Mudcat Café message #704452 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #47285   Message #704452
Posted By: The Shambles
04-May-02 - 06:56 PM
Thread Name: Killed by the PEL system
Subject: RE: Killed by the PEL system
We all like to go to pub sessions where local musicians and singers can share in the pleasure of making folk music. Unfortunately some environmental health departments have viewed this as requiring a Public Entertainment Licence (PEL). What this means in practice is that the landlord can get a phone call from the council saying that a licence is needed if the sessions are to continue and although this is not usually expensive, there's often a catch.

The local authority grants a license only once the premises satisfy certain conditions - usually a fire certificate which in turn requires changes to the building such as illuminated fire exit notices, separate power supplies, etc. These changes can escalate the cost of compliance from perhaps a hundred pounds to thousands. Breweries are understandably reluctant to part with this sort of money when there is no chance of increased attendance: it's the customers who are participating! Bottom line - sessions close.

In Oxford, before Christmas, one local session at the Old Ale House pub was the subject of a complaint and this prompted the environmental health department to require a PEL or the session would have to stop. We decided to investigate this and see whether or not we could reach a sensible agreement with the council. First we checked up on the law.

The 1982 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act says that "public dancing or music or any other public entertainment of like kind" requires a licence with an exemption being made if the number of performers does not exceed two. So two people singing is not a problem but if a third joins in a licence is needed. This has achieved notoriety as the "two in a bar rule" and has caused problems for working musicians for years. Not only that, but councils are not at all consistent in the way they apply the rules. In some parts of the country, they have been using the rule as a way of raising revenue because they can set the charge for the licence as high as they like.

This is now all set to change with the preparation of a new licensing bill which will include an entertainment licence automatically as part of the premises licence. The "exemption" will disappear but that doesn't guarantee that music sessions will be safe. With the exemption removed, the conditions which normally apply to the issuing of licences will be determined by local councils - they could simply inherit the old conditions and we could find ourselves in a similar difficult position.

In April 2000, local authorities were issued with guidance from the Home Office about how to handle applications for PELs. They were told not to apply blanket conditions and especially, not to insist on additional conditions which duplicate regulations that already exist. That means that councils can no longer simply insist on a Fire Certificate because if the pub is already safe for customers, it is safe for a participatory music session as well. Unless they are able to show otherwise. The "two in a bar rule" applies to the number of performers, NOT the number present, and therefore cannot be invoked on the grounds of safety.

We put out a notice on the internet to see if the situation had arisen in other parts of the country. Emails flooded in listing sessions that had been closed down, folk clubs which had to close after years of successful activity, sessions which were pounced on as soon as they started. Lots of heat all round.

We decided to approach the local council and the environmental health officers to see what could be done. We circulated local councillors with a description of the problem explaining what damage it did to folk music and the opportunities for participation. We also phoned the environmental health department. The response was very positive. They said they were not trying to shut down the sessions or restrict access to folk music but that where a landlord had already obtained an entertainment licence, they would complain if others were not also expected to comply. The environmental health officer I spoke to was very reasonable and it was clear that they were in an awkward position. If they failed to act, someone would be on their backs.

We asked for an opportunity to make a representation to the Health and Environment Committee and started a petition of all those who were involved in the local sessions. Although given an assurance that our item was on the agenda for the meeting, somehow we were relegated to the end where members of the public are granted the opportunity to speak to the committee. Once the issue was explained, the following was agreed by the meeting:

The committee did not want to be in conflict with musicians and singers over this issue The committee wanted to support folk music in pub sessions not close them down. The sessions could continue without any action being taken by the environmental health department There would be no threats of prosecution The officers would draw up recommendations to classify the sessions as participation events and that they would therefore not requires licences. They would bring these recommendations to the next meeting (March) Before the new legislation comes in, the committee will listen to representations from local musicians and singers to make sure that there will be no problems over licensing issues.

We have been very encouraged by the response of the local council so far. We still have to get a suitable recommendation from the environmental health department but there is every indication that they are trying to be helpful rather than restrictive. If this turns out well, it could be used as a precedent for other sessions who run into difficulties with local authorities. Whilst not all local authorities will react in such a positive way, this does seem to be a reasonably effective approach to the problem.

We would like to thank all those people who provided us with information, advice, signatures on the petition, and general encouragement, and the local councillors for advice on how to approach the relevant committees.

If you need to get hold of further information about any of the above send me an email on BLloyd1@aol.com and I'll send you whatever links I have.

Bob Lloyd Oxford Feb 2001

Footnote:
Oxford City Council Health and Environment Committee decided, after the officers waved case law at them, to stick with the status quo over sessions - i.e. more than 2 people needs a licence. Never mind the fact that the case law dates from 1793 and conflicts with European law. Basically they went back on on what they said in February.

Bob Lloyd Oxford April 2001