The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #57243   Message #900405
Posted By: The Shambles
28-Feb-03 - 11:44 AM
Thread Name: EFDSS on the Licensing Bill - PELs.
Subject: RE: EFDSS on the Licensing Bill - PELs.
I place this here as it demonstrates that Dr Howells seems to be under the impression that the Local Goverment Association is a musical body and that he does not even know who the English Folk Dance and Song Society are.............

The following from Sheila Miller 24 February 2003.

I started trying to type a transcript of Monday's press briefing with Howells, and then realised it was going to take far more time than I could spare - the briefing lasted an hour - so here are some high- and possibly low-lights.

Abbreviations - KH: Dr Kim Howells, Minister of State at the DCMS; SM: me; BH: Brian Healy; Gillian and Dominic: two of Howells' civil servants; for other people asking questions I've just put 'Q'
I've used an ellipsis (?) when someone is interrupted and doesn't finish what they are saying, or when I'm missing out a bit of something someone says. (I don't know if that will appear to most of you as an ellipsis, given that most of you are probably on PCs and I'm on a Mac, and anything
using option and Apple keys, etc, often turns into something else when sent to a computer of the other type.) When I've missed out a bigger chunk, I've put a paragraph return without repeating the initials of the speaker. For an even bigger chunk missed out, I've put a space between the paras. I hope that's clear.

If anyone, for any reason, wants to hear the whole recording (if you're having trouble sleeping, for example), send me a C90 and a stamped, self-addressed envelope and I'll make you a copy of it. E-mail me directly in the unlikely event that you want my address for this.

SM: Dr Howells, why is it that the consultative committee has been made up of people from the music and leisure industries - ie, big business – rather than organisations representing musicians and people who love music, such as the MU and the English Folk Dance and Song Society. The leading body representing English traditional song and dance, which has been refused a
place in the consultation?

KH: The MU has certainly been consulted. They have sat round that table with us (pointing). I don't know of the other organisation you mention. If they make representations, we will listen to them.

SM: I understand that the EFDSS has made representations to you more than once, and has been refused a place in the consultation.
(KH asked civil servants about this)

Dominic (to KH): They were in touch with me last week.

KH: We will be glad to have representations from them.[Or words to that effect. It was only at this point that I got my tape recorder out.]

Q: The MU is asking for differentiation for acoustic or minimally amplified music. Any chance of concession?

KH: The problem was about who would decide what was amplified and non-amplified. If you had a group that consisted of six Japanese drummers, as opposed to a couple of folk singers in the corner with small amplification, which constitutes the bigger noise problem? We decided it
was too complicated, and the easiest way of doing it would be when the licensee applied for a licence to sell alcohol they would not have to pay any more to allow music to be played.? Noise is a very important consideration. We've been mainly concerned with the lobbying from the MU,
but there's a huge lobby out there from people called residents, and we've got to walk a very tight rope to try to encourage live music and make sure that venues thrive, but you've also got to ensure that people who live near them don't have their lives reduced to misery.

SM: Of course they can't object to a pub having very noisy satellite TV or a very noisy jukebox, because that is not licensable.

KH: This is a deregulatory Bill. We're not about to add new regulation to something like watching television?

SM: It's hardly comparable to watching TV in your living room.

KH: No, it is comparable. If the consequences of television in any licensed premises were to make people's lives a misery, people could go in and object? and the pub could lose its licence.

SM: But residents won't be informed in advance if a pub wants to have satellite TV and is going to be packed with lager louts, but they will be informed in advance if it wants to have three people sitting in the corner of the bar playing fiddles.

KH: No, that is a difference, it's true.

SM: And it is correct, is it not, that ACPO - the Association of Chief Police Officers - has asked the DCMS to make satellite TV a licensable activity because of the number of incidents??

KH: I'm not aware of that. When I met them, they embraced the Bill. (to Dominic) Have they talked to you about this?

Dominic: They did make some representations about it when the White Paper was being put together, three years ago.

KH: Well, they haven't spoken to me about it.

BH: At the moment, the two-in-a-bar rule and the law as it exists isn't really a problem. It's the councils who enforce the law, and they make a pig's ear of it, and I have a feeling, from what I've read of the sketchy releases so far, that they're going to make a pig's ear of this as well, unless you give them strict guidance. If the council are going to come down and say you have to knock this room out and have a bigger toilet and a fire escape, it blows a hole in the whole thing.

