Children under 14 will be allowed into pubs

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Children under 14 are to be allowed into pubs from February as part of a move to relax licensing laws that may soon include all-day Sunday opening for bars and off-licences and an hour's extension to drinking time on Friday and Saturday nights.

Pubs will be allowed to apply for special ``children's certificates'' next year, providing they have a bar that serves soft drinks and food. The under-14-year-olds, who must be accompanied by an adult, will have to leave by 9pm.

A recent survey has suggested that more than 60 per cent of landlords would welcome young families and apply for a certificate.

The law currently prohibits anyone under 14 from the bar or any part of a pub where drink is sold, except in a small number of exceptional cases. Teenagers aged 14 to 18 can have non-alcoholic drinks in a public house.

Fears that children will be allowed into drinking dens where they will be exposed to drunks and foul language are unfounded, the Home Office believes. Only pubs that can satisfy licensing magistrates that their premises are suitable will get the new certificate.

Scotland already has a children's certificate system and an estimated one in six pubs now welcome under-14-year-olds on the premises. European countries such as France, Spain and Italy have long allowed young families into bars.

Michael Forsyth, the Home Office minister, is expected to announce today that children's certificates will come into operation early next year.

A Home Office team is considering whether to allow all-day opening on Sunday - at present pubs and off-licences have to close from 3pm to 7pm - and extending the opening hours on Friday and Saturday night, probably from 11pm to midnight, but possibly later. A Green Paper backing longer hours is expected next year.

Police and magistrates will be consulted in the next few months, and the public are also expected to get a say.

A survey by the Brewers' and Licensed Retailers' Association found that about 75 per cent of parents were in favour of having children in pubs and 68 per cent of people who were childless also supported the move. Mike Ripley of the association said: ``There are obviously people who want to get away from kids but there seem to be more people who are happy to have them around.''

The changes to the rules on under-14-year-olds were made under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which has just gained Royal Assent.

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