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Entertainment Licences: Removal Of Certain Exemptions

Volume 115: debated on Thursday 7 May 1987

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'The following premises, namely—

  • (a) the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and
  • (b) the Royal Albert Hall,
  • shall cease to be exempt from the requirement for a public entertainment licence under paragraph I of Schedule 12 to the London Government Act 1963.'— [Mr. Douglas Hogg.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    5.8 pm

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
    (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 3.

    The new clause, incomprehensible as it sounds on the face of it, is an important and interesting piece of legislation which owes its appearance largely to the enterprise and enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan). I am, therefore, particularly pleased to see him in his place and I hope that he will speak to the new clause which, as I say, owes much to his work.

    It might be helpful if I were to tell the House something about the purpose, effect and background of the legislation, because it must be admitted that it is rather bizarre.

    The new clause and the amendment relate to the exemptions from the licensing requirements of paragraph I of schedule 12 to the London Government Act 1963, which, as the House will know, is the public entertainments licensing code for London. Paragraph 1(1) of schedule 12 requires the licensing by London borough councils — formerly the GLC — of premises used for public dancing or music and any other public entertainment of the like kind. Paragraph 1(6) provides exemptions from the licensing requirements for the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Covent Garden Opera House, the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Royal Albert Hall and for any entertainment lawfully held by virtue of letters patent or licence of the Crown. The new clause provides for the removal of the exemption for, first, the Royal Albert Hall, and to require it, for the first time, to be licensed for public music and dancing; and, secondly, the Theatre Royal Haymarket, which, despite the specific exemption, holds a music and dancing licence.

    Amendment No. 3 is a consequential amendment of schedule 4, the repeals schedule, to repeal the references to the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Royal Albert Hall in paragraph 1(6) of schedule 12 to the 1963 Act.

    I agreed in Committee to consider an amendment which would have the effect of requiring the Royal Albert Hall, for the first time, to conform to the music and dancing requirements contained in schedule 12 to the London Government Act 1963. That is why we have brought the new clause and the amendment forward.

    The Bill as it stands, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East so rightly pointed out, creates an anomaly. Clause 42 introduces new licensing requirements for indoor sports premises in London. The Royal Albert Hall is not to be exempted from licensing under clause 42 and it will be subject to licensing controls for all indoor sports entertainments to which the public are invited as spectators. Because of the exemption for the Albert Hall in the 1963 Act licensing code for music and dancing entertainments, the result is that a tennis tournament or boxing match at the hall will be subject to licensing requirements whereas the last night of the Proms, or any other concert, will not. That is bizarre, paradoxical and unjustifiable, and my hon. Friend and, to be fair, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), objected. I agreed with them and said that I would explore the legal position with a view to bringing forward an amendment.

    The public are right to expect such premises to satisfy standards on a musical occasion as much as on a sporting occasion. The purpose, and, I hope, the effect, of the new clause and the amendment is to correct the anomaly.

    5.15 pm

    As I have already said, the Royal Albert Hall is not the only premises exempt from the music and dancing licensing controls. Others are the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the Royal Covent Garden Opera House, the Theatre Royal Haymarket and any entertainment lawfully held by virtue of letters patent or licence of the Crown. The exemption for the Theatre Royal Haymarket appears to be derived from an 18th century exemption in respect of the Old King's Theatre in the Haymarket, but the present Theatre Royal does, in fact, hold an entertainments licence. So the opportunity is taken here to amend the licensing exemption in order to bring the law into line with the facts.

    As I said I would in Committee, we have also looked at the possibility of removing the other exemptions in respect of any entertainment lawfully held by virtue of letters patent or licence of the Crown. In the course of our inquiries we discovered at least one bizarre fact—that nobody knows what meaning is to be given to the phrase "licence of the Crown". Despite the most assiduous research by my officials, for which I am extremely grateful, the phrase "licence of the Crown" appears to have no very certain meaning. Indeed, it is just possible that it has no meaning at all, in which case it will not be unique if that piece of legislation is meaningless in any statutory sense. However, there it is. We have explored it and we do not know what it means, for which we are all sorry. There is also the question of letters patent.

