Letter to my MP from Dr Howells 17/07/02.
Thank you for your letter of 24 June, enclosing a letter from your constituent Roger Gall..........., in connection with our proposals for public entertainment licensing reform.
Your constituent has asked if live satellite screening of sporting events will remain uncovered by the entertainment element of the proposed premises licence. I can confirm that we do not currently intend to provide for the licensing (and therefore inclusion in the operating plan) of any public entertainment which is not already covered in the existing public entertainment licensing laws. In the context of alcohol and public entertainment, we are proposing a deregulatory and not a regulatory Bill. If it is the considered position of the Musician's Union nationally that the definition of public entertainment should be expanded, we will certainly consider it.
Mr Gall believes that existing legislation dealing with noise nuisance makes redundant the need to license music, dancing and entertainment of a like kind. So far as I am aware there is no law in this country which addresses public nuisance generally, although there are some by-laws which can be made by local authorities, but in many parts of the country they have not been created.
The powers under Part 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Noise Act 1996 are relatively limited. While a local resident who is disturbed by excessive noise from commercial or private premises can ask the local authority to serve a Noise Abatement Notice, the act limits the enforcement powers of the authority. Premises must be given time in which to comply, which is not ideal for the local resident. Although there are some powers to seize equipment that is generating unacceptable noise levels, there is no immediate power to stop the people who are making the noise unless it can be said in law that they are causing a breach of the peace.
However, the Licensing Act 1964 provides powers for the police to close down licensed premises instantly which are excessively noisy for up to twenty four hours if that is necessary to prevent disturbance to the public. Furthermore, under current public entertainment licensing law, there is no requirement for a warning to be given when any conditions attached to the licence are breached. The local authority is entitled to prosecute the operator of the premises without further ado. This places a significant pressure on the holder of the licence to ensure its conditions are complied with. In both cases, whether under the 1964 Act or under public entertainment licensing law, both the liquor and public entertainment licence could be forfeited.
It should be noted that public safety is an equally important consideration under public entertainment licensing law. At present, there is no provision under health and safety legislation which obliges premises just selling alcohol to which the public are admitted to have a safe capacity. There is therefore no capacity limit for the vast majority of public houses in England and Wales. Similarly, there is nothing in health and safety and safety law which requires most venues (other than stadia in certain contexts) providing music and dancing to have safety capacities. Accordingly, it is only through public entertainment licensing that a safe capacity limit can be imposed on venues or places at which music or dancing is taking place.
No health and safety legislation can require that free water should be available at a discotheque where there are fears that drug use and prolonged dancing could result in serious dehydration, nor is there a provision for clubs to provide a 'chill out" room for hyperactive dancers to allow them to calm down when they may be injuring their bodies while under the influence of drugs. Licensing law conditions provide the mechanism for these requirements. These types of condition cannot be imposed by magistrates in connection with a liquor licence as they would be deemed unreasonable and therefore unlawful.
In brief, there is no complete duplication between the requirements of health and safety legislation and noise legislation and existing licensing law. Where there is duplication, we intend to eliminate it under the new regime.
I would like to take this opportunity to explain that the alcohol and entertainment licensing reforms would require local authorities to follow rules and procedures. They would have no discretion to refuse a licence or impose any condition unless a reasonable objection to the operating plan based on valid evidence had been raised by the police, an environmental health officer, the fire authority or local residents.
This would give the professional officers greater influence than they currently have. In granting or refusing licenses, or imposing any conditions, which would be proportionate and tailored to the venue, the local council would also be legally bound to take into account guidance issued by the Secretary of State. Departure from this guidance, without a good or valid reason, would provide grounds for an appeal to the courts.
In response to Me Gall's concern that a premises licence might somehow prevent music which is not considered a noise nuisance from being performed in licensed premises I must point out that the new system will allow for variation. Also, as I have pointed out in previous correspondence the fee for a premises licence would be no different whether the public house sought permission solely to sell alcohol or decided to go for multiple permissions, including the provision of public entertainment.
Finally, to address the human rights issue, I must reiterate that licensing legislation must take into consideration the rights of local residents as well as musicians. It is essential that the greater freedom and opportunities which would be available to licensees and performers under the new regime are balanced with powers to deal with the small minority who might abuse such freedom, damage communities and bring the industry into disrepute.
Dr Kim Howells