NOW IT'S 24-HOUR DRINKING FOR KIDS; Pub Chains Exploit Legal Loophole to Let Under-16s into 'Vertical Drinking' Bars
Byline: JONATHAN OLIVER
THOUSANDS of children will be legally allowed into rowdy late-night drinking establishments thanks to Labour's controversial licensing laws, The Mail on Sunday has learned.
Alcohol industry lawyers are exploiting small print in the legislation to remove current restrictions that keep youngsters under 14 out of pubs, bars and clubs.
At the forefront of the move is Urbium, owner of the Tiger Tiger chain of late-night 'super bars', whose directors include Tory leadership hopeful David Cameron.
The bar group, whose venues have been the scenes of debauched activity involving top footballers, is challenging rulings by Westminster City Council blocking new licences that would allow children into its bars. Its applications ask 'to allow accompanied children under 16 to be permitted in the bar in line with the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003'.
But Westminster claims Urbium had not given enough assurances that it would ' protect children from harm'.
Similar applications have been lodged countrywide by pub chains demanding the freedom to drop the age limit.
The move led police chiefs to express the
fear that they will struggle to contain an epidemic of alcohol abuse, while Ministers came under renewed pressure to scrap the law.
It follows shock Department of Health figures showing one in four 11 to 15-year-olds had consumed alcohol in the previous week, with half of those ending up drunk.
Ministers have always insisted the new licensing law introduces stricter measures for protecting the young.
However, a Mail on Sunday investigation reveals the opposite. Many pubs and clubs could for the first time be given the freedom to admit children of virtually any age - provided they arrive with someone 18 or over.
Under existing legislation, no child under 14 is allowed in the bar area of a pub, with exceptions made in 'family-friendly' establishments selling food.
In practice, this effectively excludes younger children from so-called 'vertical drinking' pubs associated with disorder and drunkenness.
But the pub and bar chains that run these premises have found a loophole in the Licensing Act that will allow young children in.
This states that pubs can apply for a licence allowing under-16s to enter the premises and be served a non-alcoholic drink - provided they are 'accompanied' by an 'adult'.
There is no curfew limiting how late a child can remain, so those not even in their teens could legally be in bars or clubs all night.
Nor does the legislation specify that children need to be accompanied by a 'responsible' adult, such as a parent or guardian. So, for example, very young girls could gain admittance to late-night bars with an older brother, boyfriend or someone they met outside.
Once on the premises, children could roam freely - with or without their adult escort - because the law does not give a clear definition of what it is to 'accompany' someone.
Doctors and opposition MPs have warned that there is a large and growing market in juvenile drinking that must not be allowed to go unchecked.
And while the companies insist they target only those legally entitled to drink, opponents say the legislation will allow more very young people into pubs where it will be difficult to police what they are bought and consume.
Those aged 16 and 17 occupy a grey area.
Present laws allow them into licensed premises unaccompanied - but they cannot consume alcohol and this will not change under the new rules. …