Mudcat Café message #918042 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #54636   Message #918042
Posted By: ET
25-Mar-03 - 01:07 PM
Thread Name: Sign a E Petition to 10 Downing St PELs
Subject: RE: Sign a E Petition to 10 Downing St PELs
From Hamish Birchell

For circulation

The following update will repalce the 'Latest News' section on the MU two in a bar site tomorrow:

During yesterday's (24 March) first Commons debate of the Licensing Bill, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell announced that the Government would accept the Opposition Peers' amendments for a licensing exemption for schools and sixth form colleges. She also accepted their exemption for 'incidental' live music. However, she indicated that the Government would seek to overturn the small events exemption.

The full debate can be downloaded from Hansard online:

The Bill will now enter the Committee stage in the Commons, the first of these being Tuesday 1 April. About 20-30 MPs will sit on this Committee, and the proportion from each Party will reflect the make-up of the House of Commons. Government and Opposition Whips choose the MPs to sit. This phase of the Bill's passage through Parliament must be completed by 20 May. Report and 3rd Reading follow, probably on the same day. The Bill will then go back to the Lords (if the Government has amended the Lords amendments, as is very likely). Once the Lords have considered the Government's amendments, and either introduced further amendments, or reintroduced their ealier amendments, the Bill is returned to the Commons. The Government are still aiming for Royal Assent in July.

During yesterday's debate the Culture Secretary again claimed that the Musicians' Union had misrepresented the Bill:

'I would like to pay tribute to the Musicians Union, which has certainly won the Oscar for the best spin on this matter. I say that with unbounded admiration, rather than acrimony. The union has misrepresented the position with great success, and, in doing so, greatly raised the profile of live music.'

Conservative Shadow Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, defended the Union:

'... despite assurances to the contrary, fears remain that the Bill may well cover many events such as wedding receptions, private parties, the demonstration of musical instruments, the provision of rehearsal rooms, even carol singing—and, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), wassailing. The Minister has sought to dismiss such claims as scare-mongering and a "pernicious lying campaign" by the Musicians Union. I am glad to note that he [Kim Howells] recognises his own words. But while he may give assurances that the Bill does not cover such events, a large body of legal opinion has advised the Musicians Union and others that it will have exactly those effects. We are pleased that the Government have now said that they are prepared to sit down with the Musicians Union and others whom the Bill will affect and look at it again. I hope that that will lead to further Government amendments to prevent any possible doubt that the Minister's assurances are supported by the Bill, but if they are not forthcoming, we will not hesitate to table our own amendments.'

Mr Whittingdale also said that having consulted 30 licensees in his constituency on whether they would 'tick the box' to obtain a public entertainment licence, none said that they would. Worryingly, a similar reaction was reported by Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture Minister, Nick Harvey.

Mr Whittingdale also commented on the exemption for broadcast entertainment: 'On the point that the Government seem to consider that live performance poses such dangers that it requires a licence, whereas the televised screening of a soccer match or a concert poses no dangers, the Minister [Kim Howells] said on Radio 1 a couple of months ago that in 14 years as an MP he had never received a complaint about a folk group or anybody else playing acoustic music, but that he had had lots of complaints about loud televisions and loud piped music. It therefore seems extraordinary that he proposes to regulate the former but to exempt the latter.'

Mr Whittingdale added that the Conservatives would defend their small events exemption amendment in the Lords if the Government overturned it in the Commons.

Several other MPs spoke in favour of live music and the small events exemption, including David Heath (Lib Dem, Somerton & Frome), and Bob Blizzard (Lab, Waveney).

Mr Blizzard said: 'Small, live venues are a serious issue if we are to avoid that monoculture of mass entertainment...'. He added: 'I am very pleased with the idea behind the Lords amendment that grants exemption to live music at small events and premises up to 11.30 pm, as it is an attempt to deal with the issue. If I understand why my hon. Friend cannot support that measure, I hope that he will find an alternative way forward that satisfies the concerns of those small premises. I hope not only that he will meet the Musicians Union, but that he will be willing to receive a delegation from the all-party jazz appreciation group in the House to work through some of those issues.'

David Heath said: 'All acoustic performances should be exempt from the provisions, as they are not capable of causing the nuisance that the Bill attempts to remedy. Whether we limit numbers or types of performance is a matter of opinion, but there should be a threshold below which the full licensing provisions do not apply. We need to examine the transitional arrangements, as well as the licence variations, which are a significant barrier. If a licensee does not initially apply for an entertainment licence but wants one at a later stage, it could prove too costly for them to countenance and we could thus eventually see a contraction in the number of live venues. I genuinely believe that the Government are listening to some of the points that have been made. Some of us have been accused of scaremongering, but any scares that I have mongered were manufactured in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The more that the Minister can allay fear by changing the precise terms of the Bill and by what he includes in the regulations and guidance, the more he will receive my support. The measure would then be genuinely deregulatory. I commend the Minister on listening, but I am worried that there will be backsliding from the position established in another place.'