The move, backed by police, is designed to bring drinking laws up to date for the 1990s. While drinking laws were radically revised in 1988 when all day drinking was introduced, some laws still date back to First World War attempts to curb drunkenness in vital munitions factories.
Under the new proposals laid out in a Home Office consultation document, pubs would be permitted to serve alcohol until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and registered clubs could add an hour to their late licences. Landlords would have to apply individually, giving magistrates absolute discretion over granting or refusing licences.
Tim Kirkhope, a Home Office Minister, said: "We need licensing laws that reflect the leisure needs of today and give people the opportunity to spend their money when they want to and where they want to.
"My proposals represent a further sensible and measured relaxation of licensing hours on what are the most popular nights of the week for enjoying a drink in the local pub. They also allow for responsible control by licensing authorities."
The new proposals, out for consultation until 30 August, will please brewers but may cause concern in the wider community in towns and cities already plagued by trouble at pub turning-out time.
A spokesman for the Brewers and Licensed Retailers' Association said: "We think it is good news for many pub customers. Longer hours do not lead to more drunkenness, but the very opposite is true. People can drink in a more relaxed manner and choose to drink when they want."
And the police do not believe the plans will cause major problems. Keith Povey, Leicestershire's Chief Constable and a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "The Police Service supports measured relaxation in the present licensing regime. The consultation is a welcome development and the proposals will be given favourable consideration by Acpo."
Dr John Rae, director of the Portman Group which was set up by the drinks industry to promote sensible drinking, said: "I don't think an hour of drinking will lead to more drunkenness and disorder. My view is these things depend on how well a pub is managed, the local authority's attitude to public transport, how well the sensible drinking message has got across."
But a spokesman for Alcohol Concern said: "Our feeling is that it would delay the problems surrounding chucking-out time, with people spilling on to the streets an hour or more later than usual. It would also be more difficult to get public transport. It's hard enough at normal closing time but it would be even harder at midnight, which might encourage more people to take their cars to the pub. It also might make people knock back a bit more than they would normally do."
A spokeswoman for the Methodist Church, which has long warned of the evils of alcohol, agreed that longer opening hours could encourage heavy drinkers to drink more.
"Research shows that one in four men drink too much and that 38 per cent of young men between 18 and 24 drink more than the recommended amount each week," she said.
"We would be concerned that longer opening hours would spur them on to drink even more. The heavy-drinking minority are the people who make the trouble."Reuse content