More Booze, Less Belligerence?

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CBS

Beginning this week, pubs in Britain won't have to order drinkers out the door at the stroke of 11:00 every night.

The government argues it's the best way to stop a growing wave of violent behavior that erupts right after closing, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.

The British are about to embark on an exercise in social engineering based on what many think is an odd premise – that excessive drinking can be controlled by making it easier to drink.

That there's a problem is obvious. Not only is the consumption of alcohol rising, but the results of what the British call binge drinking have been spilling out onto the nation's streets with violent regularity. It's not only ugly, it's lethal.

Deaths from alcohol-fueled violence are up 18 percent since the year 2000 according to government statistics.

Part of the problem, the government says, is the drinking laws.

The fact that pubs have until now been forced to close at 11:00 p.m. means people have sped up their drinking just before the bell rings. They then stagger out onto the streets looking for – and often finding – trouble.

The proposed solution is to take a continental approach and extend drinking hours on the theory that people who drink with less urgency get less drunk.

It's not a theory the police accept.

"Instead of if you like the drunks finishing 11 o'clock, midnight, thereabouts, this could potentially go on all night," says chief constable Ian Johnston of the British Transport Police.

It's also not a theory many city councilors accept either. Ian Wilder has been filming scenes of mayhem.

"It's a formula for disaster," Wilder says. "It's going to ruin the lives of thousands of people in the center of the city."

In the face of this criticism, the government's been forced to defend its proposal.

"It's a consistent and coherent effort to promote responsible drinking in our country and by a series of means, police powers, local authorities licensing rules and regulations," says British Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

Among the regulations now being added for the coming festive season are an on-the-spot fine of 80 pounds – roughly $150 – for drunk and disorderly behavior.

Drinking may get easier here – and more expensive.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com