'TIME TO GET TOUGH ON BINGE DRINKING'

Southern Daily Echo – 8 February 2005

Challenged by one of his own MPs to reject the scheme for 24-hour drinking, the Prime Minister said that Britain should

"have the same flexibility as other countries have, but we should come down really hard on those who abuse that freedom".

The trouble is that the Government has failed to control binge drinking and consequent violence and disorder, even with restricted opening hours, so why should it do any better if and when those restrictions are removed?

Recently some horrifying statistics have been issued charting a dramatic rise in recorded offences of violence against the person. In the New Forest there were about 1,000 per year between 1999 and 2002. By 2003 the total exceeded 1,400 and in 2003/04 it amounted to 2,188 – a 137 percent increase on the 1999 figure.

Given that so much violence and disorder is fuelled by alcohol, this hardly suggests that the Government is getting a grip on the problem. Tony Blair says:

"the law-abiding majority who want to be able, after going to say the cinema or theatre, to have a drink at the time they choose should not be inconvenienced''.

Has there been any great groundswell of opinion protesting against such "inconvenience"? If so, it has passed me by. What has not passed me by are the complaints by the law-abiding majority who do not feel safe in their homos or their localities because of the abusive and criminal minority who make everyone's life a misery by drunken misbehaviour.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis has promised that an incoming Conservative Government would delay the new laws allowing 24-hour drinking in licensed premises until after the problem of binge drinking has been solved. This would involve a policy of zero tolerance by the police and the granting of powers to local authorities to deal with problem premises.

It would be up to local councils to decide if there were already enough bars or pubs in any given neighbourhood and to limit the number of them in areas which were clearly prone to trouble.

One of the Government's own advisors has accused it of suppressing evidence from its own reports which damaged the case for extending licensing hours, saying:

"The more a country drinks, the bigger its problems are. All the evidence suggests that in order to reduce the harm caused by alcohol you have to reduce the availability and increase the price, which probably isn't politically very acceptable."

A Judge recently deplored the role of drink and drugs in creating

"ugly urban savages"

and making

"towns of England revolting and dangerous places at night".

A professor of addiction studies has demanded the immediate abandonment of plans for 24-hour drinking.

Most telling of all, the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire has ridiculed the Government's analysis as nothing more than a promised land of happy drinkers raising their glasses over hours of relaxed chit-chat and parting company peacefully at 4 am with quiet goodnights and friendly waves to the local bobby

Genuine deterrents and punishments are needed.

JULIAN LEWIS