Pubs call time on happy hour to block binge drinking
By Simon Freeman, Times Online
The historic tradition of "happy hour" came to an end at thousands of pubs today with an industry-led ban on irresponsible drink promotions.
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), which represents 32,000 of the nation's 59,000 pubs, has outlawed cheap alcohol sales including drink-all-you-can schemes, amid growing concerns about Britain's binge-drinking culture.
David Blunkett threatened pub owners with statutory intervention 12 months ago when he was Home Secretary, after a 14 per cent rise in alcohol-fuelled violence.
The BBPA's announcement of its tough new policy comes as Parliament begins to debate Home Office policies outlined in the Queen's Speech today.
Mark Hastings, a BBPA spokesman, said: "Offers like pay £10 on the door and all drinks are free, drinking games and schemes that encourage people to drink too much too quickly have no place in our sector and we are determined to stamp them out.
He said: "Responsible promotions do have an important role to play in a pub business and are in the interests of consumers. Irresponsible promotions damage the reputation of the sector, drive down quality and standards and have no place in a well-managed licensed business.
"I don't think it's a silver bullet solution but it will certainly have an impact."
All pubs owned by Carlsberg, Heineken, Scottish & Newcastle, Youngs, Theakston and Diageo are joining the campaign. The All Bar One, Slug & Lettuce and Pitcher & Piano groups are taking part.
Mr Blunkett launched the assault on happy hour promotions in May last year, pledging to clamp down on pubs which leave young people "three sails to the wind by eight in the evening".
He said: "Three drinks for 50p in an hour will fuel extensive drinking later by very young customers who will then get themselves into difficulties. We reserve the right to act if the industry does not play ball."
A Home Office spokesman said the Government - which hopes to introduce 24-hour opening in November - continued to support schemes to end "speed drinking".
"The Government supports the drinks industry in working towards ending promotions which encourage speed drinking including all-you-can-drink and other happy hour sales," he said.
"We welcome the BBPA's positive engagement with this issue."
Mr Hastings said that cutting the cost of policing the effects of binge-drinking was not the "specific purpose" of the ban.
"However, if what we are doing helps tackle anti-social behaviour then it will have a positive effect on the police."
An original solution to tackle the problem was unveiled in Scotland in March. Ministers, knowing that they cannot set the price for drinks, instead introduced a minimum 48-hour time-limit for all drink promotions - making such offers commercially impossible.
Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, has long been determined to introduce a minimum price for alcohol. Legal questions over the threat to competition by such a move appear to have been resolved although legislation has yet to be formally drafted.
When will the British government let people think for themselves?
That's outrageous! Ban the BBPA! Do it for the beer drinkers!