HC Deb 02 July 1982 vol 26 cc1137-40

Lords amendment: No. 8, in page 1, line 7, at beginning insert Subject to subsection (1A) below,

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 9 to 11 and 112 to 130.

Mr. Raison

The amendments to clause 1 and schedule 1 can be divided into three groups. The first group—that is, amendments Nos. 8 to 11, 117, 118, 121 to 128 and 130—gives effect to the wish expressed in this House, in Committee and in the other place for some control over pop festivals to be made available to local authorities. Hon. Members will recall that the Government were originally opposed to such controls. Although a number of local authorities already had power under local Acts to license open-air entertainments, they had never, to our knowledge, been used. We knew that where specific power to control pop festivals existed, as opposed to a general power to control open-air entertainments, pop festivals did not take place and this fact made us wonder whether a power in the Bill would be used to ban pop festivals altogether wherever it was adopted. We were also concerned about the practical problems for councils trying to enforce a licensing system. It seemed to us that the festivals in most need of control—the free festivals—would manage to escape it, because they had no readily identifiable organisers and that this would make nonsense of the whole system. Finally, and most importantly, we did not want local authorities to be placed in the invidious position of deciding whether or not to license political meetings which contained music whether the singing of an anthem or a full-scale pop concert such as "Rock against Racism".

We have, however, been persuaded by the evident concern of both Houses and by the details of the very unpleasant effects which pop festivals can have, particularly in a small rural neighbourhood, which have been drawn to our notice by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen). The amendments which we introduced in the other place are designed to give councils the minimum control compatible with their needs and wishes and those of the organisers and audiences of pop festivals. Because the permissible controls are limited, we think that they will work: and because the conditions which councils may impose are clearly defined, it should not be possible either for them to apply them in a politically discriminatory fashion or for critics to allege that they have done so.

Turning to the detailed provisions of the amendments, clause 1 introduces the mandatory licensing system for public entertainments which take place indoors. The controls over outdoor entertainments, in contrast, will he discretionary, since there may be no need for them at all. The four amendments to clause 1 enable district councils to adopt the powers in schedule 1 by resolution.

Details of the licensing system for outdoor entertainments are contained in paragraphs 3 and 4 of schedule 1. Any musical entertainment which is held wholly or mainly in the open air and at a place on private land and which is not exempted under paragraph 2A(3) of amendment No. 117 comes within the ambit of the licensing system. The list of exemptions is fairly extensive and covers such events as fetes and bazaars, sporting or athletic events, displays, and exhibitions where the problems associated with pop festivals are unlikely to arise.

We have not made a specific exemption for political meetings, however. In general, we do not expect them to take place on private land, so the controls are unlikely to apply at all. Controls extend only to entertainments which are held on private land, because in practice there are already means of controlling events which take place on land which is not in private ownership. So the march or demonstration which assembles on a common and proceeds along the highway to the town centre can sing and play as much as it likes, as far as this licensing system is concerned.

We are left, therefore, with the political meeting at which at some stage before, between or after the speeches, there is some music. The question is then whether that music amounts to a public entertainment. An anthem such as the Red Flag is clearly not a public entertainment, but there comes a point where an interlude consisting in someone singing protest songs to the audience might be considered a public entertainment. I point out, however, that it might also be considered a public entertainment for the purpose of this schedule if it took place indoors. So what it amounts to is that if the organisers of a political meeting which is held outdoors on private land intend to book a singer or a guitarist to entertain the meeting they may need a licence for exactly the same reasons as apply to the organisers of pop festivals. It does not seem very likely, however, that this will arise.

If, on the other hand, a political organisation intends to hold or sponsor a full-scale pop concert on private land, it must obtain a licence, just as any musical organisation must. This is only fair. From what my hon. Friend the Member for Wells has told me about the Pilton peace festival held recently, I assume that it would be covered by the provision.

The conditions which the licensing authority may impose are limited to four types, covering public safety, public hygiene, access for emergency vehicles and the prevention of unreasonable noise disturbance to persons in the neighbourhood. This enables a council to refuse a licence if it is clear that the organisers of the festival will be unable or unwilling to meet the conditions specified, but does not allow it to prohibit a pop festival just because it does not like them as a class, and it does not allow it to impose conditions which might be seen as politically biased.

The other amendments to clause 1 and schedule 1 are less substantial. Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 require the licensing authority to waive the licensing fee for entertainments held in parish, village or community halls, church and chapel halls or other similar buildings occupied in connection with a place of public religious worship. A good deal of concern was expressed about the possible financial consequences for the trustees of these places if they had to pay fees and the Government and local authority associations eventually agreed to the amendments. In addition, the licensing authority will have discretion to remit fees in whole or part where the entertainment, whenever it is held, is of an educational or like character or given for a charitable or like purpose.

The remainder are drafting amendments. I hope that having explained the new provisions and that, having conveyed the care with which we have approached the question, the House will agree to the amendments.

9.45 am
Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

I welcome all the amendments to which the Minister has now seen fit to agree. It is extraordinary that we should have spent so much time in Committee arguing the very case that the Minister today expresses so forcefully and eloquently. In Committee the Minister refused to see any logic or sense in the arguments that he now puts to the House. He said then that the Government take the view that the licensing of pop festivals and other open air events is not justified".—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 10 December 1981; c. 5.] He referred to Baroness Stedman's working group and said that such controls would be virtually impossible to enforce, quite apart from there being no need for them.

No event between the Committee and now could have caused such a drastic change of mind, except the views of the other place. I am worried that the views of the House of Commons do not persuade the Minister, whereas the views of the other place do. There has been a complete turnround in the Minister's attitude. All our arguments are now accepted in the space of five minutes, yet we spent nearly a whole morning trying to persuade the Minister, all to no avail.

One of the amendments provides that no fee shall be needed for an entertainments licence relating to charitable and educational functions. On Report the Minister said: I see no reason why the licensing authority and, through it, the ratepayers should be forced to subsidise the wealthier charities, particularly when the licence fee may be a tiny fraction of the cost of the entertainment."—[Official Report, 3 February 1982; Vol. 17 c. 499.] I assume that the Minister still thinks that, but he now comes to the House and accepts the very amendment that we moved without success in the middle of the night on Report. That is the story connected with all the amendments. I hope that in future the Minister will accept the logic expressed in this House instead of being persuaded later by the other place, particularly when no events or facts have emerged to change the argument. That is a waste of both his time and that of the House. The Minister's change of mind is welcome, but why does he not come to his decisions earlier and save both Houses a great of trouble?

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 9 to 11 agreed to.

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