You will not be surprised with the news that I get some strange items of information in my mailbag (the term "postbag" seems rather outdated in this electronic age).
Such as the news from one reader that his local licensing office thinks that CCTV is a "mandatory condition" on all licences in the borough. He has been told that all pubs must have CCTV whether they like it or not.
I am trying to find out more, but for the benefit of anyone else out there who has been faced with a similar proposition, let me advise you that there are only four mandatory conditions in three sections of the Licensing Act, and a requirement to have CCTV is not one of them. It is very often asked for by the police or even by the environmental health department under the crime or public safety licensing objectives, but that does not make it an obligatory or mandatory condition on all licences.
In fact, as things stand, there is no power for the licensing authority to issue conditions at all, and certainly not conditions applying to all pubs.
Each licence application has to be treated on its own merits and any condition must be appropriate and proportionate to the perceived risks. There is no doubt that certain authorities do have a set of conditions that they trot out for everyone and there are many licensees and not a few lawyers who decide that discretion is the better part of valour, bow their heads and accept them.
In fact, rather too many licensing authorities even get the mandatory conditions wrong. Only the first two of them are relevant to all pubs, as they concern the requirement to have a designated premises supervisor and that all sales of alcohol should be made or authorised by a personal licence holder.
The third condition concerns the exhibition of films to children — not relevant to the vast majority of pubs — and the fourth condition concerns Security Industry Authority licensing for door supervisors — again not relevant if there is no requirement for doorstaff on your licence.
Alas, these last two are trotted out in almost every licence I have seen. They are not even framed as conditions: they merely parrot the wording of the Act. It is yet another example of sloppy thinking by local licensing authorities, who assume it is safer to bung it in than leave it out.
But do check the conditions on your licence regularly. PC Plod is running around with a printed form to close you down if you are found in breach. Especially if your CCTV is not working!
Can I ban a group?
Q. If what you wrote (last week) about being able to ban troublemakers is correct, why can't I put up a notice saying that people from a nearby travelling site are not welcome. I have been told that this amounts to discrimination and is illegal.
A. The sign "no travellers" has been held to be a discriminatory action contrary to the Race Relations Act, and your suggested sign is probably within the same prohibition. Gypsies have been a recognised ethnic group in England and Wales for the purposes of race relations legislation since 1988, and Irish travellers since 2000.
The Commission for Racial Equality has particularly targeted "no travellers" signs in several areas. It is therefore inadvisable to put up a new sign of this kind. I appreciate the problems that you may have and you can, of course, ban specific individuals or groups from a site if you have encountered trouble directly from them. It is a good idea to share your problem with the police from the outset.
Poker in private room
Q. I am aware of the legal restrictions on stakes and prizes for playing poker in pubs, and our local licensing people have issued a separate guidance leaflet. But there
is no indication about what happens if poker is played in a private room among my friends. Is this exempt, because they are not technically in the pub area as identified on my premises licence?
A. You raise a very interesting point that I shall have to cover in more detail on this page soon. There is indeed an exemption for private gaming in the Gambling Act 2005, which does not technically need to be in a private dwelling on a domestic occasion. However, if you use your own private accommodation for equal-chance gaming among your friends, then it can be classified as domestic gaming, as long as there is no suggestion of an "arrangement" or any fee or entry charge.
But if you allowed customers to join this game, or made it an invitation event discussed and arranged in the pub, then this may well constitute organised gaming, which would not be considered either private or domestic. This is particularly the case if you use a function room that is not part of your private accommodation and have service from the bar as a matter of course. More on this later.
Licence for the radio?
Q. I have heard that some local takeaway shops are being approached by the performing rights people in respect of a radio being played by the staff for their own entertainment, while they wait for customers. The takeaways claim this is not for customers, who are in and out. Would it affect us if we allowed our catering staff to play a radio while preparing food and stocking up the display area? Would it count as entertainment under the licensing laws?
A. No, it would not, but it seems on a strict reading of the law that you may need a copyright licence.
A local authority premises licence (or an addition to your current licence) is not required for reproducing radio broadcasts, even if they can be heard by your customers. They are specifically exempted under the Licensing Act 2003.
However, there seems no doubt that a Performing Right Society (PRS) licence will be required, even for a radio predominantly used for the benefit of yourself and your staff.
The PRS administers the rights in music, including jingles and other incidental music used on radio, and although the radio station also pays them for playing the music in the first place, they can also charge you for allowing it to be heard by other people. It is true that they do not charge for domestic occasions or personal use, but as soon as there is any public performance, then they have a right to insist on a licence, and they will come after you if you ignore letters and do not pay up.