Sat, Nov 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

No alcohol-related crime surge after all-day pub opening

BEER FEARS RECEDE A year after the traditional opening hours for British pubs were liberalized, a poll shows no increase in drink-related offenses

AFP , LONDON

The introduction of round-the-clock pub opening in Britain -- notorious for its binge-drinking culture -- has not led to a feared surge in alcohol-fueled crime, according to figures published on Thursday.

The government welcomed the findings, published a year after new legislation was introduced, while warning that it was premature to say if drinking habits will change for good.

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

In a poll of police forces in England and Wales, a majority said there had been no change in alcohol-related offences, the Independent newspaper reported.

Of 24 forces asked, 13 reported no noticeable change in crimes linked to alcohol, such as common assault and threatening behavior, while six reported a fall and five said there had been a rise.

The government introduced controversial legislation a year ago this month allowing pubs and clubs to set their own opening hours in place of the traditional 11pm closing time imposed on pubs for years.

Critics of the old system had long argued that it encouraged so-called binge-drinking, as revelers downed as many pints as possible before the landlord closed his doors.

They hoped that under the new system, Britain would gradually become more like other European countries, where long opening hours allow people to drink more slowly and in smaller quantities.

But critics of the new system warned that Britons would not be weaned off their hard-drinking habits anytime soon, forecasting the law would lead to more drunkenness and more fights outside all-night pubs and bars.

In the event, the British Beer and Pub Association said most places were simply serving an hour or two later at weekends, adding that consumption of alcohol had dropped by two percent in the year to September.

At the same time, the government published its own survey of how drinking establishments have changed their opening times as a result of the new laws.

The figures showed that some 3,000 licensed premises are open for 24 hours a day -- less than two percent of a total -- while most others are closed by 1am.

The government particularly welcomed the variety of opening times, meaning there is no longer a single time when all drinkers are thrown out onto the streets, creating a risk of violence.

In general, "responsible adults are enjoying greater choice and freedom in how they spend their leisure time," said Woodward.

"But it will take some time before we can draw a truly conclusive picture. In the meantime we'll continue to monitor the act's impact," he added.

The report came less than a week after a lobby group warned that binge-drinking among British children has surged in recent years.

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