The Licensing Act 2003 - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 163)



  Q160  Mr Evans: The Act has been going for some time now. I presume that most circuses have applied for premises licences in virtually all the sites that you would ever appear.

  Mr Clay: It does not quite work like that because a lot of councils will allocate their site to one circus one year but say next year we want a different circus or the year after we want a different circus. The licence is specific to that operator and not to the site. You may have a succession of annual premises applications for the same site. Circuses are forever looking at different sites. You lose sites due to redevelopment or local events that are taking place in the park. Certainly we are over the first wave of applications, but this is going to be a continuing process because of the change of sites. We are not altogether sure what we will do when we change our tents and seating because an application --- To the layman perhaps all circus tents are alike but they are not quite the same, nor is the seating quite the same. So when we go back two years later and it is a new tent (because tents have a limited life), are we then required to make a new application? This is why the system just does not fit the industry.

  Q161  Mr Evans: You have just mentioned the costs which I would have said are substantial because that money has got to come from somewhere and it is a cost that you did not have to meet before this regime came in. In your estimation is the new licensing regime and the costs involved with it putting circuses out of business? Is it threatening the livelihoods of certain circuses in this country?

  Mr Burton: Can I give you a very clear example of a hardship my circus suffered last year? We were due to open in Sheffield and my circus was in Twickenham. We went to Sheffield the week before and made the necessary inspections with the council officers and the parks officers and everything was fine. On Monday morning the first vehicle pulled onto the park in Sheffield and within 10 minutes I had a phone call from the Mayor's office saying our event was cancelled. You will remember that Sheffield had terrible floods last year and this was right in the middle of all of that. Pre licensing what I would have done was I would have phoned up Meadowhall shopping centre and moved my circus from the council park to Meadowhall. It would have required me to alter my advertising at the very last minute, but that is my job and that is my expertise. Do not think for one moment my expertise is putting up tents; I have other people who do that. My expertise is in promoting an event at very, very short notice, but I can do that and I have done it all my life. However, because of the Licensing Act 2003 we had to turn round. I literally had lorries coming off the motorway onto the slip road and I told them to go back onto the motorway and back to London. The only place we had a premises licence that we could use was for Barnes in London. So we went all the way back to Barnes and opened in Barnes. I have told you how I can re-advertise, but it is one thing to re-advertise the change of location from one part of Sheffield to another, it is another thing to advertise a change in location from Sheffield to Barnes. That caused us real hardship and we lost serious money that week, plus the next venue was Perth in Scotland and the idea of Sheffield was it is half way to Perth. I then drove from Barnes to Perth without a break, which was another extremely expensive exercise. That was as a direct result of the Licensing Act causing us real hardship. I differ very slightly from Malcolm in that I do understand what the DCMS has said to you about the Home Authority Principle. It probably works more for ships. A ship can berth most of the time at Southampton, although it has a licence to appear in ports around the country. The reason the circuses are licensable is because of guidance note 10.35 and if you are looking at the old guidance it is 7.36. I would just like to read you a little bit. It says, "In the case of circuses and fairgrounds, much will depend on the content of any entertainment presented. For example, at fairgrounds, a good deal of the musical entertainment may be incidental ... However, in the case of a circus, music and dancing are likely to be main attractions themselves [...] " I have said to you that we have consistently proven that music and dance are not the main attractions but incidental. I suggest to the Committee that although the Home Authority Principle would work for us, the simplest, cheapest, easiest way for this Government to help the circuses would be to change the guidance notes to say, "In the case of circuses and fairgrounds, much will depend on the content. For example, at fairgrounds and circuses, a good deal of the musical entertainment may be incidental [...] " It is a simple piece of rewording. That rewording gives you other safeguards as well. There is clearly a point at which some circuses may become so production heavy that they do become a theatrical production. We all know Barnum, for example. The individual licensing officer would then be able to make a decision as to whether or not a circus had actually gone over the edge of being a traditional touring circus like mine and become a theatrical production or whether it was still that.

  Q162  Mr Evans: That is the difference between your circus and the Cirque du Soleil where the music is very important there.

  Mr Burton: I would rather use the example of the circus musical Barnum, which is a theatrical production, but clearly there is a sliding scale and somebody needs to make a judgement. The DCMS will be in very tricky waters if it ever tried to define a circus. There are dragons. I warn you, do not go there! To leave it to somebody's individual discretion and where people can sit down and argue it out clearly works in practice because I am doing it now, and you can change it just by changing the guidance notes and it is very cheap.

  Mr Clay: I think you were concerned about the actual cost of the licence application. It does create a strain and I think circuses have been resilient and they cut a bit here and there. You are a businessman. There is a limit as to just how much you can keep cutting. Against that we have got to balance the fact that circuses are one of the few commercial live entertainments that spread right across the country. The circus industry is touring from the very south-west right up to the north of Scotland, which I know is a different regulation, but they are going to a lot of small towns where there is no permanent commercial live entertainment source. For a lot of children their first experiences of live entertainment are circuses and pantomime and it is the circus that goes to them; the children you have to take to the pantomime. If you look at the smallest members of my Association, say Lawson's circus which is based in Kent and which plays two places every week and just sticks to the large villages and the small towns and he goes back to those same places frequently because he has his reputation, it is a part of the culture, it is something which annually the people look forward to there, but he has problems, he has lost places this year because of the rain. He loses sites because they are now being used for something else. So the cost of the licence is a problem, but it is the loss of trading which is a greater problem in that if you have a circus which may well have expenses of £20,000 a week or more and you are stuck in a car park for a week because you cannot trade, that is an awful lot of expense to pull back over the rest of the season. I listened to what Martin said about this Home Office licence, which I think may well be the compromise, but I am certainly attracted to a very clear indication from DCMS as to whether a circus is licensable or not. On the wording which we should be looking at from the DCMS, a circus would not normally be a licensable activity and then if it does go over the edge because it is a large production show, which we tend not to see touring in tents, then fine, it brings it into the regime. It is this very nebulous advice from the DCMS at present while the music may be incidental or it may not be incidental. Part of the advice that we had originally was that a lion trainer (not that we have lion trainers) or a high wire walker would not make the circus licensable but that clowns would make the circus licensable because a clown act basically is a mini drama. It is very difficult to run a business based on those sort of interpretations.

  Q163  Chairman: Finally, you have suggested that it might be different in Scotland at the moment and that the regime is easier in Scotland. Does that represent a potential way forward?

  Mr Clay: Scotland has had a form of licensing under the Scotland Local Government Act 1983 where there is a licensing regime but it is focussed very firmly on health and safety and producing layout plans and producing engineers' reports on the stability of seating. It does not license the entertainment, it licenses the equipment that you are taking onto site. There is a decided case where one of the Scottish local authorities tried to restrict the programme content and it went to the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh and the circus was successful and the judge held that Scottish licensing is not a form of restriction or censorship of the circus performance, it is based on engineering requirements.

  Chairman: I think that is it. Thank you very much.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 14 May 2009