Clause 43 - Exhibition of films in community premises

Deregulation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 4:00 pm, 13th March 2014

I beg to move amendment 15, in clause 43, page 30, line 43, leave out ‘500 persons’ and insert ‘250 persons for an indoor screening and 1,000 persons for an outdoor screening’.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 14, in clause 43, page 31, line 27, at end insert—

‘(7A) Prior to the enactment of the Act, the Government will provide a clear definition of what sites qualify as “community premises”.’.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Amendment 15 is a probing amendment through which we seek to understand the reason for the 500-person limit on the number of people allowed to view a film in the absence of a licence. When we drafted the amendment, we considered that the danger of being in a dark indoor environment might be more significant than the danger of being in an outdoor, unrestricted environment. Perhaps a reduction in the number of people who may attend an indoor screening and an increase in the number who may attend an outdoor  screening would be a more sensible balance. The Minister may have given considerable thought to why 500 persons is the correct limit, but that is what our probing amendment seeks to draw from him.

Amendment 14 is an important amendment that asks the Government to clarify what exactly will be classified as a community premises. Will it include a pub or a house from which a business is run? The amendment gives the Minister an opportunity to expand on how the clause will operate.

The clause is well meaning, and we recognise what the Government are attempting to do, but both now and on Report we will seek to explore a number of questions on the possible implications. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport says that the licensing of film is “largely unnecessary and disproportionate,” citing examples such as pre-school nurseries that require a licence to show children’s DVDs or clubs that are unable to host tribute nights showing a recording of the 1966 World cup final because they do not have a licence. In those two examples, removing the regulatory burden of having to hold a licence is entirely sensible, but what will be the implication for copyright legislation?

I am sure the Government, like all Governments, would want all organisations to comply with copyright legislation. I imagine that the BBC owns the copyright of the 1966 World cup final, so a public showing of that final will presumably flout copyright legislation. The Minister seeks to remove the regulatory burden for something relatively small, but have the copyright implications been considered? If the Committee sends the message that people can show such films with impunity, will that lead to further breaches of copyright in the future because people think that they are free to do so?

We all recognise that breaches of copyright happen on occasion, and that there will be situations in which copyrights are flouted. We would not want the Government to send any sort of message that implied that they were looking to encourage that. I am therefore interested in the relationship between copyright restrictions and the current need to have a licence to put on that kind of show.

Upon consultation on the provisions in the clause, it was found that there was “near universal” recognition that children must still be protected from age-sensitive content and so the idea of blanket deregulation in this area was dropped. What studies has the Minister done on the age restriction aspect? If there is no need for a licence for a community group, where will the responsibility lie for maintaining such protection for children? The legislation is clear that a group cannot show a 15-certificate film to a 12-year-old just because it is exempted from having a licence for the show—nothing has changed in that regard. If there is no need for a licence, where does the burden of responsibility fall? What if someone was found to have flouted that by putting on a 15-certificate film at an event for their local scout group at which there were some people who were over 15 but some who were not? How will protection against that be maintained under the clause?

We recognise that the deregulation in the clause is not blanket but limited, and has the aim of benefiting film  societies, film clubs and other local social groups. The clause states that different conditions should be considered. The first condition is that

“written consent for the entertainment to take place at the community premises has been obtained”.

The clause goes on to specify that that must be obtained

“by or on behalf of a person concerned in the organisation or management of the entertainment…from the management committee of the community premises”— that is pretty clear—

“or…where there is no management committee, from…a person who has control of the community premises (as occupier or otherwise) in connection with the carrying on by that person of a trade, business or other undertaking…or…where there is no such person, an owner of the community premises.”

Let us think about what that actually means. Our amendment seeks clarification about what a community premises is. If it is a premises without a management committee—many we might consider would not have one—and is not a local authority premises, but instead has a single owner, what kind of premises can it be? We are seeking serious information from the Minister about what constitutes a community premises. Would something such as a public house or a community room above a post office be considered a community premises? How exactly are organisations supposed to know whether they are in a community premises, if the premises has a single owner rather than being run by a management group?

