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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 14:20 GMT
Drinking law shake-up unveiled
Tessa Jowell at the Red Lion, Westminster
Ms Jowell pulls pints and calls time on last orders
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell pulled a pint behind the bar of a Westminster local to call time on the UK's antiquated licensing laws.

She toasted Licensing Minister Kim Howells on Friday with a glass of bitter as they launched a bill that paves the way for round-the-clock drinking.

The binge drinking just before closing time is very much driven by our licensing laws

Tessa Jowell
The new legislation, which should be in place next year, will allow licensees to open up their pubs, clubs or bars for up to 24-hour opening, seven days a week.

While the bill, announced in Wednesday's Queen's Speech, will relax the current laws, its other aim is to combat disorder around pubs and bars.

Police will have new powers to close any licensed premises without notice for up to 24 hours if there are problems with disorder or noise nuisance.

Binge drinking

And it will be an offence to sell alcohol to a person under-18 "anywhere", closing a loophole which meant teenagers could still buy drinks on trains, boats and planes.

The government hopes that easing the strict rules on opening times will prevent problems caused by binge drinking and lots of revellers on the street when pubs close.

Tessa Jowell serving at the Red Lion bar
There could soon be time for one more.
They also put an end to the "two in a bar" rule, which means that a public entertainment licence is required if more than two artists perform in a pub, often at considerable cost.

Under the new proposals, licensees can apply to sell alcohol, extend licensing hours and apply for an entertainment licence in one hit, which officials say will reduce overall costs.

Leaning against the bar of the Red Lion in Westminster, Ms Jowell told reporters that the bill would give Britain's licensing laws "a much-needed overhaul" as it moves more towards a 24-hour society.

"It acknowledges that more than 90% of men and over 85% of women drink alcohol and that the vast majority of them do not drink to excess.

"They deserve to finally be treated like grown-ups. If they want to go for a drink after watching a film or a show at 11pm, they should have that option."

Disorderly behaviour

The legislation combines deregulation with the protection of children, vulnerable people and local residents "whose lives can be disturbed by noise from pubs", she said.

"The binge drinking just before closing time is very much driven by our licensing laws, if you have to pack everything in before 11pm."

Tessa Jowell sipping a pint
Cheers - the 11 o'clock rush could soon be over.
Ms Jowell said that a survey of the industry showed that only about 2% of the licensing trade is likely to apply for 24-hour opening.

She said it remains to be seen whether the longer hours would increase alcohol consumption.

Officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said they expect the changes will mean more pubs holding live music events.

Red tape

The plans have already prompted worries among people who live near to pubs and bars.

But to counter concerns, residents will have the right to make representations to the licensing authority - which moves from magistrates' courts to local authorities - about applications for new licences and to call for a review of existing ones.

The government says other changes will potentially deliver savings of 1.97bn over the first 10 years of operation, sweeping away considerable red tape.

The measures have been welcomed by the Campaign for Real Ale but family brewers have warned that pubs outside town centres will not be able to afford the change.

Eddie Gershon, from the pub chain Wetherspoons, questioned why responsibility for licensing matters had to shift from magistrates, who do not have political agendas, to local authorities that do.

War effort

But Jane Roberts, Labour leader of Camden Council in central London, welcomed the move.

"Local councils, currently, are the licensing authority for public entertainment licenses and licensing for night cafes ... so it seems to make sense to integrate licensing function for local councils to take on alcohol licensing too."

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

The shake-up has been welcomed by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives but they have urged ministers not to increase the level of regulation of the 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.

Kim Howells, minister responsible for licensing
"This is a kind of civilising bill in that it stops binge drinking"

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