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The Licensing Bill - Message 4 - Pete McClelland

The new Licensing Bill has been introduced to parliament on 14th November 2002. I believe it is an assault on our civil liberties as it clearly restricts participation in the performing arts. If passed as is it will be a disaster for musicians, event organisers, music teachers, studios and retailers, and bring repression unseen for centuries for our whole musical culture in England and Wales. No other country in the world restricts the arts in such a way.

It is essential that maximum effort is put in by everyone affected right now to try to get the bill amended as far as possible to deal with the main objections listed here. This can be achieved by lobbying of your MP - write to them now - by contacting the media in your area, by offering your support to the campaigning bodies - the Musicians Union, The Music Industries Association - the Arts Council. Key Objections:

1 Making music should not be a licensable activity. Live Music should not be licensed at all - it isn't in Scotland, and most other countries. Existing and recently enhanced health and safety, fire, and noise regulations are in place across the whole of the UK and provide adequate protection in themselves. The licensing procedure requires clearance from police, fire, health . safety, local authority, and local residents, and may come with expensive conditions attached. It will not be a simple matter at all.

2 The scope of locations covered is far too wide. The new Act will make music licensable not just in pubs and clubs and places where alcohol is sold, but also in private homes and gardens, in churches, fields and all other places. This is not a trivial license easily obtained, it is the same one as required to sell alcohol in pubs. There can be no justification for requiring a license to make music in these secondary locations. Tens of thousands of weddings, private parties, village fetes, School concerts etc will be banned.

3 The punishment proposed is way too strong. It should not be a criminal offence punishable by 6 months in prison or a 20,000 fine to play music. The penalties are far too strong. This is a clear civil liberties issue. The Musicians should not be liable to prosecution themselves if hired to play in unlicensed premises (Clause 134 makes them liable) (Clause 188 makes any location at all count as premises). Musicians will always have to check first whether a license is in place before performing, and this may not be easy in practice.

4 The scope of activities covered is far too wide. A new activity "Provision of "Entertainment Facilities" will become licensable (schedule 1, paragraph 3). This vague clause will catch Music Shops, Music Studios, and Music and Dance teachers as it stands. All of these activities will require a license. It will become illegal, and punishable by prison to teach music, use a rehearsal room, try out an instrument in a music shop, make a recording in a recording studio, unless a license is first obtained.

5 Amplified broadcasts still legal. It cannot be right that amplified broadcast events should be legal while singing happy birthday by a single person will be illegal.

6 Folk Traditions under even greater threat. Also the folk traditions of this country have been handed down in pubs for centuries, this new "none in a bar" law will severely harm a national treasure which was already under threat from the existing "two in a bar" law. It cannot be right that Scottish traditions can be continued, while English and Welsh ones are to be made illegal. Specific Issues, and Amendments Needed

1. Schedule 1, paragraph 1 states that music will be a licensable activity if the entertainment meets these two criteria: if it is to any extent for the public or for members of a club, and it is also for consideration and with a view to profit. Sub-paragraph (6) states that raising money for charity counts as being for profit. Sub-paragraph (4) states that if any charge is made by any person concerned in the organisation or management of the event (this might include a charge by the bandleader to the organiser) or if any charge is paid by those entertained, then the entertainment will count as being for consideration.

Paragraph 1 will catch any private party or wedding reception where an entertainer is paid. It will also catch buskers, school concerts, choral society events, school and village fetes, and many other currently legal events. It will not be possible or practicable for the organiser of such a one off event to obtain a full entertainment and drinks license, nor will they know how to go about it even if it is made relatively easy. The events will all have to be cancelled. Dr Howells (the culture minister) has stated that the bill intends to make all music licensable where the artist is paid to perform. Subparagraph (4) seems to be the key issue here, if it were amended to specifically not include payment to performers at an otherwise unlicensable event, things would be much better.

2. Schedule 1 paragraph 3 which refers to "Entertainment Facilities" is completely unacceptable. It includes the whole infrastructure of music making in this country. This whole concept needs removing from the bill

Examples

As an example, if you put up a marquee in your garden for your daughter's wedding, and hire a band to play, you will be a criminal if you don't have a licence. The band leader will be a criminal too. Both of you may go to jail, and gain a criminal record. Other soon to be illegal activities: Busking, Music Teaching, Selling musical instruments, Rehearsing, Hospital concerts, Fundraiser in the village hall, and much more.

The current laws are enforced very zealously by many authorities at present. A landlord has recently been fined a considerable amount for allowing four customers to sing Happy Birthday. Many other pub based folk clubs and sessions have been shut down. We must expect this over zealous interpretation to be applied to any new law, so it is very important that no ambiguity is there for the local authorities to exploit.

Pete McClelland (Hobgoblin Music)

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