It has been reported that at the end of March 2007, when the licensing laws had been relaxed for just over a year, there were only 71 of these zones in the United Kingdom. Home Office officials now say that this figure has soared to 175.
The increased anti-social behaviour in these areas ranges from fighting and litter to drug dealing, pick pocketing and street robbery. Many of the problem areas are now found in small and previously quiet towns which used to have very few crimes of this nature. The situation in these areas is considered so bad councils have special powers to turn down planning applications for yet more bars to protect the public from further disorder.
The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster desires to register its unhappiness at the proposed extension to the licensing hours for the sale of alcohol. Anyone with an interest in the well being of society cannot but acknowledge that alcohol consumption is a serious problem. The proposed extension to the licensing hours will not be a benign law which will have little, or no affect, on the well being of many in society. This matter is critical to the spiritual, physical and mental welfare of many.
Our interest in opposing this extension to the licensing hours is motivated by our allegiance to the Word of God, which is to be the sole rule on all matters of faith and practice. The Word of God has much to say about the consumption of alcohol. Our interest is also stimulated by a sincere desire for the well being of each individual in society. Alcohol consumption takes a heavy toll on the health of many individuals. A cost which is irreparable. Another motive for responding the way we do is the further cost incurred by society in dealing with the consequences of alcohol consumption in general. This cost is incurred due to the number of healthcare resources used to deal with the consequences and also the loss of efficiency and prosperity in the economy.
The proposed extension to the licensing hours will not curb the consumption of alcohol nor deal with the growing problems which alcohol consumption brings. Rather they will exasperate the situation and increase the problems considerably. The question as to what motivates the Government to consider such an extension of the licensing hours certainly arises.
Problem of alcohol consumption.
That alcohol consumption is a major problem for society at large and government bodies to address, none can deny. The recent study by the Health Promotion Agency into drinking habits, patterns and lifestyle of drinkers in Northern Ireland makes sombre reading. It highlights many factors which are pertinent to the issues involved in extending the licensing hours. It is commonly accepted by all that there is under-reporting in the study and that the problems are worse than stated. Seventy per cent of adults drink in Northern Ireland. The percentage is even higher for younger people. Most drinking occurs at weekends. The youngest age groups have the highest incidences of weekend, binge drinking. The summary concludes that the majority of Northern Ireland drinkers are concentrating their drinking into a small number of sessions at the weekend. This inevitably gives rise to many social and personal problems. It also contributes a great deal to anti-social behaviour. The Prime Minister has recently drawn attention to pattern and consequences of the drinking culture in our society.
The teaching of the Word of God on alcohol consumption. The Free Presbyterian Church holds to a policy of total abstinence on alcohol consumption. We do so because:
1. Of the present evil nature of alcohol and the teaching of the Word of God to Abstain from all appearance of evil, 1 Thessalonians 5:22. The Bible calls drunkenness a sin. It is one of the works of the flesh which comes out of a sinful heart, Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
The consumption of alcohol in the Bible has no parallel with present day alcohol consumption. In the Word of God it was consumed in a diluted form, with only those who deliberately wanted to be drunk consuming it in an undiluted form. Alcohol strength was considerably lower in Bible times than today. Fermentation was the only process then known. The alcohol content, even through fermentation today, is a very low percentage. Distillation, which creates a far higher alcohol content, is a process of more recent invention. Bible times did not know anything of the spirits, strong beers, etc. which have the high alcohol content of today. Because of this difference, the alcohol industry has the appearance of evil and must be avoided.
2. It is not a wise course of action to be under the influence of any drug, Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. Any mood changing drug brings problems especially when it is abused. Alcohol is as potent a drug as any other abused by society today.
3. Alcohol consumption ought not to be something that we spend time doing, Proverbs 23:31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
4. Prolonged drinking, binge drinking in modern terminology, is explicitly warned against, Isaiah 5:11 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!
The research available to support our biblical conviction. Voluminous researches and surveys back up what the Word of God teaches. Human experience reflects accurately what the Scriptures say about issues like alcohol consumption.
The Health Promotion Agency’s ‘Adult drinking patterns in Northern Ireland’ underlines just how serious a matter alcohol consumption is in our Province. The most recent is a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences entitled ‘Calling time’ published in March 2004. The following points are made:
1. Drinking patterns. A number of these were observed:
i. Average annual consumption of alcohol 34 years ago was 7.1 litres of pure alcohol per adult aged 15 or over. Today the figure is 11.1 litres and this does not include the estimated 1.1 litres a head brought into the UK in travelling allowances particularly from France, 36 per cent of women in their 20s are binge drinkers, compared to 33 per cent of men. Britons are drinking 50 per cent more today than in 1970.
ii. The report highlights that the problem is most acute among young men. However, studies have shown that the number of women aged 16-24 drinking ‘unsafe’ amounts has almost doubled since 1988.
iii. The higher the average consumption, the higher the prevalence of heavy drinking.
