Dear Mr Knight MP
Despite all this proposed major reform we still seem to be stuck with the definition of public entertainment, for purposes of licensing, as music and dancing. The proposed changes will not be a reform without a new and more sensible definition of what is or is not public entertainment.
That one form of art or expression should alone be singled out as only permissible after a fee is paid by a third party to a local authority is an unfair disincentive to music making, and not specifically addressing the stated goal of the licensing.
Ensuring the public's interests and making premises safe for whatever activity is to take place, or whatever future form this may take, can probably best be done with a general statement of that requirement, rather than attempting to specify exactly the nature of every activity.
If (some) music related activities are seen to present a specific problem, not presented by other forms of public entertainment, such as noise this is the area that needs to be (and is), addressed by other legislation.
The standard conditions applied to the current licences, and which I assume will still apply to the premises licence, apply to non-musical entertainment like hypnotism or pyrotechnics.
Many forms of musical activity do not in fact present any appreciable noise concern, but the current and proposed law makes no distinction. A licence refused or conditions made on the grounds of noise, will also prevent or affect music not presenting this.
Many forms of musical activity taking place in pubs, many of them provided by and for customers, not only do not present any additional safety concerns or appreciable noise concerns, but should not even be considered as conventional public entertainment. The current and proposed law makes no distinction.
Other non-musical forms of entertainment provided in pubs by licensees or by and for fellow customers are not subject to any unfair disincentive or to a third party obtaining an additional licence. Examples are quiz nights, darts and so on. Satellite TV, is also currently exempt from this requirement. As it is not music or dancing, will it remain so?
The current public entertainment licence is a tax or a music licence. If one art form or expression is to continue to be considered differently to others under reform, then this element should be honestly referred to as a music and dancing element (or tax). For that is what it is to be in effect.
Many of the 95% of licensed premises that do not hold PELs, are also currently providing safe premises, on a regular and on a casual basis, for small-scale musical activities. It will act as a disincentive for these premises to continue proving this, if they have to submit specific operating plans, make additional payments to enable music making to continue and are also subject to more official inspections and are then subject to pay for any alterations required. Many of which relating to noise, may not be necessary or applicable, as not all music presents noise concerns.
It could well prove to be that musical entertainment will still take place, unadvertised and on a casual basis, being driven underground and presenting more problems for the public and enforcement officers. A situation that will not be in anybody's interests, for making music is not a criminal activity, musical expression is a right.
It must be recognised that other existing legislation has made these musical activities safe and ensured the interests of the public. And that as in Scotland, no additional licence is required in pubs and bars.
Musical expression should not continued to be singled out and placed at risk by being used as a scapegoat, when the issues and concerns are noise, crime and other social problems.
The actions taken by many local authorities, to the detriment of musical expression, in strictly interpreting and enforcing current legislation, does not fill one with much confidence, when the whole responsibility for licensing is to be handed over to them. For the present Government has made it clear that the current rule should no be used to prevent ordinary people from singing and dancing in pubs but the Government is just watching while many councils, including mine, are doing just that.
The Government's intention can be overridden currently and also under the proposed legislation by councils declaring such music making to be public entertainment.
The DCMS's Ronnie Bridgett made the follow reply to Weymouth and Portland Borough Council on 04/02/02.
It is not planned that the new system will give an exemption to any forms of entertainment. The proposal is that all activities to be held on a Premises Licence (including non-amplified music) would need to be revealed in the operating plan put for approval to the licensing authority. The authority could only impose conditions on the Premises Licence which protect public safety and prevent disorder, crime and public nuisance.
The following question from is from Hamish Birchall and the more recent (03/04/02) reply from Mr Bridgett is of interest.
But the Government now proposes that, in addition to the risk assessments employers have a statutory duty to undertake (taking into account all activities in the workplace), 'all activities to be held on a Premises Licence including non-amplified music would need to be revealed in the operating plan put for approval to the local authority'. Do you envisage licensees being required to declare whether or not customers will sing - unamplified - for their own amusement?
We do not anticipate that premises licences would have to include such an element.
This does seem to contradict Mr Bridgett's earlier reply given to my council. If it is the latest thinking it should be welcomed but needs to appear and be set in the Government's proposals. The problem being that without the principle, of the right to make music being established in the legislation, it still only needs one of our officials to claim the activity is public entertainment, for us to have go to court to fight it, exactly the same as now.
I accept that this Government is sincere in its wish to reform and improve the current system and its current failures and excesses. I would be most grateful if you could comment on and pass on this letter to Dr Howells for his comments.