From midnight, First World War legislation is swept away

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The Independent Online

What's happening to the drinking laws?

All the old drinking laws are being replaced by a single liberal act - the 2003 Licensing Act. It's the biggest shake-up of drinks legislation for 50 years.

So what will that mean?

Broadly, pubs and bars in England and Wales will be able to open later than 11pm.

Where does 24-hour drinking come in?

Pubs, clubs and other licensed premises can apply to councils to open at any time, day or night. They may open 24 hours a day.

How many pubs are going to stay open late?

Most pubs will probably just stay open until midnight or 1am, according to the drinks industry. However some will stay open, particularly if there is a sports event in a different time zone. At least 240 pubs and clubs have been given 24-hour licences.

What about off-licences, supermarkets and hotels?

They too will be able to open round the clock. More than 100 hotels and 614 supermarkets have received 24-hour licences.

And late-night cafés?

Late-night cafés opening after 11pm now have to have a licence to open late even if they don't serve alcohol. Late-night entertainment venues (for instance cinemas) also need to be licensed.

So this affects a lot of premises?

About 200,000 pubs, bars, clubs, off-licences, cinemas, cafés, hotels and supermarkets; 70 per cent have applied for a variation of their existing permissions.

Why is the Government doing it?

Ministers say the old laws - which date back to the First World War - are archaic and confusing. They say we now need a new, Continental-style drinking culture where we don't rush to down pints. And, they say, dropping 11pm last orders when drinkers all spill out on to the streets at the same time will reduce fights. Publicans and club-owners who promote binge and under-age drinking face tougher sanctions.

So why has there been such a fuss?

The police say it will worsen street violence and disorder. Some doctors fear that allowing more drinking will worsen Britain's alcohol problem. Critics also say that because so many pubs will simply close at midnight, many of the 11pm kicking-out problems will remain.

So what do the critics think the Government should have done?

Introduce change more gradually. Allow local authorities greater powers to stagger licences rather than considering applications individually. Stipulate that publicans give wider notification of their plans - rather than just putting a note in the window and an advert in the local paper. Raise tax on alcohol.

When does the new regime start?

At the stroke of midnight. But many pubs probably won't start opening late then because they would have to close at 11pm tonight and re-open an hour later.