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Entertainment Licences

Volume 403: debated on Monday 7 April 2003

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What plans she has to promote the use of live music in pubs and clubs by reducing the cost of entertainment licences. [107055]

The Licensing Bill will do away with the current system of separate, annually renewable and often very expensive public entertainment licences and establish a system under which a pub or club obtaining permission to sell alcohol will not pay anything extra to seek permission to provide live music.

I thank the Minister for his illuminating reply. I am sure that the House will welcome many of the changes that he has made to the Licensing Bill. May I say that he has carried them out with his usual grace, good humour and Pontypridd panache? However, he will know better than most the concerns that the Bill aroused; indeed, he still bears the scars. What steps has he taken since making those changes to reassure pubs, clubs, entertainers and the Musicians Union in particular that the Bill is both in their interest and the public interest?

I had a meeting very recently with the new general secretary of the Musicians Union, Mr. John Smith, and I have met representatives of various folk group organisations, wassailers, folk dancers and even Somerset folk singers. We are determined that, between us, we will ensure that the licensed trade knows the potential of the new arrangements. I am convinced that we will see many more venues for live music in this country, not fewer, and that those that will put on live music will not have to suffer the distortions of the two-in-a-bar rule.

The Minister has already conceded in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) that the Government got the original proposals in the Licensing Bill catastrophically wrong. We are very pleased that the Government have now backed down, as his hon. Friend pointed out. Does he recognise the concerns of those of us in the all-party music group that further changes would still be welcome? Will he continue to listen to the proposals not only of the all-party group, but of all other organisations involved in Keep Music Live?

It always amazes me that somebody can stand up in the Chamber and say that we have got something catastrophically wrong when, for 18 years, their Government put up with this nonsense and did absolutely nothing about it. We are determined that there will be a much better regime in this country for putting on live music and that we will see a renaissance of that music, which is a very important part of our economy. If we do not encourage the grass roots of music of whatever sort, I am not sure how the tall plants will grow out of it. The entertainments industry is a very important part of our economy and we should never forget that.

But is the Minister aware that, despite his assurances, more than 80,000 people have now signed the petition against the Bill and remain utterly convinced that it will result in the loss of thousands of venues for live music? Does he understand that he has completely failed to convince anybody as to why those venues should have to have an entertainments licence in future when they do not need one now and about why it is so necessary for pubs and clubs in England and Wales to be licensed when those in Scotland do not need a licence?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that those venues do need licences now. If he does not know that, he should, because he has been told enough times. If he means that we should continue with the two-in-a-bar rule, despite the fact that it was the Musicians Union and musicians throughout the country who said that it was distorting live music in this country because it was not allowing musicians to explore anything beyond having two in a bar, which usually means one person with a karaoke machine, I am afraid that he will never grasp the reality of the situation. I would have thought that he would want to support something that will secure real improvement in this country in terms of the mounting and performance of live music.