Licensing laws to let pubs open all hours

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Alcohol could legally be on sale 24 hours a day under government proposals to remove the current licensing laws in England and Wales.

Alcohol could legally be on sale 24 hours a day under government proposals to remove the current licensing laws in England and Wales.

A White Paper to be published in the new year is expected to recommend all-night opening where there is little likelihood of disturbance to residents. Under the plans, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, would allow most pubs to open until midnight or 1am and also permit 24-hour supermarkets to sell liquor through out the night. Some bars in city centres would be allowed to stay open until 2am or 3am.

Police and pub owners have long argued that the enforced closure of most bars at 11pm causes rushed drinking and results in severe problems as drinkers are all turned out on to the streets at the same time. Later closing times are also thought to reduce last-minute bingeing.

The proposed changes represent the biggest shake-up to the licensing laws since the present opening hours were introduced during the First World War to stop drunkenness among munitions workers.

Tim Hanson, of the Brewers, Licensees and Retailers Association, applauded the move. "It's very good news for pub-goers because it gives them greater flexibility to go and enjoy a drink at a time that is suitable to them," he said. "We have been asking the Home Secretary about just such a move for a long time."

In the foreword to a draft of the White Paper, Mr Straw says: "The current licensing system is an amalgam of 19th-century legislation and later additions. The law is, therefore, complex and involves a great deal of unnecessary red tape."

Big cities in Scotland, Europe and United States have long enjoyed more relaxed licensing laws and the Home Secretary's move will bring England and Wales into line with the rest of the world.

Mr Hanson said: "We have 24-hour cities, and our licensing laws should reflect this."

The Government will hope to stave off criticism from anti-drink campaigners by including a clampdown on under-aged drinkers in any new legislation. There will be tougher penalties for anyone providing alcohol to under-18s and publicans who do not check the ages of those buying drinks will face big fines or prison sentences.

The Portman Group, which is funded by the drinks industry and campaigns for sensible drinking, said: "We recommend that the Government introduce a voluntary proof of identity card such as the one that we produce. If a bartender is in doubt they could demand to see a card before serving a young-looking drinker."

Britain's bar and pub culture is important to the economy and the drink industry - which generates £25bn a year - also provides more than a million jobs in Britain.

Mr Straw said: "Ordinary people want - and should have - the opportunity to enjoy themselves with a drink or meal at any time without fear of violence, intimidation or disorder. We need modern laws to deal with an old problem. They should allow people to enjoy their leisure as they wish, provided this does not disturb others."