Trade is against children in pubs proposal

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Related tags: Pubs, License, Human rights, Pub association

The trade is firmly against unaccompanied children being allowed into pubs when the Licensing Bill becomes law.An online poll on thePublican.com has...

The trade is firmly against unaccompanied children being allowed into pubs when the Licensing Bill becomes law.

An online poll on thePublican.com has found that an overwhelming 96 per cent of respondents are opposed to the proposal which will allow children to enter pubs to buy food and soft drinks on their own.

The proposal forms part of the government's overall deregulation of the antiquated licensing system and while the trade generally welcomes a move to allow kids in pubs, the fact that they could be "unaccompanied" without an adult is causing major worries.

Chris McLean, licensee of the Plough & Harrow at Bridge near Canterbury, said: "There may be pubs it would suit, but I certainly wouldn't want to see unaccompanied children in my pub, and I think it would deter me from drinking in pubs where it happened.

"As a licensee, I'd be concerned about the safety of unaccompanied children, I think it's a policy that's fraught with danger."

Mark Hastings, spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association, said: "It's understandable that licensees are concerned by such a major change, but the position is straightforward.

"If a pub chooses to have a policy of not admitting children, accompanied or otherwise, or chooses not to admit certain children, it is perfectly within its rights to do so."

Licensees will be able to set an age policy, yet there are fears they could come up against abuse from parents who feel they have rights, under the new law, to bring their children into all pubs.

In last year's Publican Market Report survey of 1,000 licensees, 90 per cent said they felt parents thought their children had a right to be in pubs and in this year's report nearly half of pubs said they were already welcoming children into their bar.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "We don't expect all venues to open their doors to children. This would be inappropriate in some pubs and bars where the presence of children would not be desirable.

"However, the government is keen to see more families regarding pubs and café-bars as a focal point of their leisure. But, as now, even where a licence permits the presence of children, admission would be at the discretion of the licensee."

The legal issue

Suzanne Davies of specialist licensing legal firm Joelson Wilson said it is difficult to advise pubs on how to formulate a policy on children in what are uncharted legal waters for the trade.

"Licensees have a common-law right to exclude anyone they see fit, provided they don't act in a discriminatory way. If a pub decides to operate an over 18s-only policy, that ought be acceptable in theory," she said.

However, there could also be dangers if pubs decide to take a pragmatic approach and judge each occasion on its merits.

"If a pub decided to admit one group of children and then refused another, it could give grounds for discrimination," said Ms Davies.

A spokesman for the European Commission said the European laws banning discrimination of grounds of age did not seem to apply, making children in bars "a matter for legislation by the individual member states". However, he added it would be open to any individual or group to bring a human rights case to the European tribunal.

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