Many visitors to our country will tell you that the English pub is a hot favourite, but, for a combination of reasons, I fear that this once fine breed is becoming an endangered species.

The first threat is from the new Licensing Act which is just plain weird. The gist of it is that all public performances of singing and dancing by more than two people will become offences unless locally licensed. The punishment can be up to a £20,000 fine and six months in prison.

I'd love to hear a justification from the people who came up with this one; surely not at the top of the agenda for most Northern Echo readers I'd bet. Bear in mind that this is happening at the same time as the Lord Chief Justice is recommending that many burglars should not go to prison. If you asked most people in this country whether a burglar of a pub singer deserves six months in the slammer, I'd put my house on where the majority would lie.

This new law for pubs is not about noise remember: the law already has plenty of sanctions for licensed premises which cause problems for the neighbours.

What's really annoying, though is the fact that this new legislation will nip in the bud the resurgence of live entertainment which has been long overdue. What's the logic in allowing ear-splitting "background" music from distorted speakers, while a talented, but unlicensed, jazz trio faces the full weight of the law. If you think I'm exaggerating, bear in mind that inspectors are already touring pubs looking for the new criminals.

That business of loud and unnecessary piped music in pubs can ruin a night out and, I'm sure, many potential profits. I know that there's a kiddie market in most town centres in our area, and, fair enough, if that's what the young customers desire. Why on earth don't a proportion of pubs buck the trend and cater for a mature market who, after all, frequently have more disposable income than the youngsters?

A classic example popped up just the other night when a few of us headed off for a meal at the splendid Lotus Garden on Hartlepool Marina. Fancying a drink first, we spotted a new bar by the name of Vibes which looked just the job; pleasantly decorated with some very comfy chairs for a civilised chat.

Once inside, though, we were amazed to find a sound system blasting out which wouldn't have disgraced a full-scale disco. To be fair, the bar staff did turn it down a smidge when asked, but what kind of logic reasons that this is what their target market would want? It's off the beaten circuit for the younger crowd, and I would guess that their usual customers would be the pre-restaurant tipplers, or people who were deliberately trying to avoid the ear-numbing sounds of the town centre bars.

I suppose that commercial forces will show best who's right and wrong here, but I've often wondered if us customers could take direct action. How about carrying a few printed slips which you could leave with offending establishments to make the point?

They could read something like "We were going to spend a tenner here but we're leaving because we can't stand the racket. We'll try again next week and, if it's still the same, we'll never be back."

In the end the licensed trade really needs to think about this. Supermarket sales suggest that many people having a night off would rather take a bottle of wine or a few cans home because there's simply nothing to tempt them out.

It would be a real pity if those foreign visitors also gave up on the real English pub, simply because they could no longer find one.

Published: 08/01/2003