Mudcat Café message #1287371 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #70681   Message #1287371
Posted By: McGrath of Harlow
03-Oct-04 - 10:03 AM
Thread Name: A little more news on Licensing
Subject: RE: A little more news on Licensing
Here's the "comment or representation" I wrote and dropped in to our town hall, in time for the deadline for responding to the Harlow Council's "Draft Statement of Licensing Policy", which I linked to earlier:

Comment on Harlow Council's "Statement of Licensing Policy"

1.0 First some background. In common with a fair number of other people around the country and locally, I enjoy taking part in informal folk music sessions in pubs these are not formal folk clubs, but take place in bars, where friends will meet and make music and sing a few songs, with no kind of payment involved, and with the bar being open for business as usual.

1.1 Under the present law, before the new Act, these have had a grey status legally in some localities they have been accepted as a normal social activity, no different essentially from a game of darts. However in other cases they have been seen as entertainment requiring a PEL, since more than two musicians are involved and on occasion long-standing music sessions had to closed down.(For example in the Welsh Harp in Waltham Abbey a couple of years ago). The two in a bar exemption has sometimes been used as a way of fudging the issue, but in many cases publicans have been reluctant to permit informal sessions, for fear of possibly trespassing against an unclear law.

1.2 In common with a lot of people involved in folk music and other type of informal music making I was very worried about some aspects of the new Act, especially the complete removal of the two-in-a-bar exemption for licensed premises.

1.3 However there have been a number of firm Government promises that under the Act the kind of informal sessions which I have mentioned will not be threatened, and will in fact be welcomed, and that one intended impact of the Act will be to make this country a place where it will be easier for live music to happen.

1.4 In the words contained in one Government press release "Un-amplified live music in small venues to be treated exceptionally to ensure traditional and amateur folk music thrives."

1.5 This would be in line with a pledge made by Kim Howells in a BBC broadcast on 17th July 2002 to the effect that when it comes to "sessions and singarounds, people just playing for their own fun" there would definitely be no requirement for any kind of licence referring to such activities he said "There shouldn't be a problem. As long as money isn't changing hands, then there's no reason why they should have to have a licence."

1.6 In the actual Act this appears to have been carried into effect by the exemption given to "incidental music", which is specifically excluded from being treated as entertainment that requires regulation

1.7 It seems to me that the Harlow policy statement would be improved if there was some specific recognition of this. This would serve to reassure proprietors of pubs, coffee-bars or other places where people meet informally that they do not need to be worried about allowing their customers to sing rather than talk, or to play musical instruments rather than, for example throw darts at a dart board.

1.8 I suggest an addition to the Harlow policy statement recognising that where customers in such places as public houses or coffee bars wish to socialise through making music or singing, this is not in itself "regulated entertainment" any more than where they prefer to talk to each other, or watch a football match on the TV.

2.0 I also believe that the council in producing this draft statement could register its determination to ensure other types of small venue live music, such as folk clubs, are encouraged and protected.

2.1 I think this could be achieved, and the document improved by the insertion of a section along the lines recommended by the Musicians Union (contained in paragraphs 2.2-2.4 below) :

2.2 "Live music, dance, theatre etc: This authority recognises its duties under Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to take progressive measures to ensure that everyone can participate in the cultural life of the community and enjoy the arts. Artistic freedom of expression is a fundamental right, and this authority is bound by s.3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to read and give effect to all legislation, including licensing legislation, so far as possible compatibly with the right to freedom of expression.

2.3 "This authority will take all this into account when considering the licensing of live music, dance and theatre. Where the Licensing Act 2003 is open to interpretation which may be more or less restrictive for these activities, the authority will fully explain the reasons for its interpretation of the Act. In such cases, and particularly where licence conditions are proposed, the authority will set out in detail where, how and why it believes subsisting safety, noise, crime or disorder legislation, is inadequate such that licensing is, or licence conditions are, not only necessary, but a reasonable and proportionate means to address the risks arising from the entertainment.

2.4 "The authority, in accordance with the Licensing Guidance document, will also monitor the impact on regulated entertainment, in particular live music and dancing, of the licensing provisions. Where it is found that such entertainment is being deterred, it will review its policy with a view to reversing that trend."

Whether they take on board any of this, I've no idea, though I don't expect much. Might have more chance when it comes to the appendices still to come: "There will be a number of appendices, but these cannot be produced until the final regulations have been issued by the Department for Culture Media and Sport. The appendices will provide additional guidance on the licensing process, but will not affect the detail of the policy nor prevent consultation from taking place."