June 17, 2003

England pubs may soon be allowed to stay open 24 hours a day.

"'This is not to encourage more drinking but to encourage smarter drinking,' said Gail Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Culture, Media and Sports, which would oversee the change. 'Our drinking laws are antiquated, and we want to create a more civilized and responsible culture in the country's pubs and bars.'

"While the legislation has become known by its shorthand of '24-hour pubs,' few owners are expected to ask for permission to open their taps nonstop. Instead, the law will allow pubs to stay open as late as local councils permit, taking that decision away from magistrates, historical killjoys who, for the most part, have tended to adhere strictly to tradition.

"A limited number of bars now stay open past 11 p.m. - some serve alcohol as late as 3 a.m. - but exemptions are rare, the conditions strict, and the establishments typically charge a steep cover charge and are populated by teen-agers who hold their liquor like Jell-O. The web of laws governing drinking in Britain is as tangled as ball of knots, governed by more than 80 different licenses that are granted depending on whether food is served, dancing is permitted, admission is free and, most of all, whether neighbors object to one thing or another."

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