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The BBC's Karen Bowerman
"The changes are likely to be the most drastic the industry has ever seen"
 real 28k

Monday, 10 April, 2000, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Sweeping shake-up in pub laws
Pub scene
A big round: Pubs could be open 24 hours a day
Pubs in England and Wales would be allowed to stay open 24 hours a day under plans for the biggest shake-up in licensing laws for almost a century.

Home Secretary Jack Straw published a White Paper on Monday setting out proposals to end fixed closing times for pubs alongside increased powers for the police to close down premises which become associated with violence caused by drunken customers.

Proposed changes
Pubs allowed to open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Premises causing "unreasonable nuisance" will be shut down
New licence allowing alcohol to be sold from any building
16- and 17-year-olds allowed to drink alcohol during meal with adults
Children allowed in licensed premises with host's permission
Crackdown on selling alcohol to under-18s
Outlets selling food between 11am and 5pm to get licence
Local authorities to issue licences
Under the plans, people convicted of violent behaviour in pubs could be banned for life from licensed premises, while "habitual drunkards" could be banned from buying drink for 10 years.

The proposals would end Sunday restrictions and give children more access to pubs and bars.

They also include plans to transfer the issuing of licences from magistrates courts to local authorities and a new system of personal licences which would allow holders to sell alcohol from any building.

The White Paper is aimed at streamlining rules drawn up during the First World War.

Pub landlords would be able to decide on their own hours, with the aim of staggering closing times between 11pm and 3am, with some premises allowed to stay open all night, seven days a week.

'Less complicated'

But licensing authorities will take account of local concerns before granting licences and could impose conditions such as soundproofing, CCTV or registered security staff.

Pub sign
Sign of the times: Pubs say customers would benefit

The proposals would allow children into all licensed premises, but only 16 and 17 year olds eating a meal with adults would be allowed to drink alcohol.

Restrictions on Sunday trading will be lifted except for those which limit stores to six hours trading on Sundays.

Mr Straw said the proposals would help to make licensing laws less complicated, would reduce crime and disorder, cut red tape and allow families to spend more leisure time together.

He said: "Fixed closing times may encourage binge drinking around last orders, with people hitting the streets - and sometimes each other - at the same time.

"Our proposals introduce a radical new system which would allow greater freedom and flexibility for people to enjoy themselves, but balances these liberties with tough and uncompromising powers for the police, the courts and licensing authorities to punish those who abuse those freedoms."

Fears over 'political judgments'

The proposals were broadly welcomed by Tory spokesman Oliver Heald, who said the end of the 11pm closing time would "end the practice of drinking to a deadline".

But he criticised the plans to remove licensing powers from magistrates, saying decisions should remain a "judicial responsibility" and not a "political judgment."

Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones, chairman of the Parliamentary Beer Club, said the proposals would stop hundreds of drinkers pouring onto the streets at closing time.

He said: "We have to prevent the public from a melee on the streets at 11pm but also ensure that those living near licensed premises can get a decent night's sleep."

The White Paper's proposals are unlikely to be implemented before the general election, as the government seeks responses to the plans before bringing forward legislation in Parliament.

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.

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21 Jul 98 | UK
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