| A man carries pints of Guinness in a pub. (Reuters)
London, Nov. 14 (Reuters): British bartenders have been yelling “last orders” shortly before 11 pm since World War I but plans to scrap arcane drinking laws could soon change the face of the nation’s pub culture.
The government, taking aim at the binge-drinking, fighting and general thuggery that fills city streets when pubs empty out drunken customers at the same time, is set to publish a legislative Bill tomorrow to usher in round-the-clock opening.
With more flexible licensing laws, Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to “encourage a more civilised culture in pubs, bars and restaurants,” the government says. The Bill could be approved by the end of next year.
The planned shake-up, which would bring Britain in line with much of Europe, has brought merriment to boozers, landlords and to tourists who are often baffled when bartenders ring the 11 pm closing bell and ask them to drink up and get out. Police who face peaks in yobbish behaviour at closing time also favour the change, which Blair has said will go hand-in-hand with tougher laws to crack down on rising street crime.
But the plans for longer drinking hours, one of Blair’s 2001 re-election pledges, has some alcohol researchers and residents’ groups up in arms. Many think freeing up access to booze will simply fuel more of the yobbery that Blair is so keen to smash.
While some Britons’ drinking habits are gradually becoming more European, there is no guarantee that flexible opening times will convert the general British public to the drinking culture of say, the more wine-savouring southern Europeans.
“I came out tonight with the sole intention of getting pissed (drunk),” said Lee Robinson, 22, an off-duty member of the armed forces, on a night out in an upmarket district of London. His friends enthusiastically nodded in agreement.
The United Kingdom ranks well below other Western European countries in terms of alcohol consumption per capita but it is first by far in terms of the number of binge-drinking sessions — defined as five or more standard drinks on one occasion — according to Britain’s Institute of Alcohol Studies. It is ahead of Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy and France in that order.
“Here people go straight to the pub, they don’t eat, they just get wasted,” said Italian-born Ursula Rech, a 32-year-old lawyer living in London.
British drinkers get into more fights than their Western European counterparts, studies show, hence the fame of tanked-up British football hooligans around the globe.
A study by the Alcohol Concern group found that 40 per cent of those committing violent crime in Britain were under the influence of alcohol, according to their victims. Those in favour of longer drinking hours point to Scotland and the Isle of Man where pub owners' associations say flexible hours have led to a more sensible drinking culture.