Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Back This Law. It Will Give Local People the Power to Fight Binge Drinking

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Back This Law. It Will Give Local People the Power to Fight Binge Drinking

Article excerpt


THE Licensing Act 2003 is a good law. It allows communities to take control of their pubs and clubs and fight the menace of antisocial drinking.

It removes regulation from unelected magistrates and gives it to residents and their representatives. It is power to the people. It is great stuff.

So why is everyone against it?

The police are against it, MPs are against it, health workers are against it, anti-drink campaigners say it will be a disaster. We are told that David Blunkett, when Home Secretary, opposed it.

Camden and Westminster councils are so apoplectic they are taking Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell to court over it.

(Both drinking and gambling are now considered "culture", such is Blair's Britain.) The answer is that this Government could not sell an oasis to a desert. As ministers commute between lobbyists' lunches and Tuscan villas, they listen only to the siren sound of money. The brewers and distillers have been pressing for more flexible drinking hours for years. They are frantic to stem the flight of young drinkers from publand to clubland after 11pm and from alcohol to recreational drugs.

Drugs are now as cheap as drink, even as cappuccino, thanks to the Government's refusal to regulate the market.

The brewers have already persuaded Gordon Brown to fight drugs by keeping down alcohol duty and thus pub prices. This has promoted "happy hours" to the status of a cult.

Now the lobbies have sold the Government on flexible - which they think means longer - opening hours. Ministers are in a ludicrous Dutch aucment"of addiction encouragement.

Ministers are dancing to the industry's tune. Ever since Tessa Jowell began selling the new act she has sounded like a Hovis advertisement. She has elevated " responsible drinkers" to the status of Olympic heroes.

Her dream pub of the future has happy families coming and going all night, "staggering" their visits into the small hours and dropping tearstained thank you's into New Labour's charity box. This is to be the "Continental cafe culture", the dying fall of Cool Britannia.

YET the new law is by no means liberty hall. It merely leaves it to local councils to tackle drunkenness in public places. If a bar is tipping rowdies into a residential neighbourhood at 2am, local people can demand it be shut down.

If a pub wants to stay open after 11pm it will have to persuade its neighbours this will not cause a nuisance. These neighbours can now demand a local inquiry against late opening and request a licence be withdrawn if a place is causing offence.

This could be a far tougher restriction than now. The law will encourage binge-drinking only if councils and communities allow it. They must not.

Why can ministers not say this? …

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