    We have had to come to the conclusion that, for a variety of reasons, it is not possible for us to remove the general exemptions in the legislation. It may be possible to bring the premises, which are within the general exemptions, under statutory control when used for public music and dancing entertainment, hut it has not proved possible to do so in this statute, although it is not for lack of wanting to do so. Therefore, we shall be exploring whether more suitable opportunity can be found.

    However, there is good news. The House should note that as theatres both the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Covent Garden are subject to conditions imposed by Westminster city council which are designed to ensure the safety of the public. The formal requirements of a theatre licence do not apply, as they are treated as special cases under the Theatres Act 1968 by virtue of their letters patent. That may be a curious situation, but the fact is that if and when those theatres are used for public music and dancing entertainments, as opposed to theatrical performances, no conditions apply. In the unlikely event that either the Theatre Royal Drury Lane or the Royal Opera House Covent Garden staged a public indoor sport event—the mind boggles at the prospect—the premises would be subject to the licensing controls that have hitherto applied under the 1963 Act licensing code.

    There is an anomaly, and we must confess that it cannot be justified. However, there is no reason to believe that any of the premises now exempt from entertainment licensing pose any hazard to the public. My officials—to whom, again, I am grateful—have carried out inquiries of the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority, and have been assured that the standard of fire precautions at the exempted premises is satisfactory.

    While it is extremely difficult to justify this absurd anomaly, I believe that the House and the general public are extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham. East, who first pointed out the problem during the Committee stage of the Bill. We should undoubtedly try to correct it. If the House approves the new clause and the amendment, we shall he able to correct the anomaly in relation to the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Royal Albert Hall, and I hope that the House will decide to accept them. On the other hand, I fear that it will not be possible, at least on this occasion, to correct it in respect of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane or the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. I hope that we shall revert to the matter on a subsequent occasion.

    I know that this subject has created a good deal of interest. Indeed, after the outstanding presentation by my hon. Friend the Minister, there are now twice as many hon. Members in the Chamber. That is because of the importance of the new clause, the concern that is felt about this remarkable anomaly and the need to address in some detail—as I hope we shall do — the revelation that no one knows what "licence of the Crown" means. The matter is extremely serious. I realise that it will need further examination, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will re-examine it outside the ambit and remit of the Bill. In view of the considerable expertise available to him both here and in his Department, I am certain that he will be able to consider the matter in detail and come up with some historic assessment and analysis carried out with penetrating wisdom, and that he will write to me in due course with his findings about those three aspects of it. I hope that that will be possible in the not too distant future, so that during the next Parliament we shall have the opportunity to address the question further, look again at those two important historical venues and possibly amend current legislation there and then to rectify the remarkable misunderstanding over the phrase "licence of the Crown".

    Having said that, and having reinforced my gratitude for the lucid explanation of the new clause by my hon. Friend the Minister, I feel that it would be timely to assess in detail the background reasons for my having drawn this important issue to the attention of the Front Bench and the House in general, both in Committee and here. Many hon. Members are very concerned about the implication of the new clause, not least because of the importance that it has for sporting promotions in the Royal Albert Hall.

    It is well known that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) is a lover of sport: indeed, he has spent many an enjoyable evening at the Albert Hall watching first-rate promotions. Like other hon. Members, he will be very surprised to hear that the law perceives boxing to be more in need of tougher fire controls than a completely full house for, say, the last night of the Proms — although that involves far more serious problems associated with access and exit routes and the possible reaction of large numbers of people to a fire breaking out.

