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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 19:13 GMT
Drink laws 'will push up arrests'
A drinker
Ministers say the police need powers in the Licensing Act
The introduction of more relaxed licensing laws on Thursday is likely to lead to an increase in alcohol related arrests, ministers have warned.

Licensing Minister James Purnell said the new laws would be coupled with greater enforcement powers to crack down on alcohol-fuelled disorder.

A rise in the number of arrests could be a measure of the success of powers in the Licensing Act, he said.

But shadow culture secretary Theresa May said that logic was "absurd".

Fines

Under the new rules, licensed premises can apply to extend their opening hours beyond 11pm from 24 November, potentially allowing 24-hour drinking in some cases.

Ministers say the Licensing Act will enable the authorities to close down pubs more easily, install CCTV, bring in new management or reduce licensing hours.

It is absurd that the government is preparing to use a rise in alcohol related crime as a measure of the success of extended drinking hours
Theresa May

The Home Office has said 5,500 sting operations will be undertaken in the run-up to Christmas in an effort to trap retailers who sell alcohol to under-age drinkers.

Home Office Minister Paul Goggins said: "If we spend 2.5m increasing the strength of enforcement and funding police to do it, it is likely that the number of arrests and fixed penalty notices will go up.

"I am not making any firm predictions. The figures may go up because of stronger enforcement.

"We want to see alcohol-related violence and disorder decreased and we are determined to get a grip on it."

Violence

Some 700 premises have been granted 24-hour licences. Of these 240 are pubs, nightclubs and bars and 250 are supermarkets, says the government.

Mr Purnell said: "There is a possibility that the number of offences will increase. That in itself could be a sign of success because more people are using the powers of the act."

But Mrs May said: "It is absurd that the government is preparing to use a rise in alcohol related crime as a measure of the success of extended drinking hours.

"According to Mr Purnell's logic, the drunker and more violent people get on Thursday night, the better a job he will have done.

"It is clear that the government has finally realised that longer drinking will mean more crime and disorder.

"No matter how many panicked initiatives they announce, it will be the police and the public who will have to deal with the consequences of the government's mistakes."

A review of the issues surrounding the new opening hours will be launched by a group of independent scrutiny councils on Thursday.

The British Beer and Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping have said that some of their members have 24-hour licences but have no intention of staying open around the clock.

Underage sales

Supermarket bosses met Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell on Tuesday to discuss the new laws.

They are promising a "zero tolerance" approach to under-age alcohol sales.

Ms Jowell said supermarkets were currently a major part of the problem of selling alcohol without proper age checks.

Now they were "positively engaged" in tackling the problem, she said.


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