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Mr. Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman says that it was. I am glad that my hon. Friend brought that up, because it is an interesting point. It seems that it was licensed, unlike the performance by The Frontiers, a young band from Liverpool, who on Friday 17 July played an engagement in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in Cockspur street, which I understand did not have a licence. As was pointed out, that left the Secretary of State liable to a £20,000 fine or six months' imprisonment.
The demonstration was well attended by clowns, stilt-walkers and Punch and Judy men. We heard performances by Rhythms of the City, the Oompah Brass Band and Zambezi Express. Rhubarb and Rainbow the clowns were also present. However, the serious point of that was to reflect the concern right across the spectrum of performing artists about the effect of the Licensing Act. I was given a letter signed on behalf of Equity and the Musicians Union, which represent more than 60,000 performers and other creative workers and support the recommendations of the Select Committee report, particularly on red tape-the process of applying for a licence is too bureaucratic. They also strongly support the suggestion that licensing requirements should be removed for small venues and that the two-in-a-bar rule should be reinstated. I will mention other recommendations later, including on travelling entertainment in circuses.
There is no doubt that the requirement for all forms of live performance to be licensed is having a damaging effect. I understand from the newspapers that the Government have begun to shift on this. It is reported that the Minister will consult on bringing in an exemption for venues with a capacity of less than 100. As I mentioned earlier to my Select Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), any movement is welcome. A consultation has been promised for a long time. However, I am not entirely convinced that there needs to be a consultation at all. The evidence is clear. A huge amount of work has been done already, demonstrating that there is a need to relax the law in this area. I am concerned, because apparently it will take three months for the consultation to take place-and then, I am sure, the Department will need to assess it and think about it. The chances of a change happening before a general election seem pretty slim. I hope that the Minister will assure me that I am wrong on that point.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe):
I will mention what the hon. Gentleman says later, during my speech, but I just want to say that for me, this is about hearing both sides of the debate regarding live music. He has rightly focused on his worry about the impact on live music, but does he not have a view on, and will he say
something about, the views of local authorities, the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services and similar bodies, which have great concerns about our going too far on such issues?
Mr. Whittingdale: I accept that there is concern, although in my view a lot of the worries that local authorities rightly have can be addressed through environmental health legislation, for example. Actually, the practice of local authorities is also giving rise to concern, because even those venues that have taken advantage of the Act and applied for an entertainment licence are finding that the conditions being imposed are in many instances draconian.
I do not know whether the Minister is aware of the survey done by the Welwyn Hatfield Live Music Forum on the actions of just one council-St. Albans district council-which, I am afraid to say to the three hon. Members to my left, is a Liberal Democrat-controlled council. The survey showed that, of 85 pubs in the St. Albans district,
"30 have restrictions on the number of musicians who can perform...45 have restrictions on the regularity or frequency of musical performances"
"4 have a restriction on the genres of music which can be performed...1 pub has to display a suitable and conspicuous notice advising the residents of forthcoming live music events"
"1 has a restriction on indoors Morris Dancing",
I will not mention the full list, but I will just give one example. Clarence park in Clarence road, St. Albans, is subject to a licence with conditions running to more than 2,000 words. The associated event risk-assessment form runs to another three pages. St. Albans district council states, in its licensing policy:
"The policy does not provide for any standard conditions to be imposed to avoid the imposition of disproportionate and burdensome requirements."
To redress the balance slightly, I thank the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Clement-Jones, who has introduced a Bill in the House of Lords that seeks to implement the Committee's recommendations in this area. I hope it is successful.
Since Lord Clement-Jones's Bill has been mentioned, and given the Minister's rather belated announcement that the Government will consult on the possibility of exempting venues of up to 100 from a requirement for a live music licence, will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Select Committee believes that that figure should be up to 200, as mentioned in that Bill? The Minister will not mind my saying-I discussed this with him-that in an earlier conversation with him today I said that
100 did not go far enough and asked what would happen if the consultation, which I agree is not needed, suggested that 200 was a better figure. I then asked what the Government would do. The Minister was gracious enough to say that in such circumstances they would seriously consider 200. That is good news, and we should welcome it.
Mr. Whittingdale: If that is the case, I welcome it, and I hope that the Minister will confirm it in his response. The Select Committee recommended that the appropriate figure was 200, which is what the Musicians Union suggested. The Minister would win many friends if he announced this afternoon that, having listened to us, he will change the figure to 200. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] We will give him a while.
