HC Deb 08 July 2003 vol 408 cc1116-30

Lords amendment: No. 62C.

10.7 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)

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

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 62D to 62J and Lords amendment 62L in lieu of the words left out of the Bill by amendment No. 62.

Mr. Caborn

I know that many Opposition Members will be extremely relieved that the fat lady is here to sing to us tonight. One thing that is certain is that she does not need a licence to sing in a royal palace. Thank goodness, too, that we can put paid to some of the daft ideas that have been buzzing round. It was suggested on the Floor of the House and in Committee that we would put postmen in jail if they whistled on their morning rounds, or that revellers would be thrown into the cells for singing "Happy Birthday" in a restaurant. Those are some of the daft stories that have been going round during the passage of the Bill.

I want to take the opportunity to clear up a fundamental misunderstanding about the Bill. Indeed, far from spelling the end of live entertainment, as many have claimed during its passage, it will make it cheaper and easier to get a licence when one is needed, so it should be a great support for live music.

The Bill will reduce six licensing regimes to one, to achieve four objectives—the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and, most importantly, the protection of children from harm. I believe that it is a sound piece of legislation, which all parts of the House have been praying for, not just because it modernises licensing but because it removes a considerable amount of red tape. The days of small venues being charged thousands of pounds in some areas for a licence to stage a performance by three Somerset folk singers will soon be over. I hope therefore that 8 July 2003 will be remembered as the day on which live music was given the shot in the arm that it badly needs.

Turning to the amendments, we are introducing a further package of measures in addition to the concession we made in the Chamber on 24 June to lighten the load on venue operators and organisers and to provide the opportunity to open up the market to a wide range of performance. That package consists of four elements. First, some amendments provide a significant concession on unamplified music, which I will explain in more detail later. Secondly, the Government have given a firm undertaking to review the existing descriptions of entertainment in the Bill six to 12 months after the end of the transition period. If it proves that the Bill has had an unintended, disproportionate and negative effect on the provision of live music, we will use the powers already in the Bill to modify the position through secondary legislation. Thirdly, we have provided an exemption for morris dancing and dancing of a similar nature from the Bill's requirements on the provision of regulated entertainment.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

Unfortunately, the Minister did not represent the Government in Committee, as he has come lately to the brief. Why, after 60 or 70 hours of debate in Committee and on Report, when we went on and on about morris dancers and the need to remove them from licensing provisions, have the Government at the eleventh hour accepted the wisdom of what we are saying?

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

The hon. Gentleman should be pleased.

Mr. Moss

It is not a question of being pleased. I prefaced my remarks by asking why could the Government not see the logic of the argument on day one instead of at the eleventh hour.

Mr. Caborn

That is the last time that I shall give way because, as I develop my argument, I will answer that question, and thus avoid wasting the time of the House.

As I said, we have provided an exemption for morris dancing and dancing of a similar nature from the Bill's provisions on regulated entertainment. Furthermore, although the review that I have just mentioned will cover all types of regulated entertainment, it will place particular emphasis on other forms of traditional entertainment. If there is a case for further liberalisation, we will respond to it.

Finally, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will convene a forum, comprising representatives of performers, venue operators, local authorities and others, who will have the task of maximising the take-up of reforms in the Bill. Before I go any further, let me mention the exemption for morris dancing and dancing of a similar nature. The Government would have preferred not to introduce such an amendment, but it was clear—[Interruption.] I am just giving the explanation that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) wanted, so I urge him to listen before intervening again.

We believe that there would have been few circumstances in which traditional morris dancing would have been licensable under the Bill. However, traditional dancers were frightened by people who ought to know better into believing that their hobby was in jeopardy, and that fear was voiced another place. The amendment does no significant damage to the structure and scheme of the Bill, and if it offers reassurance, there is nothing wrong in that. However, we believe that there were very few occasions on which morris dancing would have required a licence.

To return to the main legislative element of the package, there have been calls in both Houses and elsewhere for the Government to introduce a de minimis measure to protect unamplified music in small pubs. When the Bill was last before the Commons, our position was that it already provided such protection. Spontaneous performances would not be licensable and, of course, in response to calls in the House, we have exempted incidental live music.

