Licensing control is to shift from the Home Office to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) under new Labour plans.
The move came as a surprise to the trade as the Government gave no indication it was considering the change in responsibility before the General Election.
Fears have been expressed that moving licensing could cause further delays to the long-awaited reform as ministers and civil servants struggle to get to grips with the complicated issue.
Industry leaders, however, have welcomed the move which they say makes licensing reform part of the entertainment industry instead of a crime-fighting initiative.
"It's quite a welcome move," Mark Hastings, spokesman for the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, said. "It places licensing firmly in the leisure and entertainment sector - which is where it should be."
He said he was hopeful the move would not cause delays to licensing reform. "We can only look at what the Government has already said about it being a priority," he said. "The timetable was for it to start happening in November which gives plenty of time for ministers to come up to speed with the facts."
But Ian Foulkes, head of public protection at the Local Government Association, said he was not so confident the switch would run smoothly.
He said: "I think if it all happens immediately, according to plan, then it is a good move. But if there is any delay there won't be the experts at the DCMS that there are at the Home Office and I can see it never, ever happening."
No one in the trade was told about the move before it happened, but Mr Hastings said he thought it was more to do with a change in focus at the Home Office than a direct reflection on plans for licensing.
"The Home Office is now definitely about fighting crime and I think it's quite encouraging our industry is being taken out of that," he said.
Detailed information about the move, including which minister will have particular responsibility for licensing reform, is not yet known but new Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell will have overall control of the DCMS.
The department already has responsibility for tourism, and has been dubbed the "Ministry of Fun". Mrs Jowell, who has referred to her new department as the "Ministry of Free Time", as its French equivalent is known, has said she wants to improve the quality of British people's free time, which could include a change in the licensing laws.