New rules to allow children into pubs have been a flop because of the stringent conditions applied by licensing magistrates.
The first survey since the rules came into force in January shows that only 9 per cent of publicans have bothered to apply for a children's certificate, while only another 9 per cent intend to do so. This means about 5,100 of Britain's 57,000 pubs now have the licences.
Earlier research anticipating the arrival of the certificates showed that as many as 43 per cent of pubs intended to make an application. But the experience of the pubs that have sought permission has been discouraging. Of those that applied, 69 per cent were granted, 12 per cent were refused, and 19 per cent are awaiting the outcome. Of greater concern is the figure that shows that 57 per cent of those turned down would not be reapplying.
Leading figures in the industry, which had hailed the change in the law as a highly significant development, said the widespread imposition of onerous criteria had dissuaded many from applying.
Among the conditions laid down by some magistrates were demands that hot water from taps should not exceed 39 degrees Celsius, installation of low-level urinals, total smoking bans, and the removal of gaming machines and pool tables.
However, the Magistrates' Association, while admitting that there might be a problem in some areas, said the situation was not as bad as the bald figures produced in a survey for the trade magazine, Publican.
Tim Hampson, of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers' Association, said: "We believe that the spirit of the legislation was that the certificates should be given to the pubs as they are, not as magistrates would wish to see them. Pubs should not be governed by some stricter rules than any other establishment where children go, rules that you don't have at a restaurant."
A spokesman for Bass Taverns, Jerry Watson, said the company had hoped that around 500 of its 2,600 pubs would be eligible for certificates.
However, even with its experience in Scotland, where there have been children's certificates since 1991, Bass had merely explored the situation around the country and been discouraged.
"We discovered the process was bogged down," said Mr Watson. "In some areas of the country magistrates are applying difficult, lengthy and costly criteria."
Moray Reid, of the Licensed Victuallers' Association, said that in an effort to ease the situation representatives would be meeting magistrates in the autumn.