Singing consultation’s praises

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing act License

Peter Coulson: dogged lobbying by the music industry and Lord Clement-Jones’s efforts have paid dividends
Peter Coulson: dogged lobbying by the music industry and Lord Clement-Jones’s efforts have paid dividends
It seems that the very persistent lobbying by the music industry, coupled with the sterling efforts of Lord Clement-Jones and his advisors, has at last borne fruit.

The most striking aspect of the new consultation issued by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on de-regulation of musical and other activities under the Licensing Act 2003 is the change of tone and the lack of the usual cautionary and circumspect language of the recent Home Office manifestations. It is as if Tigger has taken over from Eeyore!

But bouncing us into a swirl of euphoria about freedom and opportunity is perhaps going too far. Even when you de-regulate, there are major difficulties to overcome, both in the process of transition and the eventual outcomes, particularly for the existing licensed trade. It has to be remembered in all of this that licensing will still exist for all pubs and clubs and for a number of other venues that put on entertainment.

And the condition-making powers that have been the hallmark of the 2003 Act will continue in place and even be strengthened by the amendments to the legislation in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act that were finally passed last week (see opposite page).

What may be welcome for a great many people is the scope of this consultation, however. It does not confine itself to music — indeed it specifically distances the discussion from the amendments on small-scale music in Lord Clement-Jones’s Live Music Bill, which still does not have a date for its next stage.

The consultation covers all those types of ‘regulated entertainment’ contained in Schedule 1 of the Licensing Act, some of which have turned up ludicrous bureaucratic decisions and frustrations for amateur and voluntary groups. Even the licensed trade has found the occasional foray into a film show, amateur talent night or sports display requires licensing over and above what they have on their premises licence. And we all know making swift changes to a licence is well-nigh impossible.

So the key to future legislation is in achieving a proper de-regulation, not a watered-down version of the current restrictions with a few concessions but more or less the same amount of work for those involved. While the initial stages will see considerable praise for the radical approach of the DCMS — perhaps reminiscent of the ‘sweeping away hundreds of archaic licensing laws’, which was the clarion call in the White Paper before the new Licensing Act — what may happen over the next few months, as the responses come in, is a toning down of the general freedoms and a clearer realisation of how certain checks and balances need to stay in place.

For example, if dancing is de-regulated, how do you impose controls on small-scale ‘exotic dancing’ in pubs and clubs, which is sexual entertainment not covered by overall public entertainment legislation?

To be fair, the consultation flags up a number of these difficulties and asks respondents to address them, which means there will be opportunity for a good debate about how we regulate certain types of entertainment and protect communities from undue disturbance or nuisance at the same time.

The timing of this consultation means that, towards the end of next year, we should have some major changes to the Licensing Act to contend with from two separate strands of thought: the Home Office, with its desire to see stronger controls over licensed premises, and the DCMS, with its desire to free up entertainment activities across a broader canvas. At last the two departments are showing their true colours, so at least we know which masts are which!

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