Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Tuesday, 22 July 2003 14:49 UK

Time called on drink ban rule

Morgan Lloyd pub, Caernarfon
Welsh pubs will never be "dry" again

The Government has scrapped a 122-year-old rule which allowed Sunday drinking to be banned in Wales.

The Dwyfor district of Gwynedd, which became the last area in the country to go "wet", will never again be able to return to "dry" Sundays.

Since the last polls held in 1996, Wales has been universally wet on Sunday - but councils could have been forced to hold the polls again this year.

The old law meant that local authorities had to hold a referendum every seven years if there was enough public support.

But the changes brought in by the Licensing Act 2003, which became law on 10 July, denies this right to opponents of Sunday drinking.

It doesn't reflect the way people live their lives today
Licensing Minister, Richard Caborn

Under the old rule, if at least 500 registered voters in any Welsh county or borough requested it, the local authority had to hold a ballot in which people elected whether or not alcohol should be sold there on a Sunday.

Dwyfor became "dry" in 1996, although less than 9% of the population turned out to vote.

For drinkers in Porthmadog who fancied a pint on a Sunday, it meant a trip over the cob to Penrhyndeudraeth, which is just over the border in the Meirionnydd district.

On bank holiday Sundays, buses were organised from some parts of the Llyn Peninsula to pubs in towns outside the district, often to Caernarfon.

Porthmadog High Street
There was no Sunday drinking in Porthmadog in the past

The move, announced by licensing minister Richard Caborn, is the first step in a radical overhaul of England and Wales' licensing laws.

The Government says the eradication of the Welsh Sunday opening polls modernises the Welsh licensing system.

Licensing Minister Richard Caborn said: "This rule dates back to Victorian times. While the whole of Wales now has Sunday opening, the rule allowing polls on closing still lingers on.

"It doesn't reflect the way people live their lives today.

"If people in Wales want to buy a bottle of wine from a supermarket on a Sunday, or enjoy a pint with their Sunday lunch in a pub, they should be able to do so. "

Financial burden

Wales Office minister Don Touhig added his support to the abolition of Sunday closing polls in Wales.

"This change is long overdue. It is clear that the vast majority of people in Wales are in favour of Sunday opening and it is right that the law has been brought up to date," he said.

The change was asked for by the Welsh Assembly government cabinet.

It believed the new law will remove a financial burden from councils in Wales - the cost of running the seven yearly polls was estimated at between £300,000 and £650,000 each time to local authorities.

The licensing trade believe it will also help business by removing the uncertainty that pubs, restaurants and shops operated under.

By 2005, the Act will also end fixed closing times and introduce a flexible alcohol, entertainment and late night refreshment licensing regime across England and Wales.

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