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Licensing Hours

I’m not sure where I stand on the issue of increasing licensing hours.

On the good side, there’s clearly a big need to change this country’s attitude to drink, and a change of attitude is most easily brought about by a change in society. As somebody who doesn’t go out to get drunk, I can’t profess to understand why people do this. But I’m sure that people who do it are aware of the probable consequences, and are not going to stop drinking with the knowledge of these. So a cultural change is needed. If that cultural change can be brought about by changing licensing hours, then so be it. This change would also end the problem of all of the pubs closing at 11pm, and the streets being unbearably roudy at this particular time. And it’s simply scaremongering to say that pubs will be open twenty-four hours, since very few places will be able to afford the staff to serve the three local drunks at four in the morning.

On the less-good side, there’s yet to be an extensive trial of these changes, so who can really say whether or not this will change attitudes to drink? If the extention of licensing hours doesn’t result in the the desired change to attitudes, then we’re left with a terrible situation where people will sit and drink themselves silly for much of the night. And it could replace one big period of disturbance with a continuous trickle throughout the night, which would consequently be more difficult to avoid and affect more people.

So I think that we need to have a large-scale trial before we decide whether to go ahead with this idea. I’ve heard the Government pointing to our European neighbours of examples where long licensing hours are not a problem, which does nothing but introduce a chicken-and-egg argument about attitudes to drink and the relevant licensing regulations.

With public concern rising, the Conservatives are now suggesting the liberalisation of hours should be delayed until binge drinking is curbed.

I’ll respect this position when the Tories get round to explaining how they intend to tackle the binge drinking problem. The shameful position they have adopted on this is opportunism at its most infuriating. It’s criticising the Government for the binge drinking problem, and criticising it for trying radical ways to fix it. This isn’t a sensible place to be in an election year, because it makes the Tories appear to lack credibility. Given the current opinion polls (and common sense), this is something they should probably try to avoid weeks before an election.

Medical opinion argues there will be no lessening of alcohol problems until the cost of drink returns to the relative prices of the 1970s. This would imply doubling the price of a £4 bottle of wine and pushing up beer to £5 a pint.

I’m not sure whose medical opinion this is, but it certainly isn’t mine. Doubling the price of alcohol will simply replace one problem with another: Alcoholics, who are found in a higher proportion of poor-income families anyway, will be spending even more money to get their fix, and driving themselves even further into the realms of poverty and thus increasing the crime rate. Increased prices may help to stem the tide of binge drinkers in middle England, but they shouldn’t be helped at the expense of those worse off in society. Increasing prices would bring about a cultural change, but not the one we’re looking for.

If I was given the task of reducing the level of binge drinking in society, I know where I’d start – by asking the people who do it why they do it. If only the Government would take this approach, then maybe they could treat the root cause of the problem rather than the symptoms. There’s my medical opinion.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

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