Some concerns have been raised about the possible admission of children to inappropriate films. We are satisfied that the Bill as drafted does not change the requirements in that regard in any way. However, people may well get the sense from this particular provision that the Bill has done that and that the expectations on them are now different. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the meaning of the Bill as drafted is properly communicated to people, so that, having been told, “Great news—you can now show a film without a licence,” they do not end up flouting other legislation because they might consider themselves to have been exempted from it, when in fact they have not? None of us wants the outcome of the legislation, which we understand is positive, to have the negative impact of reducing child protection and allowing children to view things that have not been classified for them.

I am also interested to know whether the Minister can clarify the status of home movies in the law. For example, if I hired a community hall for a christening and I decided that I wanted to show my wedding video as part of the event, would I be allowed to do that? Proposed new paragraph 6A(6) of schedule 1 to the Licensing Act 2003 states:

“The fifth condition is that the film classification body or the relevant licensing authority has made a recommendation concerning the admission of children to an exhibition of the film”.

That suggests to me that if the film has not been classified by a film classification body, it is not exempted from the rule, which would bring in home videos or anything that has not been classified, for whatever reason. Will the Minister clarify that the Bill means that if a film does not have an age-appropriate certificate, or has not been recommended and certified by the relevant licensing authority, it would not be exempted from the  legislation? Do people with a home video that they want to show therefore need a licence to do so? Has there been any change to the law? If so, did they need that licence previously?

We seek to promote independent movie-making and do not want to place unnecessary limitations on anyone who wants to show home videos to family and friends in whatever circumstances, but I am interested to know how that would work exactly. We assume that existing decency laws and those against the dissemination of pornography would ensure that people showing inappropriate, private movies to children would still be committing a criminal offence. In the context of the licensing, how does that operate from a child protection perspective?

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 4:15 pm, 13th March 2014

My hon. Friend is making a number of important points. I am sure that the Committee is aware of the competition “Film the House”, which encourages constituents from throughout the country to make short films. MPs choose which ones win a prize. Would a constituent making such a film that was shown here be able to show it afterwards on community premises, as my hon. Friend outlined?

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

That is a good question. As I read the legislation, there would be no exemption to the licence, because one condition is that

“the film classification body or the relevant licensing authority has made a recommendation concerning…the film”.

If the film has no such recommendation, I guess it would not be exempted.

We recognise the principles of the Bill and what the Minister is attempting to achieve, but I have another point to make to him. For example, a community trust might set up a cinema that to all intents and purposes, and to everyone else, looked like a cinema and was covered by all the cinema-relevant legislation. If, however, that community trust was non-profit making—that is one of the conditions of the legislation—would it in effect be able to exempt itself from the same expectations that apply to a Cineworld or any of those companies? Even though it might look much the same, would it be exempt because it was a non-profit-making body?

Has the Minister given any thought to the exemption of organisations whose main purpose is not to show films, such as the Women’s Institute, or scouts or cubs groups, which exist for other purposes, but on occasions show films? It is perfectly sensible for them to be exempt, but did the Minister consider whether organisations whose main purpose is to show films should still be covered by the same legislation as other organisations that make profits and whose purpose would be to show films? We would be very grateful if the Minister could clarify those points, and we look forward to returning to them in more detail.

Finally, I am particularly keen for the Minister to explain how he came to an audience consisting of no more than 500 persons, because that is a pretty arbitrary level. Any statistical limit of that kind will be arbitrary; however, 500 people in a hall—which, by necessity, is likely to be dark because the lights are turned down for the film to be shown—is a fairly substantial number. Why did he choose that number and why did he decide that an outdoor performance—we are seeing more and more of that sort of thing as the costs get smaller—should not have a larger limit than an indoor performance?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I hope to respond shortly to the various points that the hon. Gentleman has made, but just in case it is pertinent to my response, I was not sure whether he was proposing to charge people for seeing his wedding video. Was there going to be a charge for watching it, or is it gratis?

