Lots of stuff in the news today about the publication of a Government report investigating the impact of “24-hour licensing”. See here for a sample of reactions to the report on the Beeb.
Bit of background for readers not used to our crazy First World War licensing laws. Basically, up until November 2005, standard pub opening was until 11:20, with last drinks served at 11:00. A dinky little bell would ring warning you about last orders, prompting a Pavlovian response in most Brits to rush to the bar and get another round in. Yes, pubs could get late licences, but most didn’t. You’d all get turfed onto the street at 11:20, which may or may not be the root of the British “pint and a fight = great night” ethos.
Now, in the brave new era of 24-hour licensing, it’s all changed. Or has it? The vast majority of pubs still open exactly as they used to, or perhaps extend the opening time to midnight at the weekends.
“Fewer than 4% of premises (5,100) have applied for round-the-clock pub opening – and many that have are hotels, stores and supermarkets.
Only 470 pubs, bars and nightclubs are open 24 hours and the average closing time across all licensed premises has got just 21 minutes later.” [BBC]
Critics predicted waves of violent crime and rivers of vomit, the thinking being that the only thing preventing the Brits lapsing into barbarity was the time limit on drinking. Optimists hoped that the legislation would bring in “continental style drinking”, i.e. you would no longer feel the need to drink so quickly, which would in turn lead us to consume more responsibly and over a longer period in the evening (and not get into fights on the way home).
And so along comes this report, saying that not a lot has changed. To quote the summary:
“Its introduction [24hour licensing] has not led to the widespread problems some feared. Overall, crime and alcohol consumption are down. But alcohol-related violence has increased in the early hours of the morning and some communities have seen a rise in disorder”
So it appears that the people who were getting into fights between 11:30 and midnight are now getting into fights at three in the morning. But other than that, there has been no noticeable impact on our pub culture or drinking habits.
Not that this stops the more hysterical parts of our press, who have focussed in the spike in violence between 3am and 6am as proof the policy has failed.
I decided to follow suit with the tabloids and illustrate this story with a shock horror picture of a Brit bingeing. Aren’t you shocked? Go on, be shocked.