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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 17:28 GMT
Last orders for pub hours
A drinker in a student bar
There will be no need to drink up at 11pm
Pubs could be allowed to open 24-hours a day as the Queen's Speech unveiled long-awaited plans to relax licensing laws in England and Wales.

Fixed opening hours are set to be scrapped as the UK moves to a more European attitude to drinking alcohol in public.

The bill would encourage a more civilised culture in pubs, bars and restaurants

Downing Street spokesman
Relaxation of the current laws, promised in Labour's election manifesto, will go hand-in-hand with new laws to combat disorder around pubs and bars.

The plans would also close a loophole which means under-18s can still buy alcohol on trains, boats and planes.

The law change would make it an offence to sell alcohol to a person under-18 "anywhere", said Downing Street.

The plans have been welcomed by the Campaign for Real Ale but family brewers have warned that pubs outside town centres could not afford the change.

'Whole sale reform'

In the speech on Wednesday, the Queen said: "My government will bring forward legislation to streamline the licensing system for premises selling alcohol.

"This will abolish fixed opening hours and introduce a range of conditions to reduce anti-social behaviour."

Downing Street said the Licensing Bill would bring a "wholesale modernisation and reform of licensing law".

The relaxation of the opening hours would help keep rowdy behaviour around bars to a minimum by moving away from fixed closing times, said Downing Street.

Ahead of the speech, Tony Blair said: "The very fixed nature of the hours sometimes means you get particular problems outside pubs in city centres at particular hours of the evening."

Residents fears

Ministers also hope the changes would help "encourage a more civilised culture in pubs, bars and restaurants".

The government says the move will give people more choice about how they spend their leisure time and could stimulate the UK's tourism industry.

Frank Dobson
Dobson has voiced the fears of local residents
The plans have already prompted worries among people who live near to pubs and bars.

The government is anxious to quell those fears, promising stronger protection for local residents.

The spokesman said: "Residents would have the right to make representations to the licensing authority about applications for new licences and to call for a review of existing ones."

'Streamlined system'

Under the plans, police would also get powers to close any licensed premises without notice for up to 24 hours if there are problems with disorder or noise nuisance.

Ahead of the speech, there were reports that some Labour MPs, including former Health Secretary Frank Dobson, wanted the plans watered down.

There are currently six separate licensing regimes. Those will be amalgamated into a single system.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The bill would potentially deliver savings of 1.97bn over the first 10 years of operation, sweeping away considerable red tape."

The current laws date to the First World War when they were created to prevent munitions workers from drinking, although they have been eased over time.

Making pubs political?

Mike Benner, from the Campaign for Real Ale, said the group was delighted people would now have more choice about when and where they relaxed with a drink.

"These reforms will benefits us all by ending the chaos that results in thousands of people being ejected on to our city centre streets at the same time," said Mr Benner.

There was a very different reaction from Stuart Neame, deputy chairman of the Independent Family Brewers of Britain.

Mr Neame warned the new laws could subject pubs to the "whims of local politicians".

"Pubs will only be able to open longer if they get the local council's approval, which is just the same as now," he said.

"And outside town centres, few pubs will want to open much longer - licensees don't want it and can't afford it."

Both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives welcomed a shake-up of the licensing laws but urged ministers not to increase the level of regulation of the system.

Key stories

Blair's programme


Queen's Speech quiz




Closing time
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See also:

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