    Until my hon. Friend so wisely re-examined the matter, completely different criteria were placed on the same venues in regard to events when far fewer persons were present. A clear anomaly would have been created about the fire risk in a specific venue, which is intrinsic to the venue, not to the sporting performance or entertainment taking place there. That is why, during the Committee stage, I moved an amendment to paragraph 2 of schedule 3, which relates to music and dancing licences. I suggested that after the words "paragraph 1" the following words should be inserted:
    "in subparagraph (6) the words 'or the Royal Albert Hall' shall be omitted".—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 23 April 1987; c. 41.]
    I intended in the first instance to welcome the removal of the exemption for boxing and wrestling licences for the Royal Albert Hall. I am sure that all hon. Members welcome that, because we all know that it will improve the safety requirements and provision affecting members of the public attending any promotion. Any measure that puts public safety first must surely be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

    However, in welcoming the removal of the exemption, the Committee recognised that an anomaly would be created, in that the premises would still not require a licence for music and dancing. Indeed, if the Bill had been enacted in its original form, it would have meant premises requiring a licence for a tennis match, when the hall might be half empty, but not for the last night of the Proms, when it might be packed to capacity. It seemed to me, and to other hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the drafting of the Bill as it stood, and the fact that we had not faced up to the requirement for the amendment and the new clause, would make nonsense of the legislation.

    It was suggested that the Royal Albert Hall should also lose its exemption for the need for a music and dancing licence, and that important issue formed the second part of the amendments that I tabled in Committee. Theatre and entertainment licences ensure that safety regulations are brought up to scratch. It is therefore important for us to address the reason for four major cultural venues in London being exempt from such licences, and thus, implicitly, from the options of ensuring, through the local authorities, that the regulations for fire and safety were not up to scratch. I am glad to say that the point has now been addressed in respect of two of those four venues.

    The new clause covers the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Royal Albert Hall, but I am very worried that the new clause does not cover the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. It is important to consider why they have not been included in the Bill. No major sporting occasions have been held in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane or in the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Indeed, pitch and putt competitions at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden are unlikely in the foreseeable future.

    5.30 pm

    The hon. Gentleman says, "Shame". Other hon. Members will probably support him, because they believe that there should be sporting functions at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Those two venues have been excluded because the Bill is first and foremost about safety at sporting venues, and we have yet to see sporting events at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

    Nevertheless, the House must consider why those four venues do not, for historical reasons and because of letters patent, come within the law. The safety of these venues is of paramount importance, and an accurate interpretation of the phrase "licence of the Crown" should recognise that safety must come first at any venue. Nobody would argue that because of historical precedent or letters patent safety should not come first, yet for historical reasons four very important buildings in London do not have to adhere to the rigorous licensing requirements for all other venues.

    The Government were wise to introduce the new clause and to consider the point in depth. I said earlier that I should have been hard pushed to vote for that part of the Bill that allowed this exemption to continue if the Government had not recognised the need for substantial changes and if they had not taken the wise advice that they have sought since the proceedings in Standing Committee to rectify this anomaly.

    The Westminster city council devoted a great deal of time and energy to considering the implications of the new clause. The council has been outstanding in its promotion of the safety interests of everyone who goes to sporting, musical and entertainment venues in the Westminster area. I am delighted that it has had the wisdom and the perception to support the initiative that I introduced in the Standing Committee, and that my hon. Friend the Minister has so generously and appreciatively considered.

    My hon. Friend raised various points when he introduced the new clause. Coupled with the new clause is amendment No. 3. My hon. Friend seeks to include the words
    "The Theatre Royal, Haymarket or the Royal Albert Hall"
    in schedule 4 to the Bill. The Local Government Act 1963 will have to be amended. That led hon. Members to pay close attention to the need for a new clause to sort out the problems concerning the wording of the Local Government Act and the anomalies caused by the historical precedents at these four venues.

    I hope that the exemptions will go further and that we shall not ignore the implications for theatregoers at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. If a theatre is exempted, for historical reasons, from the need to have a theatre licence or an entertainments licence, nobody suggests that the management of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden or the Theatre Royal Drury Lane do not impose the required safety standards. It would be quite wrong for anybody to interpret our remarks as being critical of the safety standards that are imposed by the management of those outstanding places of entertainment. Nevertheless, that anomaly must be sorted out in law to ensure that the standards that are required to obtain a theatre licence or an entertainments licence are adhered to both in the spirit —as they are at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane—and in the letter of the law. That was the reason for my original amendment.

