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Licensing Act 2003 (Descriptions of Entertainment) (Amendment) Order 2013

Volume 745: debated on Monday 3 June 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Licensing Act 2003 (Descriptions of Entertainment) (Amendment) Order 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, in 2011 the Government launched a consultation that examined the regulatory regime for entertainment licensing under the Licensing Act 2003. The consultation looked at removing any regulation that unnecessarily restricted creativity, community expression, sporting participation and economic growth. The Government listened carefully to the views received through the consultation and we announced our new policy in the other place on 7 January this year and in this House on 8 January, taking information received through the consultation into careful account.

The order before us today provides the first element of the reform package, which has been widely welcomed by the creative, community and charitable sectors. It addresses reforms to the areas of performance of plays, exhibitions of dance and indoor sport.

In the Government’s response to the consultation, we explained that there was a general consensus that these three areas could be deregulated as there was nothing intrinsic to these activities that required regulation that is not already adequately dealt with through other legislation. The Government listened carefully to the views in the consultation that asked for an end point to performance and that large events were not deregulated. These two key points have been addressed in the new policy and were set out in the Written Statement of 7 and 8 January.

The order before us is therefore relatively straightforward. It removes the need between 8 am and 11 pm for licences for public performances of plays, exhibitions of dance and indoor sport up to a reasonable audience cap of 500 people for plays and dance and 1,000 people for indoor sport. Where any of these activities involve the supply of alcohol, licensing requirements for such sales will continue to apply.

We see no reason why plays, dance and indoor sport, which are so often run by local community groups or charities, should need a licence. The Government have received many representations about harmless public performances that have been needlessly disrupted under the 2003 Act. For instance, Punch and Judy shows have been regarded as a performance of a play and therefore subjected to unnecessary bureaucracy, school plays have been cancelled and community dance performances have been hindered. This order will help to bring common sense to the licensing framework for local events and should remove some of the costs and bureaucracy that sap the will of volunteers and soak up often scarce financial resources.

It is interesting that the Voluntary Arts Network said of the proposed measures:

“The … burden of entertainment licensing … has in recent years been a major obstacle to voluntary arts groups putting on small local events and performances. The complexity and cost of regulation intended for much larger-scale events has had a detrimental effect on the tens of thousands of volunteers who give up their own free time for the benefit of their communities”.

Arts Council England said:

“As a result of de-regulation, small companies and artists will be better placed to develop and present their work ... Small venues will also be more disposed to support plays”.

The Government chose the limit of 500 people for plays and dance performances as the existing limit for temporary event notices is 499 under the 2003 Act. This limit has for many years had no mechanism for additional controls on events and, indeed, very few problems have occurred. For indoor sports a higher audience cap of 1,000 people was chosen, as most venues that host public sports activities are held in purpose-built arenas and the events are usually developed in partnership with the local authorities.

Many licensing authorities told us that their only action on indoor sport was to regulate swimming galas held in local council swimming pools, which are already clearly regulated by, and subject to, ongoing risk assessment under health and safety law. This is clearly a case of regulating the same subject twice.

This order also clarifies that where a contest or exhibition combines boxing or wrestling, which will remain licensable, with one or more martial arts to create a combined fighting sport, this activity is licensable as a boxing or wrestling activity. The Government wanted absolute clarity on this point in the context of removing regulation on indoor sporting events. It is right that boxing and wrestling activities should stay regulated, and responses to the Government’s consultation were fully in support of this policy.

This is a sensible deregulation of activities that should not have been caught by the Licensing Act. The Government’s view is that safeguards put in place under alcohol controls, planning law, fire, health and safety and other legislation such as the Theatres Act means that it makes sense to remove these activities from regulation. The removal of this cost and bureaucracy from community life will play a part in helping to sustain cultural and sporting activities in England and Wales.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for that introduction to the SI. As he will be aware, I am in general a strong supporter of arts and entertainment deregulation. A little over a year ago we were celebrating the success of a five-year campaign to deregulate the performance of live music in small venues under the Licensing Act, dating back to the recommendations of the Live Music Forum of 2007 with the passing of the Live Music Act. That success was a tribute to a great many individuals, and not least to the strong co-operation between the DCMS itself and Ministers and officials.

UK Music, which with help from the Musicians’ Union and others helped to push through the Live Music Act, believes that the new legislation has the potential to create a major economic impact, with thousands of musicians who can add to the £1.5 billion currently earned by the live music sector. I was delighted that the MU published a live music kit when the Act came into force that is a comprehensive guide to hosting and promoting live music.

The key now is to ensure that there is an accurate way to measure the economic and creative impact of the new Act. Research commissioned by UK Music will help to provide some of these answers. The creative and artistic benefits of the new Act will take time to work through the system, but I hope that in a year or so no one who loves music, and live music in particular, will be able to argue that deregulating the performance of live music has been anything but good for the grass-roots scene, and indeed for the community as a whole. I very much hope, therefore, that the same will be true in other areas of deregulation of entertainment.

While the Live Music Bill was going through, as the Minister has explained the Government themselves published their own deregulation proposals in September 2011. The proposal was to deregulate all regulated entertainment of a similar description to live music, recorded music or dance and entertainment before audiences of over 5,000, except boxing, wrestling and adult entertainment. That meant that between 8 am and 11 pm most performances of a play, exhibitions of a film, indoor sporting events and so on would be exempt from Licensing Act regulation. The aim of the proposals, in the words of the consultation, was to,

“improve the quality of life for all through cultural and sporting activities, support the pursuit of excellence, and champion the tourism, creative and leisure industries”.

Those are all extremely important aims.

