Paul Vaughan is Chairman of the Magistrates' Association in Worcester and Chairman of the Worcester Three Choirs Festival. He has kindly provided me with his view of the Licensing Bill and has given permission to distribute this widely (it will be posted on to the MU website in due course).
Note particularly points 10 and 11 in relation to government arguments that the abolition of existing PEL exemptions is necessary for public safety reasons:
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1) The Government has signalled its intention to remove from Magistrates their responsibility for licensing (broadly alcohol licensing).
2) We have been given no satisfactory reason for this.
3) Properly trained magistrates, formed into licensing committees, have been fulfilling, effectively, efficiently and diligently, a responsibility for licensing for many years. Sitting as a committee of at least three, we maintain that, among many other benefits, this system is corruption proof. I myself am a long-standing licensing chairman.
4) Magistrates hear cases on a daily basis, in which alcohol is cited as a reason for offences being committed. "Your worship, my client was in drink at the time . . ." is an almost daily mantra from defending solicitors. Therefore, there is good reason for Magistrates to continue to make their valuable input into this area of the law. We see the picture (usually in full Technicolor!) from all angles.
5) Magistrates are volunteers. Therefore, all licensing activity by Magistrates has been carried out for countless years very inexpensively, or on an expenses only basis. Apart from full day licensing courts, in the past, it has not been unusual for us to work well into the night on visits to licensed premises; this for no payment whatsoever (apart from the reimbursement of petrol expenses).
6) Local authorities are, in general, delighted to have more powers, and have readily accepted the notion of taking over alcohol licensing, but clearly, they are not going to take over all those responsibilities (formerly the Magistrates') without additional budgetary provision. My Association believes that the costings for setting up new council posts, support staff and so on to cope with the new burden are considerable.
7) We venture to suggest that the imposition of fees on music performance - across the board, from one man in a pub to 500 in a cathedral, is the result of a simple fiscal imperative. Money is needed to enable the councils to take over licensing work from the Magistrates. This has to be generated somehow.
8) Clearly the Government is not going to provide all, if any, of the additional monies necessary and being demanded as a prerequisite by Local Authorities, from central funds ! How simple therefore to impose fees on music - citing health and safety as the plank (or do I mean sieve?) upon which to sail this one up the river.
9) Should this Bill be allowed to proceed - even in an ameliorated form (for example with much reduced fees) - let there be no mistake, once the Bill is enacted, fees would be later variable at a stroke, in an upwards only direction.
10) There has never been a health and safety issue with the Three Choirs Festival Concerts we have been putting on in Worcester, Hereford or Gloucester Cathedrals for the past 275 years, or indeed with those huge number of events which take place as part of the Fringe throughout the City and County. We are already carefully regulated by bodies such as the Fire Brigade, which limits the number of seats we may set out in the Cathedrals, and the disposition of those seats. There has never been an audience placed in peril in our Cathedrals and, to the best of my knowledge, in any other Cathedral in the land. Why then, this sudden rush to "protect the public"?
11) This is 'Yes Minister' politics at play and has nothing to do with public protection.
12) Deregulate licensing by all means - carefully and judiciously - but leave it in the hands of the Magistracy - which have proven themselves safe over many years.
(By way of a postscript, I should add that, as a long-serving magistrate, I am only too aware of the correlation between alcohol and crime. But the practice of tipping all drinkers onto the streets at 11.15pm - many of them having accelerated their intake of alcohol substantially between 10.30pm and 11pm in some sort of race to the bell - is clearly not in the public interest. Many of the tipees are then unable to get into the night clubs (eg. can't afford price of admission, are too drunk, wrong attire/footwear etc) and it is then that the troubles begin. The cost of policing all of this is very high. Ask any police force where the majority of their manpower is disposed between 10.45pm and 2.30am? So, personally, I am very much for the ending of those regulations (permitted hours) which, after all, were originally imposed during WW1 to ensure that munitions workers arrived relatively sober and rested at the munitions factories the next morning. Let people drink up and go home when they please and allow pubs to close when the landlord realises that there are not enough people on the premises to make staying open viable).
With all good wishes
The Three Choirs Festival - Worcester
Chairman - The Magistrates' Association (Worcestershire)