Britain backpedals on 24-hour drinking law

Alcohol-related violence has actually increased
LONDON By allowing some pubs, restaurants and bars to stay open beyond the traditional closing time of 11 p.m., ministers had hoped to end the nightly scramble to down as many drinks as possible before last call.

The government had hoped to overhaul Britain's dangerous relationship with alcohol, curb violence and foster a more relaxed approach to drinking more common in European countries such as France and Spain.

But Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said Tuesday a review shows the 2005 changes instead led to some increases in alcohol-fueled violence in major towns and cities.

"Alcohol-related violence has increased in the early hours of the morning and some communities have seen a rise in disorder," Burnham said in a written statement to lawmakers.

Though Burnham said there are no plans to scrap the laws, he has ordered new studies of drinking patterns after midnight and confirmed he may propose changes to the policy.

In a report last month, the British Medical Association said Britain is among the hardest-drinking countries in Europe. The country's alcohol-related death rate nearly doubled between 1991 and 2005 - from 6.9 to 12.9 per 100,000 people.

Though there has been a slight fall in the nation's overall alcohol consumption since 2005, researchers have not found any significant shift in Britain's drinking culture, a report for Burnham's culture ministry said.

"Licensing regimes may be one factor in effecting change to the country's drinking culture - and its impact on crime - but they do not appear to be the critical one," the report said.

Many lawmakers worry over the drinking habits of Britain's young - saying intoxicated teens and 20-somethings now drink heavily longer into the night, rather than sipping coffees or wine in French-style cafes.

"It was simply unrealistic to expect to transplant one drinking culture, which has grown up according to specific tastes or climate, to another country," said Frank Soodeen, a researcher at the Alcohol Concern charity.

Burnham said there had been an overall 4 percent rise in crimes reported between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., likely to be a result of drink-fueled offenses. Some hospitals also reported a rise in alcohol-related admissions, he said.

"The overall reduction in alcohol-related disorder we wanted to see across the country has not materialized consistently in all areas," Burnham said in his statement.

Despite concerns, the review found that of around 125,000 venues and stores authorized to sell alcohol, only 5,000 premises had won licenses to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. That gives them the ability to change opening and closing hours at will.

Though 470 pubs and nightclubs have 24-hour licenses, officials believe Britain has just two traditional pubs that actually stay open around the clock.


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