10.15 pm

Nevertheless, today's amendments go one step further. Their effect will be to suspend conditions attached to a licence that have been imposed by a licensing authority in respect of unamplified live music in any premises with a capacity of no more than 200 where it is performed between the hours of 8 am and midnight. To protect local residents and control those few inevitably unscrupulous or irresponsible operators, the licence will remain reviewable.

I believe that that removes all concerns that have been raised about low-level unamplified music—such as folk guitarists, for example—in small premises. This amendment is not confined to public houses and it will benefit small folk clubs and village and community halls alike.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

I am interested in these welcome amendments. Will the exemption cover a traditional jazz band that is not amplified, or even an unamplified jazz big band? Will a limit be imposed?

Mr. Caborn

If the instruments that are being played are not amplified, the answer is yes. However, if amplified music is being played on a bass guitar, for example, the answer is no: such an event would have to be licensed.

I know that some people have raised the issue of instruments that require amplification in order to be heard—an electric bass guitar, for example, or an electric piano—and so cannot benefit from the concession. The answer that I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) is relevant to that matter.

A number of important points need to be made. First, the Bill's baseline is that it makes it easier and cheaper to put on any kind of regulated entertainment. We have exempted incidental live music, whether amplified or not—a very powerful concession indeed. We intend to retain the concession made here on 24 June, lightening the load on amplified music in small pubs. We will also work with our partners to maximise the take-up of the reforms on offer.

All being well, this Bill will be passed this evening. It is now down to all concerned—performers, venue operators, publicans, licensing authorities, the police, and a whole host of others, not least the Government—to go out and make it work. We are totally determined to get the most out of these fundamental liberalisations, and I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. Moss

In the past few minutes, we have had the revelation of all revelations, in the sense that the Minister has admitted that the Government have finally accepted that, in the context of morris dancing—which offends no one and which causes no problem or complaint—the existing regime is not broke and there is no need to fix it.

The same applies to the two-in-a-bar rule, however. To our knowledge, no one has ever complained to the police or local authorities that that rule was causing any difficulty. By the same logic, why are the Government bringing in regulations and legislation to ban two people playing in a bar? Why do they want to replace the present regime with one that allows no one to play in a bar, unless a licence is obtained from the local authority?

The Government have been dragged kicking and screaming throughout the passage of this Bill. It is a bit rich for the Minister to say, at the eleventh hour, that the Government want everyone to work together to make the legislation work. There is good will on this side of the House, but it extends only to working with proposals that are sensible and pragmatic. Why should the Opposition put our shoulders to a plough which it is obvious, from day one, will not work? The Bill is firmly opposed by thousands of people at all levels of the entertainment business.

The question that must be asked, again and again, is: why?

Why are we doing this? Why are the Government doing this? Why did they not listen 60 or 70 hours ago to the representations that were being made to them? [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Members saying that we got there in the end. We could have saved ourselves an awful lot of work and trouble in Committee and saved ourselves an incredible number of hours of debate on the issue, yet the Government have come, at this late hour, to tell us that because the situation is causing no difficulties, they will give the concession. We knew that the situation was causing no difficulties, as did the people involved. We are perplexed in the extreme as to why the Government could not see that earlier.

As I said, the Minister has come late to this concession. We cannot blame him for not sorting things out at an earlier stage. Indeed, perhaps we should thank him for seeing the light clearly over the past few weeks and at least doing something. We did not divide on the amendment in the other place, because we lost our own amendment. However, when one talks to people in the music and entertainment business or to people—the local authorities—who will experience the difficulty of implementing the new legislation, one finds that no one understands what is being proposed in the amendment; nor did the Minister go to great lengths to explain it this evening. To use the words of the Foreign Secretary, the amendment is complete Horlicks. It can mean whatever one cares to interpret it to mean, so when it gets to the courts it will provide the lawyers with a large amount of money and kudos. It is badly written and makes no sense to the people who will have to interpret it. It takes us no further forward, as I shall explain later.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Opposition, along with musicians of all kinds, have campaigned for one thing only: fair regulation according to risk. No one disputes that live performance needs regulation. The Opposition and those involved accepted that from the start. Rightly however, they and tens of thousands of musicians and music lovers are asking why, if the Bill allows bars, or any place, to provide big-screen sport and powerful sound systems automatically at any time—

Andrew Bennett

Not again.

