Joint Committee on Human Rights Twelfth Report

3 Licensing Bill

Date introduced to the House of Lords

Date introduced to the House of Commons

Current Bill Number

Previous Reports

14 December 2002

12 March 2003

House of Commons 109

1st, 4th and 7th

3.1  This Licensing Bill [Lords][47] has completed its passage through the House of Lords, and is now awaiting its Report Stage in the House of Commons. We have reported on it on a number of occasions.[48] The Bill has generated a great deal of public attention, and we continue to receive a large number of communications from members of the public who are concerned about the impact it may have on the ability to mount performances by folk singers, Morris dancers and many other kinds of performers, as well as concerts in a variety of venues.

3.2  In our Fourth Report of 2002-03,[49] we drew attention to a number of matters raising human rights issues, including the risk that extending the requirement for entertainment licences to kinds of performance or venues not previously covered by licensing legislation might infringe the right to freedom of expression under ECHR Article 10.1 in ways that could not be justified under Article 10.2. This risk was heightened by the original form of clause 134, which appeared to make it a criminal offence to participate in a regulated entertainment without a licence. The Government had undertaken to exempt places of worship from the need for licences for secular entertainment, and announced that there would be an exemption from the fees normally chargeable for licences in respect of a significant number of other places of entertainment, such as church and chapel halls, parish or community halls, and similar sites. We commented—

This apparently random exemption for places of religious worship might tend to undermine the argument for the rationality of the blanket licensing regime as a whole, and could engage other human rights issues by appearing to discriminate against occupiers and users of non-religious premises.[50]

3.3  Our concerns on this score have not subsequently been set at rest. In our Seventh Report,[51] we welcomed the Government's plan to amend clause 134 to make it clear that only the organizers of unlicensed regulated entertainments, and not those who merely participate in them, would be liable to criminal sanctions. However, we were still unsure about the scope of the proposed exemptions from the licensing requirements and from the fees where a licence is required.

3.4  We have given further consideration to the issue in the light of representations received from a number of people and organizations. We take the view that there is a significant risk that the proposed system of exemptions from the licensing requirements and from the applicable fees as currently set out in the Licensing Bill might:

—  give rise to an incompatibility with the right to be free of discrimination in respect of the enjoyment of the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief under ECHR Articles 9 and 14, in so far as the exemption is given to premises used principally for the purposes of religion, or occupied by people or organizations on account of their religious beliefs or practices, and is denied to premises used principally for secular purposes, or occupied by people or organizations without a religious affiliation; and

—  leave a patchwork of different licensing requirements without a coherent rationale, calling in question the existence of a pressing social need for the restriction on freedom of expression through a licensing regime for public entertainment, and so undermining the Government's claim that such a licensing regime is a justifiable interference with the right to freedom of expression under ECHR Article 10.2.

We draw these concerns to the attention of each House.

47   HC Bill 109 Back

48   See our First, Fourth and Seventh Reports of 2002-03 Back

49   HL Paper 50, HC 397, paras. 2-21 Back

50   ibid., para. 18 Back

51   HL Paper 74, HLC 547 Back

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