Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Unfortunately, the Minister did not represent the Government in Committee, as he has come lately to the brief. Why, after 60 or 70 hours of debate in Committee and on Report, when we went on and on about morris dancers and the need to remove them from licensing provisions, have the Government at the eleventh hour accepted the wisdom of what we are saying?

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): The hon. Gentleman should be pleased.

Mr. Moss: It is not a question of being pleased. I prefaced my remarks by asking why could the Government not see the logic of the argument on day one instead of at the eleventh hour.

Mr. Caborn: That is the last time that I shall give way because, as I develop my argument, I will answer that question, and thus avoid wasting the time of the House.

As I said, we have provided an exemption for morris dancing and dancing of a similar nature from the Bill's provisions on regulated entertainment. Furthermore, although the review that I have just mentioned will cover all types of regulated entertainment, it will place particular emphasis on other forms of traditional entertainment. If there is a case for further liberalisation, we will respond to it.

Finally, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will convene a forum, comprising representatives of performers, venue operators, local authorities and others, who will have the task of maximising the take-up of reforms in the Bill. Before I go any further, let me mention the exemption for morris dancing and dancing of a similar nature. The Government would have preferred not to introduce such an amendment, but it was clear—[Interruption.] I am just giving the explanation that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) wanted, so I urge him to listen before intervening again.

We believe that there would have been few circumstances in which traditional morris dancing would have been licensable under the Bill. However, traditional dancers were frightened by people who ought to know better into believing that their hobby was in jeopardy, and that fear was voiced another place. The amendment does no significant damage to the structure and scheme of the Bill, and if it offers reassurance, there is nothing wrong in that. However, we believe that there were very few occasions on which morris dancing would have required a licence.

To return to the main legislative element of the package, there have been calls in both Houses and elsewhere for the Government to introduce a de minimis measure to protect unamplified music in small pubs. When the Bill was last before the Commons, our position was that it already provided such protection.

8 Jul 2003 : Column 1118

Spontaneous performances would not be licensable and, of course, in response to calls in the House, we have exempted incidental live music.

10.15 pm

Nevertheless, today's amendments go one step further. Their effect will be to suspend conditions attached to a licence that have been imposed by a licensing authority in respect of unamplified live music in any premises with a capacity of no more than 200 where it is performed between the hours of 8 am and midnight. To protect local residents and control those few inevitably unscrupulous or irresponsible operators, the licence will remain reviewable.

I believe that that removes all concerns that have been raised about low-level unamplified music—such as folk guitarists, for example—in small premises. This amendment is not confined to public houses and it will benefit small folk clubs and village and community halls alike.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I am interested in these welcome amendments. Will the exemption cover a traditional jazz band that is not amplified, or even an unamplified jazz big band? Will a limit be imposed?

Mr. Caborn: If the instruments that are being played are not amplified, the answer is yes. However, if amplified music is being played on a bass guitar, for example, the answer is no: such an event would have to be licensed.

I know that some people have raised the issue of instruments that require amplification in order to be heard—an electric bass guitar, for example, or an electric piano—and so cannot benefit from the concession. The answer that I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) is relevant to that matter.

A number of important points need to be made. First, the Bill's baseline is that it makes it easier and cheaper to put on any kind of regulated entertainment. We have exempted incidental live music, whether amplified or not—a very powerful concession indeed. We intend to retain the concession made here on 24 June, lightening the load on amplified music in small pubs. We will also work with our partners to maximise the take-up of the reforms on offer.

All being well, this Bill will be passed this evening. It is now down to all concerned—performers, venue operators, publicans, licensing authorities, the police, and a whole host of others, not least the Government—to go out and make it work. We are totally determined to get the most out of these fundamental liberalisations, and I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. Moss: In the past few minutes, we have had the revelation of all revelations, in the sense that the Minister has admitted that the Government have finally accepted that, in the context of morris dancing—which offends no one and which causes no problem or complaint—the existing regime is not broke and there is no need to fix it.

The same applies to the two-in-a-bar rule, however. To our knowledge, no one has ever complained to the police or local authorities that that rule was causing any

8 Jul 2003 : Column 1119

difficulty. By the same logic, why are the Government bringing in regulations and legislation to ban two people playing in a bar? Why do they want to replace the present regime with one that allows no one to play in a bar, unless a licence is obtained from the local authority?

The Government have been dragged kicking and screaming throughout the passage of this Bill. It is a bit rich for the Minister to say, at the eleventh hour, that the Government want everyone to work together to make the legislation work. There is good will on this side of the House, but it extends only to working with proposals that are sensible and pragmatic. Why should the Opposition put our shoulders to a plough which it is obvious, from day one, will not work? The Bill is firmly opposed by thousands of people at all levels of the entertainment business.

The question that must be asked, again and again, is: why?

Why are we doing this? Why are the Government doing this? Why did they not listen 60 or 70 hours ago to the representations that were being made to them? [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Members saying that we got there in the end. We could have saved ourselves an awful lot of work and trouble in Committee and saved ourselves an incredible number of hours of debate on the issue, yet the Government have come, at this late hour, to tell us that because the situation is causing no difficulties, they will give the concession. We knew that the situation was causing no difficulties, as did the people involved. We are perplexed in the extreme as to why the Government could not see that earlier.

As I said, the Minister has come late to this concession. We cannot blame him for not sorting things out at an earlier stage. Indeed, perhaps we should thank him for seeing the light clearly over the past few weeks and at least doing something. We did not divide on the amendment in the other place, because we lost our own amendment. However, when one talks to people in the music and entertainment business or to people—the local authorities—who will experience the difficulty of implementing the new legislation, one finds that no one understands what is being proposed in the amendment; nor did the Minister go to great lengths to explain it this evening. To use the words of the Foreign Secretary, the amendment is complete Horlicks. It can mean whatever one cares to interpret it to mean, so when it gets to the courts it will provide the lawyers with a large amount of money and kudos. It is badly written and makes no sense to the people who will have to interpret it. It takes us no further forward, as I shall explain later.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Opposition, along with musicians of all kinds, have campaigned for one thing only: fair regulation according to risk. No one disputes that live performance needs regulation. The Opposition and those involved accepted that from the start. Rightly however, they and tens of thousands of musicians and music lovers are asking why, if the Bill allows bars, or any place, to provide big-screen sport and powerful sound systems automatically at any time—

Andrew Bennett: Not again.

Mr. Moss: We have been over the matter for 70 hours-plus and the logic of the argument is on our side. We

8 Jul 2003 : Column 1120

shall continue to argue the case because we know that we are right, the Minister knows that we are right and every sane person in the country knows that we are right.

I repeat: if the Bill allows bars, or any place, automatically to provide big-screen sport and powerful sound systems at any time, why must providing even the mildest of live music be a criminal offence unless licensed? Even now, with the Bill about to become law, the Government have yet to provide a credible explanation, as I said a moment ago.

In the last few days, the Government seem to have shifted the goal posts yet again, to justify the unjustifiable. They are making out that live music carries such a risk of crime and disorder that licensing is the only means of dealing with it. It is worth repeating that the police recommended that the Bill should cover televised sporting events shown in bars. They said that such events are

but the Government chose not to implement that recommendation.

The Minister recently circulated a letter in response to a question posed last week by a Liberal Member. The same question had been put by me and others in Committee and on Report and related to the fact that the Minister had twice said that the police, in the form of the Association of Chief Police Officers, had not made representations to the Government on televised sport.

Next Section

IndexHome Page