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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Storm in a pint glass
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Six months ago pubs in England and Wales were given the right to open 24 hours a day - and drunken mayhem on the streets was widely forecast. So what happened next?

Anyone reading press coverage of the run up to the act coming into force could be forgiven for being left with the impression that the edifice of British civilisation was about to crumble into the sea.

The Conservatives led the last-ditch opposition to the law, with then shadow culture spokeswoman Theresa May warning of impending "chaos" sparked by changes "which will fuel even more violence and anti-social behaviour in the streets of Britain".

They were not alone. The Lib Dems also voted to delay the changes, fearing a rise in binge drinking, while a slew of senior police officers, churchmen, doctors and alcohol campaigners expressed scepticism. Many newspapers made hay with the issue.

The World Cup and hot summer nights could cause potential chaos for many people wanting to enjoy a quiet evening
Malcolm Moss
Shadow minister

There had been a wave of stories linking longer licensing hours to increased rapes, more deaths on the roads, massively increased binge drinking, more violence and casualty departments being overwhelmed.

The Labour government had memorably pledged to tackle the age-old issue of drinking hours with a text sent to young voters reading: "Cldnt give a XXXX 4 lst ordrs? Vote Labour 4 extra time."

But the idea that the government was pushing us towards "24-hr drinking" was derided by those in the drinks industry, and while it was assumed that every pub in the country would apply for markedly extended hours, this has not been the case.

In many areas of the country, according to the councils responsible for licensing, and the industry itself, the norm is large numbers of pubs closing at midnight rather than 11pm and clubs and late bars closing at 3am instead of 2am. Most of the late opening is between Thursday and Sunday. While it's still too soon to make a definitive call on extended hours, last days of Rome it is not.

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Neil Williams from the British Beer and Pub Association says people might have noticed very little change.

"There has been limited change in city centres. The new system is allowing people to stay in their favourite local pub for a little bit longer on certain nights rather than traipse into town to go to a bar."

In Newcastle, for instance, there are now 200 premises serving after 11pm as opposed to 100 before the changes. But a city council spokesman insists many of the places with extended hours are in outlying areas reducing the flow of people into the city centre at weekends.

In Leeds, out of 2,400 applications for licences, only 700 were for extended hours.

Some newspapers predicted a last days of Rome scenario

And a spokesman explains: "They are quite selective in when they choose to use them. You see places closed at 10.30 that you know can open much later."

Of course, councils have an interest in promoting positive outcomes in their backyards. Nevertheless, it seems the chief aim of extending licencing hours, to stagger kicking out times, has had some success.

Focusing on one city, it is possible to see a spread of closing times. If you were to go to Birmingham this Friday night, 1,336 premises would be licensed up to 11pm, with another 387 having to close at midnight. At 1am another 220 venues would have to close, with a further 290 able to open until 2am. There would be 40 having to close at 3am and 60 at 4am.

But most of the measures used to judge the effect of the laws are anecdotal.

People are not drinking any more - it just means people aren't lining up five pints at 11pm
Caroline Nodder
The Publican

No definitive answer can be given on whether the Licensing Act has increased or decreased alcohol-related crime and disorder.

West Yorkshire police says "it has definitely not seen a massive increase in incidents", Northumbria has experienced much the same, while at Merseyside Police some officers believe alcohol-related crime may have gone down.

But the British Crime Survey, widely regarded as the most reliable measure of crime, will not be out until July, and will only cover the period up until the end of March.

This will miss what many see as the real crucible for the laws, not Christmas, but the summer.

Malcolm Moss, shadow minister with responsibility for licensing, insists: "It is still too soon to judge the real effects of licensing changes. The real test will be during the forthcoming months where a combination of the World Cup and hot summer nights could cause potential chaos for many people wanting to enjoy a quiet evening."

There is only so much people wish to drink - who in the middle of Dudley town centre wants a drink at four in the morning
Eddie Gershon

And Alcohol Concern emphasises that a full statistical picture is needed before any judgements are made on whether drinking or violence has increased.

"It is very much too early to tell. The only research into trends are generally annual studies, or occasionally every two years," says spokeswoman Helen Symonds.

Even the Department for Culture Media and Sport is waiting before it declares the measures a success, but it is bullish about the other parts of the bill that allowed rogue pubs to have their licences withdrawn and gave more powers to police.

There is a feeling in the drinks industry, again with a shortage of statistics, that consumption has not rocketed - a sentiment typified by Caroline Nodder, editor of trade magazine The Publican.

Coverage anger

"People are not drinking any more, they are spending the same amount of money overall. It just means people aren't lining up five pints at 11pm. People used to rush to the bar and down pints as quickly as possible," says Ms Nodder

And there is anger over the media's coverage of the issue.