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

It certainly was not profit-making—I would be lucky if I got them in without charging—so probably not.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I hope that intervention will make my response to that particular query easier.

The purpose of the clause is to remove the requirement for an authorisation under the Licensing Act 2003 for small-scale community film events. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment 15 suggests that the third condition in the clause, which relates to audience size, is incorrectly set at no more than 500 persons. Under the 2003 Act, licensing authorities must carry out their functions with a view to promoting four statutory objectives: prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm. The promotion of these four objectives is of paramount importance in considering the design of the clause. In particular, the audience is limited to 500 persons for public safety reasons.

The Government have consulted widely on the issue of risk in relation to all four of the licensing objectives. In 2011, a broad-ranging policy consultation sought views on a proposal to remove licensing requirements for entertainment activities, including exhibiting a film, for audiences of no more than 5,000 people. In responding to the consultation, local government, police and the emergency services generally felt that a limit of 5,000 people was not tenable as a means of promoting public safety and the prevention of public nuisance as licensing objectives. The Government listened and agreed with certain respondents that, especially on public safety grounds, an audience number of 500 was a more suitable general upper limit for deregulation of premises providing entertainment.

In July 2013, the Government launched a consultation on deregulatory changes to licensing for community film exhibition. In response to a question about eligible premises, some respondents suggested that 500 was too high a number, as it was not reflective of the capacity of most community premises. In response to views on audience size, the Government said in their consultation response that 500 struck the right balance. An exhibition of a film is a low-risk activity, and having an audience limit of 500 maximises the cultural benefit for community groups while ensuring that the number of people who attend does not—in the opinion of the Local Government Association and others—give rise to particular public safety concerns.

Setting the limit at 500 also meant there was a read-across to the 499 audience limit for an event authorised by a temporary event notice. The 499 limit is generally regarded by local authorities and the emergency services as an appropriate audience ceiling for the lighter-touch process of authorising temporary entertainments, such as a one-off film event. By deciding to set the audience number at 500, the Government were conscious that they could be removing one-off film events from the licensing regime and its associated fees. The Government  accept that many community buildings do not have the capacity to host film events for anything close to 500 people. However, licensing is about audiences, not venue capacities.

The clause will not remove any necessary public protections in relation to closely seated audiences, because the owners of premises will remain responsible for fire safety under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Government consider 500 to be generally the right number for a performance of a play, a performance of dance, a performance of live music, the playing of recorded music or the exhibition of a film within the terms of the clause.

It would be very odd indeed if a community premises could put on a pantomime for 500 people without the need for an authorisation, but the amendment would mean that it could show a film of that pantomime only to an audience of no more than 250 people.

Although an outdoor screening may be lower-risk in terms of public safety, setting the figure at 1,000 would not be lower-risk in terms of the prevention of public nuisance, which is another of the licensing objectives. An outdoor event on community premises for up to 1,000 people carries a significantly higher risk of noise nuisance to nearby residents than one of up to 500 people. There are also likely to be knock-on nuisance impacts from motorised or pedestrian traffic associated with an event of that size.

The Government consider that outdoor screenings to audiences of 500 should continue to require authorisation under the Licensing Act 2003, so that local residents and the police have an opportunity to make representations to the licensing authority with regard to the licensing objectives. This is a deliberately narrowly drawn licensing exemption, with an audience limit that ensures that public safety concerns are addressed. The provision will remove the licensing burden from film societies, film clubs and other local social groups that use community premises otherwise than for profit and are endeavouring to bring culture to rural communities, where there is often limited access to cinema.

Before I come to the definition of a community premises, let me respond to some of the other points. I should underline the point that this measure is about the deregulation of entertainment licensing. It is not about licensing to show copyrighted material: any film content that is screened must be appropriately licensed from the copyright holder. That does not change as a result of our proposals.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Will my right hon. Friend provide the Committee with some clarification? On defining the audience limit of 500, obviously there could be other people present. There might be the people putting on the film, people in charge of safety, and people providing refreshments in addition to the 500 in the audience.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Certainly that would be my understanding, but if I am wrong, I will ensure that he is made aware of that.

