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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 01:01 GMT
Drink law still fuelling debate
By Alex Kleiderman
BBC News

When the biggest shake-up in licensing regulations for 50 years took place, headlines focused on all night openings and a potential surge in drunken violence and disorder.

Beer taps
Most bars are said to use 24-hour licences only on special occasions

One year on, binge drinking, particularly among the young, remains a concern.

But those directly affected by the Licensing Act 2003 have said the worst fears have proved unfounded.

"It's early days, but there are encouraging signs that the new laws are working," said licensing minister Shaun Woodward.

"Residents and others are triggering reviews of licences. The police are using the tougher closure powers."

According to the British Beer and Pub Association, 24-hour drinking remains an urban myth.

A survey by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport concluded that about 3,000 of 200,000 premises licensed under the new act have obtained 24-hour licences, and 25% were supermarkets.

"Despite predictions that the changes would increase disorder in the High Street, there are positive signs that customers have responded responsibly," said Neil Williams from the BBPA.

WEE DRAMS
1.5% of the 200,000 new licences are 24-hour ones
About 20% of pubs/bars close by 11pm
About 50% close by midnight
About 80% close by 1am
Some 100 licences have been revoked following reviews
Source: DCMS

The BBPA said the last orders rush at 11pm, and drinking against the clock, were widely recognised to be among the main problems in the past.

Many premises have opted only for a modest increase in opening hours, particularly between Thursday and Sunday.

About 50% pubs and bars are said to now close at midnight rather than 11pm - with some clubs and late bars shutting at 3am, instead of 2am.

'Sensible' policies

The government said the act gave people more choice over when they drank alcohol and authorities extra powers to tackle problem sites and irresponsible venues.

Hospital violence graph

"A year ago we saw predictions of huge numbers of pubs and clubs being allowed to stay open round the clock, with resulting drunken disorder in our towns and cities," said Hazel Harding, chair of the Local Government Association safer communities board.

"These have proved patently false, largely because councils have set up sensible licensing policies which are sensitive to the needs of local people."

But the Conservative Party contends high legal costs means many local residents are still "powerless" to object to noisy venues.

Hugo Swire, shadow culture secretary, called on the government to publish drink-related crime and disorder figures.

He said: "Given that the government have axed the additional money spent on extra policing for the introduction of the new licensing laws, we are concerned that policing the new system could mean cuts elsewhere."

A Home Office assessment in July concluded there had been little change in violent crime and criminal damage after the introduction of the act.

However, it will still be several years before accurate statistics are available.

The act has also coincided with extra police patrols as part of Home Office measures targeting alcohol misuse.

Chris Allison from the Association of Chief Police Officers said a "culture of excessive drinking" remained.

"The night time economy is complex and there a large number of variables at play," he said.

"A true assessment will have to consider these variables and examine data collected over a far longer period."

'Epidemic levels'

The introduction of extended licensing hours appears not to have had an impact on Britain's drinking culture
Lesley King-Lewis
Action on Addiction

The Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University looked at the effect of the both the Licensing Act and the Home Office initiative on violence in Wirral.

It found assaults reported to a local accident and emergency department dropped by 15% - equal to about 160 a year.

However, it said there were "epidemic levels" of alcohol-related harm, and the industry should be made to foot additional costs placed on health and judicial services.

Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of the charity Action on Addiction, said there had been no real change in the number of people treated at A&E departments overnight because of alcohol-related incidents.

"The introduction of extended licensing hours appears not to have had an impact on Britain's drinking culture; specifically not on the way that we are drinking," she said.

For its part, the government continues to promote sensible drinking and has recently launched the Know Your Limits advertising campaign.

The industry-backed Drinkaware Trust, meanwhile, has been set up to encourage responsible drinking.

Crime figures graph



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