The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #57243   Message #953577
Posted By: The Shambles
16-May-03 - 02:05 AM
Thread Name: EFDSS on the Licensing Bill - PELs.
Subject: RE: EFDSS on the Licensing Bill - PELs.
The following from Mark Gibbens.

Again - sorry for the length of this!

EFDSS has now written to all 16 MPs on the Standing Committee discussing the Licensing Bill, to set the record straight after Kim Howells implied we were now happier with it. The letter (text pasted below) has also been sent to key members of the House of Lords, a few other MPs not on the Committee, and the Joint Commission on Human Rights.

Please feel free (read "strongly encouraged") to use the text of this in letters to local MPs.

Best wishes,

Mark Gibbens, Development Officer, English Folk Dance & Song Society
[ Tel 020 7485 2206 | Web ]
--- Original Letter ---

Sent to: Bob Blizzard MP, David Crausby MP, Mark Field MP, Jane Griffiths MP, John Grogan MP, Nick Harvey MP, Mark Hoban MP, Kim Howells MP, Kevan Jones MP, Fraser Kemp MP, Jim Knight MP, Martin Linton MP, Malcolm Moss MP, Adrian Sanders MP, Graham Stringer MP, Andrew Turner MP, Lord Redesdale, Baroness Buscombe, Viscount Falkland, John Bercow MP, Peter Pike MP, Mark Hendrick MP, Barry Sheerman MP, Hugo Swire MP, Jean Corston MP & Professor Feldman.

RE: Folk Arts and the Licensing Bill

I am writing in response to some comments voiced in the House of Commons Committee which is currently discussing the Licensing Bill. The implication seems to have been made that somehow the Government has eased the fears of the folk arts community concerning the Bill.

The English Folk Dance & Song Society (EFDSS) has been engaged in talks with the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) for several weeks, but to date we have had very few of our concerns addressed by the Department, and many of our questions have been left unanswered. It is for this reason that we are concerned we are being misrepresented to a certain degree in the House of Commons debate.

Dr. Howells was reported in the 8 May Hansard to have said, "I have had lengthy meetings with representatives of all the large morris, folk song and dance groups, including wassailers, storytellers and mummers. I took them through the Bill and they were much happier at the end of it than they were when we began."

As far as EFDSS is concerned, this is absolutely not the case. We were very grateful to the Minister for a meeting with us on the 3rd April, and that he has opened the door to further discussions between ourselves and the DCMS. But in reality, we remain worried by the legislation and have not received adequate answers to the specific questions we raised.

I would therefore like to reiterate our principal concerns to assist discussions in the remaining few days of committee stage.

*Folk Dance in the Open on Public Land*

As EFDSS understands it, folk dancing in the open on public land is not currently licensable, except in Greater London. Under the Licensing Bill, regulations will be extended to cover folk dance on public land - in fact in "any place", according to the Bill's definition of a premises.

We have had great difficulty in trying to make this simple point to the DCMS, who have supplied us with somewhat misleading responses.

A DCMS statement made to us on 24 April asserted,

"Folk dance in the open on public land is already licensable in Greater London and in the parts of the country where the local authority has adopted the appropriate parts of Schedule 1 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982."

However, when EFDSS sought the advice of independent licensing experts, Chris Hepher and Dr. Colin Manchester, we found that the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 extends only to those entertainments held on private land. Furthermore, our attention was drawn to a statement made by the 1982 Home Office Minister, Mr Timothy Raison, who remarked that "the controls extend only to entertainments on private land, because in practice there are already means of controlling events which take place on land which is not in private ownership".

Dr. Howells painted a very different picture to the House of Commons to that which he painted for EFDSS at our meeting with him. The House of Commons was told,

"They [EFDSS et al] were worried that they would suddenly have to apply for licences for performances that take place in public on the side of roads and so on. Such activities are not licensable. They will not be affected."

