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UK Licensing Law Proposal Meets Opposition

Musicians, Morris Men, Carol Singers, Salvation Army bands – they're all an endangered species if the current proposals for the new UK Licensing Bill become law in 2003.

This may have been the last Christmas to enjoy 'Hark the Herald Angel Sing' welcome the seasonal Mummers offering, and the last time to welcome in the New Year at your local pub with live music.

The current proposals, hidden in the 190+ page dossier masquerading as the 'Licensing Bill' will cut a swathe through live music, our heritage, and our enjoyment ! Designed to bring England and Wales into line with Europe in terms of alcohol serving times, the Bill also aims to cut down binge drinking and unruly behaviour. So why is it advocating that soccer fans can watch wide-screen showings of matches in pubs yet the pub does not require a Public Entertainment Licence ?

Dr. Kim Howell's MP is planning to do exactly what he said he would do at last April's MODAL convention in Sheffield – namely to do away with the 'ridiculous two in a bar' legislation which says it's OK for up to 2 people to perform but anymore than that the venue has to have a Public Entertainment License (PEL). Peculiarly he's planning to do away with the existing legislation and replace it with even more draconian measures which will insist that any venue or location presenting live music will have to have a PEL

What's more if live music is replaced with recorded music so irresistibly toe-tapping that pub regulars fancy a little bop in the bar, then your genial pub landlord could end up with a whopping great fine.

Shepherd Neame Brewery currently owns 369 pubs and the majority of them present live music. The brewers have estimated that to comply with the new legislation would cost on average £10,000 per pub. The result will be a dramatic decline in the number of pubs presenting live music – another cog taken out of the ever-dwindling machinery of live music. Of course while this goes on there's no requirement for a licence in respect of a jukebox nor for that matter to have a wide-screen video or TV.

The proposed legislation could become law within months unless the growing number of MPs (currently over 200) in opposition to the Bill, and high profile music personalities like Billy Bragg and manager Peter Jenner, manage to sway some common sense amendments to it. In the light of the fact that two suggested amendments from the Arts Council of England have been firmly vetoed this seems highly unlikely.

The groundplan for the Bill originated from the Home Office in 2001, it was then passed to the DCMS in June 2001, at no time were any musicians actually consulted. According to the DCMS the groundplan cannot be changed !

Kim Howells has already seen the demise of the annual Eisteddfod in his home country of Wales, now it looks as though the only 'welcome in the hillsides' will come courtesy of a wide-screen TV !

The New Year started with a large public meeting at Islington's Union Chapel venue yesterday (6 January). A number of high-profile speakers including Hamish Birchall were assembled.

Yesterday's meeting was co-ordinated by MODAL UK LTD – the main vehicle for music’s falling outside of Classical, and Pop music. Contact: Mark Ringwood +44 870 2430278