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Head-To-Head: 24-Hour Drinking

BBC News, Jan. 14, 2005

Former health secretary Frank Dobson is the latest figure to pour scorn on the government's plans to allow pubs to open around the clock.

Critics are now arguing that if opening hours are extended, the drinks industry should be subject to a levy to pay for the extra cost of policing.

And with politicians and police officers divided, even the drinks industry cannot agree on whether to relax licensing hours.

Mark Jones, chief executive of Yates Group, the owner of 153 pubs formerly known as Yates's Wine Lodges, is vehemently opposed to the reforms.

But Mark Hastings, of the British Beer and Pub Association, believes drinkers should be treated like adults and allowed to carry on after 11pm.

Mark Jones, Yates Group

We are totally opposed to the change in the law. We won't apply for any licences that extend our opening hours to 24 hours. A handful will open one or two hours later.

The latest we open is two in the morning. We have spent hundreds of thousands opening late, we provide food until one. There is already saturation on the number of late licences.

You could have a situation where an arms race develops. If one pub moves its hours on, another will have to. It could well spiral out of control.

Everyone seems to think it is a city centre issue. I'm talking about smaller towns. Where are the transport structures and the number of police? We operate in Taunton. I can't see the bus company running lots of extra buses at four in the morning.

This is coming at the wrong time for the industry. We are under pressure over binge drinking. We are going to lose support.

The industry is at a crossroads. We were the first company to ban happy hours. We launched an initiative to tackle binge drinking.

These changes would also mean a pub could open at eight in the morning.

There is already licence staggering, so not every pub closes at the same time.

How does the local authority decide which pub will be anointed as the last one to close? That will be the most profitable.

In a perfect world, we would be sipping Pernod and smoking Gauloises in outside cafes, but that isn't the UK.

If you operate in the late-night economy, you probably have to make a contribution. It would depend on how much we are talking about.

What I wouldn't want to see is if I'm going to spend [on a levy for extra policing] I don't want to see them nicking motorists on the M4, I want them in town centres.

We are very forward looking - if we were short-term we would be in favour of this bill.

Mark Hastings, British Beer and Pub Association

We are in favour of flexible drinking. All the stories about 24-hour drinking are wrong. There is not a single pub in the country that intends to open for 24 hours and not a single one of our customers that wants to drink for 24 hours.

Under the current law of this country, at 11pm you face two choices. You go home, or you go to a nightclub or bar pumping out loud music.

We want all adults, not just young adults, to have a social life after eleven in the evening.

We have just undertaken the latest in a regular series of surveys. The latest any pub is planning to open is until two in the morning. They will do that on a Friday or Saturday.

Most people have jobs or families and don't want to be in pubs or bars until three or four in the morning.

People might want to go out to dinner and have a drink afterwards. We don't live in a nine-to-five society, we live in a 24-hour society.

If you have a fixed closing time, you just shift all the problems until another time in the evening.

If you treat adults like grown-ups, they behave like grown-ups.

There is already a levy on the alcoholic drinks industry called tax - we are paying 22bn a year.

This year, the government will spend 10bn on all policing. From the sums we give to the government they could pay for two entire police forces and still have change left.

In every other country that has a flexible licensing system people behave in a different way than in Britain.

Story from BBC NEWS:

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