"Draconian" legislation to criminalise live music

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In November 2002, the UK government produced a much heralded Licencing Bill, fulfilling manifesto pledges to allow longer drinking hours in pubs by repealing closing-time restrictions imposed during the Second World War. Also in the Bill, though unreported in the mainstream media, are far-reaching changes to the music licencing regulations.

At present, a music license is only required if three or more musicians are performing - in the 90 per cent of pubs in the England and Wales that do not have a license one or two musicians can be perform legally. This so-called "two-in-a-bar" rule has long been criticised by performers and venues alike; the new proposals are reviled as "none-in-a-bar". Nightclubs are also covered and the new laws could apply to DJs who were also previously exempt.

The Bill introduces a new criminal offence, punishable by 6 months in prison or a £20,000 fine, for playing music at unliscensed premises. If the penalties are severe, the provisions on scope and liability are astonishing. Under Clause 188, any location where live music is played will be covered: e.g. churches, schools and colleges, community centres and potentially even parties and weddings in private homes and gardens. Clause 134 makes the musicians themselves liable for prosecution if they play in unlicensed premises.

Music licenses are not easy things to obtain and premises must first be approved by Police, Fire Service, Environmental Health Department and local residents. For their part, the police and local authorities tend to take licensing laws very literally and have, in many areas, enforced existing laws rigorously.

The proposals have been compared to the Conservative government's notorious 1994 Criminal Justice Act which criminalised unlicensed "repetitive beats". The attitude of the Labour government, despite its relentless promotion of the "Cool Britannia" tag and music industry links, appears equally intolerant with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport arguing that music and dance are associated with noise and drugs culture. Campaigners counter that revised health and safety, fire, and noise regulations mean live music does not need to be licensed at all - like in Scotland and most other countries.

The Bill has almost finished its passage through the Lords with few meaningful amendments and will shortly be sent back to the Commons. An "Early Day Motion" (EDM 331, 10.12.02) opposing the "draconian" provisions on music licenses has been tabled by John Whittingdale MP and signed by more than 100 MPs.

For background on the Bill, campaigns and proposed amendments see Hobnobbin magazine

For Early Day Motion 331ste.mobi/

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