A new Bill governing the licensing of public entertainment in England and Wales has provoked a growing tide of opposition from representative groups across the arts sector. The Bill, introduced to parliament last month, ostensibly sets out to simplify the rules under which live music can be presented in public, and to remove some of the burdens imposed by the current licensing rules which have been criticised for inconsistency.
At its heart is the introduction of a single Premises Licence to cover all venues where live music is performed, whether or not alcohol is sold. The current complex rules for exemptions are largely to be abandoned, and a national licence fee tariff is to be introduced for licensing authorities. The actors? union, Equity, believes that the new Bill could deliver a number of benefits for some arts activity in venues that currently have a drinks licence. Campaigns Officer Martin Brown said ?The process of obtaining a separate licence for live music has been a deterrent for many venues, and this barrier will effectively be removed, which can only help to extend access to live music.?
Whilst some, like Equity, are broadly supportive of the Bill?s aims and general approach, criticism is mounting. Leading Human Rights QC Robin Allen has denounced the all-embracing nature of the licensing requirements and described the Bill as ?totalitarian and oppressive legislation?. Both the Arts Council of England (ACE) and the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) have drawn attention to the impact of the Bill on activities which have previously been exempt due to their small scale, or their educational or charitable nature, and on non-arts venues upon which many small arts organisations and artists depend. Victoria Todd, Director of the NCA, said ?The network of non-commercial venues, particularly in rural areas, is essential to the future diversity of the arts in the UK? Safeguards must be introduced so that the non-commercial sector is supported.? Neil Hoyle, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, has written to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell protesting at the burden the new Bill will impose upon churches, which will have to be licensed to present musical activity outside their normal services, and drawing attention to the consequent impact on professional instrumentalists and singers. The Musicians Union (MU) and the Association of Festival Organisers have described it as ?totally unacceptable? that the Bill makes unlicensed provision of even unamplified performance a criminal offence, while big-screen broadcasts are exempt. The MU is leading a vigorous campaign against proposals to abolish the ?two in a bar rule?, which currently permits two musicians to perform without a Public Entertainment Licence. ACE is pressing for licence exemptions for small-scale events where there is no entry charge, but believes that the impact of the new Bill will hinge on the guidance issued to local authorities as to the conditions that can be applied to licence applications ? though this guidance has not yet been published and does not form part of the Bill itself.
The music convention MODAL has arranged an open meeting at the Union Chapel in London on January 6, for anyone concerned about the potential impact of the new legislation. The event will feature speakers from the arts as well as political parties, including LibDem MP David Heath, who has already been vocal in Parliament about his opposition to the Bill. For details