Licensing Bill [Lords]

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Dr. Howells: That is a good point and I will try to deal with it soon. I wrestled with this matter for a long time. The basis of my argument is that businesses—particularly small businesses—often feel more comfortable with retaining what they have than with exploring the possibility of something new. I hope that I will be able to explain my reason for resisting the hon. Gentleman's good argument.

We are not alone in wishing to see an end to the two-in-a-bar rule. On 8 April, the Association of British Jazz Musicians issued a briefing note—the tone of which, I must admit, is critical of the Bill. I believe

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that it was sent to a number of Committee members. It states:

    ''The current legislation concerning live music in pubs, bars and other liquor licensed premises, commonly referred to as the 'two in a bar rule', already makes it extremely difficult for musicians to find work''.

That is where I have started from on this matter. The problem is how to proceed. We believe that the right way forward is to abolish the two-in-a-bar rule. We are putting in its place a simple, cheap and streamlined licensing system that should encourage—if industry makes full use of the reforms—a huge opening up of the opportunities for performing many sorts of regulated entertainment. To encourage pubs and other venues to take maximum advantage of the new system, we have agreed to work with the Musicians Union and other organisations representing performers and artists to develop a leaflet that their members can hand out to local licensees to persuade them to apply to put on live music. That is an important undertaking. There will be a steep learning curve for many of us, including the Musicians Union and other organisations, which realise that we must engage with the holders of premises licences to ensure that they know that they can put on live entertainment and that they do not have to pay the earth for it.

10.45 am

Let us focus on pubs, as that is where the current exemption applies. Pubs will need a premises licence to sell alcohol. They will have to go through the application procedure and pay the fee applicable if they want to sell alcohol. It will cost them nothing extra to seek at the same time authorisation in the premises licence to put on regulated entertainment in any of its diverse forms. The situation is as simple as that. Where no relevant representations are received on the application, it will be granted automatically.

Let us compare that with the current system, in which huge fees for a public entertainment licence—many thousands of pounds in some areas—act as a considerable deterrent to pubs obtaining such licences. The Government are firm in our belief that the combination of the abolition of the two-in-a-bar rule with the much simpler and cheaper licensing system under the Bill should open up opportunities for entertainers to perform.

Amendment No. 297 would allow the continuation of a form of the two-in-a-bar rule in the converted new licences issued during the transitional period. Automatically permitting the provision of entertainment in the form currently exempted by the two-in-a-bar rule would simply perpetuate the current restrictive framework by placing a disincentive on businesses to apply to vary their existing licences on transition to extend the range of entertainment that they are permitted to provide.

Amendment No. 298 appears intended to have the same purpose as amendment No. 297. It, too, is flawed and would fail to provide any benefit to performers. Again, the intention appears to be to perpetuate the exemption for two in a bar by converting schedule 8,

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so that the existing provision of live music, albeit in a slightly amended way, would appear as an authorisation on the new premises licence. However, the amendment would not achieve that. Paragraph 1(2)(a) of schedule 8 provides that the exemption in section 182 of the 1964 Act is to be disregarded in determining what existing licensable activities can be converted. Adding the word ''existing'' before the words ''public entertainment'' would do nothing to change the fact that the activity is to be disregarded.

I hope that the Committee accepts that the amendments pose a threat to amateur and professional musicians of all shapes and sizes. I trust that the amendments will not be pressed because I have great hopes that the regime that we are putting in place will mean a great change for the better in the organisation of live music.

Mr. Moss: We seem to have had this argument several times already. The Minister repeats his case that this is simply about a tick in the box. That has been said to the representatives of the music industry more than once in the past few months, if not years, but they are not reassured that this is simply about ticking the box at no extra cost. They accept that there is a simple procedure to go through at the time of application. However, they say from their experience, which admittedly is of the current regime, that when the local authority gets involved in applications for entertainment licences it all starts to go wrong. As the Minister said, unless there are representations, the application will go through fairly smoothly. If the Government set the fees for the application—we still do not know what those will be—we may see that it will not be terribly onerous in some or even many cases. I accept the Minister's argument that if there are grandfather rights, licensees or publicans may say, ''I'm not going to bother extending the licence; I'll just keep to two in a bar'', and the opportunities for more musicians to take part will be reduced.

Jim Knight: Thinking about the transitional period, does the hon. Gentleman accept that a temporary event notice would be a useful way for those who felt some reluctance about taking risks, in terms of ticking a box, to test out entertainment with more than two in a bar? They would have much more flexibility and far less regulation at a nominal cost. A temporary event notice is a useful form of transitional arrangement to encourage people to go the whole hog with public entertainment.

Mr. Moss: That is an interesting idea that will perhaps be explored. Of course, the limit in that case is 499 people. There may well be representations when such applications are made on the basis that the number of people attracted to a certain event would be far too great and the restrictions would then come in. We are still not getting away from representations. The people making them, whether concerned with health and safety or fire, will say that unless certain changes are made to the premises, the licence should not be allowed. That is where the problem arises.

I have been to pubs in my constituency and have talked to my local brewer. My local authority has told that brewery, as well as local publicans and tenants, what they would have to do to gain a public

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entertainment licence, and it would cost a lot of money. Those changes involve, for example, making structural changes to the premises for obvious fire and health and safety reasons. One would not say that that was unnecessary; however, it is slightly misleading to harp on about the tick in the box and the fact that there are no costs. There are real costs, particularly for the many old pubs that lend themselves to a small combo in the corner, but where there would be fairly serious implications if they wanted to extend beyond that.

As the hon. Member for South Dorset said, TENs—temporary event notices—may provide a way around that problem for the transitional period. Although the limit of 499 people would give room to manoeuvre to some, there is no way that the local police or whoever will allow 499 people into a couple of bars in a pub. There will be obvious restrictions that we must not overlook.

Dr. Howells: May I give the hon. Gentleman and the Committee some reassurances? Under the Bill, the local authority, as the licensing authority, would be operating under a different regime. That regime would include checks and balances designed to ensure that an authority could not impose conditions, other than those necessary to promote the licensing objectives, without breaching its statutory duty.

I want to give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are determined to ensure that under no circumstances will frivolous conditions be imposed on licensees, such as that mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, who want music or other entertainment allowed at present to continue. We want to ensure that that will not require the addition of another fire door or whatever.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will concede that if there is to be a huge change—if a big band were to play at the premises, or if many more people were to be attracted—then of course the authority will have to take cognisance of that and must require the premises to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure that public safety is paramount and is maintained.

Mr. Moss: I do not disagree with the Minister; obviously, even if the music is incidental in the final analysis the safety of the public should be paramount. It is all a matter of scale. In the majority of pubs and clubs, there are small groups of musicians—more than two, but not in many cases an orchestra—and fewer than 499 people are attending. How can we ensure that such events and opportunities take place? I hear the Minister saying that he wants a system that encourages greater participation, with more musicians involved. We concur. However, can we be certain, in the light of the Bill's wording, that that will happen?

Dr. Howells: I thank the hon. Gentleman for being patient and giving way to me again. We have convened a working group that includes representatives from the local authorities and the performers to explore what might or might not constitute appropriate conditions for various scales and various kinds of music. The statutory guidance, to which the licensing authorities must have regard, will contain model conditions.

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