Britain abolishes restriction on pub hours

London, November 28:

The British government has promised its ‘toughest-ever crackdown on alcohol-fuelled violence’

as revellers celebrate the abolition of strict closing times for pubs and bars. After 90 long years, the traditional ‘last orders’ bell that calls an end to drinking at 11 pm has been heard for the last time in pubs. For the first time, those desperate for another tipple will be able to return to the bar on the stroke of midnight. The curious anomaly has left police forces in a quandary over whether to permit pubs to continue serving through the last hour, or to enforce the rules rigidly. “It’s stupid. Life’s never simple, is it?” commented a spokeswoman for Scotland Yard in London.

The Labour government, which agreed to the controversial relaxation of licensing laws in 2003, has itself admitted that longer opening hours could lead to a rise in drink-related disorder. James Purnell, the state secretary responsible for licencing laws, said that a “rise in the number of arrests could be a measure of the success of powers in the Licensing Act”.

“We are not saying that crime itself will go up. What we are saying is that we are giving the police more powers and we do expect there would be more prosecutions,” he added. While those arrested for drunken order offences can expect £80 on-the-spot fines, stores and publicans caught selling alcohol to underage youngsters could have their licences revoked and be handed a £5,000 fine.

“Let’s not penalise the majority of responsible drinkers because of the crimes of a minority”, said Purnell, “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.” Latest surveys show that around a third of the pubs, clubs and stores in England and Wales licensed to sell alcohol will extend their opening hours. But only a fraction — 359 pubs and bars — will serve alcohol around the clock, while the vast majority of owners have opted for minor extensions and flexible hours. Conservative opposition spokeswoman Theresa May said the logic of the government’s assumption that the relaxation would lead to more crime was ‘absurd’. “The government has got it the wrong way round. They should have been doing something about drinking habits before looking at extending the licensing hours,” she said.