"We ran a campaign to boycott the Daily Mail... the reports were based on complete misinformation. The premise was that the pub trade had forced the government to change the law."

There are no definitive statistics on changes in consumption

Critics and supporters of the changes alike are sure that Britain has a long way to go to fight the prevalence of weekend binge drinking and alcohol fuelled violence and move to a continental model.

Go to a big Mediterranean city - like Valencia for example - and you will see crowds of revellers of all ages drinking late into the night at the weekend, without feeling that you are only a mistimed glance away from being glassed in the face.

And even if things do improve, drinking into the early hours is not everybody's cup of tea.

As Eddie Gershon, of pub chain Wetherspoons, notes: "There is only so much people wish to drink. Who in the middle of Dudley town centre wants a drink at four in the morning. Or anywhere else for that matter."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

If as your report suggests people are drinking the same amount but over a longer period of time, then surely this means that the pubs/clubs are paying more for staff wages without any gain. This means that drinks prices will have to go up again to compensate.
Mick, Leeds

I have spent the last few years in university in Liverpool, and although its not far, rarely went out in Chester, my home city, for the whole period. Since i have moved back to the area there has been a marked change to my evenings out. Instead of a 100 people queue and an hours wait for a taxi at 2.30am, i can now leave a club regardless of the time and jump straight into a cab. The streets are quiet and the clubs slowly die down post 2am instead of everyone piling out like cattle. I was against the laws but now think they are a great idea. One of the few things Labour have managed to get right in last 9 years. Liverpool is the same, but its harder to judge in a bigger city.
Rob, Chester, UK

To early to judge the change in the Licensing Laws, not so. The Conservatives, LibDems, police, judges, churchmen, the BBC, and most certainly the rest of the media have been out hunting for any sign, however small, that binge drinking as increased since the change in the law, and have failed to find any incidents. The above should now come clean and admit they got it wrong.That heavy drinking is not related to opening hours but to attitudes.
Anthony Jaynes, Alton

Reading's town centre has changed dramatically since the pubs and bars were allowed to open later. People generally drink slower because they know they have the time now and therefore aren't downing pints at 11pm, which they can't handle, and being sent through the bottle neck front doors onto the street where they used to bump into each other and start fighting. The taxi ques are smaller, there are less people queing in the kabab shops and a staggered flow of people making it easier for the police to watch them all - making it an all round better night.
Tom, Reading

Well there are regularly people staggering past my house at 3 o'clock with a can of super strength, shouting their heads off and swearing. 3 o'clock in the afternoon that is. Nothing has changed.
Mark, Southampton, UK

Just to clarify the Wetherspoons in Dudley is still open and as far as I'm aware has not shut. I popped in there recently at 8:30am to get breakfast and was the only one drinking coffee, so in answer to the statement "there is only so much people can drink" I think the people of Dudley are having a good go at finding out what that amount is!
Rob Brookes, Dudley

What's the weather been like since November 24th? It's just too early to tell if the new law has worked or not. Living the heart of St. Albans city centre which has the highest density of licensed premises per capita in the UK, the problems have definitely increased. But in St. Albans, a ¿staggering¿ 88% of its city centre pubs and bars were granted later hours (usually until about 1.30 a.m. but some later). I wonder if there was any co-incidence between the new law going live in November and the Government's £2.5m Alcohol Misuse Enforcement Campaign involving every police force in the country in December¿?
Sean, St. Albans

A timely re-evaluation of the new law. I think it has proved to be an excellent piece of legislation. Elected local councils make the decisions now not judges. The vast majority of English people appear to have shown that if they are treated like grown up Europeans they behave like it and shift workers have more opportunity to get post work social drinks. Would it ever be possible that some of those who predicted the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse might hint that they did not get it totally right?
Vince Smeaton, Hornchurch

People defending the new laws need to come and live near a pub with extended hours. My local used to make our lives a misery until 11:30 now we have the pleasure of taxis beeping their horns, people fighting and shouting, vomiting, car doors almming until 2 am. If any of your correspondents thinks its been a good idea come and stay with me for a weekend and then see what your selfish attitude is.
robert, manchester

I hadn't really connected this to the new laws, but a few of my friends have noticed a lot less shouting and scuffling when we have been out drinking recently. I don't know that extended drinking times are the reason for a reduction in aggression - or if its just a coincidental blip - but the smaller crowds at kebab shops seem to help - so fair play to the new rules.
DannyMackay, London

I think that the poor take up by the industry reflects exactly that there just isnt a market for 24 hour drinking. However, take for example the continent with late opening hours, do you see them in the same state as some revellers after heavy nights out? I suggest that the problem is cultural and a problem with our associations with alcohol. This is what the government should be looking to address. Start in the schools.
Ross, Exeter

