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24 Mar 2003 : Column 67continued
Jim Knight: The two-in-a-bar rule was nonsense because it referred to the number of performers. The public safety and noise issues involve the number of people attending a performance. There should be a safeguard related to that, rather than to the number of performers, and the Government are trying to provide one. We may discuss in Committee whether there should be an exemption for a gathering of 250, 50 or 10, but the issue must be the number attending.
Mr. Whittingdale: I agree that the existing rule is nonsense, and that it is difficult to produce any justification for it. I also agree that much of the current concern relates to noise and to public safety, which is endangered by overcrowding. Ample legislation already exists to deal with those factors, however: there are strict rules governing health and safety issues and noise and disturbance. We see no reason why such matters need be dealt with through a licence requirement for all public performances. In some parts of the United Kingdom there is no such requirement, and existing legislation is used.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Is there not a danger that smaller pubs, especially in rural areas such as mine in the west country, will be unwilling or unable to apply for licences? That would mean the death of live music in many remote areas, although it is an integral part of the community and of our way of life in the west country.
Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is right. The Minister says that no additional cost will be involved in seeking a public entertainments licence on top of the existing licence, but the feara fear with some justificationis that considerable extra burdens will be placed on a pub or other applicant for a public entertainments licence in the form of numerous provisions relating to health and safety, the fitting of double glazing and fire exits and so forth. There have been plenty of examples of that, and many licensees will be deterred from applying for public entertainments licences.
When I asked a selection of about 30 publicans in my constituency how many would tick the box for a public entertainments licence, not one said that they would. The result is bound to be fewer opportunities for live music to be heard in both rural and urban pubs.
Mr. Kevan Jones: Is the hon. Gentleman not misunderstanding the Bill? If a publican applies for a licence to sell alcohol, part of that licence will allow him to provide entertainment. He will no longer need to apply for a separate public entertainments licence. The idea that this will drive pubs not to provide music is nonsense.
Diana Organ (Forest of Dean): Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that, with the transition of the granting of licences from magistrates courts to local authorities, those authorities that want to sustain cultural and tourist activities by allowing singers in pubs to continue to perform can do so by not imposing the conditions that he describes?
Mr. Whittingdale: I do not think that licensees will be willing simply to take that on trust. Thousands of them have already made it clear that they will not apply for public entertainments licences. The effect will be that the huge numbers of performances that take place without a licence as a result of the two-in-a-bar rule will not be able to continue.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has dealt with the anomaly that in Scotland there is no need for a public entertainment licence, whereas in puritan England there is. Will he deal too with the anomaly that if 20 or 30 people want to listen to a single acoustic performer in a pub, the pub will have to be licensed for entertainment, but if 300 people want to watch a televised football match on a large screen, the pub will not need such a licence?
Mr. Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman pre-empts me; he is entirely right. The Bill is riddled with anomalies. There appears to be a perfectly acceptable and successful system in Scotland, where all concerns are met through other legislative means, without any requirement for a licence of this kind. As the hon. Gentleman says, the broadcasting of recorded music will not require a licence under the terms of the Bill, even though it could be far louder and far more intrusive, and attract a much bigger audience, than a couple of people strumming guitars in a corner.
There is not only the question of musical entertainment; the Bill originally stated that darts matches in pubs which are watched by wives and friends would require a licence, as would the provision of a piano for public use in a bar or restaurant. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) has already drawn attention to the deep concern of folk musicians who go from pub to pub to hold singarounds that those may become licensable if there is any danger that anybody in the pub is listening to and enjoying the performance.
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 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
Happily, the House of Lords has removed many of the absurdities from the Bill. Amendments passed to exempt unamplified music and to restrict the licensing requirement to events attracting more than 250 people or those continuing after 11.30 at night go a long way to making the Bill genuinely deregulatory, as the Government originally claimed they wanted it to be.
Of course there will be concerns about health and safety and noise, but those can be addressed using existing legislation. In addition, the argument that a small premises exemption will make it impossible to prevent children from seeing adult movies hardly seems to us to be justification for requiring a licence for every venue offering a live music performance. I therefore hope that the Government will listen to the House of Lords and to the 80,000 people who have now signed our early-day motion, which was posted on the internet. If not, and if they seek to reverse the Lords amendment, we will resist them both here and in the other place.
There are also concerns about many other aspects of the new licensing regime, which the Government have failed to address. The Central Council of Physical Recreation estimates that increased licence fees may cost voluntary sports clubs up to £4 million a year. Activities organised for their members by private clubs such as the Caravan Club, which holds rallies in different places every week of the year, will not be able to use the club premises certificate, nor will they necessarily fit the criteria for a temporary event notice.
Mr. Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman and I had an enjoyable occasion about two weeks ago at a meeting organised by the Caravan Club, and the club told me that it would be covered by the Bill and that it was extremely concerned. Its adviser has sent me a detailed note setting out exactly what are the club's concerns. Maybe that adviser was rather better informed than the hon. Gentleman.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes made clear, many wine growers and cider makers are extremely worried that the farmers markets through which they market their produce will need to be licensed, which may result in them being unable to sell their products there. There are also concerns among those involved in distant selling, who think that warehouses and delivery premises may require a licence, even though the owners have no involvement in selling whatsoever.
At the time of its introduction the Bill was badly thought through and badly drafted. In many areas it would have massively increased the burden of regulation rather than reducing it. As it originally stood, it managed to unite churches, charities, publicans, musicians and morris dancers in opposition to its key provisions. Happily, since then it has been much