2. Consequences. Increased alcohol consumption has contributed to a rise in health problems, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver are up ninefold among young people and women are suffering liver damage years before it is normally diagnosed. Excessive drinking is implicated in 33,000 deaths a year.
3. The effect on the Health Service. Alcohol related problems cause one third of hospital casualty cases at a cost to the NHS of £1.7 billion. Alcohol dependence syndrome accounts for over 30,000 hospital admissions per year. There are 50,000 hospital admissions as a consequence of alcohol. Around 20,000 people die prematurely, about a fifth of these because of acute drinking problems. Around 480 deaths are as a consequence of drink-driving; between 0.78 and 1.3 million children are affected by family drinking; and up to 20,000 are street drinkers.
4. The impact upon society. The report reckons that the cost of alcohol related crime has topped £7.3 billion and a further 4.7 billion in human and emotional costs is attributed to alcohol related crime. There are an estimated 1.2 million alcohol-related violent incidents every year;
5. The cost to the economy. Alcohol abuse costs up to £6.4 billion in lost productivity to the economy. Up to 17 million days are lost from alcohol-related absence from work and up to 20 million days are lost due to alcohol-related reduced employment activity.
Recommendations from this report by the Academy of Medical Sciences. A number of these are made:
1. Make alcohol harder to come by. The report suggests increasing the tax on alcohol, as much as double its present level. The relative price of alcohol is half what it was in 1970. A 10 per cent rise in price is estimated would lead to a cut of around 8 per cent in cirrhosis deaths.
2. This report calls for the curbing of the availability of alcohol. The reports calls for a reduction in the amount of alcohol people are allowed to bring into this country from abroad. Target the ‘booze cruises’.
3. It called for the UK to be brought into line with most of Europe by reducing the level of alcohol permitted in drivers, thus reducing road deaths.
4. It also called for a review of alcohol advertising and promotion.
None of this research supports the proposal to extend licensing hours. Rather it is an argument for the opposite. The longer the opening hours the higher the consumption. The higher the consumption the greater the problems.
The experience of other countries. The liberalisation of alcohol laws in southern Ireland has been described as a dangerous failure. This is the strong message behind the Irish Government's swift moves to curb alcohol abuse. Measures which, it is hoped, will pass through the Dail and the Senate, include a ban on serving people who are already drunk and making it illegal for under-18s being in pubs after 8.00 p.m.
The Bill introduced by the Minister of Justice will also make licensees responsible for the conduct of drinkers on their premises, ban "happy hour" and "drink as much as you can" promotions, allow the covert monitoring of bars by police, the restriction of opening hours on Thursdays, and allow for the temporary closure of bars which violate regulations.
Between 1989 and 1999 consumption of alcohol in Ireland increased by a staggering 41 per cent, bringing the country to the top of the European league. In the last thirty years consumption has tripled. Ireland also has the unenviable distinction of leading Europe in the number of 15 and 16-year old binge drinking whilst at the same time being the only country where girls now equal boys as far as this particular phenomenon goes.
The proposed measures in Ireland stand in contrast to those which are proposed by the British Government, in its new Licensing Bill, which is intent on liberalising the law. The liberalisation of licensing laws in Ireland some time ago has been a major contributor to the problems its Government are now seeking urgently to remedy.
The influential Irish Times says in an editorial: "The consequences of excessive drinking are visible late at night on the streets of our cities, towns and villages. They are reflected in crowded accident and emergency wards in hospitals and, all too frequently, victims of alcohol-related violence end up on mortuary slabs. The rise in alcohol consumption was facilitated by longer pub opening hours, introduced some years ago, and it has been reinforced by extensive advertising and promotional campaigns."
Claims and Realities. Many false claims have been made by those lobbying for the extension of drinking hours. These need to be challenged. The following details are given on the Institute of Alcohol Studies website. Although they deal with issues on the mainland they still have a relevance to Northern Ireland.
Claim – The public wants the law changed so that pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs can open when they like, even 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Reality - In an NOP Poll in 2000 some 59% of the population and 71% of women thought it would be a bad thing to extend drinking hours at night. The majorities in favour of keeping 11 pm closing in residential areas were even greater.
Claim - If the present fixed 11pm closing time is abolished pubs and bars will stagger their closing times.
Reality - Competition will ensure that most pubs/bars/clubs in an area will close at the same time, which will be as late as it is economically viable to stay open. Determined drinkers would anyway migrate to the last place open.
Claim – Longer drinking hours will reduce binge drinking as the 'artificially early' 11pm closing time approaches. Therefore less trouble at chucking out time and less alcohol related crime and disorder.
