Current legislation controlling pub and off-licence opening hours dates back to the 1960s. Mr Howarth said regulations must be modernised to reflect changing social trends and bolster the tourism and leisure industries. He told members of the British Institute of Innkeeping: "The time is right to blow away the cobwebs in British life by modernising the liquor licensing system. Under current laws, when it comes to the millennium, pubs in some places might be able to open until 12.30, others won't, depending on the decision of the licensing bench.
"We're not calling for total deregulation - of course there must be controls. But people should be able to decide when they want to go out and where they want to go. If you can drink until midnight or beyond in Edinburgh and Paris, why can't you in London, Leeds or Cardiff?
"Our first task is to examine the current system and come up with practical proposals for change which will command wide support from both the public and industry. Paramount in drawing up proposals will be balancing the rights of business and consumers with residents' rights to be free from disorder and violence, or other kinds of disturbance."
The Home Office will be looking at all licensing issues, including what types of licences there should be, who should license, hours and conditions, the process for issuing them and their enforcement.
A spokesman for the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association said they wanted a wholesale review of the law to enable all pubs to open from 8am to midnight, with even later licences granted more readily. The association also called for greater consistency across the United Kingdom.Reuse content