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Britain fighting battle of the binge

A group representing about half of Britain’s pubs and bars said Monday it is curbing Happy Hour offers and other deals that encourage irresponsible drinking, a pastime that has come under attack from the government.
People enjoy drinks Monday on a bar's terrace in central London. British Beer and Pub Association, representing about half Britain's pubs and bars said it is curbing “Happy Hour” offers that encourage irresponsible drinking.Lefteris Pitarakis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Beer-swilling Britons face a sobering prospect: an unhappy hour.

A group representing about half the country’s pubs and bars said Monday it is curbing Happy Hour offers and other deals that encourage irresponsible drinking, a British pastime that has come under increasing attack from the government.

It’s not quite “The Death of Happy Hour,” as the Daily Mirror newspaper headline put it Monday.

Publicans can continue to host and advertise Happy Hours, as long as they don’t spur people to drink too much, too quickly. Offers that invite customers to drink for free after paying a cover charge, for example, will be out. Half-price drinks will be allowed, but only if done responsibly with say, offers of food, too.

“We’re not banning promotions, we’re just banning irresponsible promotions,” said Christine Milburn of the British Beer and Pub Association, which issued the guidelines on behalf of some 70 companies that own about half of Britain’s 60,000 pubs.

The move follows government attempts to curb excessive drinking, which it blames for much of the crime and violence in cities. Binge drinking, especially on weekends, is one aspect of social disorder that Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he intends to tackle during his third term.

Pros, cons from owners, customers
The new Happy Hour rules left some drinkers, well — unhappy. “They’re taking away our freedom,” said Sid Smith, 34, from London.

But some pub owners applauded the move, saying happy hours tend to draw the riffraff.

“You get a certain type of clientele looking for a cheap drink,” Judd Joyce, 39, manager of The City Retreat. “We’re better than that.”

Government studies suggest binge drinking is involved in two out of five drinking sessions by men. Police say alcohol is a factor in 44 percent of violent crimes.

It’s a problem that reaches into the royal family. Prince Harry, younger son of Prince Charles, was snapped taking a few swings at a photographer in October after a late night of drinking.

“By far the biggest problem we have had is so-called ’happy hours’ but also irresponsible drinks promotions, which can last all night and which encourage people to drink and drink and drink,” said Inspector Bill Whitehead of Sussex police, south of London.

Clear and growing problem’
Blair highlighted his concern about binge drinking a year ago, when he spoke of “a clear and growing problem on our town and city centers up and down the country on Friday and Saturday nights.”

“As a society we have to make sure that this form of what we often call binge drinking doesn’t become a British disease,” Blair said.

In January, Blair’s government offered police new powers to ban drunks from pubs and close down problem premises. Under the proposals, bar staff caught selling alcohol to people already drunk would be fined. Police would be allowed to close pubs selling alcohol to those under 18.

Many blame Britain’s culture of binge drinking on the 11 p.m. closing time, which prompts many to guzzle alcohol.

Under laws that take effect in November, pubs and bars will be allowed to open and close any time they like. The government hopes that will encourage a more responsible and relaxed attitude to drinking, and remove the 11 p.m. flashpoint when drunks surge into the streets.