Standing Committee D
Thursday 8 May 2003
[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]
Temporary event notice
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 383, in
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): Thank you, Mr. Gale. You will be pleased to know that you have missed a series of adult discussions on the definition of folk music and so on. I was starting to wax lyrical, but you put me in my place during an aside when you said that we should not relive our youth this afternoon, so I shall not.
I was discussing what precisely folk music is and whether it is amplified or not. I believe that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) took care in his amendment to insist that it covers only non-amplified music, but perhaps he will tell me in a moment.
The question of what constitutes folk music or dance may not occupy everyone's waking moments, but I hope that I can assure the Committee that it is one to which my mind has often wandered since our proceedings started. To that I can add Morris dancers, wassailers and so forth. The matter is important to them and to all of us who care about the cultural heritage of this country.
I hope that it has become abundantly clear from our lengthy and detailed debates in this House and another place that we are absolutely committed to providing an environment in which music of all sorts can thrive and we have made changes to the Bill to reflect that. Indeed, the whole Bill is designed to provide many more opportunities for musicians and other entertainers to perform. I have spent much time considering various options, some of which have involved defining in legislation various types and genres of performance, including folk music. Let me say straightaway that we have yet to find an answer and I doubt that we ever will, but I know what the hon. Gentleman is aiming at in the amendment.
Everyone has an idea of what constitutes folk music or dance. Some people's image is of a small troupe of musicians performing on traditional non-amplified instruments, usually on a golden summer's evening with a pint of scrumpy on the village green. That may be so on some occasions and perhaps in dozens of villages in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). No doubt he drinks
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scrumpy in every one of them, which is not an easy task.
Many people classify Bob Dylan as a folk singer and I well remember the outrage among the folkier Bob Dylan fans when he appeared on stage with The Band playing amplified music. It caused outrage and almost riots, which showed that great passion can be generated and that music changes. The lyrics became no less relevant as folk lyrics or comments on contemporary society, but the form of music generated great controversy. Bob Dylan is even older than I am, but he can still fill Wembley arena several nights in succession. To be heard in such a place means that the music must often be very loud.
The great British folk band, Fairport Convention, has been holding wonderful festivals for several decades, which many thousands of people attend. If anyone is interested, this year's festival at Cropredy is taking place on 7, 8 and 9 August with tickets starting at £28 for early bookings.
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Without wishing to stop the Minister in full flow, I remind him that we are talking about temporary event notices. His Bill says that there can be a maximum of 500 people in attendance at such events. Perhaps that might help him.
Dr. Howells: Luckily, it is only 500 people. If the hon. Gentleman's amendments had been accepted, it would have been 15,000.
Defining this sort of activity is fraught with difficulty and provides grounds by itself for rejecting amendment No. 383. Furthermore, there are many other genres of music and dance that some people consider to be sufficiently quiet or harmless to justify special treatment. Some forms of jazz spring to mind. That is another reason why we cannot accept the amendment, and I hope that in view of that explanation the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw it.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I am grateful to the Minister for his response so far. I am even more grateful for the fact that he started his response only two minutes before the termination of this morning's proceedings, because it enabled me to find in my filing system the letters that I have received from the English Folk Dance and Song Society, the president of the Morris Federation and the Men of Wight Morris Dancers. However difficult we find it to define folk music, there is no doubt that morris dancing is folk dance. Martin Davis, the bagman of the Men of Wight Morris Dancers, fears that the Bill will prevent the use of smaller venues and points out,
''this Christmas alone, the Morris Dancers have donated £125 to the Mountbatten Hospice''
in my constituency. There is no doubt that the activity that they undertake is for profit. It is not an unprofitable activity. There is no doubt that it is a performance of dance, in relation to schedule 1(2). There is no doubt that it takes place in the presence of an audience and that its purpose, or one of its purposes, is entertaining that audience.
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I very much hope that the Minister will think again about whether this activity has to be regulated. I welcome the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire because it would exempt this activity. I should like to spend a little more time on the matter because, as I said, we appear to be regulating morris dancing in open spaces—not necessarily only in pub car parks or in the vicinity of the sale of alcohol. The president of the Morris Federation, John Bacon, is concerned about the Bill's implications and how it will affect his members. He says that he supports the intent of the Bill, but the problem is that the
''dance form and its music together with Mumming will all be illegal in public houses that do not have a licence''.
The Minister shakes his head. Perhaps he would like to tell me why I am wrong. If he intervenes and convinces me that I am wrong, I will shut up. If he cannot do so, I will keep going until he tells me why I am wrong.
Dr. Howells: I thank the hon. Gentleman for enabling me to short-circuit the debate. I have had lengthy meetings with representatives of all the large morris, folk song and dance groups, including wassailers, storytellers and mummers. I took them through the Bill and they were much happier at the end of it than they were when we began. They were worried that they would suddenly have to apply for licences for performances that take place in public on the side of roads and so on. Such activities are not licensable. They will not be affected.
The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the problem of when such performances take place as advertised events inside licensed premises. The representatives were worried about that and thought that they would suddenly have to find a lot of money to pay the landlords. They said that they might perform in 16 or 20 different venues on one of their special days. I asked them if such events were like Cowes week, for example, which was well known and had taken place for many years with a lot of advanced notice. It was pointed out to me that that rarely happens, although there are days in the year when morris dancers are known to perform at certain places. It is often a spontaneous performance and one that happens in different places at different times. As such, they would not be required to have a licence.
The hon. Gentleman is worried about the possibility that the dancers would not be allowed to perform outside ancient pubs or places where they may have performed previously. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) has a famous pub in his constituency, which has a long history of performing arts. It is called The Latchmere and is in Battersea Park road. If a morris troupe performed outside The Latchmere, I think that the police and the highways authorities would have an enormous amount to say about it—it also happens to be on a busy road junction.
Clearly, there will be occasions when it is appropriate for a spontaneous dance or performance to take place, or a tale to be told. On other occasions, it will not be, because it is an event that will have to be
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properly notified to the authorities as the pavements may become blocked or there may be traffic problems. We must maintain flexibility. I envisage that in the majority of cases licences will not be required, but that occasionally permission will have to be sought and the licensing authority will have to be informed, as will the police, when an event is likely to encroach on a public highway or pavement and become a serious obstruction.
The Chairman: Order. In case members of the Committee are in doubt, I have had to construe that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) had taken his seat and that the Minister was making a fresh speech, otherwise that was a long intervention. Do you wish to resume, Mr. Turner?
Mr. Turner: If I may, Mr. Gale. I noted with care some of the phrases that the Minister used and I hope that I did so correctly. He said that such events were not licensable on public roads.
Dr. Howells: I was careful to say that the onus will lie on the local authority. If it considers that a series of performances, including dance, that take place on the road could constitute a problem, I have no doubt that it will want to discuss such matters with the troupe or group to clarify the situation and ensure that such performances are conducted within the law.