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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 March, 2003, 08:39 GMT
Ministers try to quell pub concerns
Morris dancers
Morris dancers were among those concerned by the original plans
Ministers have backed down over planned new laws which critics say would restrict live music in pubs and make schools get licences for nativity plays.

The Licensing Bill, designed to shake-up the UK's "outdated" drinking laws, prompted nine defeats for the government in the House of Lords.

As the bill had its second reading debate in the House of Commons on Monday, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell she would not try to overturn all the peers' changes.

She also moved to quell fears the new laws would give children unsupervised access to pubs, nightclubs and even lap-dancing clubs.

The government would keep to the "spirit of amendments" in the Lords by excluding "incidental live music" from the licensing regime, she said.

"People will not be arrested for singing 'Happy Birthday in a restaurant and postmen will not need licences to whistle on their rounds," said Ms Jowell.

Children's safeguards

Under the changes demanded by the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and some crossbench peers, children under-14 would not be able to enter pubs without an adult.

Ms Jowell told MPs she would not accept that age limit, especially as the bill aimed to put all licensed premises under the same legislation.

"We don't want to require children to be accompanied to cinemas or theatres, for example, but unfettered access to all licensed premises would clearly be highly undesirable," she said.

At the time of its introduction this bill was badly thought through and badly drafted
John Whittingdale
Shadow culture secretary
Ms Jowell said children already had unsupervised access to pubs and clubs if the licensee gave permission.

New safeguards would now come in legally-binding guidance, she promised.

Those guidelines would ban children from places where there was gambling or adult entertainment and would restrict access to some nightclubs to over-18s.

Access to pubs for under-14-year-olds would be restricted, but they would be allowed into cafes and restaurants.

Area child protection committees would be able to point to the places they thought unsuitable for children, said Ms Jowell.

Schools exempt

The government offered in the Lords stages of the bill to exclude places of religious worship from the new licensing regime.

On Monday, Ms Jowell bowed to demands that schools and sixth form colleges should be exempt too.

She said the bill was designed at walking "the tightrope between liberalisation and laissez-faire".

The new laws will allow 24-hour drinking - something Ms Jowell said would stop the trouble caused when people were pushed out of pubs at 2300.

Conservative shadow culture secretary John Whittingdale welcomed the aim of modernising "arcane" laws and cutting bureaucracy.

Instead, the government's plans would add to red tape and make it more difficult for pubs to offer live music, he argued.

'Unity in opposition'

Mr Whittingdale questioned the idea of switching responsibility for licensing from magistrates to local councils, which would need "considerable" extra funds for their new duties.

"At the time of its introduction this bill was badly thought through and badly drafted," he said.

"In many areas, it would have massively increased the burden of regulation rather than reducing it.

"It managed to unite churches, charities, publicans, musicians, Morris dancers, all coming together to oppose key provisions within it."

He welcomed the government concessions and said the Tories would be pressing ministers to accept more of the changes.

Lords revolt against Licensing Bill
12 Mar 03 |  Entertainment
Union joins music law debate
05 Mar 03 |  Entertainment
Ministers defeated on pub rules
04 Mar 03 |  Politics
Nativity plays prompt Lords defeat
24 Feb 03 |  Politics
Minister defends music licence bill
23 Jan 03 |  Entertainment
Pub music scene 'under threat'
12 Nov 02 |  Entertainment

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