On the attack

Related tags New licensing act Daily mail Drink Alcoholic beverage

The licensed trade is under siege again. But the industry has been working hard to correct the misconceptions. Michelle Perrett reports.It looks like...

The licensed trade is under siege again. But the industry has been working hard to correct the misconceptions. Michelle Perrett reports.

It looks like pubs are the pariahs of society again, pushing people into binge-drinking and forcing them into drink-related disorder. The national onslaught from the Daily Mail has seen pubs accused of acting irresponsibly by planning to throw open their doors 24 hours a day when the new Licensing Act comes into force, "fuelling the binge-drinking epidemic that blights Britain".

The paper claims that the new laws are seeing a backlash from the police, doctors and MPs who are opposed to the law.

Even more scandalously it accuses the drinks industry of influencing government policy by wining and dining Andrew Cunningham, the head of alcohol and licensing at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). Former health minister Frank Dobson MP claimed that the drinks industry had "burrowed" its way into the heart of government.

The Daily Mail campaign wants an end to the new licensing regime and is putting pressure on culture secretary Tessa Jowell, to stop the reform.

"A fairy tale"

Industry response was swift, with the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) calling the idea of 24-hour drinking a "fairy tale" while licensees and pub chiefs denied they had any plans to open round the clock. Even Ms Jowell dismissed the Daily Mail's claims, saying: "I would be opposed to 24-hour drinking, for goodness sake; pubs are not going to be open around the clock."

Unfortunately, despite attempts by the pub trade and The Publican to explain the new Licensing Act to the Daily Mail, this view has been ignored.

The Publican's Market Report 2004​, a survey of 700 licensees across the country, found that only one per cent of licensees plan to apply to open 24 hours all week, while two per cent are planning to open round the clock at the weekends. The majority would simply like to open for an extra hour on Friday or Saturday evenings.

The DCMS confirmed The Publican statistics. It said: "Only a tiny fraction of bars will apply to open 24 hours - perhaps only one or two per cent - and then only if the police, local residents and businesses raise no objections."

The BBPA has also spoken out against the claims. "As far as we are aware not one pub intends opening for 24 hours and none of our customers want to drink for 24 hours," said Mark Hastings, director of communications.

Police pressure

More surprising is the backlash the new Licensing Act and the trade is receiving from the police. The Daily Mail says it has the support of the majority of police officers who want the new system to be stopped, although there appear to be divisions at the Association of Chief Police Officers over the issue.

Tony Payne, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers' Associations, says the police should use the current powers they have to shut problem premises and deal with people causing disorder.

"Police attended the meetings with the DCMS and I never heard them object," said Mr Payne. "If the police have a problem with thugs they can use anti-social behaviour orders."

John McNamara, chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, said: "Police have a far wider range of powers under the new act to deal with those businesses that act irresponsibly.

"24-hour drinking will not be part of the overall plan, but a reasonable extension to hours by approval from the local authority and in response to customer demand will be."

Open letter to the Daily Mail

Dear Editor

Thanks Daily Mail for doing your utmost to set back the essential cause of licensing reform and adding to public misconceptions about a complex issue.

Why wait until less than a month away from the beginning of the new licensing regime to launch your campaign, following years of wide-ranging consultation on the new laws?

And why your obsession with 24-hour drinking? Yes pubs will be able to apply to open 24 hours under the new Licensing Act. But local authorities will be duty-bound to listen to the concerns of local communities and make their own decisions on each and every case when the new regime comes in.

Most importantly, 98 per cent of pubs do not even want to open around-the-clock. According to The Publican's survey of more than 700 licensees carried out five months ago, only one per cent of pubs wish to open 24 hours every day of the week, with the proportion rising to just two per cent at weekends.

Many want the flexibility to extend their opening hours by just an hour or two, without having to force people out of the door at 11pm and inadvertently encourage them to down their drinks as quickly as they can before closing time.

The pub trade is as appalled as anyone about the scenes of binge-drinking and violence which you have highlighted in your pages over the past few days. But is there really anything new about this? Is the shocking violence that can be associated with binge-drinking the novelty here - or is it the media's obsession with it?

For pubs, the key issue is that they currently operate under an antiquated law which says they must serve their last drinks before 11pm. The police will not need reminding that the vast majority of violent incidents take place at around this time, as drinkers pile out onto city-centre streets, itching for something more. Staggered closing times, rather than the 11pm shutdown, will defuse rather than fuel the potential for violence.

Moreover, many in the trade would argue against your assertion that longer opening hours will mean people will drink more. Most drinkers are likely to go out with the same amount of money in their pockets or take the same amount of money out of the cashpoint. And, of course, many will continue to drink cheap alcohol bought from the supermarket, often at a quarter of the price of drinks sold in pubs, at home before they go out.

It is a pity your campaign makes no reference to the effect of supermarket prices on the weekend crowds. Would it be more effective for you to campaign against the supermarkets and the laissez-faire attitude of the government which allows them to sell alcohol at such ridiculous prices, and continue to expand unchecked into local stores?

Look at the bigger picture please. Despite your campaign, and Michael Howard's predictable jump onto the latest bandwagon with his Commons motion, the pub trade hopes and believes that the government will stick to its guns and continue with a policy which will result in less, not more, potential for trouble.

No thanks to you though.

Daniel Pearce, News Editor, The Publican

10 Daily Mail myths

Here are 10 Daily Mail myths about the new Licensing Act

  • Myth:​ There will be 24-hour opening.

Reality:​ Few if any pubs will want to open round the clock. The Publican's own research showed only one per cent are considering applying for a 24-hour licence. The local authority and residents have the right to object to this.

Myth:​ There is no evidence that the public is in favour of flexible opening hours. The Daily Mail calls it 'a drink sodden law that no one wants'.

Reality:​ The Publican's Pubgoers Survey of 400 customers revealed that just over half of pub-goers would like to see longer-hours, with 17 per cent of those favouring 24-hour opening all week, 28 per cent would like to see 24-hour drinking at weekends and 21 per cent midnight closing at weekends.

Myth:​ Virtually all police forces are in support of the Daily Mail campaign.

Reality:​ President of the Association of Chief Police Officers Chris Fox believes the act should go ahead.

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