Mudcat Café message #906712 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #56271   Message #906712
Posted By: The Shambles
10-Mar-03 - 01:39 PM
Thread Name: PEL's: News Blackout!
Subject: RE: PEL's: News Blackout!
Western Morning News 08 March 2003

The WMN campaign against new licensing laws will next week be taken to the heart of Government.

On Thursday petitions and coupons signed by more than 10,000 readers in support of the campaign will be presented at 10 Downing Street by a special delegation organised by the WMN.

Petitions and protest forms have flooded in from people across the Westcountry, demanding that the Government amend its Licensing Bill, which threatens the future of live pub music.

Thursday's presentation will be led by a procession of musicians and landlords. A band has been created for the occasion and will perform a specially-composed song protesting about the Licensing Bill.

Hamish Burchill, a spokesman for the Musician's Union South West, said: "This overwhelming response is a clear sign of a serious misjudgement by the Government. Music is not insignificant or a political issue but a fundamental part of people's lives."

Trevor Jones, landlord of the Waterfront Bar in Falmouth, said: "This Bill came about because the powers that be found themselves another avenue for raising money. They are trying to squeeze extra revenue out of traditions which have existed longer than the political system itself. We have to make them think again."

The Licensing Bill, which could be law by next year, would make many forms of live performance illegal unless licensed. The proposed legislation would also abolish the two-in-a-bar rule, which allows one or two musicians to play in their pub without a landlord needing an entertainment licence. Landlords would need to apply to their local authority for a new premises licence to stage any musical event, however small.

But because of expensive conditions which may be attached by health and safety and the fire service, there are fears many pubs will simply not bother to apply for a licence - and lose traditional live music performances in the process.

Mr Jones said: "If the Government wants to raise money it should realise that more music means more drinking and more drinking means more tax for them. Where will this sort of social control end?"

Harry Fulcher, a professional musician from Sidmouth who has played alongside the likes of Robert Plant, said: "These proposals are ludicrous. It would have a devastating effect on our culture. Doors will close because of this. Young people need to test their ability, but this would cut a swathe through aspiring talent. People like to play, people like to listen. Where exactly is the problem?"

The WMN campaign has received more than 4,200 protest forms from readers, and a further 5,900 signatures have been sent in on petition forms.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said yesterday: "We welcome any contribution to the debate and are prepared to listen to all views. We have already taken action where we think the Bill can be improved, by exempting places of religious worship and village halls from the new fees. Culture Minister Kim Howells and John Smith, General Secretary of the Musicians' Union, had a productive and constructive discussion about the Licensing Bill and its impact on live music earlier this week. Dr Howells acknowledged all of the concerns and agreed to work together to ensure the new legislation significantly increases opportunities for performers to perform."

As well as all the petitions being presented directly to Downing Street, North Devon MP and Lib Dem Culture spokesman Nick Harvey is hoping to highlight the campaign on Monday, during the Department of Culture's question time in the House of Commons.

He said: "WMN readers have shown what a hornet's nest the Government has stirred up. The message is loud and clear that live music should not be burdened with unnecessary cost or bureaucracy."

The campaign against the Bill has already forced the Government to U-turn and make village halls and churches exempt from fees under the new regime.

The House of Lords has also successfully lobbied for an amendment excluding acoustic music.

Hamish Burchill, a spokesman for the Musician's Union South West, said: "All now depends on what happens when the Bill enters the House of Commons in the next few weeks.

"They have to listen to the demands of the people. The Government thought the Bill was politically expedient, but that was a huge error."