I want to refer particularly to the problem affecting portable entertainment, especially circuses. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who is unable to be present but asked me to give his apologies. He has done immense work in support of circuses. Their problem is that it is extremely unclear whether they need to be licensed. Local authorities have different views-some say that they do not need licences, but others require 14 days' notice and the full licensing process before a circus can perform. Because they move around the country, that causes uncertainty because they are unsure of where they can go without a licence. Equally, if something happens that requires them to move, it renders that almost impossible. Two examples were given to me.
Zippos circus, which I visited in Colchester, had been due to spend four or five days in Windsor when Princess Diana was killed. It rightly thought that that would be inappropriate because people did not want to be seen at a circus in that vicinity, with which she was closely identified, and it wanted to move. Another such occasion was when there was flooding in Sheffield. The circus had to move a long way to somewhere where a licence would not be necessary, because there was no time to apply for one and to undergo the 14-day period required by the legislation. Instead of being able to move to a different part of Sheffield, it had to come to Barnes in London, which was a great deal more expensive.
It was suggested to the Committee that the obvious solution, if the Minister still believes that circuses should be licensed-it is not clear to me why they should be, when fairgrounds, for example, do not have to be, and no problems have been related to circuses-is to have a single licence at the place of origin, rather as a cruise ship obtains a licence from its home port. I know that the Government have considered that, and I hope the Minister will say a little about it.
For one or two other community-type performances-for example, Punch and Judy men, and mummers-the licensing requirement is unnecessary, unjustifiable and should be removed. I hope the Minister will also reconsider that.
Another aspect of the performance of live music has caused concern in the capital. The Minister will be aware that the Metropolitan police require form 696 to be submitted 14 days prior to a performance. The police say that that is a voluntary measure, but many councils make it a condition of a licence, so that it is no longer voluntary. I understand the police's concern about gang-related violence, but it is difficult to find any evidence to
suggest that music in itself leads to violence. There is a worrying level of violence, particularly among the young ethnic minority communities in London, and obviously we want to support the police, but there is little evidence of an apparent linkage with music, and the requirement is doing real damage in two ways. It has led to some proposed performances being cancelled because the police have refused to allow them to go ahead.
I am not talking just about small clubs where there may be concern about security or the clientele. The problem is affecting major venues, such as the O2, which is perhaps the most successful music venue in the world at the moment. It has pointed that that it has had real problems as a result of form 696. It says that the administrative cost is £27,000 a year. If that was clearly justifiable, perhaps the O2 could afford to pay it, but it says that because of the 14-day time frame it has had to turn away short-lead events and has been unable to fill empty dates because of the required notice period. It has had to turn away three events as a result. It also said that the requirement to submit a guest list is completely impracticable, because it may change up to 24 hours before an event takes place, and will often say "plus one".
Most worrying are the occasions on which the police have required events to be cancelled. One was a Project Urban event-a black urban music gig involving major artists, including Tinchy Stryder, who is very successful.
Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is a great expert in contemporary music, and is as familiar with Tinchy Stryder as I am. Master Stepz was also involved. Those are major performers, but on that occasion the police expressed concern that the combination of those artists and the fact that the promoters were young contributed to the possibility of the event attracting public disorder, so it had to be cancelled.
The second event was the Black Comedy awards, which was not even a music gig. One day before the event, the police said that they had received intelligence that gang members would attend and some of their names were spotted on the guest list. The O2 did not want to risk the police closing the event in the middle, so it decided to postpone it, and the promoter lost £12,000 as a result.
Another event involved Rick Ross, a black rap artist from New York. Form 696 was submitted within the time frame, and the police said that it was a low-risk event, but when the guest list was submitted the day before, it raised concern with the police to the extent that they requested that it cancelled. The O2 resisted, and pointed out that it was the fourth event in six months that had followed a similar trend-that attracting a black crowd raised concerns with the police. The O2 pointed out that it operated a high level of security with random searches on entry, had its own policing and was confident that the event would be secure. Only after intervention by the council leader and the Metropolitan police borough commander was it allowed to take place. It passed off with no problem at all. However, the O2 points out that such things are a having a significant effect on it. If they are affecting the O2 to that extent, they will plainly be affecting many other venues.
