HL Deb 19 June 2003 vol 649 cc965-70

63 Schedule 1, page 113, line 3, leave out paragraph 14

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 63. By this amendment the Commons deleted paragraph 14 in Part 2 of Schedule 1 which had been accepted by this House and which would have exempted, any entertainment or entertainment facilities in the premises of an educational establishment for the purposes directly connected to the activities of the establishment". The Government were not without some sympathy for the noble Lords who originally proposed this exemption. The focus of their argument, expressed in this House, was to ensure that our schools are not burdened with the administrative requirements of the Bill and the associated costs. But I am afraid that the Government foresaw problems with the exemption, both in its scope and in relation to some points of principle.

On the scope of the exemption, paragraph 14 used the expression "educational establishment" without offering any more detailed definition. The term "educational institution" is more commonly found in statute, is used in the current draft of the Bill and is defined in Clause 17(3). "Educational institution" is defined in the Bill as, a school or an institution within the further or higher education sector, within the meaning of Section 4 of the Education Act 1996 Or, a college (including any institution in the nature of a college), school, hall or other institution of a university, in circumstances where the university receives financial support under Section 65 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992". That gives us a better understanding of what would have been exempted in Schedule 1 to the Bill had paragraph 14 been retained. The exemption relates not only to school plays and concerts and other similar activities; it would also encompass dances, raves, rock concerts and major festivals held by universities. colleges and places of further education for their students and others. It can also be argued that it may go so far as to include students' unions. Students' unions commonly run and control night-clubs as serious and major businesses. Their premises give rise to as many anxieties about alcohol consumption, disorder, noise, nuisance and drugs as any similar commercial venture in our town and city centres. It would be reckless in the extreme to exempt such premises from the provisions of the Bill. For that reason alone, the House should not allow this exemption to stand in the Bill.

On points of principle, entertainment is regulated under the Bill in order to achieve the licensing objectives, not least that concerning public safety. The establishments that would be at least partially exempted by this amendment host a number of occasions that the public are able to attend. Schools stage commercial concerts and plays. The fact that those events take place at schools does not mean that the public attending them should not be protected or expect to be protected. As many of those attending may be children, it is even more important that they should be properly protected. I should point out that the necessary expertise in safety matters associated with that kind of entertainment may be more limited than in professional venues. Licensing admits professional opinion and advice.

Perhaps I may also remind the House that the reforms contained in the Bill are designed to establish a level playing field for charitable and community bodies with a light-touch, non-bureaucratic system. To exclude some premises entirely from that, while including others, would not achieve that aim.

As I said in opening, the Government were not wholly out of sympathy with those who originally proposed this exemption. At Second Reading of the Bill, the Secretary of State announced the Government's intention to place schools and sixth form colleges on an equal footing with church halls, village halls and community venues by waiving the fees in relation to the provision by them of regulated entertainment. That would protect schools and sixth form colleges from the costs associated with the system while preserving the safety, crime and disorder, protection of children from harm and nuisance controls that would protect the public and local residents.

Let me remind the House of the current regulatory framework and remove some of the myths that were prevalent when the Bill was previously before it. Under the existing legislation, school concerts are licensable activities, although outside London a reduction or waiver of fees can be granted by a local authority if it considers that the entertainment is of educational value. There is therefore no current exemption from the requirement for licensing.

First, the Bill proposes that the teaching of music, including the performance of musical pieces in school by teachers and pupils for other teachers, is not a licensable activity. Those are private activities to which the public are not admitted. They are not undertaken for a charge or with a view to profit, nor on several fronts do they qualify as regulated entertainment.

Secondly, school concerts or plays for teachers, pupils, parents, guests and invited friends are not licensable activities unless a charge is made that is intended to generate profit. If the charge is intended to do no more than cover the school's costs for the provision of the entertainment, no profit would be intended. Again the qualifying conditions would not be met.

Thirdly, if a school concert or play of that kind is staged for those whom I have just mentioned and they are invited to make a donation to the school but are not obliged to do so, the event would not be licensable. If only voluntary donations are sought, no charge is being made.

Therefore, many school activities of the kind that we have been debating already fall outside the scope of regulated entertainment. Under the Bill, the key is that either the entertainment is intended to be provided for the public—in other words, anyone, whether or not connected with the school, can attend—or a charge is made and profit is the aim of the performance.

We license commercial activities because the profit motive may override immediate concerns for public safety and public nuisance, but also those relating to the other licensing objectives, and to ensure a proper, professional approach to those important issues. We license places open to the public because every citizen should know that his or her interests will be safeguarded whether the building is a school, community hall or major commercial concert hall.

If a school wants to go down the route of staging public concerts or activities that generate income, the licensing system is not too burdensome. If other amendments made in another place are accepted by your Lordships, temporary event notices, which have been accepted, would cover events lasting up to four days for fewer than 500 people. Twelve events—not five as originally proposed—could be staged each year on the same premises, provided that the premises were not used for that kind of activity for more than a total of 15 days in any year. If a school is more ambitious than that and plans larger or more regular events, it would need to obtain a premises licence, but central government would absorb the fees and charges.

