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Nick Harvey: I am sure that exotic dancers will be fine if they have some bells on their legs. The Government may have decided deliberately to leave the provision ambiguous in the hope that it is never tested too far in court.

The very modest concessions that have been made, such as they are, are welcome. They are riddled with logical inconsistencies that it is probably better for us simply to gloss over. Some of them might come back to haunt the Government, but they are making very modest progress in the right direction, so they should be supported.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): I spoke on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report about the matter that we are considering. I did not speak on the first occasion when Lords amendments came back to this House, as I was not in the country at the time.

I wish to make two preliminary observations. First, I think that the Musicians Union, whose basic case I have supported, has over-egged that case and has not been particularly well advised in presenting it to the Government. Secondly, I spoke this evening with a Conservative member of a Conservative-controlled council who is alarmed about the idea of a small premises exemption being set at the limit of 200 people. That council could not support that figure, as it would let almost everything that goes on in a pub or anywhere other than a big venue in its authority area take place unlicensed, so we must be very careful about the amendment.

I welcome the further concessions that my right hon. Friend the Minister has announced. It is important to distinguish between unamplified and amplified music, because of the basic fact that amplified music can be turned up as loud as the knob on the amplifier permits, so there could be problems for residents. I think that midnight is a reasonable limit. If we are licensing entertainment beyond midnight, it is reasonable to curtail that entertainment and the volume of the noise.

I take issue with the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) about jazz. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) that a jazz band can make itself heard in most circumstances without amplification in the sort of premises that we are talking about.

None the less, I think that it is important to return to the essential point—how we deal with events that were previously allowed under the two-in-a-bar rule. The important point was that, under that rule, there was a certain exemption. Small events could proceed without being caught in the net of local authority licensing. It is that net that the musicians and others who support them are concerned about, especially where there has been no history of complaints about such events.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister, in working up in conjunction with right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the guidance that will be given to local authorities, to pay very careful attention to these issues. I fear that some

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local authorities, once they are given this responsibility, will react disproportionately to objections to applications, even though there may be no history of complaints. That is particularly relevant in rural areas, where there are not many centres of entertainment, and where a small number of objectors can assume great proportional significance to an elected member representing that area—a councillor, perhaps—who is energised by 30 complaints because he needs only 300,000 votes to get elected. In an urban area, 30 complaints may be viewed proportionately.

I ask my right hon. Friend to exercise particular vigilance and care in devising the guidance that goes out to local authorities. The provisions of the Bill in its final stages are broadly right, but we need to ensure that local authorities do not act disproportionately and do not make a meal of giving a licence to an entertainment that frankly does not cause a problem. If we can do that, we will have a good licensing regime that strikes the right balance between allowing the kind of entertainment that we would wish to allow without complaint and protecting residents. I urge my right hon. Friend to take that route.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): I shall be extremely brief in order to give the Minister an opportunity to respond. I have to say, however, that it is pretty limited to have only an hour to debate Lords amendments, which means in effect that only one Back Bencher from each side of the House is able to speak.

I welcome the Minister's concession on morris dancing. We should welcome it when Ministers make concessions—otherwise, where is the incentive or encouragement for them to do so? Although late in the day, his concession is very welcome.

Last Sunday was town mayor Sunday in Banbury, and we had a cock-horse festival with morris dancers from all over the country, including Yorkshire, Cornwall, Oxfordshire and Derbyshire. The Minister presented the Bill as a liberalisation, but he must understand that many people see it as a restriction. I am fortunate, because as a barrister I can construe its complicated provisions, but huge numbers of people—including morris dancers, people who run village halls and people who run parish councils—are worried about its impact. It is beholden on the Government to work out how they promulgate it fairly and straightforwardly so that people are not alarmed and understand how it will affect them.

As an average Back-Bench Member of Parliament with 50 parishes, a huge number of village halls, large numbers of churches and a significant number of morris dancers in his constituency, I ask the Minister—[Interruption.] I do not know why Labour Members think that it is a matter for amusement—it may be the lateness of the hour—but their constituents will want to understand how the Bill will affect them. The Government are introducing a complicated piece of legislation: we have heard this evening about the wide variety of exemptions and qualifications. I shall be delighted if it provides lots of work for lawyers, but I do not see why it should be a cause for mirth among Labour Members. I am simply suggesting that it would be extremely helpful for all such groups—whether they be morris dancers, traditional dancers or parish councils—

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if the Government could think seriously about how they promulgate the legislation to ensure that people can easily understand it.

11 pm

Mr. Caborn: Let me begin by answering the case of the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). As he knows, I did not take the Bill through Committee, thank goodness! Nevertheless, some of the outlandish claims, such as the possible imprisonment of people who sing "Happy Birthday" in a restaurant, or the necessity of licensing a postman who whistles on his round, will cause concern. I therefore agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must be clear about the guidance that we give and translate the Bill into guidance that is not only read and understood but accepted by the British public. When the measure becomes operational, I hope that considerable liberalisation will take place.

Let me make a serious point to Opposition Members, especially the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss). In my first contribution to proceedings on the Bill, I said that we were worried about public safety and crime and disorder. That is central to the measure and we are not prepared to take chances with public safety. We have consulted the police. People may or may not agree with them, but we have taken the advice of not only the police but others in authority. We cannot underestimate public safety and crime and disorder. I know that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire disagrees with some of what the police have said, but we take the clear view that we shall legislate with their advice in mind.

My comments also apply to the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). We have singled out public safety and crime and disorder to ensure that accidents will not happen because the measure has been weak on those matters. I hope that there is some consensus about that.

Let me deal with the two-in-a-bar argument from the Musicians Union. Before we published the White Paper, the union told us that it needed a level playing field for live music, with permission to hold music events that involved any number in pubs and restaurants at low cost. We have delivered what the Musicians Union requested.

I want the hon. Member for North Devon to listen carefully because I am going to try to explain the matter in words that eminent civil servants have given me. As hon. Members will acknowledge, the concession for unamplified music is much broader than that for amplified music. The time limit is a control that is in the interests of local residents and communities. It will help minimise any public nuisance that might arise through a much broader concession. After all, if people want unamplified music to go on later, it can do so if the relevant premises licence authorises that.

Conditions that relate to public nuisance will be in place from midnight onwards. Hon. Members should bear it in mind that unamplified concessions apply to any premises that are licensed for music. That means any place, including an open space. A time limit is simply sensible. The amplification concession relates essentially to pubs and the nuisance implications are

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reduced. However, there is potential for closure by the police and the possibility of a review.Unamplified music does not pose the same threat of nuisance to the surrounding area as amplified music. We believe that we have accepted a sensible amendment.

The comments of the hon. Member for North Devon about the possibility of unamplified brass band music epitomises to some extent the stupidity that has been deployed in arguments on the Bill. Anybody who sat in a small pub with a large brass band playing would probably have a case for claiming for industrial deafness.

I take on board the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) made. We want to ensure that the measure is proportionate. Our advice to local authorities and other licensing authorities is to act proportionately. I hope that I can thus allay any fears about a local authority acting in a disproportionate manner.

I believe that we have brought some sense to the words "dancing of a similar nature". It was the colleagues of the hon. Member for North Devon in another place who asked us to word the amendment in this way. I do not know whether they have belly dancers or exotic dancers in Torquay, but that is what the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the House of Lords said. [Interruption.] We do not capitulate; we listen to people. We engaged in a sensible debate and negotiation, we reflected, and we brought back some very sensible amendments.


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