However, when EFDSS met with the Minister on the 4th April, we were told that such activities will be licensable and that our only recourse would be to work with the DCMS to encourage local authorities to ensure that all public spaces are licensed. Certainly, our own reading of the Licensing Bill is that folk dance taking place on public land is caught, though it seems that even the DCMS are unsure of exactly what the reality is likely to be.

To clarify our position, we still feel strongly that the Government has not made an adequate case for extending entertainments licensing to cover folk arts on public land. This position seems to be strongly supported by Mr Timothy Raison's 1982 statement, above. As a result, we feel that to work with the DCMS to encourage Local Authorities to licence all public spaces for folk dance would be at best an exercise in damage limitation, but would not do much to address the fundamental problems posed by the legislation.

*Folk Club*

EFDSS has warned the Government that many folk music and song clubs which are currently not covered by entertainments licensing might become so under the new Bill.

Many such clubs currently operate as private, members only clubs where attendees have to join at least 48 hours before benefiting from any entertainment. By doing so, we believe there is no requirement for them to have a Public Entertainments Licence. Under the proposed Licensing Bill, there will be no such get-out, and the majority of England's 400 folk clubs could become licensable.

I am sorry to have to say that since first submitting this concern to the DCMS in February, EFDSS has had no answer. In view of this lack of response, EFDSS can only reiterate its earlier questions:

As we understand it, the Health and Safety at Work Act, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, and the Environmental Protection Act all currently provide adequate controls for small scale music and dance performances.

1.How does the Government feel that folk clubs will be affected by the Licensing Bill?

2.Why is current, subsisting legislation deficient with regard to folk clubs?

3.What is the pressing social need to extend entertainments licensing regulations to cover folk clubs when broadcast football matches and loud recorded music in pubs remains exempt?

4.Does the Government feel that folk clubs are an acceptable casualty in the pursuit of its other licensing objectives?


*Automatic Small-Scale Entertainment Permission Included with Premises Licence.*

EFDSS feels that if an automatic permission to host small-scale entertainment was included with a Premises Licence, then such activities could be covered by a degree of Local Authority control without requiring additional costs or conditions on the part of the premises owner. We believe that a definition of "small-scale entertainment" shouldn't be difficult to draw up, but should certainly include unamplified music and song, as well as folk dance which is accompanied by acoustic music.

This is not so much an attempt at making folk arts a special case, but more a recognition that there is no evidence to suggest that such activities pose a greater risk to the public than the normal business of a premises.

As with the "two-in-a-bar" permission, the DCMS has argued that such a rule would encourage the majority of venues to stick at the "ceiling" created by a permission with any kind of "cut-off point". In other words, if venues had an automatic permission to host, say, 6 unamplified performers included with their Premises Licence, why would they ever bother asking for more?

Of course, this argument is contradicted by the DCMS's other mantra, that it will be free and easy for venues to "tick the box" and get full permission for public entertainments.

But more importantly, the Government does not appear to have supported it's argument against an automatic permission with any evidence about the likely behaviour of venue owners. It is unlikely that all venues will ask to host entertainment at the time when they apply for their premises licenses, or if they do some might be asked to make improvements to the venue which they can't afford. An automatic permission would allow a balanced level of cultural activity to take place at any venue which is open to the public, not because there is never a risk to the public, but because there is no evidence of risk beyond that posed by the normal running of a premises.

*Exemption for Folk Dance and Drama in the Open Air*

Small-scale folk dance in the open does not require licensing as public entertainment any more than an informal cricket or football game in the open. Moreover, it is likely to be significantly damaged by being made "regulated entertainment".

EFDSS cannot accept the argument, made by Dr. Howells in a recent letter to the Morris Federation, that there is ... [no] justification for treating public land outdoors in a different manner to other places since the issues of safety etc for performers and spectators are no different to those on private land or indoors. Of course the safety issues are different: on a village green or public park there is unlikely to be any risk of structural weakness in the dance floor, the risk of fire is practically nil, and at all but the biggest events there is little or no risk of inadequate emergency exits.

