain needs to become a leader not continue following others down dodgy roads.
Having bars open later is all well and good, but how are people going to get home at night? Extending the running hours of the tube and trains in London, and other methods of public transport should also be considered. After all, the tube drivers should be forced to do something extra for their over-inflated salary.
Having lived in Germany for 5 years with 24 hour licensing and never having seen a single fight, I welcome a relaxation of the ludicrous licensing laws. The problems in the UK are not down to a violent society, but mostly because of every pub in the country spilling out on to the streets at 11:20! Come on, we are adults now, let us look after ourselves.
James Pittman, England
Yes the licensing laws should change to 24 hours but where there is repeated disturbance related to a particular establishment or area the Police should able be come down like ten tons of bricks and instantly close that establishment or all drinking places in the area and the owners would have to reapply for a licence.
I don't think that 24-hour drinking will help alleviate the problem of antisocial behaviour any more than flexi-time helped alleviate rush-hour traffic; it'll just dilute the problem. The alternative - buying some carry-outs before last orders and rolling back to someone's house after the landlord calls time - works just as well for me.
Liberalisation of the licensing laws will not change a thing. What you do need to try and change though are some people's attitudes and mentality towards social drinking. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who will continue to think that it's all or nothing with alcohol.
Many years ago, pubs could open for pretty much as long as they wished - but they existed within a community. Nowadays we do not have that sense of community that grounds us - instead we have a disintegrated society in which alcohol abuse is an increasing problem. How on earth will making alcohol more accessible have any positive effect? I am, oddly enough, all for relaxing pub hours, but only for putting control in the hands of parish councillors who then have to answer to the needs of their local community.
It should definitely happen - all the arguments around creating a more relaxed and pacifying atmosphere - especially the idea of staying in for the evening and then going out for a quiet late night drink/far outweigh the arguments around people not knowing when to call it a day, or drunks still being in the streets in the middle of the night.
Licensing hours are one of the few ways of upholding consideration for others against the selfishness of many people nowadays. Many clubs in central Croydon are open long after 11p.m. What's the effect? Drunken and threatening crowds, male and female, milling around shouting, waiting to get into any club that will have them. Continuous pounding music that can be heard 100 yards away. That level of disturbance will just spread into much more residential areas causing misery day after day. Local residents must have a total veto, including saying no music after a set time.
It is extremely naive to believe that letting pubs stay open around the clock is going to change anything. The vast majority of landlords will not be able to afford to stay open 24 hours a day - they can't do it all themselves. It is only the big chains who will recruit more cheap labour to keep open then instead of having the one period every evening when the louts decide they've had enough and need some fast food to soak up the booze and disturb the neighbourhoods it'll be around the clock nuisance.
The police can't or won't cope now - so what chance of a decent night's sleep if this goes ahead? No the answer is if a pub or group of pubs or clubs create the louts that cause a nuisance - suspend their licences it's very simple - no appeal just shut them for three months - that would concentrate the mind.
Open the pubs for longer but enable those affected by the results (local residents for one) to object to the opening hours and obtain a restriction if needed. As for the effects make drinking easier for the majority and the penalties for being drunk or disorderly a lot stricter.
The problems are not the drink but the drinkers. The Brits never did have much sense when it comes to alcohol.
Many is the time I have finished a late night phone conversation to my family in England with the words, "I'm off down the pub now". They are incredulous and, I think, envious. And rightly so. The "last orders" dash in England is undignified and stressful for customer and bartender alike. Let people drink when and how much they like - as long as they don't blame the state or anyone else for the consequences.
I'm not convinced this will work in the UK. Too many British people don't know when to stop drinking. The final bell gives them at least a subtle hint that its time to go home and get a life.
Mike, Cheshire, England
What, you want more lager louts? I used to live in the UK and the system works. It's also what makes you unique.
This is long overdue. If you treat adults like kids, they tend to behave like kids. That's what has been happening with
a law that tells them when they can or cannot drink. Of course the new
found freedom will be abused for a short while. Then it'll lose its novelty and usher in a more civilised drinking culture like the one that works in the rest of Europe.
I lived in Canada for two years, where bars are open until 2 am or later, and only stayed until the bitter end once or twice. I never once saw a fight on the way home as people leave when they are done rather than spilling on to the streets at an early hour all at the same time, fuelled by the drink they have downed before closing time.
I often don't finish work until 9 or 10pm which leaves me very little time for a drink on a work night. I welcome the decision to reform licensing laws but didn't Blair say that the law would be changed in time for the Millennium celebrations? It's also rather embarrassing when tourists in London ask where they can go after 11pm.
Closing times are the most frustrating thing about visiting England. It's time to catch up with the rest of Europe.
Trouble on the streets after closing time is more a reflection of the UK's violent society than licensing laws. If all else fails, change your weather. In Canada we rarely see fights outside of bars. It is too cold.
Ken Blackburn, England
And about time too, we have been in the dark ages too long. Go abroad to Greece or Cyprus and enjoy a relaxing holiday without the need to rush. It will do this country good to have a change and no doubt people will find pubs more sociable places to meet, at all times, day or night.
The government should be making it more, not less, difficult to buy alcohol. It lies at the heart of the UK's problems, and its use (like tobacco's) should be discouraged.
It just proves how sad and dated the law is in this country when the rest of Europe has been drinking around the clock for years.
Of course they should change! These laws served their purpose over 80 years ago and are no longer needed. There will always be anti-social behaviour no matter what the licensing laws are. It may be true that staggering the closing times might "reduce disorder" but the real benefit to most people is that they will be able to go the pub at a more convenient times like Sunday afternoon. By the way, I don't drink alcohol myself but still enjoy spending time with friends in pubs.
Yes! If only to stop dozens of drunk people, men and women, being turfed onto the high street (where spirits can be anything but) and provoking unnecessary clashes.
Natalie Spink, England
I feel that the 24 hour licence will start off on the bad end, with people drinking excessively, but after several months when society will be used to the late night openings things will continue in an orderly fashion.
I lived in Frankfurt for two years, and with out the spectre of an 11pm deadline, drinking became a much more sociable laid back affair rather than a race to be drunk by closing time. Getting a black cab home will be easier too, which should hopefully reduce unlicensed minicabs and the problems associated with those.
P Williams, England
People will take more time to eat before going out and relax after work, especially on a Friday before going out and enjoying a few drinks with friends. We will not be pushed to drink as much and as quickly as possible before closing time. Everyone will at last enjoy better quality time in a pub socialising and appreciating the evening.
At last Britain is brought into line with much of the Western world! When people realise they can drink socially through the course of an evening as opposed to fuelling themselves in a set timescale then hopefully attitudes will change. Let's hope this measure is introduced swiftly.
Blair has been banging on about this since 1999. Nothing will happen - it never does.
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