Reality - Maybe a bit, but there is plenty of 'binge' drinking earlier and plenty of drunk people emerge well before 11pm, often en route for clubs. Many have been enjoying prolonged 'Happy Hours' – these and other cheap drink promotions are unaffected by the Bill. Where fixed closing times have been abolished there has been no overall reduction of alcohol related incidents. Some places have had increases – this has led Edinburgh to re-instate fixed hours and earlier closing in some areas.
Claim – A reduction of 'panic' drinking as 11pm approaches will make life easier for police.
Reality - Maybe a bit, but many pubs and bars in areas outside the City Centres will now be open in the small hours. These additional areas and hours will have to be patrolled by police. More resources will be needed, but no additional funding is offered so additional police costs will impact on local tax payers.
Claim – If we are all able to drink when we like British drinking culture will become 'civilised', like Europe.
Reality - British drinking culture, particularly that of the last few years based on the youth market, will not be changed by this sweeping de-regulation of licensing hours. It is wishful thinking to ignore national cultural differences in this field, including the Mass Volume Vertical Drinking promoted by our national operators. In any case the new licensing laws would make Britain's alcohol industry the least regulated in Europe.
Claim - We are losing foreign tourism because tourists don't understand our licensing laws.
Reality - No factual evidence of this. There are already plenty of clubs etc. open for foreign tourists who are looking for night life. Britain's reputation for public drunkenness is already deterring some tourist business.
Claim - Flexible and longer opening hours will not lead to an overall increase in alcohol consumption.
Reality - Why should the alcohol and entertainment industry support the new law so enthusiastically if they do not expect to increase turnover and profit?
Claim - The new licensing system will save the licensed trade £1.9 billion over the next 10 years.
Reality - If so, how nice for them! But the level of fees that the Government are proposing to allow the Councils to charge are far below the true costs of administering the licensing system proposed. The Government claims that Councils are already profiteering from PEL charges – this is disputed by Councils. The Council Tax payer will be subsidising the licensed trade.
Claim - Only 2% of licensed premises will want to open 24 hours. (DCMS Minister Tessa Jowell)
Reality - This maybe so but many premises, particularly those owned by national pub companies and leisure groups, will open until 1 am, 2 am, 3 am etc. These are the ones that mainly generate drunken mayhem in the streets. And noise at these hours is more damaging in our homes.
Claim - New powers for police to close premises temporarily will ensure that they are well managed.
Reality - Useful if police have resources. But no landlord can be made to take responsibility for disorderly behaviour on the streets outside and in the locality – which is where it mostly affects the public and residents.
Claim - The police are in favour of the proposed changes to licensing law.
Reality - There are some good things in the proposed laws which the police at top level (ACPO) did not oppose at the consultation stage, though many officers who deal with licensing and its consequences on the street had major reservations. Now that ACPO has studied the actual Bill they have tabled serious objections and are seeking changes.
Claim - It will be more democratic for licensing to be done by local Councils than by the present Licensing Magistrates. This will 'increase accountability to local residents whose lives are fundamentally affected'. (Jack Straw, as Home Secretary).
Reality - The Government is not allowing Local Councils to implement the new system in a way that is appropriate to their community. Councils will be a rubber stamp for the Department of Culture's view of what is good for us. Now that they have studied the actual Bill and the detailed Guidance (instructions!) issued by DCMS Local Authorities, through the LGA, are pressing for important changes, including the right to recover the true costs, including monitoring and enforcement.
Claim – The changes will encourage a more diverse range of licensed premises with more choice for us.
Reality - Diversity will be reduced as smaller independent restaurants etc. are damaged by the growth of large bars based on profitable MVVD (mass volume vertical drinking) and music events. The bill will give a huge boost to the youth based mono-culture promoted by the big leisure, drink and pub companies.
These assessments have been based on :
* The Licensing Bill, its Explanatory Notes and Guidance under Clause 177 issued by the DCMS.
* Research by the 'Open All Hours?' Working Party (Civic Trust, IAS, community groups and local authorities)
* Government replies to amendments/debate in House of Lords – Hansard (Nov-Jan)
* Experience of RCAS and other Bristol groups with 8 years involvement in licensing matters.
* Redland & Cotham Amenities Society (RCAS) Revised January 2003
The only appropriate course of action. In the light of the teaching of the Word of God, the research which has been done and the reports which have been issued, the only appropriate course of action to take is the abandonment of any attempt to extend licensing hours. An extension to drinking hours will only make the problem worse not better. To press on regardless of the evidence that warns of the consequences is not in the best interests of society. The powerful lobbying of the alcohol industry ought to be withstood and a courageous stand taken against their insistent demands for the good of society. The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster calls upon you to desist from seeking to extend the drinking hours of licensed premises.