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22 Oct 2009 : Column 341WH—continued

In addition to those measures, we will continue to support live music through music sponsorship initiatives. Arts Council England supports a wide range of artistic activities. It funds 107 music organisations and makes a large number of project funding awards through the "Grants for the arts" lottery programme. Following a recommendation by the Live Music Forum, we have
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committed £500,000 to set up 10 pilot music rehearsal spaces in local authority-owned buildings in England over the financial years 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Live music is just one area in which we are pleased to announce progress since the publication of the Select Committee's report. As the Select Committee Chairman has acknowledged, we have taken several important steps to make the licensing regime more efficient and to remove unnecessary burdens on thousands of businesses and voluntary organisations. We have introduced the minor variations process to make it quicker and cheaper to make small changes that do not affect the licensing objectives. We have introduced an order to ease the burden on village halls and community premises when applying for licences to sell alcohol. We have published a consultation document on the introduction of an electronic application process.

Those are important steps that reduce the burden of the 2003 Act and have resulted in a considerable reduction in red tape. The administrative savings are estimated to be £99 million per annum. That will benefit not just businesses, but the third sector and non-profit-making clubs. We are aware that more needs to be done and we plan to consider the design of the licensing forms and other aspects of the application system, such as advertising, once other simplification measures have been implemented.

We are in the early stages of drawing up a consultation on new simplification measures that are designed to reduce the administrative costs of the 2003 Act. I will mention just two of the proposed changes. First, on temporary event notices, we intend to consult on giving the police a discretionary power to allow late notifications for low-risk events. That might help circuses. As the current minimum notice period for temporary event notices is 10 working days, that will help event organisers when, for example, they are forced to cancel an event at short notice and wish to reschedule for the following weekend. The police have indicated that, in principle, they would welcome such a discretion.

Secondly, as I indicated in my response to the Select Committee, the consultation will propose an extension to the period during which the licence can be transferred after the death of the premises licence holder. As the Select Committee Chairman said, the current period is seven days. That also applies to incapacity and insolvency. We agree that in such circumstances the time scale is too short and are minded to replace it with a period of 28 days.

I have listened to requests for the licensing authorities to be more involved in the review process. We have proposed amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill to increase their involvement. That would allow any member of the local council to call for reviews by making them interested parties under the legislation. At present, a local councillor cannot call for a review unless they live near the premises or are asked to do so by a local resident. We propose to allow licensing officers, who often have local knowledge about licensed premises, to call for reviews without waiting for another part of the authority or the police to do so. That would replace the parts of the proposed mandatory code that would have given licensing authorities similar, but less flexible, powers on groups of premises. Those proposals have been welcomed by licensees and local authorities.

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I now turn to specific issues raised by the Select Committee Chairman and other hon. Members. On alcohol promotions, we are not minded to introduce minimum pricing, as suggested by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross). We will look closely at what happens in Scotland. We want to use legislation to take action when there is an evidence base to show that promotions are irresponsible. We will ensure that those issues are discussed under the Policing and Crime Bill.

The mandatory code is important. We want to ensure that the more than 7,000 responses are analysed properly. The Select Committee Chairman spoke about the Prime Minister's announcement. It is important that we do all that we can to ensure that we have the right powers in the right places. The Prime Minister simply wanted to ensure that we had looked at all the avenues and that we move forward on the right basis.

The Government are not minded to implement a database of personal licence holders. We do not think that there is a strong enough business case to justify committing public money to that proposal. That is based on the evidence put to us by external consultants in 2005. We will monitor the situation and consider the suggestions of local authorities and responsible authorities on how the existing information can be shared more effectively. I am sure that the Select Committee will return to that issue if no progress is made.

As the Minister with responsibility for sport, gambling and licensing, I believe that sport at every level is vital to the nation. Community sports clubs are a key element in creating the champions of the future. We do not want to do anything that would attack or upset such clubs. That is why we strongly support the community amateur sports club scheme, which provides a range of tax benefits, including mandatory tax relief on 80 per cent. of business rates and the ability to claim gift aid on donations. There is a difficulty in subsidising alcohol in such premises. We need to discuss further how such a differential can be made. I was interested in the comments of the Select Committee Chairman on that. Perhaps we will return to that issue in our discussions about how to support such small clubs, which are a key part of our sporting life.

