The deregulation Bill, a centrepiece of the next parliamentary session, will allow suitable pubs to apply for 'children's certificates' permitting them to admit children accompanied by an adult.
The further liberalisation of licensing law is also expected to end Sunday pub closures in 'dry' counties in Wales. But the Home Office has successfully resisted pressure from the Department of Trade and Industry, which is responsible for the deregulation Bill, to allow new pubs to open without having to show a local need. The department is thought to have argued that existing planning law was a sufficient constraint. A proposal by Kenneth Clarke, when Home Secretary, for a system of 'cafe licensing' that would have led to the creation of more establishments offering alcohol and admitting children has been shelved.
The hour by which all children will have to be out of licensed premises has yet to be fixed. But the Home Office is thought to be keen to avoid criticisms in England and Wales that have been made by publicans of the way the Children's Certificate system works in Scotland. The complaints have been that the licensing boards have been too restrictive in the way they have awarded certificates.
The new system is expected to allow children accompanied by adults to enter approved premises without any requirement for a meal to be taken.