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Policing and Crime Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 7th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat 5:30 pm, 7th December 2016

My Lords, Amendment 172 would create a fifth licensing objective that licensing authorities must promote when discharging their functions. It would secure the provision of social or cultural activities as a general duty. It follows the similar Amendment 214A from Committee.

There is a very strong case to be made that activities such as live music should be completely deregulated from the Licensing Act. Other legislation, such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 contain a great many of the protections in law that form the basis for conditions relating to live music that may be imposed by the Licensing Act on a premises licence. The Licensing Act therefore presents a tier of legislative duplication that is in many respects unnecessary, given that live events can be controlled by other means.

Despite this compelling argument, the Government have not been minded to deregulate further than audience sizes of 500—a level that builds on the Live Music Act I took through Parliament. In the meantime, there has been a continuing decline in live music venues. As the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, rightly said in Committee:

“There has in recent years been a perfect storm of circumstance for our night-time economy. Rising rents and business rates, property developments, noise complaints, complaints about anti-social behaviour and more have conspired to devastate our night-time cultural landscape”.—[Official Report, 9/11/16; col. 1212.]

In these circumstances we need to amend licensing objectives in particular to help these venues survive. Current objectives relate to crime and disorder, public safety, public nuisance and protection of children. Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust said:

“Licensing is just one of many areas of the legal framework around grassroots music venues that is contributing to their rapid decline”.

As the chief operating officer of Live Nation said:

“Unfortunately not all local authorities are like-minded and their interpretations of the Licensing Act are not always helpful, or consistent, which is frustrating and creates obstacles for venue operators at all levels”.

The amendment is designed to introduce a new objective in the local authority decision-making process that would take account of the positive cultural impact of staging an event. At present, authorities are not obliged to consider the wider benefits of music and entertainment in the community, and instead focus on the negative impact of applications. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said in Committee, that,

“music and other activities should be helped and supported where possible through the licensing system, rather than just regulated”.—[Official Report, 9/11/16; col. 1214.]

A proportionate approach from licensing authorities would be welcome when they handle applications or complaints relating to entertainment. That the four existing licensing objectives are completely predicated on preventive measures does nothing to help struggling venues that are already being hit by high business rates and new planning developments. Amendment 172 is therefore required to support the social or cultural impacts of an activity regulated by the Licensing Act.

I have of course read the Minister’s response of 9 November and taken account of what she said. Her argument was that it would be difficult to replicate the evidence of harm in the same way as for licence conditions that seek to protect against and reduce harm—a rather circular argument. She went on to say that a licensing objective of promoting cultural activity and inclusion is,

“quite a subjective matter and may be interpreted in different ways … Making this a licensing objective could place licensing authorities in a censorious position, whereby licensees organising events might be obliged to explain what additional cultural value their entertainment might generate, and the licensing authorities would be required to evaluate that information”.—[Official Report, 9/11/16; col. 1216.]

This amendment is substantially different from the Committee stage amendment in two crucial respects. First, it is no longer limited to cultural matters and makes a much broader point about other activities that have social benefits that may need to be supported by a positive objective in the Licensing Act, too. This would deal with a legitimate criticism of the original amendment —that it would result in all premises having to provide cultural activities. That was not the intention of the original draft, but I accept that it could have led to it.

Secondly, the amendment relates to provision rather than the original amendment’s attempt at “promotion”. The specific call for promotion was regarded by the Minister as putting licensing authorities in a potentially censorious and subjective position, as I just mentioned. I should point out, however, that the current objectives, particularly the prevention of nuisance, are already interpreted subjectively and censoriously.

As is stands, the cultural activities of, say, a grass-roots music venue are not considered at all. Once gone, these venues will not come back into our towns and cities. There is a delicate balance that should be achieved by local authorities. Having this fifth objective might just be critical to a decision that will lead to their remaining open. The Minister’s response in Committee was fairly cursory, and I look forward to a more detailed and substantive response to the amendment at this stage. I beg to move.