Mudcat Café message #928091 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #54636   Message #928091
Posted By: ET
07-Apr-03 - 04:53 PM
Thread Name: Sign a E Petition to 10 Downing St PELs
Subject: RE: Sign a E Petition to 10 Downing St PELs
Please circulate

Last Thursday, 03 April, the Commons Licensing Bill Committee concluded its debate of Schedule 1 that deals with definitions and exemptions for 'regulated entertainment' and 'entertainment facilities'. As predicted, Culture Minister Kim Howells and fellow Labour MPs on the Committee have voted to remove the Opposition Peers' exemption for educational establishments (paragraph 14). The Committee now moves on to other parts of the Bill, a process that must be finished by 20 May.

Given that the Government can simply reverse anything the Lords have changed, people understandably ask: 'what is the point of continuing to lobby MPs?'. This circular attempts to explain why it is not just important but essential to continue lobbying MPs, particularly Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs. Part of the reason is that the show-down, if you like, is yet to come. The other part concerns Parliamentary process, and how this can work in our favour with the Licensing Bill.

Schedule 1 will not be debated again until the entire Bill as amended by the Committee receives its Report/3rd Reading in the Commons. Unlike the Lords, Report and 3rd Reading debates will be on the same day, back to back. The precise date has yet to be fixed, but is likely to be some time in the fortnight commencing 2nd June. Further amendments can be put at Report stage, but these will be limited in number, and for that reason carefully chosen. More on that later.

It suprised me that a Commons Committee of only 16 MPs can change an entire Bill, but that is the way the process works. The Committee votes on amendments of their own, and these can be put down by any of the MPs on the Committee. The composition of the Committee reflects the proportion of MPs by Party: 10 Labour, 4 Conservative, and 2 Lib Dem. So if the Labour MPs vote with the Whip, i.e. they toe the Party line, then the Government can do what it likes to the Bill at this stage. That is what is happening at the moment.

However, if Committee amendments change or reverse amendments that were introduced by the House of Lords, that has to be approved by the Lords. So once the Bill completes Report/3rd Reading, it goes back to the Lords. At that point the Lords may reintroduce Clauses they originally inserted but which were subsequently removed in the Commons, or amend any or all of the Clauses they first amended, but which were changed again by the Commons. The Bill must then return to the Commons, the idea being that the Bill cannot become law until its content is agreed by both Houses.

The Conservatives have promised to revisit the small events exemption when the Bill goes back to the Lords. Provided the Lib Dems support the Conservatives (as they did when that particular amendment was voted through on 11 March), there is a serious risk that the Government's timetable will be delayed. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrat Peers combined outnumber the Government in the Lords. Opposition Lords could therefore start a game of 'ping pong' between the two Houses.

Now comes the crucial bit: the Government cannot force the Bill through using the Parliament Act. For some reason I don't fully understand, Bills that have been introduced in the Lords are immune from the Parliament Act - only Bills introduced in the Commons can be forced through by that means. The Government are extremely anxious for the Bill to receive Royal Assent by July. So it is entirely possible that, faced with a solid opposition in the Lords, they might make a concession on the entertainment licensing side. So we are definitely still in with a chance of the Lords amendments on small events and educational establishments, or variations of these amendments.

It is also possible that a version of these amendments will be introduced by Opposition MPs during Report/3rd Reading in the Commons, before the Bill goes back to the Lords. Not all Labour MPs are against the ideas in principle by any means: indeed both Bob Blizzard and Jim Knight have argued in favour of some kind of exemption.

Public pressure will determine to a great extent whether Labour MPs are receptive to the arguments for a 'de minimis' exemption permitting a limited amount of entertainment/live music before entertainment licensing kicks in. That is why it is extremely important for the MU and musicians to keep lobbying and talking to their constituency MPs.