Licensees join lobby group in fight to update entertainment licence
The pub trade is campaigning for a radical change to the Public Entertainment Licence (PEL) system.
Licensees have joined a campaign for an exemption for smaller outlets, many of which pay thousands of pounds every year in licence fees.
Currently, any pub offering entertainment by more than two performers at the same time needs a PEL. This could cover karaoke where three singers take to the stage together.
The law - which dates back to the 18th century - has been a bone of contention within the trade for some years, with many licensees accusing local authorities of using PEL fees as a means of bringing in money.
The lobby group Campaign for Live Music (Calm) is backing the trade's call for a change to the law and has launched a new initiative aimed at raising awareness of the issue.
DJs Andy Kershaw and John Peel are also backing the campaign and as a sign of protest against the "outdated" law some musicians are planning to hold surprise concerts at pubs in and around London on July 19.
Tony Payne, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations (FLVA), said he supported the campaign. He added: "Larger venues such as nightclubs should be made to buy a PEL, but smaller venues should be exempt as long as they can prove that the safety of customers would not be compromised."
The move follows a landmark court case which has raised some hope for the industry.
Sean Toye, licensee of the Fleece pub in Southwark, London, was prosecuted for running a karaoke night because the local council said more than two people performed in one night.
However, he successfully appealed against the decision by arguing that no more than two people were performing at any given time.
This has raised hopes that there will soon be a change to the law, which could see licensees take advantage of a relaxation in the rules.
Anthony Lyons, head of the licensing unit at Addleshaw Booth and Co which represented Mr Toye, said: "The case sets an important legal precedent and clarifies the ambiguous 'two performer rule' which is outdated and interpreted in different ways by different licensing authorities.
"I'm surprised no one has challenged the exemption in the past. This is an important ruling for the customer as well as the vast majority of licensees."
At the moment, most venues do not hold a PEL because it is too difficult to acquire and too expensive. But with figures suggesting only five per cent of licensed premises now hold a PEL, live music is becoming increasingly rare as a result.