Here's a fax I've just sent my MP, via www.faxyourmp.com/
To: Mr Bill Rammell
MP for Harlow
House Of Commons
Friday 19 April 2002
Dear Bill Rammell,
Thank you for responding to my letter about Public Entertainment Licences. I am encouraged that you again confirm that you wish to see the present absurd and damaging legal situation reformed.
I was also encouraged by the general tone of Richard Caborn's reply to David Heath in the adjournment debate on this subject. And I was pleased to see that in a recent speech Kim Howells said 'I am firmly committed to the reform and modernisation of our archaic and at times, wholly stupid, licensing laws. I do not need persuasion that the 'two musicians rule' is outdated and pointless.'
However I am worried that the reforms proposed will not address some of the existing problems and in some respect could even make things worse. The fact that the House was virtually deserted for that adjournment debate does not in itself perhaps matter too much - however it raises alarm bells that very few MPs are likely to give these matters the kind of informed attention that is going to be needed if mistakes are not to be made.
So far as I can see there is nothing in the proposed legislation that would get rid of the current position, based on a 1793 law case, which says that members of the public are counted as performers. This is the heart of the trouble. It has the effect of outlawing impromptu sessions and singalongs. Where for example people wish to meet regularly in a place open to the public, such as a pub, and or make music or sing for their own enjoyment and with no payment involved, unless specific permission for this has been included in a licence application, a proprietor who allows this to happen is still going to risk a penalty which could amount in theory to as much as a £20,000 fine and six months in prison.
I know that Kim Howells has said that the intention is that informal singing and dancing by members of the public will be allowed. But in a communication to Weymouth and Portland Borough Council on 04/02/0, Ronnie Bridgett of the DCMS,specifically said:
'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. '
Moreover there does not seem to be any allowance made for the possibility that non-licensed premises might wish to allow informal music sessions.
The whole situation appears to be very confused, with contradictory statements being put out by a range of people on behalf of the relevant Government department. I know of a great deal of concern being expressed, by people with a great deal of experience in this field, that we could well end up even more restricted in some ways than we are now, in spite of what appears to be, on the face of it, a clear wish on the part of the Government to improve matters.
At least at present it is possible, for example, for a publican who has never had music in his pub to allow a couple of friends to sing a few songs or play a few tunes, and he can agree to them coming back on a regular basis without further ado. But even this very limited freedom will no longer be available, even where no payment is involved, unless the proposed reforms are carefully modified.
I am sure that there are plenty of good intentions around. But good intentions are not enough. If the reforms, when they come, get it wrong, that is likely to be it for another generation. We will be stuck with an absurd restrictive set of rules that will needlessly set us apart from other countries in Europe which manage perfectly well without penalising people who wish to make music.