Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Association of Circus
I do believe that the difficulties with the Licensing Act experienced by the circus industry arise from the Government's failure to consult with that industry. It has meant that circuses have been brought into a system which is designed for permanent premises. It may be helpful if I was to set out the sequence of events. In the summer of 2000, I received from the Home Office the consultation document "Time for Reform: Proposals for the Modernisation of our Licensing Laws". As a result I wrote to Phillip Drummond at the Home Office on 22nd August 2000, advising him that circuses were then exempt from licensing and asked him to confirm "that the new proposals do not affect the existing statute or case law and that it is not proposed to bring circuses, which are moving on a weekly basis, within the licensing arrangements". Mr. Drummond responded on 1st September, informing me that the Ministers had not considered the issue of circuses and similar forms of entertainment and that they would consider whether or not circus should be brought under the new licensing system. In view of that response, I wrote again on 24th October 2000 to Phillip Drummond commenting that I was aware that there was some confusion within the Home Office on the licensing of circuses and, particularly, there appeared to be an assumption that circuses were already licensed. In that letter I gave the detailed explanation by reference to statute and case law as to why circuses were then exempt. I also pointed out that any proposals to bring circuses into a licensing scheme were going to create enormous practical difficulties, requiring circuses to apply for a licence in every town which they visited. The Bill had not, at that stage, been published. The response to our letter came from Keith Batten at the Home Office who stated "I am grateful to you for setting out so clearly the situation for circuses at present. I have spoken to colleagues within the Home Office and at the Local Government Association and at present the Home Office does not plan to include circuses in the scope of the White Paper or any other future legislation". In view of that assurance the circus industry believed that it was to be excluded from the new licensing regime and nothing further happened until the Bill was published late in 2002 when I then became concerned to see that there was no specific exemption for licensing circuses. I then wrote to Keith Batten on 30th January 2003 referring to his letter and the assurance which it contained. I did not receive any response from Keith Batten and wrote to him again on 26th March 2003 expressing my concern that the legislation appeared to be moving forward and there was a danger that circuses were going to be brought into licensing by default. Still not having received a response I wrote on 8th April 2003 to Kim Howells the Minister at the DCMS enclosing a copy of a letter from the Home Office of 27th November 2002 and expressing my concern that there was no specific exemption for circuses in the Bill. Keith Batten eventually wrote to me on 11th April 2003 informing me that the responsibility for the licensing proposals had been passed to the DCMS and confirming that my letters of 30th January and 26th March had been passed to that department. On 14th April the DCMS wrote to me apologising for the delay in the reply but stating that "the current exemption for circuses or pleasure fairs would be removed under the provisions of the Bill". There was no explanation as to why the Government had changed its mind and no apology for the industry not having been informed. There was then a suggestion that Andrew Cunningham, the Senior Government Advisor on Licensing, who was chairing meetings of the Guidance Note Group, thought that a meeting to discuss circus would be useful. However, that meeting was never held. The industry was alarmed and there were letters sent to both Tessa Jowell and the civil servants at the DCMS who were handling the Bill. There was a clear inference from the DCMS that the Government could not be seen to be making amendments to the Bill for one particular group but would seek to assist circus when the DCMS came to prepare the Guidance Notes. The Bill subsequently became law but the publication of the Draft Guidance Notes was still awaited. I then received a letter dated 25th August 2003 from the office of Richard Caborne enclosing the Draft Guidance Notes to Local Authorities and inviting me to make comments not later than 5th September 2003. In the ordinary course of events that would have been a ridiculously short time for any trade association to consult with its members before making representations. However, the letter was not posted until 3rd September 2003 and although it was received on 4th September 2003 it was not seen by me until the end of the working day but a response was needed by the following day. All of this made a complete mockery of any useful representations being made. It cannot be acceptable that the Government made fundamental changes to the way in which an industry operates without giving adequate notice to the industry and holding consultations. Requests to the DCMS for an explanation as to why the Government changed its mind without informing the industry and why it failed to consult with the industry, even though circuses specifically referred to in the Guidance Notes have failed to produce a response. I am sure that you will agree that it has been a most unsatisfactory exercise.
Since the publication of the Guidance Notes this Association has had meetings with four DCMS Ministers, all of whom appear to have accepted that the situation was unfair and agreed that something should be done to help circuses.
Your committee meeting focused on the two major issues facing circuses: the unfair cost of having to apply for a Premises Licence every week the circus operates and the inflexibility of not being able to change circus sites at short notice, resulting in some cases of a week's trading being lost.
On the issue of cost I accept that the major part of the cost has now been absorbed by the industry, however much financial hardship this has caused and there is an ongoing situation where circuses are either using an established site but one which that particular circus has not used before or is using a completely new site, all of which will involve new Premises Licence applications. I would not like to think that any relatively minor easing of the regulations such as the display of notices would be considered by the DCMS to be sufficient to help circuses.
The issue of flexibility is, of
course, fundamental to the problems which the circus industry faces. Although this Association has not had any
direct indication from the DCMS I understand that of the possible options the
issue of a travelling licence, such as those available to cruise ships or
trains, may be preferred. Cruise ships
and trains, sell alcohol which is an activity which does
not take place at a circus but cruise ships do provide regulated entertainment
and, in principle, the industry feels that a travelling licence could be
workable. This would probably be on the
basis that the individual circus is licensed with its Home Authority and can
then trade under that licence across
The Association's own preference would probably be for amendment to the Guidance Notes with a statement to the effect that a performance of traditional circus skills or entertainment where the playing of music and any element of dance was ancillary to that entertainment would not normally be licensable. We have made you aware that many Licensing Officers already take the view that circus is not a licensable activity but the situation is highly unsatisfactory when towns only a few miles apart may have different policies and any exemption from the licensing is based only on the interpretation of an individual Licensing Officer. I hope that we may be able to look back on the meeting as being the point at which the acceptance by the DCMS, that circuses needed help, turns into something more positive.