Mr. Moss

We have been over the matter for 70 hours-plus and the logic of the argument is on our side. We shall continue to argue the case because we know that we are right, the Minister knows that we are right and every sane person in the country knows that we are right.

I repeat: if the Bill allows bars, or any place, automatically to provide big-screen sport and powerful sound systems at any time, why must providing even the mildest of live music be a criminal offence unless licensed? Even now, with the Bill about to become law, the Government have yet to provide a credible explanation, as I said a moment ago.

In the last few days, the Government seem to have shifted the goal posts yet again, to justify the unjustifiable. They are making out that live music carries such a risk of crime and disorder that licensing is the only means of dealing with it. It is worth repeating that the police recommended that the Bill should cover televised sporting events shown in bars. They said that such events are quite frequently a source of disorder", but the Government chose not to implement that recommendation.

The Minister recently circulated a letter in response to a question posed last week by a Liberal Member. The same question had been put by me and others in Committee and on Report and related to the fact that the Minister had twice said that the police, in the form of the Association of Chief Police Officers, had not made representations to the Government on televised sport.

Mr. Caborn

I wish to quote, for the record, what the president of ACPO said in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because it is very important: We understand the legitimate interests and concerns of the other stakeholders. However, we believe that the amendment that restricts the conditions that can be imposed on live music in premises with a capacity limit of less than 200 to 'public safety and disorder' meets the policing requirements. It would still allow us to respond to problems of crime and disorder in a community yet still allow small events and live music to prosper. Furthermore, provision of unamplified music rarely gives rise to policing concerns. To further the interests of genuinely low level activity—for example, traditional folk music—the Association could lend its support to amendments that suspend all licensing conditions on unamplified music in small pubs. This support is conditional on there being effective review procedures in place, so that the police could take action against a small proportion of venue operators who might exploit such liberalisation. Many other events are used to attract customers to licensed premises be they widescreen televisions, pool competitions, quiz nights or themed food evenings. Often there are various venues with similar events, thus diluting their impact, whereas live amplified music can generate a leisure magnet, even in smaller venues … Chris Fox, President".

Mr. Moss

I suppose that the House ought to be grateful to the Minister for reading out that letter, but I was dealing with wide-screen sporting events. He went further than that and read a letter that obviously embraced other issues as well.

In the letter to the Liberal Member that was also circulated to me, the Government are disingenuous in the sense that they admit that they made mistake in not saying that ACPO had made representations about television broadcasts. Of course the letter goes on to say—this is where the disingenuity comes in—that the police have not asked that television broadcasts per se should be licensed, for example, in premises where alcohol is not consumed. How many of those big-screen sporting events take place outside pubs? Most of them take place on premises that are licensed for alcohol sales, and the police still maintain to us—no doubt, they did so to the Government some six months ago—that they feel that a problem is associated with such situations.

On Thursday 13 June last year, the Morning Advertiser—a licensed trade paper—reported on the World cup celebrations and said: In the seaside town of Worthing, Sussex, police had to fire pepper spray into the faces of rowdy fans after violence erupted outside the Checkers pub when officers tried to arrest a man for a public order offence. Where is the evidence of such disorder arising from the two-in-a-bar rule, or at private performances where people seek to raise funds for good causes, or at private folk and jazz clubs, all of which are exempt under the current rules? The police have not provided any such evidence, nor have the Government, yet the fine mesh of the new law will ensnare them.

Musicians are surely justified in believing that the Government are making them a scapegoat for problems that have nothing to do with live music. They are also justified in wondering how the Government believe that introducing entertainment licensing controls on live performances where none previously applied, or have not applied for a very long time, will benefit live music at the grass roots.

