Pubs in plea for modern licence system

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The Independent Online
PLANS TO update England's outmoded drinking hours have been unveiled by the licensed trade.

Calling for a "more modern and flexible" system, the drinks industry suggested licensees should be granted a personal licence for life. The system would be policed by an authority that would hear any objections from residents or other problems with allowing a venue to extend opening hours.

In July last year a report on opening hours in England and Wales recommended greater flexibility. Lord Haskins, chairman of the Better Regulations Task Force, said he saw no reason why pubs in city centres should not be open 24 hours.

Among Britain's European Union partners, bars and restaurants can choose to shut at their own discretion as long as they are registered.

At present, 110,000 pubs, clubs, hotels and restaurants in England and Wales are regulated by individuals being linked to the premises by licences that have to be renewed every three years. Closing-time extensions are obtained by application at special hearings of magistrates. Critics say this leads to inconsistency, with too much power in the hands of local authorities.

The industry hopes its ideas will form part of government consultation papers on reform of licensing law, due to be published next year. Martin Rawlings, director of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, said: "What we set out to do ... is to modernise the current system, which has been in use for about 100 years. We have had a system that has not worked very well."

The proposals were broadly welcomed. John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Panel on Licensing Reform, said: "If these proposals were implemented it would create a framework that fits modern-day reality."

But Alcohol Concern urged the Government to approach the issue of relaxing licensing laws with caution. The director, Eric Appleby, said: "Neither we, the Government nor the industry know the precise impact of the longer opening hours - and that is why it is essential to carry out pilot studies across the country to evaluate the likely effect on alcohol-related crime, disorder and nuisance."

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