In seeking to reduce the overall burden of regulation faced by smaller organisations, the Government also wished to encourage the performance of music, dance and sport and to encourage community creativity and expression—all much to be desired. In most cases, as the Minister said today, the consultation rightly asserted that adequate protections against potential problems were already provided by existing legislation, such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 and the Noise Act 1996. As the Minister also stated, licence conditions would still apply and be used for premises licensed to sell alcohol. The threat and use of review powers under the Licensing Act 2003 will provide sufficient protection to communities.

The consultation sought views on the proposed regulation of capacity under 500, but mentioned that the police preferred a 499 limit. We all recognised that these were, to say the least, very radical deregulatory proposals. If implemented they would have had a significant effect and in some cases unintended consequences. Although I am in favour generally of deregulation, I am glad to say that rather less radical views prevailed. Following the end of the consultation, as my noble friend said, the Government, in January 2013, published their response and proposals. They proposed deregulating these events between 8 am and 11 pm for those hosted by local authorities and educational establishments, and for others, in the case of an audience of up to 500, except for indoor sporting events, where the audience is limited to 1,000, and films, where partial regulation will continue to ensure age classification.

As the Minister described, I am delighted that we now have before us the draft SI, which implements that proposal, which I wholly support. However, clearly the DCMS is still not a boxing, martial arts or wrestling fan—they remain regulated. Greco-Roman wrestling at first was going to be exempt but now seems caught up in continuing regulation. Is that correct? Can the Minister give the Committee some explanatory background to this distinction?

The consultation response in January also said that the audience limit for exemptions under the Live Music Act will be raised to 500, which was great news. I hope my noble friend can tell us when we can expect that change to be introduced and what mechanism will be used to effect the change in the provisions of the Live Music Act. What other consequential changes arising from the policy announcement in January will need to be made and by what mechanism will they be made? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very helpful explanation of the background to this order. I also make it clear from the outset that we very much support the intention set out in the order. The local licensing of community arts, sports and music events has been too complicated for far too long. That is why we were also pleased to support the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. I am pleased to be able to commend him in person on his move.

There is no doubt at all that the Live Music Act sent a strong message of encouragement to local artists and musicians who were finding it impossible to find a venue to perform in and that it has gone a great way to alleviate that problem. However, that highlights the fact that this order tackles only a small part of a complicated local licensing arrangement that has made life difficult for performers and community organisations alike.

Obviously, by its very nature, secondary legislation tends to be implemented on a rather piecemeal basis, but it would be helpful to know how this fits into the grander plan to update the licensing laws and the rules governing local live performances, building perhaps on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Can the Minister shed a little more light on the review of film performances, which are not included in this order but which I understand are still under consideration? In other words, can the Minister clarify what further measures will be presented before this House in due course as part of the bigger review of the licensing arrangements and where the details of that can be found?

Having said that, within the limits of their scope we believe that the proposals strike the right balance between facilitating more live community arts performance on the one hand and wider public safeguarding and protection on the other. We believe that the timeframe of 8 am to 11 pm is about right, as is the size limit of 500 people. This should more than adequately cover the attendance expectations of most local events, particularly those organised by volunteers, who found the existing licensing rules particularly onerous.

The impact assessment quite rightly identifies the main areas of risk as public safety and noise pollution, and these cannot be ignored. In particular, outside events featuring overamplified live music could become a real noise nuisance to local residents, so local councils and the police will need to be alive to the separate regulations already governing noise complaints. It is not clear from the changes how the police and local councils would receive early warning of a proposed event if the licensing laws are changed in the way that we have been discussing. Without prior knowledge, it is hard to know how they would be aware that an event is taking place so that they could police it rather than waiting for complaints to come in after the event. Perhaps the Minister will shed more light on this.

I accept the premise of the impact assessment that the worst culprits are likely to be events selling alcohol, which remain unaffected by the relaxation of these rules. That is why we welcome the intention to review the implementation of the regulations and pick up any unintended consequences within a sensible timeframe.

The rules regarding community events can be unexpectedly fraught and contentious. I have no doubt that previous Governments thought that they were addressing real local issues when they introduced the licensing Acts in the first place. It is not a perfect science, and we need to keep the arrangements under review, but it is right that we support these changes at this time, and I hope that they will provide new opportunities for local culture to thrive.

My Lords, we have had a short but excellent debate on the value of this order and the issues involved. Before I address the points that have been made, I want to place on record the Government’s thanks to all those who responded to the consultation on this issue, which contributed extremely positively to the order we are discussing.

I am most grateful for the support expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, because common sense has prevailed and we have removed needless bureaucracy. The noble Baroness mentioned a grander plan and a bigger review. This is part of the beginning of a phase. There will be three phases. In January this year, the Government published a full government response to the consultation on regulated entertainment reform. Copies of the document with the full details of the proposed policies can be found on the YouGov website and are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Today is the first phase. There will be a second phase with a range of exemptions around music and community premises—schools, for instance. In answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, we think that the second phase of consideration is the best place to deregulate the low-risk Olympic disciplines of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. The third phase relates to film, and the Government intend to consult on measures to aid film exhibition in community venues in the near future. I am told that I can say that this consultation will be in “coming months”, so I hope we will make good progress on it.

The other point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, was about receiving an early warning. The key feature of the events proposed for deregulation is that we do not believe that their low risk would cause a problem. We fully expect events organisers to work closely with local authorities and we think that a formal notification process is not proportionate for such events. We will be keeping those matters monitored.

I shall also deal with the points raised by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, but before doing so it is appropriate that I again place a tribute on record. My noble friend generously mentioned many others who helped in the successful passage of the Live Music Act, but he has been and continues to be a staunch proponent of the creative industries. He rightly mentioned the deregulation of other areas while at the same time protecting communities. If there are any outstanding points that I have not covered, I will of course write to noble Lords, but in the mean time I commend the Motion.

Motion agreed.