KH: The guidance that goes out will make it clear that, where there are two musicians playing in a bar now, local authorities will not be able to impose additional conditions on that licensed venue. We're very serious about that.

BH: Are you saying that the two-in-a-bar rule says?

KH: Well, in a sense, except, of course, that the venue has to have a licence - that's the difference. We were told that the two-in-a-bar rule was an anachronism and was distorting the way music was played in this country. It's important that we get this licensing system right?
The cost of licence will be between £100 and £500. That premises licence is a one-off thing for the life of those premises. If you want to put music on, you will tick a box, and the local authority looks at it and says yes or no? I'm convinced that the guidance which the Sec of State puts out
about ensuring that nobody's going to come down on music venues where there is no material difference from what exists at the moment is the right way to do it. That guidance must be stuck to. I don't accept your premise that local authorities make a pig's ear of it at the moment.

BH: Most of the premises in London are old buildings that couldn't conform to the regulations to apply for a licence.

KH: You're asking the question as if the law was different now, but it isn't. You've still got to apply with health and safety regulations. We've just seen two appalling accidents in the US, and I'm not going to be the Minister responsible for allowing that to happen here. We've got to make
sure that, when people are in those venues, they're going to be safe. If there are hundreds of people at an event, and there aren't appropriate ways for them to get out in an emergency, that's a nonsense. You can't allow that.

BH: The licence is for the lifetime of premises. What happens when the landlord changes or they want to change what they do?

KH: The licence is for the lifetime of the premises. If they want to change what they do inside the premises, at present, they may have to go to magistrates, the local authority licensing committee, etc. We want to simplify that. They may want to have different things. We think this Bill is flexible enough to allow it to happen, and it's a cheaper way of doing it. If at the moment there are two musicians in a bar, the local authority will not be able to insist on material changes to that building. It makes no difference whether the musicians are paid, or whether people pay to hear

Q: What about amateur music organisations, e.g. brass bands that have their own premises with a bar?

KH: If it's strictly practice, it will not be covered. If it's known to be a sort of back-door attraction for that pub, that's a different matter.

SM: Will the guidance have the force of law? You say councils will not be allowed to impose unreasonable conditions.

KH: Yes, they will. They will have statutory power. The guidance can be more flexible. It can be changed more easily. It will have the force of statute behind it to ensure that nobody starts nobbling musicians or venues.

SM: The reason I ask is that, under the existing legislation, councils are, by law, not allowed to use PELs to raise revenue, but it's been very clear that a lot of them have done so. Home Office circular 13/2000 was sent out to remind councils that they were not allowed to do so, and that they must not impose onerous conditions, and that was completely ignored by practically every council in the land. So what is the government going to do to ensure that councils follow the guidance?

KH: We are absolutely determined that they are not going to take advantage of venues or musicians, or in any way jeopardise live music or culture of any sort. In fact, we've been talking to them long and hard about this, to make them understand that the creative industries are phenomenally important right across this country, and that they ought to have policies that encourage the creative industries, not discourage them because they happen to look like a nice little earner for a bit.

Some councils are very worried about the cumulative effect when you've got lots and lots of venues very close together. My answer to them has been this: I went out on a night shift with the Manchester police, and we went to Peter Street, where there are 150,000 people boozing every Friday and Saturday night, and where three or four years ago it was like a battle zone. One of the things they told me was that most of the violence that takes place, and most of the problems, are not associated with music venues. They're associated with areas where there is no mix of venue, where you've got vertical drinking establishments. Some restaurants that might have some music in them were withdrawing from the city centre, because their clientele felt intimidated by 150,000 18- to 24-year-olds who get plastered. They say the parts of the city with the fewest problems are
those with most music venues in them.

Q: Who's on the working group?

KH: Our music industry adviser is talking to a lot of people in the music industry. We've got the British Beer and Pub Assoc, the Arts Council of GB, the Arts Council of Wales and the Local Govt Assoc. We've invited lots of others, but it's early days yet. We want to ensure that any situation that exists at the moment, where there are two musicians, doesn't get trodden on by some zealous local authority that thinks there's a chance to close it down. We hope there will be representatives from the Musicians' Union, and every other body that's concerned with live music - and this outfit you were telling me about, which Dominic says he's been talking to [gesturing towards me - ie, the EFDSS].

