The Marketplace Report: Pubs Open All Night in U.K.

Madeleine Brand speaks with Stephen Beard of Marketplace, reporting from London on a major change in British liquor laws that will allow some pubs to stay open all night. Fans of the change cheer the new freedom, while opponents worry that it will encourage alcohol abuse.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

People in most parts of Britain can now get a drink at any time of day or night. In a major shakeup of the national liquor laws, pubs and bars in England and Wales can now get a license to operate around the clock. The British government says the new law will promote a more civilized attitude toward drinking, but critics say it will lead to more public drunkenness and disorder. Joining us from the "Marketplace" bureau in London is Stephen Beard.

And, Stephen, are you sober?

STEPHEN BEARD ("Marketplace"): Just about. Not comatose yet. But, in fact--I mean, the real test is going to be Friday and Saturday night, not for me, personally, but for the whole country. That's when the hard drinkers will be out in droves. That's when we'll see whether these longer pub opening hours are going to fuel a national binge.

BRAND: Well, this is a pretty big change, isn't it?

BEARD: Yes, it is. I mean, until now licensing laws have been quite strict here. They were established during the First World War. They were designed to keep the munitions workers sober, to make sure they couldn't pop into the pub on the way to work and they couldn't stay in the pub drinking all night after work. Pubs were allowed only to open at 11 in the morning and had to close at 11 at night. Now this new legislation allows pubs and bars to apply to extend their opening hours. If they want, they can stay open as long as 24 hours a day.

BRAND: Well, I imagine a lot of people are just overjoyed by this, but that there are some who are opposing it.

BEARD: There's been, actually, a lot of opposition to this. The police, for one, were not very happy. Britain has got a big problem with booze, with binge drinking and public drunkenness. Every Friday and Saturday night in many British towns the streets are literally heaving with hundreds of drunken youths brawling and throwing up. So a lot of people are worried about yet more public disorder, and many doctors, like Ian Gilmore at the Royal College of Physicians, fear a big increase in alcohol-related illnesses.

Dr. IAN GILMORE (Royal College of Physicians): The industry's own figures suggest that there will be a 10 percent increase in consumption and that's gonna mean more alcohol-related harm. It'll probably put 20 or 30 percent on rates of cirrhosis, for example, if the consumption in this country goes up 10 percent.

BEARD: Needless to say, the drinks industry, however, is very much in favor of the longer opening hours.

BRAND: And how does the government defend this?

BEARD: Well, the government says, in fact, this is going to lead to more responsible and civilized drinking because people won't feel the need to gulp down those extra drinks before closing time. They'll drink more moderately. And they won't all be spilling out onto the streets at the same time, all spoiling for a fight. So there won't be a law and order problem, say the government. All this, however, is going to be tested to destruction in the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, the real party season, by the new year, say the critics. The government will be horribly hung over and deeply ashamed of its legislative excess.

BRAND: A still sober Stephen Beard of public radio's daily business show "Marketplace," and "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media.

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