We also note with some disappointment that whilst discussing amendment No. 383 on 8th April, the House of Commons Standing Committee decided that it was impossible to create a definition of folk dance that could cause it to be exempt from entertainments licensing. Dr. Howells said, "Defining this sort of activity is fraught with difficulty and provides grounds by itself for rejecting amendment No. 383."

We feel that it would be quite possible to arrive at an exemption for folk dance and drama which would reflect the fact that such activities pose little or no risk to the public. If the Government feels strongly the need to extend entertainments licensing to cover public as well as private land, an exemption for folk dance could use as a basis the fact that it is almost always accompanied by unamplified instruments.

An exemption worded along the lines of 'a performance of dance in the open air which is accompanied by live, unamplified music', would seem to address many of the concerns of all sides. Without amplified music, any dancing in the open is necessarily limited to the immediate area of the musicians, and is highly unlikely to cause a public nuisance.

Likewise, an exemption for folk drama such as mummers' plays and pace-egging could easily focus on their non-amplified and non-staged nature, without the need to define "what is folk" - something even EFDSS finds tricky!

It is also possible to imagine amendments which would focus on measured noise levels, or the number of people present in the audience. Either or even a combination of these factors could easily be used to distinguish between folk dance in the open and other forms of entertainment which the Government has said it wants to licence, such as the "rock concert on a village green".

As long as any exemption avoids treating folk arts as a special case, and focuses on the the fact that there are some activities which simply do not require licensing control, exemptions for small-scale community dance and drama in the open should not prove impossible to the Government's skilled legislators.

*Ability for Local Authorities not to require licenses where inappropriate*

The majority of folk arts events in England are small-scale and simply do not require licensing as forms of public entertainment. The Government has shown absolutely no evidence to the contrary, and anybody who has seen a morris team performing in a town square, or has been at a pub while a folk session is taking place, would understand that the only purpose that entertainments licensing can serve in such situations is to generate revenue for local authorities.

However, it is our experience that local authorities do not pick and choose when it comes to legislation. In fact, it is surely their duty to apply the law to the letter. We believe that local authorities will be extremely unlikely to allow folk arts events which they know about to go unlicensed. Mummers who have traditionally performed at the Red Lion in Cerne Abbas found last year that they were not allowed to stage their play in the pub because the local authority had become aware of the event and had to enforce the letter of the law. The suggestion that the authority might have been able to turn a blind eye to small-scale events that should not need licensing was dismissed by Jill Haines, chairwoman of the West Dorset District Council. On the Radio 4 Today programme, she stressed that the authority "could not turn a blind eye" to any licensable events.

Given the difficulties clearly faced by Local Authorities in interpreting legislation, coupled with the "one size fits all" approach which the Licensing Bill takes, EFDSS would like to suggest an amendment to the Licensing Bill which allowed local authorities, where appropriate, to decide that a particular event, though technically licensable, could be given discretionary exemption from entertainments licensing on the grounds that it clearly doesn't need licensing. Local Authorities may well want to seek the advice of local fire and police services before taking such a decision, but if they were allowed by law to rule in this way, many small-scale folk arts events could be protected from being licensed out of existence.

In summary, I must stress that EFDSS remains very concerned about the effects of the Licensing Bill on the folk arts. The DCMS has provided practically no reassurance to date, nor have they explained why any of the activities we are concerned about will not be affected by the Bill. Furthermore, they have provided no evidence to support their case for extending entertainments licensing to catch most folk arts activities.

I hope this letter has provided you with some helpful advice as regards amending the Bill to ensure that England's traditional arts are not adversely affected by it.

I am of course available should you have any further questions.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Gibbens
Development Officer, EFDSS

'Phone:      020 7485 2206

--- Letter Ends ---