Q: Would there be any kind of appeal procedure, if the council was being over-zealous?

KH: They can appeal to the magistrates' court.

Gillian (adviser): And the magistrates will be able to point to the guidance from the Sec of State; the council is under a statutory obligation to have regard to this. They can disregard the guidance if they think there is a good reason for doing so, but they have to give written reasons for
that. If the applicant doesn't like that reason, they can appeal to the magistrates and, if necessary, to the Crown Court.

SM: But taking it to a higher court than the magistrates would involve a lot more expense. You're talking about a licensee, who has a limited amount of money, taking on a local authority, which has a bottomless purse provided by its ratepayers. As one lawyer I've been in touch with said,
only a lawyer married to a lawyer could think that was anything other than a nightmare for the poor publication. (Laughter from KH and civil servants)

Q: The guidance has the force of law and can be amended very easily?

KH: Nothing is ever easy.

Q: Relatively easily, as opposed to taking it through the House? What system of scrutiny will there be for changes? You're setting out from a very benign position, but what's to stop another administration from coming in and using it less benignly? And the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has said that the exemption for churches could be an abuse of the human rights of other people and organisations.

KH: We've looked at the Joint Committee's views very carefully, and we've listened to a lot of musicians, who were concerned that they might be criminalised by the Bill. We've put that one right, and I think we've got it right now. I hope that the action that we've taken on churches, village
halls and so on will address the other concerns they had.

Q: You say the Bill should encourage live music in this country. Have you done any research on what the effect on live music is likely to be?

KH: We think it's going to reduce the costs [to the venues] very substantially - £1.9bn, I think. We've been talking to the Local Government Association, trying to encourage them to understand the importance of music - not just music, but lots of forms of creative expression - and that it
shouldn't be seen as some kind of burden, but ought to be seen as a way of developing the economy. I would think that the Stereophonics and the Manic Street Preachers between them have probably earned more than the British Steel Corporation has earned in Wales in the past 10 years.

KH: We're looking for Royal Assent in July this year. It should be implemented 12 months after that.

BH: Will this consultative committee be asking us for our opinions?

KH: If you want to give us your opinion, we'll be very glad to get it. (Then talked at length about the Broadcasting Bill having been scrutinised before it came before Parliament, and how much better a way of doing it that was.)

BH: Is there no possibility of an exemption for very small venues that don't hold more than, say, 50 people?

KH: No.

SM: A lot of us were very pleased about the amendment that means that musicians will not be criminalised. I have two points on that. One is that I understand from various lawyers that, if one of those musicians organises that - for example, a bandleader - or if someone organises the event?

KH: If someone is part of the management of a venue, and they don't apply for a licence when a big band is going to play there, and it's a big attraction, and it's advertised, they will be regarded as part of the management as far as the law is concerned.

SM: A lot of small musical clubs are organised by people on a voluntary basis, an unpaid basis. The amendment that ensures that musicians will not be criminalised doesn't do the same for the unpaid organiser. For example, if I run a folk club, I book a professional guest who gets paid at the end of the night - that professional artist cannot be fined or sent to prison, but I can be.

KH: You can, yes.

SM: It doesn't seem entirely fair.

KH: What do you mean entirely fair? You are organising the gig. You know whether the pub is licensed for music?
[Tape ran out at this point; so the rest is from memory.]

SM: But, if someone is running musical events for love, rather than for profit, it seems wrong that they should be criminalised.

KH: But this isn't a change. If your club is meeting in an unlicensed venue, it's against the law, if you're putting on more than two people.

SM: No, because at present there is an exemption for members-only clubs. Many small music clubs, such as folk and jazz clubs, function that way because it's the only way they can survive under the present law. These are usually acoustic clubs with well behaved audiences, no trailing cables, etc. They're not causing any disturbance.

KH: But the rules are different for clubs that have their own premises?

SM: I'm talking about clubs that meet in the upstairs rooms or back rooms of pubs.

KH: The legislation is certainly not intended to close such places. At the end, after the briefing had finished, as I said before, I told him that there really had been a case in which a pub had been prosecuted because customers sang 'Happy Birthday', and told him which pub it had been
(I'd overheard him making a remark to someone else about silly stories saying pubs would be prosecuted if people sang 'Happy Birthday').