11 July 2003

Success for Churches in bid to protect children from harm in pubs

The Government is to ban unaccompanied children from going into pubs following lobbying by The Salvation Army and The Methodist Church.

There are currently no regulations stopping a child from entering a pub or club on their own and the Licensing Bill, which is completing its passage through Parliament and is due to become law this week, looked set to leave this situation unchanged. However, after refusing to back down for months the government made a dramatic last minute u-turn in the House of Lords and agreed to ban unaccompanied under-16s from premises being used 'exclusively or primarily' for the consumption of alcohol.

The Salvation Army and The Methodist Church joined with a small group of children's groups and alcohol charities to meet with Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to look at how the Bill affected children.

Members of the group pressed for a tightening of the law on the protection of children. In the Lords, the Government eventually bowed to pressure and introduced an amendment which prevents children under 16 entering pubs unaccompanied and from being in any licensed premises on their own after midnight.

"I'm very pleased that the government has seen sense, even at the last minute, and put the safety of children above everything else," said Major Bill Cochrane, Secretary for Communications of The Salvation Army. "There is absolutely no reason why a child on their own should be in a pub where the primary or sole purpose is to serve alcohol. And more than that, we argued very strongly that the Bill risked putting children at greater risk, which ran completely counter to the Government's stated intentions."

The Licensing Bill contains a raft of measures designed to simplify existing legislation. Licensing authorities will have to put the welfare of children alongside the prevention of disorder at the top of their list of concerns when considering licensing applications. The government is encouraging pubs to become more 'family friendly' in an effort to create a continental-style approach to alcohol rather than the binge-drinking more commonly associated with Britain.

"The Methodist Church applauds the government for attempting to foster a more responsible drinking culture in the UK but allowing unaccompanied children into pubs is not the way to do that," said Rachel Lampard, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs at The Methodist Church. "British drinking culture needs to change fundamentally before we can guarantee that children will be safe going into any pub on their own."

Earlier on in the course of the Licensing Bill's progression through parliament the Churches successfully lobbied to ensure that musical concerts held in churches would not need a licence.

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