Last week, in another place, Ministers quoted the same letter from Chris Fox, president of the ACPO, as the Minister has quoted from tonight. Again, the emphasis is that Live music always acts as a magnet in whatever community it is being played. The Opposition dispute that—some live music, yes, but not all live music. Surely it is up to the Government and the police to target those situations where the problem arises, rather than introducing a catch-all, blanket law that applies to all scenarios.

Andrew Bennett

Will the hon. Gentleman explain whether he welcomes, or opposes, the concessions that the Government have made?

10.30 pm

Mr. Moss

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until about 11.15 pm to find that out. I hope that he enjoys the debate in the meantime.

Of course, the morris dancing exemption is to be welcomed. It means that an event in which an unamplified pianist accompanies morris or similar dancing would be exempt. A solo performance by the same pianist without the dancers, however, would be illegal in any place if not licensed, unless it was a public place, a place of religious worship or at a garden fête, not for private gain.

In lieu of the small events exemption, the Government have made further concessions for unamplified live music, which is the substance of the amendment that we are considering this evening. Perhaps we should be grateful for these crumbs from the Government's table. It is crucial to recognise, however, that this is not an exemption from licensing. The provision of both unamplified and amplified live music in venues with a permitted capacity of 200 or fewer remains illegal unless licensed. It is the potential for licence conditions that is restricted, subject to review if there are problems or complaints sufficient to trigger a review of the premises licence.

The Government's revised amendment is, as I have said previously, rather difficult to interpret. Whichever way one looks at it, it appears both bizarre and contradictory. First, it means that performances of unamplified or amplified live music in places primarily used for the consumption of alcohol qualify for a round-the-clock exemption from noise conditions. Secondly, venues not used primarily for the sale of alcohol are subject to all conditions, including noise, between midnight and 8 am. Jukebox music is exempt due to the incidental exemption. Drinking establishments, particularly city centre bars and pubs, are the very premises already known to cause residents the most problems if they open late, which is due largely to noisy people outside the premises but also to noise breaking out from within. They, however, are to be exempt from noise conditions when live music is performed, subject to review, round the clock.

If a small venue is not used primarily for the supply of alcohol—for example, a restaurant, a library or someone's garden—all conditions are disapplied between 8 am and midnight. That is the wording in the amendment. If it provides live unamplified or amplified music at any time after midnight up to 8 am, however, all conditions including noise would apply. That does not make any sense. Restaurants are the very places where featured live music uses low-level amplification. Such places are not associated with the antisocial behaviour that occurs in the vicinity of city-centre bars. Surely if the Government had any genuine concern for local residents' potential exposure to unwanted noise, they would impose the midnight to 8 am curfew on both amplified and unamplified live music or, better still, insist on noise conditions if either amplified or unamplified music is to be provided between midnight and 8 am.

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moss

No, I must press on.

By a strange irony, today, the Government's appeal will be heard against the European Court of Human Rights ruling that Heathrow's residents are entitled to noise protection by restriction of night flights. In this case, the European Court of Human Rights has previously upheld the residents' argument that they are entitled to that protection under article 8 of the European convention on human rights—the right to private and family life. The Government argue that the economic benefits of night flights outweigh the residents' rights to a quiet night's sleep. I wonder whether that position is in any way related to the issue that we are debating today.

Dr. Vis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moss

No, I must continue.

On public safety, the Government have justified their position with claims about the inadequacy of public safety and fire safety legislation where entertainment is provided even on the smallest scale. Yet they have not produced any evidence from a qualified authority setting out how that legislation is so deficient that entertainment licensing is the only means to ensure public safety.

By contrast, the Arts Council, with the Musicians Union, has provided at least two detailed reports by a lawyer with health and safety expertise, and a statement from a former Home Office entertainment safety expert, that suggest that existing legislation is indeed adequate to allow an exemption for small-scale performances.

Senior officials at the local authority unit of the Health and Safety Executive confirmed only last week that risks such as those arising from trailing cables should be covered in work places irrespective of licensing. Officials in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which is the Department responsible for the new fire safety laws that are due to come into force next year—well within the transition period of the Bill—also said that licence conditions should not be necessary under those laws.

