A few comments on Kim Howell's reply 02/05/02
I share your constituent's concern about the current restrictions relating to the provision of entertainment in public places and can assure him that the Government's far-reaching licensing reform proposals will simplify and integrate the licensing regimes so that it is easier and less expensive for public houses to obtain the necessary permission to stage musical performances. As Mr Gall has rightly remarked, the main purpose of licensing legislation is to ensure public safety on premises, whatever the nature of the event may be, and to prevent undue disturbance to local residents. It is the statutory duty of local councils to take these factors into consideration when determining applications for public entertainment licenses. The current exemption from the normal requirement for a public entertainment licence, i.e. the "two in a bar rule" has widely been recognized as ineffective in preventing noise nuisance.
Local authorities may consider that the "two in a bar rule" has made the collection of PEL revenue more difficult, and their eagerness to be rid of any exemptions is plain, but dealing with excess noise has never been dependent on premises holding a PEL. Other legislation can and must deal with this, as all noise does not emanate from entertainment or music. Excess noise is not an automatic problem in the many places where exempted music is played, in the 95% of premises that do not currently hold PELs.
Even under current legislation maximum capacity and noise restrictions, can be placed on premises by the courts, when applications for liquor licenses are made.
The Government would not accept that it is the case that certain types of music, for example acoustic, are never "noisy" and should be excluded from the new licensing regime. We would also expect other factors, such as public safety and the time of day or night that a musical performance takes place, to influence the decisions of local authorities on licence conditions. We believe that, under a truly fair system of licensing, local councils must take individual circumstances into consideration when determining public entertainment licence applications.
As the Government's main concern would appear to be noise, they rather strangely consider it to be "fair" to first, place at risk and prevent any music (even that clearly presenting no real noise concern), unless the licensee pays for and specifically describes the exact nature of any musical activity ever likely to take place. Any subsequent licensing conditions, no matter how fair these are intended, can only be placed where application (and payment) first takes place. Without an application being made, any music will be prevented, without a specific safety concern ever being identified.
The right freedom of expression, including musical expression, can only be prevented where there is a specific safety concern. The present 'scattergun' approach, where innocent casualties are acceptable in order to address the few premises that are presenting a noise hazard, is to be continued under this reform. Excess noise IS a crime and legislation exists to deal with this and other crimes, efforts should be concentrated where and when this occurs, and the assumption not made that all music automatically presents this concern. Music making is not a crime and musicians are not criminals. I cannot accept that payment can ever be made to enable a crime (excess noise) to be committed, even conditionally. Noise does not only arise from some musical activities, it is a measurable product and as such it should be dealt with, without risking any valuable cultural events or restricting freedom of expression.
However, to ensure consistency across the country, there will be clear and transparent procedures which regulate the licensing authorities activities, and licensing fees will be set centrally to prevent the excesses which have occurred in some local authority areas.
This to be set in bands (presumably based on the size of the premises), from £100 to £500. This will last for the life of the business, but annual charges of £50 to £100 will be made. This to "maintain a revenue stream". Why? How can this payment be justified? Would the premises be unsafe without this? Do the premises get a reduced fee if they do not tick the 'entertainment' box? What fee will be charged for non-liquor licensed premises? Especially clubs and coffee bars for those too young to drink. Should music without drinking be encouraged or will this reform permanently link the two elements, to the detriment of music?
I can confirm that my Department has consistently stated that our intention is to properly regulate public performances put on by licensed premises to entertain the public. We do not anticipate that spontaneous singing which does not constitute a "performance" under the terms of a licensing bill, or is not undertaken or organised for "reward" as defined in the Bill, will be within the range of the licensing regime. The Government is aware of the importance of properly defining what constitutes a public performance and will ensure clarity on this point.
It would of course be far easier not to have to try and define "performance" or "spontaneous" but just to accept the fact that all music making and entertainment in pubs is safe, until there are specific concerns expressed that a particular activity, at that time or place may not be. Then conditions can be imposed to protect the public' interests. Which as it would only apply to places where there was a problem, and it would of course be far cheaper.
Finally, you may wish to know what the Association of British Jazz had to say about the Government's proposals:-
Frankly,no. It is not an opinion that many informed people would share.
"Remarkably, these reforms could benefit everyone: the brewers and landlords, as well as the present and future employees in the industry; and of course there will be increased opportunities for entertainers, particularly musicians. The reduction in legislation, with consequent savings to brewers and individual licensees, should also mean that there will be more money in the system for the payment of entertainers at a proper level."
As you know, it is my intention to bring forward a licensing reform Bill as soon as Parliamentary time is available.