The Minister should be concerned about this. I quite accept that the Metropolitan police are not operating these provisions on the grounds of racism, but there is
no doubt that that they are looking at specific types of music. Originally, as he will know, the form required the identification of the type of music to be performed. That requirement has since been removed, but it is still widely believed that the form is being used to target black music events, and that is causing deep resentment among certain communities. The Minister will be aware of the importance at the present time of not alienating certain minority communities, and the form is a cause of resentment. I therefore hope that he will talk to the police and look seriously at whether it really is necessary to have the form at all. The Select Committee's view was that the form was unnecessary and unjustified and that it should be abolished.
I want to touch briefly on one other issue that the Committee examined as part of its consideration of the Act. The licensing of lap-dancing clubs has been subject to legislation, and a new category has been created, so lap-dancing clubs can be treated as sex-encounter venues. The Committee's view was that it was not right that local residents living next door to a normal nightclub or bar should wake up one morning to discover that it had turned into a lap-dancing club and that they could do nothing about it. We felt that there was a case for a separate category that would allow local residents to express a view as to whether a location was appropriate for a lap-dancing club. Equally, a number of the people who gave evidence to us wanted to ban lap-dancing clubs completely, but we were of the view that such clubs are a legitimate and legal form of entertainment, which some people enjoy.
We were concerned about one or two aspects of the new provisions, particularly where owners have invested large sums to establish clubs in locations where there has been no record of disorder. Indeed, the Lap Dancing Association made the point that lap-dancing clubs are probably some of the best policed and secure venues and have less of a record of public disorder than almost any other type of entertainment venue. Nevertheless, they are required, for instance, to renew their licences annually, which makes it difficult for them to have security about their long-term investments. We could not see that annual renewal was necessary, and if there is a problem, there is always the provision allowing local residents, the police and others to make representations about the licence. The automatic annual renewal requirement is, therefore, not necessary.
We also had concerns about the transition to the new regime. We believed that existing clubs should have quite a lengthy period-perhaps five years-before they have to meet the full licensing requirement. Those remain concerns, and I hope that the Minister will briefly touch on them.
As I said, our overall impression was that the Act had achieved a large part of what it was intended to achieve. However, there were real concerns about specific provisions, and the Committee was disappointed that the Government did not seem willing to address them. I hope that the Minister will correct that this afternoon.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con):
Let me start, Miss Begg, by apologising to you, the Minister and my Select Committee Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for
Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), because I will not be able to stay until the end of the debate. I do, however, want to make a couple of points.
Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend, who really is an excellent Chairman of the Select Committee. On most issues, there is a diverse range of views on the Committee, and my hon. Friend is one of the very few people who can bring them together to produce reports on which we all agree. He does not always manage that, but most of the time he manages it very skilfully.
My hon. Friend has gone through the issues that the Committee raised on a range of measures far more effectively than I ever could, so I do not intend to repeat everything that he said, but I do I want to touch on two issues. First, I want to elaborate on an issue on which my hon. Friend merely touched. Secondly, I want to reiterate a point that he made.
My first point relates to drinks promotions, which were covered in the Committee's recommendations. I feel particularly strongly about the issue. I never cease to be amazed at the number of times the Government accurately identify a problem, only for the solution to be a complete shambles, which does not actually address the problem. We have to recognise that we have a problem with excessive drinking in some of our town centres and that that causes an awful lot of misery for the people who are subjected to it. It also causes an awful lot of problems for the police, who spend a lot of time policing drink-related incidents when they might be better employed doing other things.
We have a big problem with excessive drinking, and I am not going to stand here and say that we do not. Indeed, I have spent time at my local police force's custody desk, and I never cease to be amazed by the number of people whose crimes are fuelled by alcohol. There clearly is a problem, but what I want to take issue with is the solution. In Parliament, we tend to thrash around, looking as if we are doing something, because we know that there is a problem and we want to be seen to be doing something. My fear is that the things that we try to do often do not address the problem, but instead make decent, law-abiding citizens suffer even more.
That is why I want to touch on the issue of drinks promotions. A head of steam seems to be building up behind the idea that the solution to all our drink-related violence is to ban happy hours in pubs or to ban supermarkets from selling alcohol as cheaply as they do. To be perfectly honest, those things will not make a blind bit of difference to alcohol-related violence on our streets. Whether we like it or not, we have to recognise that some people go out on a Friday or Saturday night with the intention of getting drunk. Ending a promotion here or adding a few pence to the price of a litre of wine in a supermarket there will not change that mindset-this is a much deeper problem than such simplistic solutions suggest.
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