The broadcast entertainment exemption is, again, highly relevant. In the same issue of the Morning Advertiser that I quoted earlier, the front page carried a report stating: In Bristol last Friday during the England game, customers were evacuated from a Walkabout pub when part of the ceiling collapsed. Five people were treated for injuries caused by falling plasterwork. The incident was also reported in the Bristol Evening Post on Saturday 8 June 2002. Presumably, the Government took all that into account when making their pronouncements on public safety.

We come next to noise. There is no evidence that live music causes a significant noise problem, and no noise complaint data discriminate between complaints caused by amplified and unamplified music. The Noise Abatement Society says that noisy people outside cause the overwhelming majority of noise complaints associated with pubs and clubs. Additionally, strong powers are available to local authorities and the police to deal with noise emanating from within bars and pubs, although it is probably true that there are inadequate resources with which to implement those powers.

Throughout the debate, the Government have conspicuously avoided mentioning noise data and comment provided by the Musicians Unions, the Noise Abatement Society, the United Kingdom Noise Association, residents associations in Soho and Covent Garden and the Institute of Alcohol Studies. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has instead referred to a document by the Institute of Acoustics, although it initially did not even identify its title, to suggest that live music was top of the list of sources of complaint.

Andrew Bennett

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. When we debate Lords amendments, is there not a requirement for hon. Members to address their speeches to the amendments rather than repeating their Second Reading speeches for the fifth time, as the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) appears to be doing?

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is correct. I ask the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) to restrict his remarks to the amendments under discussion.

Mr. Moss

I take your stricture seriously, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall attempt to refer to amplified and unamplified music in every other sentence of my concluding remarks. Perhaps that will keep me well in order.

Dr. Vis

The hon. Gentleman's comments suggest that he has canvassed an audience that he thinks could go either way. Have a significant number of people come to him to oppose, or agree with, the Bill?

Mr. Moss

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman delayed asking that question until the final throws of the dice on the Bill. I assure him that hundreds of thousands of people, especially members of the Musicians Union and those who are associated with live music, have continuously made representations, not only to Opposition parties but to the Government, to say that the two-in-a-bar rule causes no problems. However, the Bill will remove that rule and effectively replace it with a none-in-a-bar rule. Although the amendment contains a minor concession on unamplified music, if the hon. Gentleman knew anything about music in this day and age, he would know that about 90 per cent. of it requires some form of amplification. The irony of the amendment is that it would be okay for a pub to have a huge brass band, with a row of trumpets and trombones, but one guitarist plugged into a small amplifier would need a licence. Where is the logic in that?

Mr. Caborn

There would not be a brass band in a small pub because the customers would not get in.

Mr. Moss

It might be a big pub. [Interruption.] The Minister can interject to clarify whether the analogy is correct, but it seems that he does not want to contest it because he knows that it is true.

Promoters who want to make a business out of live music should find the new regime simpler and cheaper. We admit that. The Musicians Union also welcomes it. However, whether live music will prosper as it should in bars, pubs and restaurants remains to be seen. Pragmatically, the industry must make the best of the new law, but that does not mean that it has to accept it without criticism. It is illogical to expect the music industry to condone laws that render unlicensed solo unamplified performances illegal while bars can pack them in with big screens and powerful sound systems. It is disproportionate by any standards.

The Government have a duty, agreed by international treaty, to ensure that everyone can participate freely in the cultural life of the community. If they want the music industry to collaborate on implementing the new laws, they should do far more than simply set up a live music forum. They must produce a set of proactive proposals of their own.

Nick Harvey (North Devon)

The amendments represent a small step in the right direction, and for that reason must be welcomed. The Government have made what they would like the world to view as three concessions in relation to small events exemptions. The first is that any small pub with an entertainment licence can put on music at any time permitted by that licence. Any licensing conditions that relate to noise or the protection of children will not have effect. There remain curious questions on the logic of the Government waiving two of the licensing objectives and not the other two, but at least it is progress in the right direction.

The second concession, which is new, is that any small licensed premises, not just a pub, that puts on unamplified music will have no conditions on its licence that relate either to noise or children, or to safety or law and order, between 8 am and midnight. I do not entirely understand why the Government have chosen to distinguish for the first time between amplified and unamplified music. It is hard in principle to appreciate why unamplified music presents so much less of a problem than amplified music.

