Mudcat Café message #827693 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #53667   Message #827693
Posted By: The Shambles
16-Nov-02 - 10:50 AM
Thread Name: PELs UK Music needs your HELP
Subject: RE: PELs UK Music needs your HELP
Licensing reform and live music
A response to DCMS launch of the Licensing Bill
Hamish Birchall
Musicians' Union adviser - public entertainment licensing reform

The broad aims of the Licensing Bill are to be welcomed, of course. Deregulation of opening times is likely to reduce binge-drinking, and alcohol-related crime and disorder. However, if all the provisions of this otherwise liberalising Bill were enacted, this would represent the biggest increase in licensing control of live music for over 100 years:

110,000 on-licensed premises in England and Wales would lose their automatic right to allow one or two musicians to work. A form of this limited exemption from licensing control dates back to at least 1899.
Churches outside London would lose their licensing exemption for public concerts.

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, broadasting studios etc will be illegal unless first licensed.

Musicians could be guilty of a criminal offence if they don't check first that premises hold the appropriate authorisation for their performance.

Likewise someone organising a karaoke night in a pub.

Buskers similarly potential criminals - unless they perform under a licensing authorisation.

Church bell ringing could be licensable.

But... broadcast entertainment on satellite or terrestrial tv, or radio, is to be exempt from licensing under this Bill.

The licensing rationale, where live music is concerned, is essentially to prevent overcrowding and noise nuisance. The government claims their reforms will usher in a licensing regime fit for the 21st century. But surely 21st century planning, safety, noise and crime and disorder legislation can deal effectively with most of the problems associated with live music?

Not according to Culture Minister Kim Howells. He says the swingeing increase in regulation is necessary because 'one musician with modern amplification can make more noise than three without'.

Of course it is true that amplification can make one musician louder than another playing without amplification. But that was true when the two performer exemption was introduced in 1961 and had been true for many years before that.

The important question is: does live music present a serious problem for local authorities? Does it justify such an increase in control?

The answer is no. The Noise Abatement Society has confirmed that over 80% of noise complaints about pubs are caused by noisy people outside the premises. The remaining percentage is mostly down to noisy recorded music or noisy machinery.

In fact, while noisy bands can be a problem, complaints about live music are relatively rare. In any case, local authorities have powerful legislation to tackle noise breakout from premises.

All local authorities can seize noisy equipment, and they can serve anticipatory noise abatement notices.

Camden used a noise abatement notice to close the West End musical Umoja earlier this year. One resident's complaints were enough. And the police can close noisy pubs immediately for up to 24 hours.

The trouble is, many complainants perceive the legislation as inadequate because their local authority doesn't enforce it effectively.

It looks as if musicians are being made the scapegoat for a problem that is nothing to do with live music. Certainly abolition of the two-performer licensing exemption will do nothing to reduce noise from people outside premises.

Rather late in the day, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has just commissioned a study into the noise nuisance potential of the licensing reforms - but the study won't be completed until the Spring of 2003 at the earliest. A classic case of shutting the stable door...

The government says that standardising licensing fees, with no premium for entertainment, removes the disincentive to provide live music. This change is welcome.

However, fees are only half the problem. The other half is the potential for unnecessary local authority licence conditions. Earlier this year, Kim Howells warned the Musicians' Union that if it were to lobby for satellite tv to become a licensable entertainment, this would be 'resisted robustly' by the leisure industry.

He did not say why, but the reasons are clear. The industry does not believe government assurances that local authorities will adhere to published guidance over future licence conditions. They fear the cost implications of conditions such as monitored safe capacities, and CCTV. (Two years ago the Home Office warned all local authorities not to impose disproportionate conditions. Few, if any, took notice).

Genuine 21st century reform for live music, particularly small-scale performance in pubs and bars, would see England and Wales brought into line with Scotland and Ireland, continental Europe.

Scotland is a good example because public safety and noise is regulated by UK-wide legislation. In that country a typical bar or pub can host live music automatically during permitted hours, provided the music is ancillary to the main business.

In New York City, premises of capacity 200 or less are likewise free of a requirement to seek prior authorisation for live music. Noise breakout is strictly monitored by street patrols.

In Germany, Finland and Denmark the provision of some live music is asssumed when the equivalent of an on-licence is granted. In rural Ireland no permission is need for live music in a pub, and customers would think it very odd to suggest that it be a criminal offence unless first licensed.

The Musicians' Union has argued for reform along Scottish lines for some time. But the government has rejected this option.

Our campaign for more live music, particularly in small venues, is supported by the Arts Council, the Church of England, Equity, the English Folk Dance and Song Society and many others.

The Union recognises that premises specialising in music, or music and dance (like nightclubs) need the additional controls that licensing provide. But if live music of all kinds is to thrive in small community venues like pubs, an automatic permission, within certain parameters, is essential. We should not treat all musicians as potential criminals. That doesn't sit well with the participation and access agenda of the DCMS.