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Tuesday, July 21, 1998 Published at 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK


Open all hours

Lord Haskins, the chair of the independent Better Regulation Task Force, has called for Britain's licensing laws to be radically reformed.

"They were designed in 19th century Britain. They're much too complex. They are much too inconsistent. They are much too rigid," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Lord Haskins says licensing laws were designed for 19th century Britain
His comments came ahead of the publication of a report which suggests the government should make changes such as allowing pubs to be open until midnight.

Currently the law requires pubs to serve last orders before 11pm, although licences and laws vary across the country. There are currently 40 different types of liquor licence.

'Public nuisance'

Lord Haskins said that during the Euro 96 football championships, "when they had some discretion about licensing hours in Manchester there was less trouble when people came out onto the streets".

"Pub licensing should be about public nuisance ... but there is no evidence that longer opening hours increases hooliganism - on the reverse, it reduces it.

"People drinking up very rapidly in the last half hour before closing time is a much greater problem than if they have leisure to make their own decisions."

The report follows comments by Home Office minister George Howarth that the legislation surrounding licensed premises needed to undergo a root and branch reform.

Earlier this year he said the time was right to "blow away the cobwebs in British life by modernising the liquor licensing system".

Customer confusion

The report says that "any logic" behind the confusing number of different licences and regulations governing the sale of alcohol on and off licensed premises were not understood by customers.

"The most obvious example of customer confusion or disappointment pointed out to us is the reaction of overseas visitors to our present limitation on opening hours.

"The law appears to bear little relationship to present day social reality," the report says.

"We believe it should be possible for licensees to open until midnight provided, for example, they are not located within a residential area where the potential level of nuisance would be unacceptable."

Closing hour 'flashpoints'

Police and courts have expressed worries that town centres become "flashpoints" as hordes of drinkers pour onto the streets.

At present the 160,000 licensed premises in England and Wales apply to 350 local licensing magistrates to trade in liquor, but the study proposes that local authorities take charge, allowing greater accountability and transparency.

The report also calls for the current requirement for "fit and proper" licensees to become a nationally standardised.

As for the under age drinking limit the task force, who consulted with industry and consumer groups in their study, says there should be no change.

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