The two conditions that are waived in one case and not in the other are safety and law and order. I do not understand why a bigger law and order issue is presented by the performance of live music depending on whether amplification is used. The only argument that I have heard on why a safety distinction can be drawn between the two is that a cable might trail from the amplification equipment. That is apparently of no concern if the performance is in a church because it is exempt, so the good Christian folk can trip on the cable and die. It is of no consequence if it is used in a school performance of something that is on the curriculum, so children can trip and die. The paramount safety issue causes a distinction to be drawn between the two conditions for performances in small premises. It is curious and illogical, but as I said at the outset, there has been a small step in the right direction, which we welcome.

10.45 pm

On the so-called exemption that is being offered for unamplified music, I want to probe the Minister on the relationship between the first two concessions. The small pub with a licence can put on music at any time. The unamplified music exemption for small venues operates only between 8 am and midnight. I would like the Minister to confirm that if a small pub puts on a performance of unamplified music and goes beyond midnight, although it can no longer avail itself of the second exemption, it can nevertheless avail itself of the first. I have studied the matter patiently and slowly and believe that to be the case, but I would appreciate the Minister's confirmation that that is so. The first exemption states that it applies when the second does not, so outwith the hours of 8 am and midnight, the second does not apply, and I presume, therefore, that the first can. That is important and needs nailing down.

The only reason that I can see why there could be any difference between the two in terms of law and order or safety is that, as was said in respect of the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) about the brass band, there is essentially no such thing as unamplified music in a pub. Even under the two-in-a-bar rule, it is almost unheard of for a jazz duo not to use modest amplification. Without it, they could not make themselves heard above the general background hubbub in a pub. Even if they could be heard, it would be impossible for them to inject into their performance any sort of range. They would have to sing forte the whole time and virtually scream, getting a sore throat very quickly.

Mr. Hopkins

Some of the points that the hon. Gentleman is making are fair and logical, but a six-piece jazz band playing unamplified in a pub, as I have done, would make a perfectly good noise and be perfectly audible, even with conversation going on at the same time. There is no problem.

Nick Harvey

I have no doubt that the noise would be good, particularly if the hon. Gentleman was performing, but the advice that I have received from acoustic experts is that to make themselves heard over the general hubbub in a pub, performers would have to sing forte the whole time and would make themselves hoarse pretty quickly. In practice, that occurs infrequently, which may be the reason why there is a difference in implications for law and order and for safety. The second case simply does not happen.

I shall deal now with the small venue that is not a pub, whose primary purpose is not the sale of alcohol. Perhaps we are talking about a restaurant, an art gallery, a stately home, a country house, a library or someone's garden. Such premises can avail themselves of the exemption for unamplified music between 8 am and midnight, but if for any reason they want to go on beyond midnight with the performance, they are suddenly subject to the full weight of the licensing measures. Despite the fact that those concern licensed premises, it all comes down on their head. Right next door, a pub can have an amplified band performing and carry on into the wee small hours. I readily acknowledge that this is a small point, but there is a curious logical loophole, and I do not understand how the Government begin to justify it.

The third exemption that has been granted relates to morris dancing. It is welcome but has come, as the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire said, very late in the day. It refers not just to morris dancing, but to dancing "of a similar nature". Lawyers will have endless fun discussing what that might mean.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)


Nick Harvey

I give way to my hon. Friend, as he might like to give us a foretaste of some of the cases that might arise.

Mr. Sanders

I am the first to admit to being somewhat confused about the definition. What activity is similar to morris dancing? Could it be exotic dancing? If so, does that not contradict the whole point of the Bill? Or is the distinguishing factor a requirement that dancers should have beards? In that case, most exotic dancers would not be covered by the Bill. I would like some clarification.

Nick Harvey

I am sure that exotic dancers will be fine if they have some bells on their legs. The Government may have decided deliberately to leave the provision ambiguous in the hope that it is never tested too far in court.

