Musicians petition Blair over new 'draconian' Licence Bill

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The Independent Culture

Tony Blair was handed a petition yesterday signed by more than 110,000 people who are protesting at plans to force pubs, clubs, community centres and village halls to get a licence before live music is performed.

John Whittingdale, the Conservative culture spokesman, said the Musicians Union handed in a petition that "attracted a record number of signatures" and called for the Government to change its proposals "to remove the iniquities faced by musicians and the music industry as a whole".

The petition said that a new legal requirement in the Licensing Bill, which is now passing through Parliament, would "have an enormously detrimental effect on musicians and live music performances".

The musicians fear that making performances in community centres, village and parish halls subject to a licence would prevent folk musicians performing and stop musicians raising money for charity. The Bill would make it an offence not to have a licence, with penalties of up to six months in prison or a fine of £20,000. The Tories called the penalties "draconian".

Yesterday Mr Whittingdale, who handed in the petition with the union and Malcolm Moss MP, called for the Government to exempt "thousands of pubs and clubs from the licensing requirement, which if passed, will result in them no longer offering live music".

Peers have already amended the Bill to exempt pubs and clubs from licenses, but the Government has indicated that it is not willing to grant a concession, except for churches and other places of worship.

"This exemption was passed in the Lords, and if the Government insists on removing it in the Commons then we will be pressing to defeat them again in the Lords this week," Mr Whittingdale said.

A motion has already been tabled by MPs in the Commons. It says the licence will "seriously impinge in the folk community including folk music and traditional folk activities."

Yesterday, the Government said that "all musicians should welcome this Bill's reforms which will increase opportunities for musicians to perform and for the public to enjoy a much wider range of music".