Various concerns were raised about other lawful duties that the organisers of such events might have. I can confirm that anyone involved in the organisational provision of entertainment activities must comply with their lawful  duties under any other legislation. The hon. Member for Chesterfield quite rightly talked about the protection of children. A film is not eligible for the exemption unless the British Board of Film Classification or local licensing authority has issued a recommendation as to whether children may be admitted. Those responsible for the exhibition of a film on community premises must have in place operating arrangements that would ensure that the recommendation made for that film by the BBFC or local licensing authority was implemented where necessary by means of a suitable child admission policy.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I was coming to the hon. Gentleman’s wedding video—I do not know whether that was the point he wants to intervene on. Obviously we would all like to see it. I do not know whether he is proposing to organise a screening of his wedding video in the House. I think we would all like to attend, as long as there was not a fee that we had to pay to attend. A home video or a wedding is not classed as entertainment.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield

Can the Minister clarify whether that is true on all occasions? By all accounts it was a cracking wedding, and it could have been great entertainment.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am afraid I do not know. We would have to organise a screening of said wedding to see the entertainment quality it presented. I am sorry that a wedding video, if shown privately without charge, is not deemed to be entertainment. If it is exhibited to a public audience in a community premises, the conditions and the exemptions would apply. If it was exhibited as entertainment, it would need an age classification to satisfy the exemption. I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s wedding video would not need an age classification; I am sure it is all appropriate and in order.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I suspect that a wedding video is not classified as entertainment because it is real life and a very special moment in someone’s life. Could the Minister clarify the case for the “Film the House” videos and other films made by amateurs for their own creative purposes?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I would assume that that was in the same category as the home video or the wedding, in that no charge was being made for it and the measure would therefore not be applicable, in the way that a wedding video would not be deemed to be entertainment.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 4:30 pm, 13th March 2014

I am somewhat confused by that. Clearly, even though an amateur video has not been classified in the context put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, it is designed for entertainment and is a video, although it has no classification. It is an amateur film, but it is a piece of art. It is hard to understand why sub-paragraph (6) is written in this way if there would be no need to have a licence for something like that. Why is it written to suggest that the key thing a video must have is a film  classification or a licensing authority recommendation? If, in fact, anything is eligible, it is strange that the sub-paragraph was written in that way.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It may be about the distinction between something that is shown privately and something that is shown in public at a community venue. I will respond to a couple of further points. On the criminal offence committed by exhibiting a film inappropriately, a film is not eligible, as we know, for the exemption unless the BBFC has issued a recommendation as to whether children may be admitted. It is a criminal offence to exhibit a film under the exemption unless it is in accordance with the recommendations made by the BBFC or the licensing authority.

There was a question about whether the limit of 500 included just the audience, or whether it included those present in a technical or organisational role. That limit does not include any person contributing in a technical or organisational way in substantial support of the film’s exhibition. One assumes that volunteers there to show people in who then sit down to watch the film themselves would probably be included within the 500, but the projectionist and the people who perhaps took no part in watching the film would not need to be included within the 500.

There was a question on how the Government would ensure awareness of the change, and we will issue statutory guidance in due course. It will include clarification on copyright licensing and the need to maintain a child-appropriate admissions policy. There was a question about whether commercial operators or independent film producers will be at a disadvantage if they do not have a rating issued by the BBFC. Student films and films that are a work-in-progress currently need an age classification from the local licensing authority. The clause will not deregulate such film products, because of the licensing objective of protecting children from harm. Such producers of non-cinematic films will be no worse off than at present under the Licensing Act 2003.

Further clarification was sought on whether a wedding video is entertainment or a work of art. A regular video of a wedding is not entertainment that would be of interest to a wider public audience, so it is not a product that would be caught by the Bill. I am sorry if that disappoints the hon. Member for Chesterfield.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

No, it does not at all. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central was making was not about wedding videos, but amateur film made for entertainment.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I think I would be right in saying that amateur film would be covered by the same measure. While “Film the House”, which was mentioned by the hon. Lady, might be of interest to Members of this House and the House of Lords, I suspect that there would not be a much wider public audience for that particular production.