The very modest concessions that have been made, such as they are, are welcome. They are riddled with logical inconsistencies that it is probably better for us simply to gloss over. Some of them might come back to haunt the Government, but they are making very modest progress in the right direction, so they should be supported.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

I spoke on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report about the matter that we are considering. I did not speak on the first occasion when Lords amendments came back to this House, as I was not in the country at the time.

I wish to make two preliminary observations. First, I think that the Musicians Union, whose basic case I have supported, has over-egged that case and has not been particularly well advised in presenting it to the Government. Secondly, I spoke this evening with a Conservative member of a Conservative-controlled council who is alarmed about the idea of a small premises exemption being set at the limit of 200 people. That council could not support that figure, as it would let almost everything that goes on in a pub or anywhere other than a big venue in its authority area take place unlicensed, so we must be very careful about the amendment.

I welcome the further concessions that my right hon. Friend the Minister has announced. It is important to distinguish between unamplified and amplified music, because of the basic fact that amplified music can be turned up as loud as the knob on the amplifier permits, so there could be problems for residents. I think that midnight is a reasonable limit. If we are licensing entertainment beyond midnight, it is reasonable to curtail that entertainment and the volume of the noise.

I take issue with the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) about jazz. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) that a jazz band can make itself heard in most circumstances without amplification in the sort of premises that we are talking about.

None the less, I think that it is important to return to the essential point—how we deal with events that were previously allowed under the two-in-a-bar rule. The important point was that, under that rule, there was a certain exemption. Small events could proceed without being caught in the net of local authority licensing. It is that net that the musicians and others who support them are concerned about, especially where there has been no history of complaints about such events.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister, in working up in conjunction with right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the guidance that will be given to local authorities, to pay very careful attention to these issues. I fear that some local authorities, once they are given this responsibility, will react disproportionately to objections to applications, even though there may be no history of complaints. That is particularly relevant in rural areas, where there are not many centres of entertainment, and where a small number of objectors can assume great proportional significance to an elected member representing that area—a councillor, perhaps—who is energised by 30 complaints because he needs only 300,000 votes to get elected. In an urban area, 30 complaints may be viewed proportionately.

I ask my right hon. Friend to exercise particular vigilance and care in devising the guidance that goes out to local authorities. The provisions of the Bill in its final stages are broadly right, but we need to ensure that local authorities do not act disproportionately and do not make a meal of giving a licence to an entertainment that frankly does not cause a problem. If we can do that, we will have a good licensing regime that strikes the right balance between allowing the kind of entertainment that we would wish to allow without complaint and protecting residents. I urge my right hon. Friend to take that route.

Tony Baldry (Banbury)

I shall be extremely brief in order to give the Minister an opportunity to respond. I have to say, however, that it is pretty limited to have only an hour to debate Lords amendments, which means in effect that only one Back Bencher from each side of the House is able to speak.

I welcome the Minister's concession on morris dancing. We should welcome it when Ministers make concessions—otherwise, where is the incentive or encouragement for them to do so? Although late in the day, his concession is very welcome.

Last Sunday was town mayor Sunday in Banbury, and we had a cock-horse festival with morris dancers from all over the country, including Yorkshire, Cornwall, Oxfordshire and Derbyshire. The Minister presented the Bill as a liberalisation, but he must understand that many people see it as a restriction. I am fortunate, because as a barrister I can construe its complicated provisions, but huge numbers of people—including morris dancers, people who run village halls and people who run parish councils—are worried about its impact. It is beholden on the Government to work out how they promulgate it fairly and straightforwardly so that people are not alarmed and understand how it will affect them.

As an average Back-Bench Member of Parliament with 50 parishes, a huge number of village halls, large numbers of churches and a significant number of morris dancers in his constituency, I ask the Minister—[Interruption.] I do not know why Labour Members think that it is a matter for amusement—it may be the lateness of the hour—but their constituents will want to understand how the Bill will affect them. The Government are introducing a complicated piece of legislation: we have heard this evening about the wide variety of exemptions and qualifications. I shall be delighted if it provides lots of work for lawyers, but I do not see why it should be a cause for mirth among Labour Members. I am simply suggesting that it would be extremely helpful for all such groups—whether they be morris dancers, traditional dancers or parish councils— if the Government could think seriously about how they promulgate the legislation to ensure that people can easily understand it.

