May bottles 24-hour licensing overhaul

24-hour licensing is here to stay - despite Theresa May's rhetoric
24-hour licensing is here to stay - despite Theresa May's rhetoric

By Alex Stevenson and Ian Dunt

Theresa May's pledge to 'tear up' Labour's 24-hour drinking Licensing Act quickly unravelled today after it emerged pubs and clubs would still be able to open 24 hours a day.

The home secretary told the Conservative party conference in Birmingham she had always opposed Labour's introduction of 24-hour licensing and that she was pleased to be able to undo it.

"We will tear up Labour's disastrous Licensing Act," she told the Conservative party conference today.

"I was the shadow culture secretary when they introduced 24-hour licensing, and I fought them every step of the way.

"It gives me no pleasure to be proved right about the consequences - but it gives me great satisfaction to have the chance to undo it."

But Home Office sources confirmed today that pubs and clubs would still be able to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and that the Act was being "overhauled", not scrapped.

Labour's big shift was to establish local licensing committees authorising the liberalisation of late-night drinking. Ms May's proposals will not substantially change the way they operate but they will allow for a greater voice for local residents and the police, government sources insisted.

A Home Office source told the Act was being "tweaked slightly".

Councils will have the power to increase the amount of money they charge for late-night licences. Local authorities may be able to hike the licenses' prices up to the prohibitive levels seen before the Labour government's reforms as a result.

"We will allow councils to charge more for late-night licences, so they can spend more on late-night policing," Ms May said.

"We will double the fine for under-age sales and shut down shops and bars that persistently sell alcohol to children. And we will ban the below-cost sale of alcohol."

Reforms tackling Britain's binge-drinking problems formed part of a wider approach to anti-social behaviour outlined by Ms May today.

She also highlighted plans to encourage 'people power' in the ongoing review of the anti-social behaviour sanctions regime.

Victims and wider communities will be able to use the 'local community safety partnership' to force police or other authorities to take action, she said.

"Too often we hear stories of victims who are passed from pillar to post, from the police to environmental services to the housing department before being passed back to the police again," Ms May added.

"We hear about victims who call the police on dozens of occasions but aren't taken seriously and in many cases are ignored altogether."

The government acknowledges the proposals could become complicated. It suggests introducing minimum thresholds of complaints to avoid "vexatious and time-wasting complaints". Minimum standards are also likely to be required.


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