Last orders for binge drinking

November 24, 2002 ,

WALES has played a significant role in the history of drinking in the UK. Most famously, dry Sundays in Wales used to be the norm. Bibulous Cardiffians were able to circumvent these laws by going a few miles east into Monmouthshire, which counted as England for drinking purposes.

Now dry Sundays are to be permanently consigned to history with the abolition of the local referendums. Every Sunday in every part of Wales is now ‘wet'.

Less well known is the role of Welshman David Lloyd George, who as Prime minister during the First World War brought in the now defunct ‘afternoon break'.

Until a few years ago that all pubs had to close for two hours in the afternoon.
Lloyd George, worried at the tendency for wartime factory workers to stay in the pub all day, forced them back to work with the afternoon break.

It is, in a way, typical of British politics that this temporary wartime measure stayed in place for over 70 years, long after anyone has forgotten its purpose. For years, confused and disgruntled American tourists would grumble as they were unceremoniously thrown out of the pub before they had finished their pint and pie.

Now, however, the Government is committed to a radical reform of licensing laws, to allow licensed premises to sell alcohol 24/7, as the modern expression goes. Gone will be the illicit pleasure of the lock-in at the local.

You might find all this worrying, particularly if, like me, you live close to a rowdy pub selling cheap alcopops and lager to teenage tipplers, accompanied by loudly amplified music.

But another part of the plans should provide protection in residential areas. Licensing powers will be transferred from magistrates to councils, so that pubs which cause problems can be held to account by elected representatives.

Only a small percentage of premises away from residential areas are expected to be able to open all night.

Every Friday and Saturday night about 30-40,000 people are out drinking in Cardiff city centre. The idea is that if they don't all spill out onto the streets at the same time, there will be less trouble.

But staggered closing is not enough to solve the real problems alcohol can cause in town.

My colleague Jon Owen Jones MP has pointed out that there are usually just 8 police officers and one sergeant on duty in the city centre on weekends. If more officers are needed they have to be called in from other areas where they are sorely needed.
Surely there is a case to put a penny on a pint in city centre establishments to pay for more police. Jon Owen Jones has estimated that this would raise enough for 6 extra police officers for the city centre.

There is another area of the proposed legislation which needs looking at. For some reason, live music is picked on as needing a special license, when recorded music is exempt.

This means that a harmless sing-song around the piano would be illegal without a license, but amplified broadcasts of satellite music channels would not require permission. This is silly.

The right balance needs to be found. A good night out for some need not interfere with a good night's sleep for everyone else.