11 pm

Mr. Caborn

Let me begin by answering the case of the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). As he knows, I did not take the Bill through Committee, thank goodness! Nevertheless, some of the outlandish claims, such as the possible imprisonment of people who sing "Happy Birthday" in a restaurant, or the necessity of licensing a postman who whistles on his round, will cause concern. I therefore agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must be clear about the guidance that we give and translate the Bill into guidance that is not only read and understood but accepted by the British public. When the measure becomes operational, I hope that considerable liberalisation will take place.

Let me make a serious point to Opposition Members, especially the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss). In my first contribution to proceedings on the Bill, I said that we were worried about public safety and crime and disorder. That is central to the measure and we are not prepared to take chances with public safety. We have consulted the police. People may or may not agree with them, but we have taken the advice of not only the police but others in authority. We cannot underestimate public safety and crime and disorder. I know that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire disagrees with some of what the police have said, but we take the clear view that we shall legislate with their advice in mind.

My comments also apply to the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). We have singled out public safety and crime and disorder to ensure that accidents will not happen because the measure has been weak on those matters. I hope that there is some consensus about that.

Let me deal with the two-in-a-bar argument from the Musicians Union. Before we published the White Paper, the union told us that it needed a level playing field for live music, with permission to hold music events that involved any number in pubs and restaurants at low cost. We have delivered what the Musicians Union requested.

I want the hon. Member for North Devon to listen carefully because I am going to try to explain the matter in words that eminent civil servants have given me. As hon. Members will acknowledge, the concession for unamplified music is much broader than that for amplified music. The time limit is a control that is in the interests of local residents and communities. It will help minimise any public nuisance that might arise through a much broader concession. After all, if people want unamplified music to go on later, it can do so if the relevant premises licence authorises that.

Conditions that relate to public nuisance will be in place from midnight onwards. Hon. Members should bear it in mind that unamplified concessions apply to any premises that are licensed for music. That means any place, including an open space. A time limit is simply sensible. The amplification concession relates essentially to pubs and the nuisance implications are reduced. However, there is potential for closure by the police and the possibility of a review. Unamplified music does not pose the same threat of nuisance to the surrounding area as amplified music. We believe that we have accepted a sensible amendment.

The comments of the hon. Member for North Devon about the possibility of unamplified brass band music epitomises to some extent the stupidity that has been deployed in arguments on the Bill. Anybody who sat in a small pub with a large brass band playing would probably have a case for claiming for industrial deafness.

I take on board the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) made. We want to ensure that the measure is proportionate. Our advice to local authorities and other licensing authorities is to act proportionately. I hope that I can thus allay any fears about a local authority acting in a disproportionate manner.

I believe that we have brought some sense to the words "dancing of a similar nature". It was the colleagues of the hon. Member for North Devon in another place who asked us to word the amendment in this way. I do not know whether they have belly dancers or exotic dancers in Torquay, but that is what the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the House of Lords said. [Interruption.] We do not capitulate; we listen to people. We engaged in a sensible debate and negotiation, we reflected, and we brought back some very sensible amendments.

Andrew Bennett

The concession on morris dancing and traditional dance is very worthwhile, but may I press my right hon. Friend to consider extending the interpretation of traditional dance to cover traditional performance? Pace-eggers, soulers and similar groups go around pubs. What they do can hardly be called a dance, but it is a performance that ought to be covered by this concession.

Mr. Caborn

As I said earlier, we have conceded that. We believe that many such activities do not need to be licensed in any case. That was the position that we took, but we were asked to reflect on it and we have done so. We have brought back sensible amendments: some may not be necessary, but if they reassure Members of both Houses and the general public they will have served a useful purpose.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 62D to 62J to Commons Amendment No. 62B agreed to.

It being more than one hour after the commencement of proceedings, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [24 June].

Lords amendment No. 62L in lieu of words left out of the Bill by Commons amendment No. 62 agreed to.