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Britain Proposes Longer Pub Hours

November 13, 2002

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LONDON (AP) _ Drinkers raised their glasses to Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday after his government announced plans to let pubs stay open later.

The government hopes the proposed change _ part of its crackdown on petty crime and anti-social behavior _ will curb binge-drinking and end the noise and brawls that now spill onto many streets at 11 p.m., the current closing time every day but Sunday.

``It’s just more personal freedom,″ said Kieran Brogan, 23, sipping a lunchtime beer at a central London pub. The current closing time, he said ``forces people to cram in drinks.″

Britons frequently complain about boorish behavior on the streets, trains and buses shortly after 11 p.m. and the mess on the streets the morning after.

Queen Elizabeth II announced the proposal as she opened a new session of Parliament and outlined the government’s legislative plans.

``My government will bring forward legislation to streamline the licensing system for premises selling alcohol,″ she said. ``This will abolish fixed opening hours and introduce a range of conditions to reduce anti-social behavior.″

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the Licensing Bill, which is to be introduced in Parliament this week, would transfer the power to grant licenses to serve alcohol from local magistrates to town and city councils. It could be in effect next summer.

The councils, which would hear any objections from residents, would be free to allow pubs and bars to open for whatever hours the local lawmakers thought appropriate. Under current law, the maximum opening hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday through Saturday. Last call is 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The department said the idea is to give those who live near pubs a greater say in opening hours, and to empower police to shut pubs for 24 hours if there are problems with noise or disorder.

``The industry has long needed some deregulation,″ said John McNamara, chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, which represents more than 15,000 pubs, clubs and bars. ``On a Friday night, there’s a good crowd in the pub ... it’s a bit crazy to throw them out at 11 o’clock.″

``Most pubs will probably go for an extra couple of hours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights and try to get some extensions for special occasions″ like parties or big sports events, he said.

The Campaign for Real Ale claimed 70 percent of British adults support looser restrictions on pub hours. Mike Benner, the group’s head of campaigns, said the proposed rules would boost tourist spending and lead to a decline in binge-drinking.

The changes would apply to establishments in England and Wales. In Scotland, local boards set hours and can let pubs stay open as long as they choose.

Not everyone was pleased with the proposed changes.

``It’s horrible,″ moaned Roxy Beaujolais, tending bar at the Seven Stars pub near the Law Courts, who said she planned no changes in her pub’s hours. ``Me, I’m open at 11 in the morning and I close at 11. ... I don’t run that sort of joint that needs late-night hours.″

Sipping a drink nearby, surveyor Joe Darrell, 45, said Scotland’s looser rules may have contributed to heavier drinking there.

``People here who have a drink problem at least have to wait until lunchtime, which probably is to their benefit,″ he said. ``I think 11 o’clock is late enough.″

Matthew Bennett, chairman of Open All Hours?, a group formed to express concerns about the proposed change, said many residents’ groups fear longer hours will mean more drinking, more noise and dirtier streets.

Any change in the law, he said, should be accompanied by more resources for law enforcement, street cleaning and public bathrooms in city centers.

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