The Government want to work with the Live Music Forum and local government to support more live music. We want to ensure that musicians at all levels have the opportunity to perform live. The two-in-a-bar rule militated against groups. As we heard earlier, many people now get involved in music by joining groups. We will listen to campaigners and work with the Musicians Union and the Live Music Forum. Now that I have made the announcement about the consultation, I am happy to have further discussions about how we can move forward.

The debate on this issue is passionate, but we must recognise the role that local government plays. I do not support local government being aggressive by putting preventions in place to stop live music. We must strike the right balance. The working groups have given us good evidence and I hope that the Select Committee will support us as we move forward.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge asked why we do not simply implement Lord Clement-Jones's Live Music Bill. Clearly, the Bill contains similar measures to those
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I have announced today, and would have a stronger chance of being passed if we get all-party support and use the legislative reform order procedures.

I recognise the great work done by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) on circuses-he has talked to me on many occasions about the problems that they face. Through the simplification plan, we have tried to help travelling circuses and we think that the electronic application form will benefit them. The decision to allow people to make late notification for low-risk temporary events where the police do not have concerns will also help circuses. That does not meet all the hon. Gentleman's requirements, but they are positive steps in the right direction.

I share the Committee's concerns about form 696. Committee members and colleagues will know that the form is a matter for the Metropolitan police. I am very concerned about the application of the form and, through officials, have had discussions with ACPO and the Met. I am pleased to say that the form is to be re-presented, which we expect to happen some time soon. The form will be voluntary and is not intended to be used for live music events, which is a significant step forward.

Clearly the police must find a balance in terms of their concerns, and it is right that they put things forward in a positive way, but they must do so sensitively. They need to ensure that the language of the form is correct. We have been offering advice to the Met, but as the form is its responsibility, we will wait to see what happens when the new form is published. As I have said, it is important to recognise that 696 is a voluntary form. Of course, unlike the Mayor of London, we believe that the Met is operationally independent. I understand that there have been several incidents and serious violence at some venues, therefore the right balance must be sorted out.

On the issues around lap-dancing, the Home Office has released a consultation on the transitional arrangements for existing lap-dancing businesses, and we will closely examine the responses. We have talked about the annual review, but clearly if a case is made about business concerns, we will consider it. It is clear that a balance has to be struck between the rights of such businesses to exist and the needs of local people and the issues that affect them. We will therefore consult on the matter.

The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford talked about the need for partnership working, and he was right to do so because the issues raised in the Committee's report affect a number of Departments. His contribution related to the Home Office, with which it is important we continue to work. The Home Office is very clear about the DCMS view on many of these issues, and we had a joint seminar on the approach of councillors and local authorities to licensing. The variance in the different guidelines given by local authorities to the bodies concerned is quite staggering. The guidelines range from being 2 inches thick to those that are more appropriate.

That variation was the reason for adopting the beacon authority principle. Brighton is a good example of what can be done-people have been working together and have been flexible, both from the business and community side. There is nothing at all party political in dealing with the matter. Geoffrey Theobald has done a fantastic job in leading that side of policy. As well as his work in Brighton, he has put his comments through the
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Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services and has worked tirelessly to try to ensure that the Act works properly.

I was staggered to find that there is a Punch and Judy association. Its website states that there are myths about Punch and Judy performances and that the Licensing Act has not restricted Punch and Judy performances in any way.

It is always a pleasure to respond to the Committee's welcome reports. There are issues that will continue to be discussed and that we will have to face in the future. It is with great pleasure that I have been able to respond to the Committee today, and I look forward to the further work ahead.

Miss Anne Begg (in the Chair): Does the Chair of the Committee wish to sum up?

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4.44 pm

Mr. Whittingdale: I thank the Minister for that response. He has indicated that the Government are prepared to look at possible further changes in several areas. That is obviously welcome and, in terms of exemption for small venues, I very much hope that his view that changes can be brought in before an election is right. I cannot speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) but, judging from what we have heard from both Front Benchers, I think that the Minister will find that there is general support for such changes.

Question put and agreed to.

4.45 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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