LONDON – A plan to let pubs stay open all night is stirring opposition in Britain — where the beer is still best served warm and before 11 p.m.
Opposition lawmakers and the police want the new law to be delayed until Britain brings violent and disruptive binge drinking (search) under control.
But the government says it will implement the law on schedule. Starting Feb. 7, pub and restaurant owners may apply for licenses to remain open around the clock. The extended hours will become effective in November, when the government issues an order in Parliament.
"We think it would not be sensible to proceed with 24-hour drinking until we have brought binge-drinking under control, " Conservative Party leader Michael Howard told British Broadcasting Corp on Thursday. "We think this bill should be postponed."
Few establishments are expected to stay open for 24 hours, and Prime Minister Tony Blair's (search) government believes that allowing them to choose closing times will encourage a more relaxed attitude to drinking, like that of continental Europeans.
As it now stands, many drinkers in Britain imbibe as much as they can as quickly as they can before the last call bell rings. Then they all stumble into the streets at the same time, often leading to fights and other drunken misbehavior.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke (search) agreed that binge drinking is a problem — but "that is not the same problem as the extension of licensing hours," he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio on Thursday.
"You have everybody coming out into the street looking for fast food, looking for cabs, and that is where scuffles and all the rest of it arise," Clarke said. "If you can phase the time at which the pubs and clubs close, you have a much easier problem to deal with."
The new laws, which also give police wider powers to deal with disruptive drinkers, have been criticized by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens as giving a license to heavy drinkers.
A senior judge said this week that easy access to alcohol was breeding "urban savages" who turned town centers into no-go areas at night.
Blair conceded in Parliament on Wednesday that Britain has a problem with binge drinking.
But he added, "My view of this is very clear: We should have the same flexibility that other countries have and then we should come down really hard on those who abuse that freedom and don't show the responsibility."