Dobson to lead Labour rebellion over plans for 24-hour drinking

The former health secretary Frank Dobson is to lead a Labour rebellion against government plans for the biggest liberalisation of licensing laws for 40 years.

Ministers plan legislation, expected to be included in the Queen's Speech, which will enable many more pubs and bars to open for 24 hours a day.

But Mr Dobson and other Labour MPs are demanding tight curbs on the number of round-the-clock licences granted. They are angry in particular at a proposal to deny councils the power to reject a licence application because an area already has too many late-night drinking-spots.

MPs, peers and local authorities are preparing a campaign of opposition to the legislation, arguing that it would lead to anti-social behaviour in many city centres.

Mr Dobson said he had the backing of 25 MPs even before the publication of the licensing Bill. He said: "Local authorities should be able to turn down booze and entertainment licences on the grounds that an area or neighbourhood has got enough or more than enough already. That's because they can be major sources of nuisance and disorder." Mr Dobson said he believed Tony Blair's commitment to tackling yobbish behaviour would help to water down the plans.

A minister acknowledged that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is handling the legislation, faced trouble over its plans. He agreed the Government could be forced to make concessions to prevent a drawn-out parliamentary battle.

The Home Office, which previously had responsibility for licensing, published a White Paper on licensing reform last year, but legislation was never prepared. It proposed round-the-clock opening "subject to consideration of the impact on local residents". But The Independent has learnt that its proposals have been toughened in the interim. One government source said: "You would be surprised at how liberalising its proposals are."

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