Report looks at Licensing Act 2003

14 May 2009

The report examines the extent to which the benefits promised by the Licensing Act 2003 have been achieved, and assesses whether the Act works well in practice. It makes a number of recommendations to improve the legislation in areas such as the performance of live music, the licensing of sporting and not-for-profit clubs, the provision of Temporary Event Notices (TENs), licences for moveable entertainments such as circuses and the process of licensing lap dancing clubs.

Live music and entertainment

The report expresses concern at the linkage of live music and public order issues by the Act and its accompanying guidance. In the Committee’s view music should not automatically be treated as a disruptive activity, which will inevitably lead to nuisance and disorder. The report recommends that the Government should exempt venues with a capacity of 200 persons or fewer from the need to obtain a licence for the performance of live music. It also recommends the reintroduction of the two-in-a-bar exemption, enabling venues of any size to put on a performance of non-amplified music by one or two musicians.

With specific regard to London, the Committee were convinced by the evidence presented by Feargal Sharkey, that police authorities are taking an increasingly authoritarian approach, especially the Metropolitan Police who have asked London licensing authorities to include new conditions for the performance of live music "in the interests of public order and the prevention of terrorism", as set out in their Promotion and Event Assessment Form (form 696). The report concludes that form 696 goes beyond the Act and its guidance to impose unreasonable conditions on events and recommends that it should be scrapped.

Sporting and not-for-profit clubs

The report notes that it is highly unsatisfactory that sporting and not-for-profit clubs face the same licensing costs as commercial concerns such as pubs and nightclubs. The Committee concludes this is especially the case for sporting clubs, who play an important role in ensuring community access to affordable opportunities to participate in physical activity. The Committee recommends that sporting clubs should be place in a fee band based on 20 per cent of their rateable value and that only the bar area of not-for-profit clubs should be taken into account when assessing the rateable value to determine the appropriate licensing fee.

Temporary Event Notices

The TEN system is used by many organisations and premises who do not need a permanent premises licence. The Committee received conflicting evidence as to whether the current limit of 12 events per year allowed too many or too few events to take place. On balance the Committee concludes that there should be a modest increase in the number of events which can be held in any one year under TENs, to 15, and a relaxation of the rule on the number which can be applied for by any individual. The Committee balances this by recommending the enhancement of local scrutiny, proposing that not only the police but also local councillors should have the opportunity to object to the granting of a TEN, and that they be given three working days in which to do so.

The night-time economy

The Government aimed that the Act should encourage more diversity in the type of licensed premises present on the high street, to give consumers a wider-choice of where and how to spend their leisure time and to encourage a "café society" with more family-friendly premises. The Committee received mixed views as to whether such changes have actually been delivered. In particular, the Committee remains concerned that the relaxation of rules on premises’ closing hours have not diminished law and order problems, but have merely moved them one or two hours later than previously. The report emphasises the importance of considering the density of venues in a particular area when granting a premises licence, as well as calling for more Government support to encourage responsible drinks promotions.

"Portable" entertainment

The report concludes that while the Licensing Act has worked well when licensing entertainment provided in a permanent building, its success is more limited when either the premises or the entertainment is portable. The Committee received a wealth of evidence of the difficulty and expense the Licensing Act has caused the circus industry, and is critical of the lack of engagement with them by the Government in advance of the Act’s introduction. The report concludes that circuses should be issued with a portable licence by their home authority and that the Government should consult on exempting certain low risk, small-scale travelling entertainments, such as Punch and Judy and travelling plays by mummers, from licensing requirements altogether.

The adult entertainment industry

There are no specific provisions in the Licensing Act, or its guidance, to give licensing authorities extra powers to control lap dancing clubs, and the report notes the frustration of the public that objections to a licence for such establishments cannot therefore be made on the grounds of the type of entertainment which it provides. The report also notes that many of the licensing issues relating to lap dancing clubs are the same as those found at any late-night venue: the sale of alcohol, crime and disorder, drunken and anti-social behaviour. Nevertheless in the Committee’s view a lap dancing establishment is not the same as a pub or nightclub, and interested parties with legitimate concerns should to be able to make representations to the licensing authorities without having to resort to making spurious objections on grounds such as the location of a club’s toilets.

For this reason the report welcomes the Government’s proposal, contained within the Policing and Crime Bill, to move licensing of lap dancing to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. However, it recommends that a new category should be created for such clubs, to take account of their hybrid status, and that it should be compulsory for local councils to use this system to licence them. that existing clubs with valid premises licences should be given a reasonable transition period in which to transfer to the new licensing regime. The report further recommends that licences for such clubs should be granted for a period of five years, with the safeguard that any interested party or relevant authority should be able to request a review of a licence at any time.

The licensing process

On the process of licensing overall, the report notes that although the Licensing Act has simplified and improved the licensing process, there is still concern that the system is too bureaucratic, complicated and time-consuming, especially where a premises is run by volunteers. It recommends that the Government should, together with local authorities, licence applicants and other stakeholders, evaluate the licensing forms with the aim of making them more user friendly.

Committee Chairman John Whittingdale commented:

"Broadly speaking the Licensing Act has in our view been a success. The Act has simplified the licensing system, bringing together a number of different regimes into one licence. There is also a greater diversity of premises on the high street and the Act’s emphasis on partnership working is welcome. However in some areas it is clearly not working. The licensing requirements are still too bureaucratic and costly – particularly for non-commercial groups such as sports clubs, not-for-profit establishments and organisers of occasional events.

"We were also particularly concerned to hear of the way the Act may be hampering live music performances especially by young musicians, who often get their first break though performing live at small venues such as pubs. Our report calls on the Government to relax restrictions in this area, which in some cases are unnecessarily draconian, and in others simply absurd."

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