Thanks to Ken Roberts for his well-reasoned, fair minded and completely unbigoted analysis. I presume from his use of the word "evil" that he has some religious beliefs, so he might like to ponder why God created the ingredients which allow alcohol to be made. Perhaps we are expected to use it responsibly and in moderation.
Allan Griffiths, London, UK

I don't think that the summer and World Cup will bring any sort of bother any more than any other year. Why do I think this? I have been on holidays to Spain all my life with 24 hour opening, and seen that the people there are much better behaved than the majority here. Oh yeah and they have no ridiculous 9:00 watershed either, just an age rating at the start of each program.
Nick, Southport

The sky hasn't fallen on our heads as the Daily Mail predicted and my experiences recently in fact have been that there is less aggro on the streets and less loutish behaviour. Most of the pubs have maybe one or two groups of people in and the bigger clubs are reamining empty till later as everyone isn't rushing to get in and drink themselves into oblivion. Shock horror the Goverment may have got it right!
BM, Bristol

It makes me so annoyed when articles like this are illustrated with photos of one or two drunk people sprawled all over the floor, yet don't show the hundreds of upright, well-behaved people peacefully walking home past them.
Fi, Birmingham, England

All along it was painfully clear that the media were off on a hobby horse, while the real impact of the new law would be in the detail. It was - as the BBC found out two weeks ago when it discovered that the corporation itself was breaking the law in the Top of the Pops nonsense. This ridiculous busybody's charter hasn't even started to bite yet - just wait until we get into the show and am dram season - then you might have something for your reporters to get their teeth into.
Frank Gradwell, Manchester

You just wait until the World Cup - then we'll see the real action, trust me.
James F, London

The main reason for the lack of drunken chaos is mainly due to no pubs or clubs really instilling the 24-hour drinking capability. Everywhere I go out I rarely find a pub/bar that serves past 12:30. Pointless really.
Lianna B, London

In answer to Dave Powell, it is the Litten Tree pub in Dudley which is closed and for let, not the Weatherspoons, which is called the Half Moon. I was in there on Saturday night.
Philip O'Reilly, Birmingham, UK

Personally come 11pm, I'd kill for a cup of tea. There should be more cafe's open in the wee small hours !
Steve, Bournemouth

As someone living in Scotland, and in particular in Edinburgh, I watched news coverage of the impending armageddon with a mixture of amusement and bemusement. In central Edinburgh most pubs stay open until 1 and clubs until 3 at least at weekends. The later closing times mean people don't have to throw cheap drinks down their throats in a rush to beat last orders, and those who do anyway will fall out the door at their own rate rather than all be tipped out at once.
K, Edinburgh

And as for you, BBC, why does an article largely reporting no negative effect still use the same old cliched pics of drunks collapsed in the street? How about some images of sensible drinkers smiling into camera with pint in hand? Too boring I suppose...
H Astley, Oxford UK

Nobody seems to have mentioned how the extended drinking hours have had the reversed affect. Now places are open until 3/4am I feel much more at ease saying to friends at 12/1am that it's time to go home then when everywhere was open until 2am and we all felt obliged to stay until the bitter end.
Becky, Chehsire, UK

I'd would echo the comments made by Jayne from Edinburgh - the more relaxed approach to drinking has worked there for years and there is less pressure when hours are staggered, as many venues in Birmingham City Centre are. A lot of places have late licenses for the freedom to change their hours but plenty of places vary their hours depending on business.
Claire, Birmingham

Thank heavens people are being treated sensibly now about their drinking on a night out. I think the majority of the young and others do not want to be turfed on to the streets like a pack of irresponsible buffoons, especially on a Saturday night, that normally, really gets going after the midnight hour. Let the juices flow.
Uko Amaechi, London, UK

As a child of the 90s, I spent 10 years socialising "as a hooligan" if you believe the papers. I rarely encountered trouble but it was always obvious that throwing everyone onto the streets at 11, with long queues for taxis, food and clubs, after just having a few beers, and in many cases rushed to beat the deadline, would cause frustration and therefore trouble. It was always noticeable when you went on holiday in Europe that these problems were reduced due to the more generous licensing laws.
Pete, Northampton

The intention of the change to licensing laws seemed to be to address alcohol-related crime, in particular drunken violence. If extended opening hours do not prove to be the cure (as I suspect it may not be), we must keep looking for the root cause of the problem. It may be that we are just different from our laid-back European neighbours and that such anti-social behaviour is the symptom of an entirely different shortcoming of English society. Who says we're repressed?
Dave, Cheltenham, UK

With various places opening later it means that I do not need to drink as quickly to reach my 'desired' state of inebriation. Generally this is the case with others too. Longer hours, same consumption volume = safer, more fun, less problems. Simple
Ben, 22, St Albans