I can give an undertaking that we shall also consider developing the guidance for licensing authorities to emphasise that over-burdensome and disproportionate conditions should not be imposed on schools beyond those absolutely necessary to ensure the safety of performers and audiences alike and to address the other licensing objectives. We want to ensure that music and other cultural activities thrive in our schools and sixth form colleges, and nothing in the Bill would deny that intention.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 63.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

63A Baroness Buscombe rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 63, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it is important to move this amendment to set the record straight. The Bill is supposed to be deregulatory and light touch. We believe that our amendment, as originally drafted—it received great cross-party support in your Lordships' House but, sadly, was defeated in another place—presented a great opportunity to show that the Bill would in practice be deregulatory. We believe that schools are already saddled with so much bureaucracy, and this was an opportunity to remove just one small part of it.

A number of arguments, some of them mentioned by the Minister, have been used against the amendment. "Educational establishment" or "educational institution" means a school or institution in the further or higher education sector within the meaning of the Education Act 1996, or a college, school, hall or other institution of a university. Therefore it is not just about school plays but also dances, raves, rock concerts and major festivals that are held by universities, colleges and places of further education for their students.

There has also been anxiety about alcohol consumption, disorder and noise nuisance. We have been assured that, school concerts or plays for teachers, pupils, parents, guests and invited friends are not licensable activities unless a charge is made that is intended to generate profit".—[0flicial Report, 24/2/03; col. 41.] That may be the case but it creates huge confusion.

In the Commons it was also suggested that there was a possibility that the category would fall into the "no fee" category. We appreciate that. However, I want to put the record straight. Public safety is already highly regulated in any educational establishment to protect and provide for the well-being of the students or children themselves. All school buildings or university buildings need to be health and safety checked.

As to public nuisance, legislation already allows for complaints to be made on the grounds of excessive noise. The essence of our argument is that we are not talking about alcohol consumption and it is misleading for anyone to interpret the amendment in that light. Our amendment talks about the provision of entertainment or entertainment facilities in the premises of an educational establishment for the purposes directly connected to the activities of the establishment. That is not about raves, major rock festivals or dances, which would, in a student establishment, involve by their very nature the consumption of alcohol. In that case, yes, it is right that it should be a licensable activity. We are concerned in this regard with, for example, plays, small musical concerts for the general public or a band playing in the school grounds at an open day. Why are the Government so against this? These are not activities that need excessive regulation.

Educational establishments are run by responsible authorities: in the case of schools, by school governors and head teachers, and, in the case of universities, by rectors, proctors and governing bodies. They are unlikely to abuse the freedom which exemption from licensing would give them. Would they permit an unregulated "rave" with loud music that was likely to cause a public nuisance and to involve people who were drunk, disorderly, using drugs and potentially a danger to themselves and others? I think that the answer to that is clearly "No". If that is what the Government are afraid of and if this is why they reject our amendment I believe that their fears are unfounded, misguided and unrealistic. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 63, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".—(Baroness Buscombe.)

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the moves that the Government have made to remove these provisions from such events. We have only one question, which we hope the Minister will answer. How much time and effort will be required by teaching staff at schools to meet their obligations, and will that be reviewed at some time? The Minister says that the approach is not intended to be overly burdensome in financial terms and with regard to teachers' time. Health and safety must be of paramount importance. It would be helpful if the Minister said whether the Secretary of State will review any burden in relation to agreeing to the licences. Many teachers may find that to be such a burden that they do not undertake school plays, which are so important to educational life.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I can say without any hesitation to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that the burden on teachers will be minimal. A premises licence involves a one-off process and once it has been granted, it will stay in force unless there are any relevant changes to the circumstances in the school. I suppose that if the school burnt down and was rebuilt differently, there would need to be a new premises licence. However, apart from that, a one-off occasion is involved. If there were any problems, I am sure that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport would put their heads together and see whether there were any burdens that could be removed. There need be no problem in that regard.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, appears to think that this is a new burden on schools. In Greater London, licensing is obligatory and in outer London it is required by local authorities unless they waive it. Of course I understand what she says about schools and sixth-form colleges, which is why we waived the fees. However, her amendment simply disagreeing with the Commons amendment would not answer any of the problems that I raised with regard to, for example, universities, higher education institutions and students' unions.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I was suggesting not that this would be a new burden but that it was a grand opportunity for the Government to be seen to be deregulatory by removing the burden from schools, which are already highly regulated. They can barely breathe without coming across bureaucracy. I am sorry that the Minister will not accept that I am concentrating on the provision of entertainment facilities alone. I very much wanted to have the opportunity to put the record straight. This is not Her Majesty's Opposition asking for raves, major rock festivals, dances and the students' union bar to be regarded as activities that are not licensable; quite the opposite. The purpose of our amendment throughout our scrutiny of the Bill has always been to concentrate on simple school activities where alcohol is not consumed.

I am grateful to the Minister for his undertaking to ensure that local authorities will not be able to apply too burdensome conditions beyond those that are absolutely necessary to ensure safety. As I said when I moved the amendment, we are grateful that the Government have seen fit, thanks to pressure in your Lordships' House, to ensure that the licence condition will be "nil fee" based.

Finally, notwithstanding the fact that I remain delighted that churches have been exempted from the need to have a licence, I continue to question the Bill's consistency; it is questionable why educational establishments and other similar bodies should not also be exempt. I know that the Government expressed the argument that it brings churches in Greater London into line with the situation outside London in that churches outside London were originally exempted from licences. In a sense, that still remains an inconsistency in the Bill. The Select Committee on Human Rights recently referred to that inconsistency and the fact that one type of secular activity is treated in a different way to a religious activity. I am grateful to the Minister for his undertaking. Our concern is to keep burdens to a minimum for our schools. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 63A, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.