Pubs in England and Wales could be allowed to stay open 24 hours a day under the biggest shake-up in licensing laws for almost a century.

Home Secretary Jack Straw is to publish a white paper on Monday setting out the areas under review - including access for children and measures to reduce disruption caused by drunken customers.

The government plans to rationalise the different rules applying to pubs, clubs, restaurants and other licensed premises which were drawn up during the First World War.

As part of the radical overhaul there is the suggestion pubs could decide their own hours - allowing some to stay open all night.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said the proposals would help to make licensing laws less complicated.

He told the BBC: "It's [the white paper] to modernise the arrangements, to streamline them, to reduce the burden on business, but above all to make it easier for people who can hold their drink to drink, but to toughen up on enforcement."

As they stood, the current laws were very complex, said Mr Straw.

"We have an extraordinarily complicated licensing system with different licences having to be issued by different authorities," said the home secretary.

"You then have some pretty extraordinary arrangements so far as the hours pubs and clubs can open.

"We are also deeply concerned about the arrangements for underage drinking. There's the age of 18 which is supposed to be the age of 18, but children as young as 11 can drink an alcoholic drink in a pub garden, even though they rightly can't buy it until they're 18."

He will be inviting local authorities, licensees and other interested parties to make representations on the proposals contained in the white paper.

Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones, chairman of the Parliamentary Beer Club, said the proposal would stop hundreds of drinkers pouring onto the streets at closing time.

He said: "We have to prevent the public from a melee on the streets at 11pm but also ensure that those living near licensed premises can get a decent night's sleep."

WWI legislation

The white paper is also expected to include proposals for a new licensing body for England and Wales - taking the responsibility from magistrates and giving it to local authorities.

In the run-up to Monday's launch, magistrates have said that their legal and local knowledge is essential to the licensing role.

Mary Curnock-Crook, director of the British Institute of Innkeeping, said: "We're hoping for a very radical reform of the laws.

"Everyone wants a completely new regime which will suit customers, tourists and the trade better."

Any proposals are unlikely to be implemented before the general election, as the government will have to spend some time inviting responses to its proposals before bringing forward legislation in Parliament.

Licensing laws in England and Wales have changed little since 1915, when they were tightened to stop factory workers turning up drunk and harming the war effort.