Pubs enjoy taste of all-day Sunday opening leaves pubs

Brewers predict that licensing law change will not increase takings
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The Independent Online
MATTHEW BRACE and

LUCY ROBERTS

Pubs and off-licences had their first all-day Sunday opening yesterday, following the introduction of new licensing laws.

The legislation means pubs can stay open continuously from noon until 10.30pm without having to lock their doors between 3pm and 7pm as before. Now, said the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, the traditional lunchtime drink should be a much more enjoyable activity.

Mr Howard was emerged at the beer garden of the County Members Inn, his local pub in Lympne, Kent, at 3.30pm yesterday, a pint of bitter in each hand.

Celebrating the new hours, he said: "Everyone will be able to benefit - both the public and the licensed trade."

"We don't need First World War restrictions on our enjoyment of the weekend and we shall continue to look for ways of removing outdated, unwanted and unnecessary rules."

For off-licenses too, Sunday is now a full working day. They were allowed to open yesterday from 10am until 10.30pm for the first time. And supermarkets can at last throw away the tarpaulins they had to put up during the dry hours to hide shelves groaning with bottles of alcohol.

The brewing trade hope the new hours will mean a review of the current 11pm weekday pub closing time. A spokesman for Pubmaster, the biggest chain of independent brewers, said the next stage was to work towards the extension of opening hours on Friday and Saturday nights from 11 to midnight.

Brewers predicted the new hours would bring an increase in trade in pubs situated in tourist hotspots, but doubted that local pubs would significantly swell their tills.

Matin Robinsons, a spokesman for Scottish & Newcastle, which opened two thirds of its 1,350 managed pubs between noon and 10.30pm yesterday, said: "Our decision to open community pubs is based on serving the local customers, although we don't expect an increase in takings. People only have a finite budget."

Licensees welcomed the move, even if it didn't result in dramatic increases in business. "Most people do not realise that it is time-consuming to open and close a pub twice in a day," said one. "Staying open will get rid of the hassle factor."

Once the good weather fades, most landlords are pinning their hopes on the draw from televised Premier League football matches on Sunday afternoons to pull in their customers.

The Church of England said it was concerned at the effect it would have on families trying to enjoy a peaceful day together and brewing analysts were sceptical about the difference it will make. "It's debatable whether locals who pop in for a pre-Sunday lunch drink might now stay on for lunch, and those that do may not now come back in the evening," said one.

Some areas of the United Kingdom will remain dry because of the presence of strict Presbyterian traditions. Large areas of Wales used to be dry on a Sunday, but have slowly relaxed their rules and some fear that soon they too will succumb to the new longer hours. Only parts of the Welsh speaking Llyn peninsular, which includes the holiday resorts of Porthmadog and Pwllheli, now close throughout Sunday.

Although all-day drinking has been allowed in Scotland since 1976, strict observance of the Sabbath in some parts of the Outer Hebridean islands means that only a handfull of hotel bars open during restricted hours.

In Northern Ireland, Sunday opening is to be implemented shortly. Though the area has a strong Presbyterian tradition, licensing is handled by the Northern Ireland Office and not local licensing authorities.

The relaxation of licensing indicates the increasing commercialisation of Sunday. Deregulation in the wake of new trading laws brought in last autumn has meant more shops staying open throughout the day. Supermarkets, and DIY and garden centres are now more restricted than when they used to open without permission leading, some say, to a drop in trade.

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