The new government are planning to review the operation of the 2003 Licensing Act in response to concerns about the disorder caused by so-called “24-hour drinking”. But, in reality, there’s no such thing as 24-hour drinking – it’s just a typical piece of Daily Mail scaremongering. I’d be surprised if there was a single pub or bar in the country that actually was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the sale of alcohol. It’s also a misconception that these problems have only developed after 2005 when the Act came into operation. Before then, plenty of pubs in town and city centres already had extended hours, while nightclubs were open until 3 am, and there was no shortage of alcohol-related disorder on the streets. From what I’ve read, the general experience of senior police officers has been that things are no worse than they were before, albeit a bit more spread out through the small hours.
Personally I gain very little from the extension of licensing hours, and there are probably only a couple of occasions each year when I take advantage of being able to have a drink in a pub after 11 pm. The ending of afternoon closing in the 1980s made much more of a difference to me. But it would be a seriously retrograde step to revert to generalised 11 pm closing, and that caused problems of its own with crushes and fights at kebab shops and taxi ranks. Certainly in my experience it’s much easier to get a cab home from the pub at closing time than it used to be.
The problem is not in the hours themselves but in our toxic drinking culture that perversely stigmatises moderate drinking while celebrating gross excess. It is no longer, as it once was, seen as a point of pride to be able to “hold your drink”. Maybe the answer is for the police to make more use of the powers they already have to bang people up in the cells overnight for being drunk and disorderly. Once the word got around, that would send a salutary message to weekend revellers to keep their drinking under control.
And it has to be said that you never see any of this disorder associated with pubs majoring on cask ales and craft beers – perhaps if people were encouraged to take more of an interest in what they were drinking they would have a more responsible attitude towards it.