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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 12:44 GMT
Tories warn of drink hours chaos
A drinker
Ministers say the police need powers in the Licensing Act
The Conservatives say the government's decision to allow 24-hour drinking will lead to an increase in drink-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour.

The Tories failed in the House of Commons to scupper the changes to pub opening hours which come into force in England and Wales next week.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell says the police need powers in the Licensing Act to tackle binge drinking.

But shadow culture spokesman Theresa May says the plans will cause "chaos".

'Political opportunism'

A Conservative motion to cancel the part of the Licensing Act allowing extended hours was defeated in a vote without debate by 302 to 228.

Former Labour ministers Frank Field and Kate Hoey were among Labour MPs who voted to outlaw the plans.

Ms Jowell welcomed the result, saying: "The police need the powers that the Licensing Act will give them.

A few government posters will not prevent the chaos that 24-hour drinking will surely bring on November 24
Theresa May

"Local authorities want the implementation to go ahead. This was nothing but political opportunism and it failed dismally.

"Anyone voting against implementing the Licensing Act was voting to deny the police the powers they need to tackle binge drinking and anti-social behaviour."

At prime minister's questions on Wednesday, Tony Blair said he was surprised to see Tories voting against the new laws when they had not done so when the legislation originally went through Parliament.

He suggested Tory leadership contender David Cameron had called the drinking laws "ludicrous" when he was a special adviser at the Home Office during the 1990s.

The new laws would allow local residents to take action against the "rowdy" minority of people while allowing the majority freedom, he argued.

'Dangerous plans'

The vote came as Home Secretary Charles Clarke joined Ms Jowell to launch a 2.5m project to combat drunken behaviour.

Mr Clarke conceded that it would not be possible to change British drinking habits overnight but said it was a first step.

The Tories accused the government of "steamrollering" through "dangerous plans".

"We have used every measure we could to prevent these laws," said Mrs May.

"Every Member of Parliament that voted for the new drinking hours did so knowing that they will now be held accountable by their constituents for these reckless changes, which will fuel even more violence and anti-social behaviour in the streets of Britain.

"Even the minister today admitted that this will lead to an increase in drink-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour.

"A few government posters will not prevent the chaos that 24-hour drinking will surely bring on November 24."

Under the law, drinking establishments can apply to stay open for longer.

Peers' warning

Figures produced by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport suggest that 70% of the 81,000 pubs in England and Wales have applied to change their existing licences, although this does not mean they will be opening for longer.

The government says most premises want to stay open for an extra hour or two at weekends and only a small number have applied for 24-hour licences.

On Monday, ministers suffered a defeat in the Lords when peers voted to ask the government to delay the new regime by seven months.

The motion, agreed by 130 to 97, majority 33, is not binding on the government, and ministers made clear that they had no intention of accepting it.


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