Amendment 14 suggests that enactment of clause 43, or perhaps the whole Bill, should require the Government to have provided a clear definition of what sites qualify as community premises. A definition of community premises exists in section 193 of the Licensing Act 2003. It states that

“‘community premises’ means premises that are or form part of—a church hall, chapel hall or other similar building, or a village hall, parish hall, community hall or other similar building”.

That definition was introduced by the Legislative Reform (Supervision of Alcohol Sales in Church and Village Halls etc.) Order 2009. The Government consider that definition to be sufficiently clear, but we are aware that some consultation respondents had concerns about the potential scope of the phrase “other similar building” in the definition. I will explain why the Government do not share those concerns.

The meaning of “other similar building” will be limited to the more specific categories of building that precede that general phrase in each limb of the definition. The word “community” conveys that premises must be made available for the use of people in the local community—most likely on a hire basis. While community premises will be generally available for the use of one or more communities, that does not mean that community premises must be available for their exclusive use. We expect that, in addition, such premises will be able to point to a history of community events, or be new premises built for community purposes.

The Government consider that the definition goes far enough in detailing the types of multi-functional premises that can be considered community premises without being too rigid. We do not believe, however, that the definition can be stretched ordinarily to include a public house, a bingo hall or other business premises or private property. As we said in the Government response to the consultation, where doubt remains on whether a particular venue qualifies as “other similar building”, a person responsible for exhibiting a film, or operating a premises, can discuss that with their licensing authority.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Will the Minister return briefly to child protection? He made it clear that there is no exemption from the regulation and requirement that the people in charge may not allow children to watch age-inappropriate films. If a cinema was regularly letting 12-year-olds into an 18-rated film, it could lose its licence. If someone breaches this law—there is no licence now—what sanction is there? How is it likely to be applied to someone who flouts what is clearly the intention of the law?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, which is clearly important. I may need to respond to him in some detail. We want to ensure that appropriate action can be taken, and there may well be existing legislation under which such action can be taken. If, as he suggests, someone is exhibiting films in a community premises and is not enforcing the age classification, thereby allowing children to view inappropriate films, of course we would want action to be taken on that front. I will write to the hon. Gentleman to set out precisely what actions can be pursued if such an incident should occur. With that, I urge the Opposition to withdraw amendment 15.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

It has been an interesting debate. On amendment 15, I hear what the Minister is saying and I think that the consistency of a limit of 500 persons across a broader series of different areas is an important issue. I maintain that the risks associated with having 499 people inside a building are greater than the risks of  having 501 outside. None the less, I am willing to give the Government the benefit of the doubt and withdraw amendment 15.

On amendment 14, I accept entirely what the Minister said about the definition being used, but I am slightly surprised that—this may be something to consider at a later stage of the Bill—when someone reads it there will be a definition of what a child is, what a film classification body is, and what an owner is, but there will not be a definition of what community premises are. The Minister is saying that it is there, but it is not in the Bill and that would have been helpful.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It may be helpful if I put on the record again that community premises are defined in section 193 of the Licensing Act 2003. The definition is clearly set out there.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I understand that, but it is not in the Bill. Sub-paragraph (8) of the clause we are discussing defines children, film classification bodies and owners,  but it does not define community premises. I recognise that it is in the background information, but it is not in the clause and it would be helpful if it was. None the less, the Government have provided a clear definition of what sites qualify, so I am happy not to press amendment 14.

On clause stand part, we have asked valid questions about child protection. The Minister is unable to respond to them at this stage, and the issue is important. We will not vote against the clause, but we will return to the matter at later stages of the Bill’s passage, when we will seek further clarification to enable us to support what we consider to be a well-intentioned Bill. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered,That further consideration be now adjourned.—(James Duddridge.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 18 March at five minutes to Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

DB 11 National Housing Federation

DB 12 David Rice

DB 13 Local Government Association