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On the Today programme:
Andrew McNeill, Director of Alcohol Studies and Rob Taylor, Ass. Chief Const. for Greater Manchester
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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
End near for 'antiquated' pub laws
Pub scene
Drinkers will not have deadlines
The government is expected to announce radical changes to "antiquated" licensing laws, paving the way for 24-hour opening in England and Wales.

Home Office minister Mike O'Brien will give the government's response to a year-long consultation on relaxation of laws regulating alcohol sales.

Our proposals ... will also address the issue of binge drinking which our current fixed licensing laws create

Mike O'Brien
Home Office minister
He is expected to announce the most radical overhaul of the licensing system for more than 40 years, allowing pubs, bars, restaurants and shops to sell alcohol 24 hours a day.

If Labour wins an expected June election, the long-awaited move is likely to be one of the first acts of Prime Minister Tony Blair's second term in office.

Home Office ministers hope it will help change the "binge drinking" culture and end chaotic scenes of alcohol-related violence regularly witnessed on city streets late at night.

Bureaucratic system

Licensing laws in England and Wales have changed little since 1915, when they were tightened to stop factory workers turning up drunk and harming the war effort.

"Our proposals will deal with the antiquated and bureaucratic licensing system and modernise it," Mr O'Brien said.

"They will give business greater freedom, protect local residents, help the police deal with law and order and give the public more opportunities to socialise.

"It will also address the issue of binge drinking which our current fixed licensing laws create."

New powers

Under the proposals, first published in a White Paper entitled Time for Reform in April 2000, closing times will be varied on police advice to stop rowdy drinkers emptying into the streets simultaneously.

And the reformed licensing laws will be balanced by new police powers to target problem landlords and drinkers.

These include on-the-spot fines and powers to ban drinking in certain areas or shut problem pubs, contained in the government's Crime and Disorder Bill.

A new split licensing system will operate, requiring both landlords and their premises to be given separate permits.

A planned three-strikes-and-out policy will stop landlords who have lost licences moving on and setting up elsewhere.

Residents' rights

Ministers will also champion more family-friendly pubs by loosening restrictions on youngsters entering them.

Although licensees can apply to sell alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week, local residents will be able to challenge applications.

Andrew McNeill, director of Alcohol Studies, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was concerned about the proposals.

"The over all impact is likely to be adverse both in relation to crime and order issues, social disruption on the streets, and wider issues to do with health and social functioning."

Fixed closing times and rigid permitted hours tend to actually create surges in crime and disorder

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Taylor
He said similar laws in countries such as Scotland and New Zealand had made the situation worse.

But Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Rob Taylor said the police had supported key elements of the White Paper.

"It is the experience of senior police officers in this country that fixed closing times and rigid permitted hours tend to actually create surges in crime and disorder," he said.

"If we allow some managed, greater flexibility in these hours, it gives us the opportunity to manage it better and reduce those peaks and troughs."

The Conservatives have accused the government of re-announcing a policy that has already been widely trailed, in a bid to boost electoral support.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said earlier this week: "How typical and opportunistic of Labour to revisit this in the run-up to the election.

"We said at the time we were in favour of the principles although we have some reservations about the mechanics of allowing local councils rather than magistrates to police the licensing."

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