For the third year running, government ministers have proved they can't organise a p***-up on a New Year's Eve.

Despite promising that this year they would get it right, ministers at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have again failed to get legislation through on time to allow pubs to open for 36 hours over the New Year period.

In 1999 plans to allow pubs to open for the Millennium and all subsequent New Year's Eves had to be put back after objections from the House of Lords. A one-off extension was eventually passed, but with only days to spare many bars had little time to prepare.

Last year it was not until early December when the government passed a last-minute one-off statute allowing 36-hour opening. In July this year ministers issued assurances that plans for 36-hour opening on this and every future New Year's Eve were well in hand. All pubs would be allowed to open from 11am on New Year's Eve to 11pm New Year's Day. Public entertainment licences would also be automatically extended.

However, this week the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the government was unable to confirm a date when the legislation would be passed. though it was "on track" to go through before the new year.

A DCMS spokesman said: "It's been delayed but the two Houses are looking at it. The House of Lords has reported back and its report is favourable."

Pubs and bars are being advised to apply to licensing magistrates for special orders of exemption in case the extension is not approved by Parliament in time.

The Magistrates' Association said: "Due to the lateness and degree of uncertainty, the association is advising licensing committees to follow the same guidance as last year. Justices are advised to follow the Good Practice Guide, namely an extension of hours until 12.20am on January 1 2003."