An apple juice out in the cold

Children are now allowed to join their parents down the pub. So what stops them? asks Sheila Sang

Back in January, the days of disgruntled adults and whining children shivering outside their local pub, one eye on the Coke bottle, the other on the glowing fire within, were over. Or so we were told. Children of any age were to be allowed to join their parents for a Saturday night down the pub - as long as the landlord had secured a Children's Certificate.

North of the border, under-14s have been downing apples juices and colas since the Children's Certificate scheme was introduced in 1991. But south of the border and six months into the scheme, children are still out in the cold while landlords struggle with a mountain of red tape.

You may think the provision of CD-Rom drives at each table, chocolate milkshakes on tap and an emergency supply of nappies requires a lot of paperwork. But what is actually required is far less exciting. To qualify, according to the Home Office, pubs must serve food and non-alcoholic drinks. They must also be "suitable". A "family atmosphere" is a must and that doesn't mean tantrums and parental showdowns. Quite what does make a pub "suitable" is for individual licensing magistrates to decide. And that is why transforming often already family-friendly pubs into official kiddie zones is so difficult.

Take Jerry Watson of Bass Taverns. When he applied for Children's Certificates for two pubs in Vale Royal, near Manchester, the local licensing authority specified 36 conditions, ranging from separate new toilets for children and water no hotter than 39C to low level-basins and baby-changing facilities. No matter that the gardens (and loos) of the pubs in question are already extensively used by families.

Then there is Brewers Fayre, a pub chain voted "Parent Friendly Family Pub of the Year" for the past two years. All its pubs are purpose-designed for families, but so far nine of its applications have been rejected and it has withdrawn seven others.

Children, like pets, are close to the hearts of the British people. So having introduced legislation enabling the toddler, the labrador, the granny and the bangers and mash to gather under one roof, what is the Government doing to make it easier to get a Children's Certificate?

"We spoke to the Home Office recently," says Mike Bennett of Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale. "They seem to have no intention of intervening in the near future."

So it looks as though families in most of England and Wales will be left out in the cold for some time to come.

The top ten guide to family-friendly public houses

Family pub of the year 1995: Coombe Cellars, Coombeteinhead, Devon: 01626 872423.

Barbridge Inn, Barbridge, Cheshire: 01270 528443.

Ferry Inn, Reedham, Norfolk: 01493 700429.

Fleur-de-Lys, Lowsonford, Warwickshire: 01564 782431.

Grapes Hotel, Maentwrog, Gwynedd, Wales: 01766 590365.

Jervis Arms, Onecote, Staffordshire: 01538 304206.

Otter, Weston, Devon: 01404 42594.

Notley Arms, Monksilver, Somerset: 01984 656217.

Smugglers, Osmington Mills, Dorset: 01305 833125.

Wight Mouse, Chale, Isle of Wight: 01983 730431.

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