Again from Hamish
Here is a copy of my email sent yesterday (20 August) to Baroness Blackstone:
Dear Baroness Blackstone
Is it possible we could meet at the earliest opportunity to discuss the direction of the Government's proposed licensing reforms?
It seems to me that the cultural implications of licensing reform are not being given due weight, particularly in the fundamentally important area of public access to and participation in live music in small local venues. Arguably this is just where the Government should be most focussed: the DCMS only recently published its strategic priorities for 2003/6, one of which is 'building communities'. Key objectives include
broaden access for all to a rich and varied cultural and sporting life
ensure that everyone has the opportunity to develop talent and to achieve excellence in the areas of culture
increase by 500,000 by 2004 the numbers of people experiencing the arts
And yet the Government is proposing that under the new licensing regime even a regular folk night in a rural pub, where just one performer sang completely unamplified, the licensee would be committing a criminal offence - unless he/she is licensed explicitly for this activity by the local authority.
However, live television in the same premises is to remain exempt from this licensing regime whose rationale is, purportedly, to ensure public safety, control noise, and prevent crime and disorder.
Such an approach undermines Government cultural policy which stresses increased access and inclusion. In Scotland, Ireland and other continental countries the provision of some live music is assumed when the equivalent of a liquor licence is granted to such premises.
English professional musicians (particularly folk and jazz performers) consistently report more gigs, better pay and more respect for the profession in other European countries. In Scotland all workplaces, including pubs, are regulated by exactly the same public safety and noise legislation that applies in England and Wales. Additional controls via PELs apply after 11pm, but if ancillary to the main business the provision of live music does not require a PEL in a typical bar or restaurant. The Government has yet to provide a satisfactory explanation why that cannot happen here.
Last Friday (16 August) 8 members of the DCMS alcohol and entertainment licensing team were taken out for the day by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and Six Continents (a multinational hotel and pub chain company). Callers to the DCMS were informed that the team was 'at a meeting'. The DCMS team were taken to a cinema complex, a restaurant, a hotel, and 3 pubs. This was, no doubt, a useful and worthwhile exercise for the DCMS, and was clearly a lobbying coup for the licensed trade.
If the Government really takes music seriously, however, should not the Department for Culture be a little more proactive in familiarising themselves with the nature and extent of live music in bars, pubs and other 'grassroots' venues?
Perhaps then the MU argument that the Government's proposed all-embracing licensing regime is disproportionate would be taken seriously. The Musicians Union and the Arts Council, who are also represented at the DCMS licensing Bill consultation could organise something along similar lines to the BBPA/Six Continents excursion, although it will be difficult at this late stage in the consultation process.
I look forward to hearing from you.
MU adviser - PEL reform