To the DCMS from Hamish Birchall.
I am sorry to have to draw your attention again to inaccuracies and misleading statements made in recent letters to MPs signed by Kim Howells relating to PELs, live television, safe capacities in pubs, noise and public safety. The cumulative effect is to imply, wrongly, that in respect of any live music in pubs bars etc, existing public safety and noise legislation is inadequate to regulate the attendant risks. This in turn creates the impression that problems associated with live music in this context are driving the Government's PEL reforms, which is, of course, complete nonsense.
Firstly, as Andrew Cunningham acknowledged in an email to me dated 15 May 2002, the Musicians Union had already made representations to the Government about live television and their view that its exemption from licensing as public entertainment was an anomaly (response to Licensing White Paper, July 2000). It is therefore entirely wrong for the Minister to imply that the Union has not yet made such representations (Howells to Jim Knight MP, 17 July 2002, ref: CO2/07524/02434/pa).
Secondly, it is not the case that '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'. Licensing justices can and regularly do impose a capacity limit on the grant of liquor on licences. The Magistrates Courts, and John Murphy of the Magistrates Association confirmed that this is common in London. Licensing lawyer Jeremy Phillips, co-editor of Pattersons, confirmed that it is also common practice in Birmingham. Such premises may not have dancing without a PEL but they can have music (the reproduction of recorded sound or performed by one or two live musicians).
Thirdly, it is untrue to suggest that local authorities cannot enforce Noise Abatement Notices quickly (ref: as above). The noise policy unit at DEFRA confirmed to me on the phone that local authorities can suspend rights of appeal and enforce these Notices almost immediately, and that all local authorities have the power to seize noisy equipment. Incidentally, you may also have read in last week's Times the comment by Val Weedon of the UK Noise Association: 'It's rare that we receive complaints about live music in pubs and bars. In fact, it's fair to say that more complaints arrive about the noise levels of amplified pre-recorded music'(Billy Bragg leads lament for grassroots music, Dalya Alberge and Richard Ford, 25 July 2002)
I asked those I spoke to at DEFRA and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health whether, in their view, the present legislation was inadequate to deal with noise emanating from premises. Their answer was 'no'. This is reinforced by the DEFRA review of the 1996 Noise Act which found that the majority of local authorities did not feel there was a need to change that legislation, although there may be a need for more resources to underwrite enforcement.
Yours sincerely Hamish Birchall