Government calls time on licensing laws

A radical updating of the "antiquated and outdated" licensing laws is to be pressed ahead with by the Government, it was confirmed today.

Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien said that following a successful consultation exercise, the Government would develop plans for flexible opening hours, with the potential for 24-hour opening seven-days-a-week, subject to considerations about the impact on local residents.

The reforms will also transfer the licensing role from magistrates to local authorities.

There will also be greater access for children to licensed premises to promote more child and family friendly pubs.

Mr O'Brien said the proposal, affecting England and Wales, would form the core of a Licensing Bill, to be published as soon as possible.

Setting out the Government's plans at The Paxton's Head pub in Knightsbridge, central London, Mr O'Brien said the reforms would boost tourism and help tackle the "binge drinking" culture.

After pouring himself a pint of Tetley's bitter for the benefit of photographers, Mr O'Brien said: "Our licensing laws are outdated, complex and in need of a radical overhaul.

"Reform will provide savings and new opportunities for business, give consumers greater choice, while providing greater safeguards for local residents.

"These reforms should give the tourism industry a real boost. They will give businesses more flexibility in catering for the tourist market and will give visitors to this country the same sort of service that they get at home.

"Eventually we would hope to encourage the more sensible drinking culture seen in some other European countries. The current ritual of late-night drinkers pouring on to the streets at closing time, with its subsequent crime and disorder problems has been an unwelcome tradition for far too long in our towns and cities.

"Flexible licensing hours will help tackle the problem of alcohol-related disorder by phasing closing time and hopefully, in the longer term, encouraging a change in our drinking culture."

Local government leaders welcomed Mr O'Brien's announcement of a proposed shake-up in the licensing laws.

Councillor Jane Chevis, chairman of the Local Government Authority's public protection executive, said: "Since the publication of the White Paper last year, the LGA has been working with the Home Office and relevant trade and professional bodies on what the detail of the new arrangements might be.

"Although the draft Bill will be very complicated, we are determined that the potential contained in the White Paper for the modernisation of the licensed industry in the UK will be realised when the Bill finally becomes law.

"Modernisation of the licensing regime will ensure that enhanced entertainment opportunities can be fully taken advantage of, whilst ensuring the necessary protections are in place.

"The LGA is committed to continuing to work with the industry to make the new regime work in practice."

The announcement was also welcomed by industry group Business in Sport and Leisure and the All Party Parliamentary Leisure Industry Group.

John Brackenbury, chairman of the former, said: "We see enormous merit in the proposals for a split licensing system and a new administrative procedure for obtaining a personal and premise licence.

"Individual members who own pubs, casinos, bingo clubs, nightclubs, ten-pin bowling, restaurants and sports centres will be able to reduce their costs substantially.

"The relaxation in opening hours will be a huge boost to tourists who cannot understand out antiquated laws."

Labour Brent North MP Barry Gardiner, chairman of the All Party group, said: "This is a real breakthrough. Flexible opening hours will stop a lot of the public order problems around the old closing time.

"The legislation will create a more family friendly environment in many pubs and most importantly of all it will give local people a real say in the licensing of pubs in their area."

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