What change? I've seen very little if any difference at all you could always find a late bar in the city centre for a couple more but now there are one or 2 more open til 12. In my local pubs, they all still close at 11pm. Typical media hype for no reason declaring the world is going to end just to sell a paper or two more, and who listens to politicians, we all know they have no idea what they are talking about?
Danny, Bristol

Nice to see the comment re Valencia, I can assure you that the only people now who are likely to give you that glass in the face for the mistimed glance are the British stag dos.
Peter Warren, Valencia Spain

People only have so much money to spend on drink, and when that's gone, it's time to go home. The vast majority of people in this country are sensible, they know their limit, whether that's two pints or five pints. They drink until they feel they've had enough, and then go home. At least now we don't have to rush to get a last drink in at 11pm, and then try to catch a cab home at the same time as everybody else. Let us, the drinkers, not the government, decide when we want to have a drink.
Neil Harvey, North Shields, UK

Can't help being intrigued by the comment you attribute to Eddie Gershon of Wetherspoons - their Dudley "branch" has been closed and to let for a couple of months!
Dave Powell, Dudley

There is a nightclub/pub along my street which has closed at 2am for years, with boozed up students and kids regularly shouting their heads off, damaging residents houses and cars and fighting in the street outside my house. The change in the law just means that I get all this noise and disorder now at 3am instead of 2. The brewery don't give a XXXX, neither do the local police or Winchester Council. Extending the drinking hours has not led to increased protection from the noise and criminal damage to property for people living near licensed premises it seems. The only winners are the breweries, the drinkers and the hangover remedy sellers.
Jon Brown, Winchester, UK

Forcing one's opinions on others is an evil that has ruined our society, destroyed homes and marriages and caused the great misery in many people/s lives. As far as I am concerned all such people should be permanently imprisoned.
Tobin, Brighton, UK

Drinking is an evil that has ruined our society, destroyed homes and marriages and caused the great misery in many people/s lives. As fas as I am concerned all pubs and bars should be permanently closed.
Ken Roberts, Stockport

The new drinking laws have made very little difference to going out in many places, outside of the big cites many places havent changed how they act and by extending to 12 midnight means its more of a relaxed atmosphere, its certainly reduces binge drinking - very good idea!
liz, london

Not a surprise at all. Time spent at the bar has never been the issue. The real problem is our cultural expectation that every social event needs to have alcohol available, and we think that we are wimps for "not being able to handle it". As a society we need to learn to drink in moderation, and recognise drunks for the social outcasts that they truly are.
John, Livingston, UK

The fact is that most people will remain unaffected with 24 hour drinking, it will probably mean an extra half hour in a nightclub at the weekend ... so what ?
Doug, Ayr

I came out of the cinema in Leicester Square on a Wednesday night and hoped to get a beer with mates so we could chat about the movie, but lo and behold no late licences, this in the heart of the West End in our 24hr capital. What a joke, most places dont have the 24hr licenses as they've been refused. And who really wants to stay up all night, I've got work thursday morning I just wanted a couple of beers and the last tube home...
Andy, London

Extended hours is great. It means I can have an extra pint or two with my mates and not be forced to pay to get into a sweaty, noisy club and drink over priced, poorly kept lager. And when the smoking ban is finally introduced the quality of a night out will be even better too!
Chris, Bristol

Wow, shock horror! Extended licensing hours have not caused the mayhem predicted in the Daily Mail/ITV news et al. Still... pretending that it might, sold a hell of a lot a papers...
Joe Abberley, Bath

Nothing seems to have changed. Still a struggle to find a decent late bar.
Nick Thompson, London

Once again, the doom spreaders in the Daily Mail and the like have been proved wrong. I live in Newcastle city centre, and anecdotally I can say that noise and violence has decreased, as there's not the 11pm rush to get smashed like there was. People can have a slower, more relaxed drink, and the pubs don't all spill out at the same time, which caused violence in taxi queues and take away shops.
Kirkley , Newcastle, England

More to the point, who wants to be in Dudley town centre full stop?
Rob, Dorset, UK

I'd think anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in Dudley town centre at 4am deserved a drink. Or a stick to hit themselves over the head with until they were unconscious.
Silas, London, England

The whole run up made me laugh so much - I have lived in Edinburgh for many years with its more relaxed laws and thought that once again England forgets to look reasonably local to see if something works or not. Personally I think chucking loads of drunkards out onto the street at the same time is more likely to cause the problems I saw whilst living in London (and they charge you what for a pint!?)
Jayne, Edinburgh

People predicted disaster with pubs being allowed to open all day. It dodn't happen then, I'm totally unsurprised to find it hasn't happened now.
CM, Rochester, UK

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