    My hon. Friend's answer covered some aspects of this point. It is difficult to tackle the problems associated with letters patent and then to legislate to cover the phrase "licence of the Crown". Despite those difficulties, suitable legislation must be drafted to ensure that both the spirit and the letter of the law are followed in all four venues that are exempted by the 1963 Act.

    I was interested to hear of the historical reasons why one of these venues was exempt and why, according to the Minister, it appears no longer to be exempt. I am delighted that detailed historical research has led my hon. Friend to come before the House to remedy the problem regarding the Theatre Royal Haymarket. However, I am not convinced that that goes far enough.

    I am completely satisfied that the new clause is acceptable, according to the terms and objectives of the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Bill. That is precisely what my hon. Friend was trying to achieve. If so, he has achieved it in a masterly fashion. However, I would have hoped that my hon. Friend, with his genius, intellectual tenacity and capacity for seeing through a mass of historical data, literary footnotes and references, and with his way of going straight to the heart of an argument, would have gone further and tackled the problems that he recognises as being exceptionally difficult, the problems of letters patent, historical status and, above all, the interpretation of "licence of the Crown." Only that held him back from going further in moving new clause 1. Nevertheless, that can be remedied, and I hope that it will be.

    The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) intervened on the issue of sporting events in the two other important and significant cultural and artistic centres. I understand the hon. Gentleman's strength of feeling and I am pleased that there was all-party recognition in this House that we need to consider going one step further.

    The whole essence and character of the handling of this clause and the way the House is addressing it shows how we can get together and tackle problems that might otherwise separate us in Committee for party political reasons. In this new clause we put the interests of the public and of public safety first, both in Committee and in this House, thus enabling it to pass so successfully and without problems or divisions that might otherwise harry our proceedings in the Palace of Westminster.

    I thank my hon. Friend for responding to the removal of certain exemptions and the implications of the removal. The new clause goes a long way towards tackling the overall problem and completely deals with the immediate problem in the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Bill. For that reason I welcome it. I hope that other hon. Members will speak on this new clause. I can see the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) on the edge of his seat, willing to make a contribution for the Labour party so that we can have complete unanimity on this issue. I hope that he will lend his support. I would not want to push him because there are other important amendments that the House will be considering later this evening. I am even more delighted to see the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in order to support me in supporting the Minister in moving the new clause.

    I wish to ensure that this new clause has all-party support and I add my welcome to it.

    I have seldom heard supporting remarks from the Opposition Benches that have been so lucid or so much to the point. We are grateful for their support, but at the end of the day the credit for what has been achieved goes to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan). Had he not raised this matter in Committee, the amendment and the new clause would not be before the House now. My hon. Friend said some kind things about me and I propose to study Hansard because my opening remarks in my election address will be based very much on what he said.

    The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) laughs, but I note that he was nodding agreement when my hon. Friend was making those kind remarks. I heard what my hon. Friend said, that we have not gone far enough. I regret that it has not been possible to remove the exemptions for entertainment lawfully held by virtue of letters patent or licence of the Crown. We have had about two weeks to look into this issue. The concept of "licence of the Crown" is not readily comprehensible. Letters patent involve issues of constitutional importance, notably the status of letters patent and the prerogative of the Crown.

    It would not be right to legislate after an interval of two weeks without full consultation, and that is why we have not addressed those two exemptions in the course of this Bill, but should a suitable statutory vehicle emerge it will be our intention to look again at them.

    5.45 pm

    My hon. Friend said that in premises which are used for important purposes of entertainment it is essential that proper provision should be made for fire safety. He emphasised, as I do, that despite the exemptions, to which he drew our attention, the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority is wholly satisfied as to the adequacy of the arrangements at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whatever I or my hon. Friend may have said in the course of this debate, will not go away with the impression that there is any anxiety about safety at those premises, because there is not. I hope that this new clause, together with the amendment, will attract the support of this House and will thus become law.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.