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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 18:08 GMT
Time to be called on pub laws
A drinker in a student bar
There will be no need to drink up at 11pm
Plans to relax the licensing laws will be included in the Queen's Speech next week, the prime minister has announced.

Tony Blair indicated that he saw the change as a way of tackling anti-social behaviour - a key theme of the government's programme for the next year.

The move could fulfil a manifesto promise to allow pubs to open round the clock.

Tony Blair enjoying a pint
Cheers: pubs could be open round the clock
There have been reports that some Labour MPs, including former Health Secretary Frank Dobson, will want the plans watered down.

But when questioned about the issue at his monthly press conference, Mr Blair replied: "The very fixed nature of the hours sometimes means you get particular problems outside pubs in city centres at particular hours of the evening...

"I'm afraid I can't give more details than that because we're about to do that in the Queen's Speech - well I just have... but I tried to do it as gently as I could..."

Police support

At last year's election, Labour tried to woo young voters by sending text messages indicating a re-elected Blair administration would introduce 24-hour pub opening.

But when the Queen's Speech was unveiled shortly after last year's election there was no such bill on offer.

Now it looks as though time will be called on the UK's antiquated licensing laws.

The move has the backing of many police officers who feel that staggering the time pubs close at would reduce disorder.

Rowdy drinkers

It is also hoped that the reforms would boost tourism and help tackle the "binge drinking" culture.

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.

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.

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.

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The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The licensing laws haven't changed much since 1915"

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Should Britain's licensing laws change?
See also:

18 Mar 02 | Politics
29 Apr 01 | Politics
21 Jul 98 | UK
25 Aug 99 | UK
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