Should licensing laws be relaxed in the UK?

The differing concerns surrounding licensing relaxation have been of ongoing debate since 2000 and with the finalised law change intended to be implemented next month on November 24th the subject is at present been made 'fresh' and 'topical' within the media. The central area of conflict that the issue provokes arises from the fact that the many opponents of extending pub opening hours have been reported to be 'attempting to ambush the relaxation of licensing laws by using an arcane parliamentary procedure to force a delay in the changes next month' (Guardian Unlimited).

The final decision for the government to go ahead with, or delay the changes in law are predicted to have dramatic impact on many sections of society, affecting increasing groups of the public. For these reasons therefore and the fact the final outcome of the dispute could change peoples lives, this 'hot topic' will have a vast audience appeal. Market: Due to the controversial nature of the item and the fact that the eventual outcome of the dispute would directly or indirectly impact on endless groups within society, the audience appeal would inherently be of a broad scope.

The huge political interest that the subject entails in conjuction with the general vast appeal, would definitley make it ideal for a formal late afternoon/early evening factual programme, broadcasted within a studio based location, being suited to BBC 1. Background Information: The mass dispute that is presently being treated in the media over the possiblity of late licensing, although currently in the spotlight, has in actual fact been an issue of vast conflict for the government since as early as 2000.

Initial ideas for events of manipulating Britains licensing laws came to discussion after various government reports had delved into research over the UK's increasingly concerning drinking culture. The various reports made agreeable evaluations of Britain having adopted an offical 'binge drinking state', and further, of being in a now 'vulnerable condition, with an equally vulnerable future'.

Following the worrying results that these initial reports brought up, further research was carried out by different governmental departments into the affects that this new found 'culture' might be straining on British society and its public, including how the individuals who are part of this 'deathly drinking network' are being affected themselves. It was the remarkably shocking findings that these studies drew up that justified arguments for changes in licensing as a strategy to combat the varying issues raised.

Notably, it was the 'horrifying' figures on areas of society such as health, crime and employment that fuelled the arguments, with for example; The annual cost of the NHS being in region of i?? 1. 7bn – The annual cost of employers being in region of i?? 6. 4bn -Billions spent clearing up alcohol related crime and social problems -Alcohol related problems responsible for 22,000 premature deaths each year -Around 40% of A+E admissions between 12am and 5 am are alcohol related

It was the Home Office minister Hazel Blears who first officially suggested that by making dramatic changes to the opening hours of pubs and bars the problems mentioned above could 'help be solved'. Blears firmly stated that, 'the licensing bill would help in many ways, tackling a range of problems at different angles simply by removing the one single closing time that the law presently inforces. This, Blears's department further argued would undoubtably reduce the high levels of disorder in the major problem town centres'.

It was in April 2001, that the Government officially published the White Paper "Time for Reform: proposals for the modernisation of our licensing laws". The Licensing Bill was introduced in Parliament on 14 November 2002. On 10 July 2003, the Bill received Royal Assent, becoming the Licensing Act 2003 ("the Act"). The Act also provides a balanced package of freedoms and safeguards. It will have an important role in the prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance perpetrated by a minority.

It will give the responsible majority more freedom and choice about how they spend their leisure time. At present, the Government, The British Beer And Pub Association, and commerical interests are still clinging resolutley to the agreed line that 'everyone will be a winner' from the new Licensing Act, which they strongly believe will 'improve life for everyone', by bringing 'peace and calm to the streets with civilising drinking habits', without of course, encouraging people to drink 'anymore than they do now'.

Despite this confidence, everyone else remains fearful that the quality of life of more or less everyone except the binge drinkers and the business owners who sell the alcohol to them, will 'deteriorate'. Direct evidence of these concerns arose heavily over the past summer of 2005, where vocal opposition to the Goverment's plans was heard not just from parliament, but the police, the judges, local residents, and an acedemic, Professor Dick Hobbs, who accused it of actively promoting a 'binge economy'.

Those who are anti-law change believe the Government plans to be unfair, unjust and selfish in putting others lives in risk, whereas those who are pro-law change believe future plans to be realistic and although maybe radical highly necessery in aim of eventually providing the well awaited saviour to whats become an immensly problematic situation. Issues: A major issue that will arise depending on whether plans are put into action or not, is the debate over whether crime and disorder will be improved or worsened. The central argument here lies between the British Police Force against the Business economy and binge drinkers.

