Faxed my MP again: FOR

Faxed my MP again:

FOR THE ATTENTION OF:

Mr Richard Caborn
MP for Sheffield Central
House Of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Tuesday 11 March 2003

URGENT: LICENSING BILL [HL]

Dear Mr Caborn,

I am writing to express grave concerns over the Licensing Bill [HL] currently under consideration by Parliament, despite having not received a reply to my previous fax on the subject of identity cards (I feel I ought to make you aware that I participated in a survey related to that fax, which is being used to compile a league table of MPs’ responsiveness – having checked the results of that survey you do not come out of it particularly well).

The proposed Licensing Bill includes a repeal of the “two in a bar rule” which allows certain types of music performance to take place without licensing. I strongly believe that proposed legislation will have a detrimental effect upon live music. As a sometime-musican myself, as well as somebody who has greatly enjoyed listening and participating in open folk music nights, a centuries-old tradition at many Sheffield pubs, I am astonished and mystified at the government’s heavy-handed approach which is likely to criminalise many such events.

The proposed legislation is all the more unfathomable given that satellite or terrestrial tv, radio, and jukebox music (all with rather shorter provenances than live music) are to be exempt from licensing, no matter how powerfully amplified. In addition, the majority of noise-related complaints connectred with pubs and similar establishments arise from the noise made by drinkers leaving the premises (as somebody who lives 100 yards from two pubs, in an area popular with student drinkers, I can certainly attest to this). The decision to exclude places of worship from the remit of the bill also strikes me as somewhat illogical.

Should you be unfamiliar with the details of the bill, some of the injustices it seeks to make law include:

– 110,000 on-licensed premises in England and Wales (pubs, bars, restaurants etc) lose their automatic right to allow one or two musicians to perform. A form of this limited exemption from entertainment licensing control dates back to at least 1899.

– The provision of a piano for public use becomes illegal unless licensed.

– 5,000 registered members clubs lose their licensing exemption for public entertainment.

– Thousands of private events, hitherto exempt, become licensable if ‘for consideration and with a view to profit’.
The same applies to any private performance raising money for charity.

– A new licensing criterion is introduced: the provision of ‘entertainment facilities’. This could mean professional rehearsal studios, broadcasting studios etc.

– Carol singing on front door-steps and busking could also be outlawed under the proposed Bill. Government lawyers dispute this, but Government Ministers in the Lords have confirmed that organised carol singing in such places as railway stations or shopping malls would be licensable.

– Musicians organising their own gigs could face criminal prosecution if they don’t first check that premises hold the appropriate authorisation for live music. This would apply even to a performance in your local pub.

– While premises that sell alcohol do not face an extra costs to apply for an entertainment license if applying simultaneously, premises which do not sell alcohol will be faced with costly additional administration. Even normally licensed premises are likely to face the additional time and cost of local authority scrutiny, public consultation, and possible public hearings.

– Similar legislation in New York was struck down because it violated First Amendment rights; it is quite possible that the proposed Bill could be found in contravention of Article 10(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

– The proposed legislation is open to over-zealous enforcement, as was the case when Westminster Council recently fined a pub in Soho over its customers’ “swaying”, which the council interpreted as unlicensed dancing.

– The maximum penalty for the provision of unlicensed performance will be a £20,000 fine and six months in prison.

In summary, the bill appears to be illogical, draconian and very poorly thought out. The government has stated that its intention is to stamp out anti-social behaviour, but I believe that a more likely effect will be to deter those who do drink and behave responsibly, smother traditional practices and the grassroots of the UK music industry, while doing little to address the real issues.

I would welcome your comments on all of the above points. I very much hope that you will not be voting for the bill in its present state, and will instead push for a system more in keeping with those which are popular and succesful in more liberal countries such as Scotland and Ireland.

Thank you,
Dan Sumption