Pubs to open all night, but thugs face life ban

Jack Straw reveals radical reforms to allow 24-hour drinking, with tough new powers for police to deal with rowdy customers
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The Independent Online

Drinkers who become violent will be banned from pubs for life and police given the power to close down rowdy premises instantly under wholesale changes to Britain's licensing laws.

Drinkers who become violent will be banned from pubs for life and police given the power to close down rowdy premises instantly under wholesale changes to Britain's licensing laws.

The tough new sanctions were unveiled by the Government yesterday as it announced plans to allow pubs and shops to sell alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week in appropriate areas. The long-awaited White Paper on licensing called for the abolition of current restrictions on opening hours and proposes a new system to covering pubs, clubs, off-licences, cafés, theatres and cinemas.

In a Commons statement, Jack Straw said he wanted pubs to stagger closing times to prevent the "binge drinking" that was the trigger for most city-centre violence after 11pm. To compensate for the more liberal regime, local residents will be strongly protected and there will be a clampdown on under-age drinking.

Police will have new powers to order immediate closure of rowdy premises and to shut down pubs and clubs in a "geographical area" in town centres for 24 hours if worried about disorder. Anyone convicted of violent behaviour in pubs could be banned for life from all licensed premises, a huge increase from the current two-year maximum ban.

To tackle football hooliganism, a loophole allowing the sale of alcohol on trains will be closed to ensure drink-free travel on match days. Off-licences near football grounds can closed down for the first time. A new offence of buying alcohol for someone under 18 will be created and anomalies allowing children as young as five to consume drinks in pub gardens will be scrapped.

The Home Secretary said some aspects of the law had barely changed for a century and had to be changed to give greater freedom for drinkers while improving public order. "Fixed closing times encourage binge drinking around last orders. The result is lots of people hitting the streets, and sometimes each other, at the same time," he said.

Under the new system, to be operated by local authorities rather than magistrates, all licensed premises will be able to apply to sell alcohol round the clock. However, licensing authorities will have to assess the impact on local residents and will be able to impose conditions such as soundproofing, CCTV or registered door staff. The paper also proposes allowing Welsh districts to ban alcohol sales on Sundays. Other new measures include licences for all outlets serving food between 11pm and 5am, including burger bars and cafés.

About 78,000 pubs and bars and 45,000 shops and supermarkets nationwide will be affected by the plans, which the Government said will save the drinks industry £1.9bn over 10 years in reduced red tape costs.

Both the drinks industry and police chiefs welcomed the reforms, emphasising the need to cut the law and order problems associated with closing time. Rob Taylor, the Assistant Chief Constable of Manchester and the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman on licensing, said: "We support the removal of the rigid permitted hours which are so clearly linked to peaks of crime and disorder."

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