Firstly, the public service believe extending drinking hours will lead to a complete waste of valuable police time, when other crimes, such as female rape and domestic violence are on the increase and could be being dealt with more efficiently given more attention. Moreover, the police service members themselves who although are dedicated to their role of improving the state of the country, believe that the law change is hugely unfair to thoughtless to them, with one police officer from the metropolitan service who spoke out in recent weeks and actually said: "I don't want to work even more late and night shifts to cater for drunken idiots.

Why should we put ourselves at risk to clear up the mess on the streets? '. In addition to problems such as street crime and the immense cost that the law change entails for example of extra cctv, street security and licensee officers, – the police forces believe that other forms of crime will be worsened and made more challenging to combat. As noted before, since 1998, violent crime has increased by 83 per cent. There are now over a million violent crimes each year, and the police say that alcohol is largely to blame for this increase.

Every week in England and Wales, there are 23,000 incidents of alcohol-related violence and 360 drink-related sexual assaults. A shocking third of all domestic violence is related to alcohol misuse. The dispute over the possible impacts on crime and disorder remain a key issue as the businesses and binge drinkers are in particularly fierce opposition of opinion. There is a general belief from these groups that if anything, the police would be in a better position, having less pressure with crime levels being spread out more evenly, and that by having more time the police would be able to deal with crimes more efficiently.

Surveys from binge drinkers themselves also supported this notion of it helping reduce crime in that the 'hot spot' trouble places such as take-aways and taxi ranks would be less populated at any one time ultimatley reducing the chance of fights and other crime from breaking out. A secondary issue that arises from the possible law change and that has acted as an enhancement of further debate is over whether the present 'poor' standard of health of both the British people and the environment will be made worse.

Those who are pro-law change, as one would expect, believe that the situation would be helped as people are being encouraged to drink slower and generally be more responsible for themselves. However these ideas are strongly undermined by those anti-law change, who see only greater deteriation ahead if late licensing laws are implemented. They believe that the move would be a ludicrous decision to make just as Britain has in recent years developed one of the worst reputations in Europe for the issue of binge drinking.

'Young people within Britain under the age of 16, drink over twice as much as they did a decade ago,' (Guardian Unlimited). Furthermore, almost a third of all British 15-year-olds say that they have been drunk at some time in their lives. This figure compares dramatically to just one in 10 in France and Italy. The British Medical Journal reports that 'more than 2,000 drunken children are admitted to hospital every year'.

Moreover, 'liver cirrhosis is rising among 20 and 30-year-olds, and 70 per cent of all weekend night-time admissions to accident and emergency departments are linked to alcohol'. That is a problem that our ''already over worked doctors and nurses could do without. It is the health and condition of the environment that is of further concern with street urination, excessive littering and the noise pollution to many local residents predicted to worsen. As with crime and disorder therefore, health is an issue that breeds huge consideration when debating the conflict.

A recent development from Government proposals based on the law change, which had fuelled mass controversy and therby become a requisite issue to the item are the suggestions over the implemention of ADZs (Alcohol Disorder Zones) in town centres, and how they could help in line with late licensing to solve Britain's alcohol problems. ADZs are to be designated areas of town centres where there is an unacceptable amount of alcohol related crime, disorder and other problems. The basic idea behind these plans, is that in such zones, licensess will be required to make a special contribution to the cost of policing.

Apart from the Government, who believe this to be a good idea, the great majority of repondants from all sides of the licensing reform debate regard ADZs as 'an unworkable gimmick', that is designed primarily to persuade the gullible that the 'Government is being tough on alcohol related crime'. This amost universal condemnation of the idea has not, of course, deterred the Government from pressing ahead with it. The Bill introducing ADZs was given its second reading in Parliment on 20th June.

It has most notably been deeply critised by both the Association of Chief Police Officers, and the Circuit Judges. The comments of the Judges on the new Licensing Act, 'can only be described as contemptous'. There are many other reasons why the strategy would be inefficient including how one would show that a 'licensed premises is contributing to alcohol-related disorder'. Also, attempting to geographically define an area may be similarly difficult as invariably noncontributory premises may fall within the zone and conversely contributory premises that feed the problem might fall outside the zone.