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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 13:00 GMT
'A third of pubs' to open longer
Drunk woman sitting on an English street
Ministers say they are launching a crackdown on alcohol-fuelled crime
About one-third of all the pubs, clubs and shops in England and Wales licensed to sell alcohol are to get longer opening hours, BBC research suggests.

New licensing laws which allow pubs to apply for 24-hour drinking in some areas come into force at midnight.

Of the 375 licensing authorities surveyed, 301 responded in full. BBC News 24 researchers found 60,326 outlets can sell alcohol for longer.

But only 1,121, including 359 pubs and clubs, are getting 24-hour licences.

Licensing Minister James Purnell said the new laws would be coupled with the "toughest ever crackdown on alcohol fuelled violence".

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

Mr Purnell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are not saying that crime itself will go up.

Let's not penalise the majority of responsible drinkers because of the crimes of a minority
James Purnell
Licensing Minister

"What we are saying is that we are giving the police more powers and we do expect there to be more prosecutions."

Mr Purnell added that premises which sell to underage youngsters will be putting their licence at risk - and he stressed that this would include supermarkets.

"It is absolutely clear that the current system has not worked," said the minister.

"Let's not penalise the majority of responsible drinkers because of the crimes of a minority.

"There should be a very clear principle here - that if people are not causing harm to others, government should get out of their personal lives."

The BBC survey found:

  • There have been 60,326 extensions in hours for selling alcohol - this is from 301 of the 375 authorities, so the final figure will be higher.

  • 1,121 establishments will have 24-hour licences and of these 359 are pubs or clubs.

  • South East England has the largest number of approved licences - 10,500.

  • Some 5,200 extensions have been approved in London - but just 14 pubs or clubs can open for 24 hours.

  • More than 150 pubs or clubs in the south and west of England gained 24-hour licences, with just eight in the West Midlands.

The survey results come after ministers warned that the introduction of more relaxed licensing laws on Thursday is likely to lead to an increase in alcohol related arrests.

Shadow culture secretary Theresa May said the logic of the government's plans was "absurd".

She told BBC News: "The government has got it the wrong way round.

"They should have been doing something about binge drinking before looking at extending the licensing hours."

'Urban myth'

Mrs May said it was of "great concern" that a "significant number, if not a majority" of premises that would have 24-hour drinking were supermarkets and petrol stations, which she said were often frequented by underage drinkers.

She concluded that the change "will lead to more disorder", adding that "government ministers have accepted that there will be more crime as a result of these laws".

But Mark Hastings from the British Beer and Pub Association welcomed the changes.

He said: "We've been saying for a long time that the result of this change would be a relatively modest increase in overall licensing hours, that 24-hour opening was an urban myth, and certainly 24-hour drinking would be an urban myth.

"What we're actually seeing is that at last in this country adults are going to be treated like grown-ups and given a little bit of choice about having a social life beyond 11 o'clock at night."


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