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UK pursuing bilateral solution to visa deadlock

The British government is negotiating on a bilateral basis with individual EU countries in a bid to break the deadlock over the issue of visas for touring artists, culture minister Diana Barran said today.

Taking questions in the House of Lords on 20 January, the Baroness Barran, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, told peers that while the UK’s previous offer to the EU to reopen negotiations on exempting musicians “still stands”, the government is also seeking “simplification and clarification on a bilateral basis with individual member states.”

Barran’s disclosure that Britain is shifting its attention to individual countries can be seen as a ‘plan B’ for performers in the absence of an EU-wide deal. As legal expert George Peretz explains, UK artists who want to tour the EU (excluding the Republic of Ireland, where the Common Travel Area already allows free travel) currently face “26 different sets of rules” – one for each member state – instead of one, as such an arrangement was not included in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Why that is is different depending on who you ask: European negotiators claim the UK turned down an offer from the EU of a 90-day visa-free period every 180 days, while British officials continue to insist EU inflexibility resulted in no deal for musicians.

UK artists currently face “26 different sets of rules”

In response to a question from the Lord McNally, in which McNally accused “Brexit zealots” of torpedoing any possibility of an agreement on freedom of movement “to protect the purity” of the UK’s hard break, Barran insisted British negotiators “tried very hard to stand up for Britain’s brilliant cultural and creative sectors, and reflect their requests to us about what they needed from the deal”.

The back and forth in the Lords came as industry leaders met with the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, to discuss the other obstacles thrown up by the deal, including cabotage, work permits, ATA carnets for touring orchestras, and VAT and administration charges on physical products shipped from the UK to the EU.

Elsewhere, British stars including Ed Sheeran, Sir Elton John, Sting, Liam Gallagher and the Who’s Brexit-voting Roger Daltrey put their names to a letter in today (20 January)’s Times to warn that the ongoing “negotiating failure” threatens the future of cultural exchange between the UK and the continent.

The letter, which was organised by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats party, urges the UK government to “do what it said it would do” and negotiate visa-free travel to Europe for British artists and their equipment.

The stars also address the EU, asking that any deal be made reciprocal (for EU visitors to the UK).

“We are determined to give those talented people the clarity they need”

An Excel spreadsheet created by the European Commission at the tail end of 2020 attempts to outline the current situation for British musicians, analysing which EU countries require work permits for artists and which don’t. (However, “[t]he blanks and footnotes suggest that anyone really wanting certainty will need good legal advice from the country concerned,” writes Peretz.)

Wherever blame lies for the current impasse, UK ministers insist they will heed the growing calls to provide clarity for artists and the broader live music industry, with another culture minister – Caroline Dinenage, minister of state for digital and culture – reiterating in the Commons yesterday that the UK’s “door is open” for discussions on resolving the issue.

Echoing her sentiments today, Barran claimed that while UK negotiators “did everything in their power to avoid the current situation”, the government is now is now looking ahead in order to secure a “simple and straightforward” deal for live entertainers.

“We are incredibly disappointed that the EU neither proposed, nor accepted, a tailored deal for musicians,” she said, “and we are determined to give those talented people the clarity they need to survive.”


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Licensing Act “fundamentally flawed”, rules Lords

The Licensing Act 2003, which governs the issuing of entertainment licences for live music in the UK, is “fundamentally flawed”, a House of Lords committee has found.

Among the recommendations of the Licensing Act 2003 committee, which led a ten-month inquiry into the legislation, are the abolition of local-authority planning committees, with licensing instead integrated with planning applications; the abolition of ‘late-night levies’ – or extra charges levied on venues to pay for the cost of of policing – which were described as “fundamentally wrong in principle and in practice”; and setting of licensing fees by local government rather than nationally.

The committee also said the agent-of-change principle – which “would require anyone instigating a new building development or a change in land use […] to take into account the nearby properties and their functions”, and was introduced in a limited form last summer – should be adopted nationally in in both planning and licensing guidance, “to help protect both licensed premises and local residents from consequences arising from any new built development in their nearby vicinity”.

The inquiry additionally recommended that disabled people’s access be considered when granting licences, stating: “Scotland’s example should also be followed in helping disabled people to access licensed premises by requiring an application for a premises licence to include a disabled access statement.”

Committee chairman Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (pictured) comments: “The committee was shocked by some of the evidence it received on hearings before licensing committees. Their decisions have been described as ‘something of a lottery’, ‘lacking formality’ and ‘indifferent’, with some ‘scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors’.

“Pubs, clubs and live music venues are a vital part of our cultural identity. Any decline in our cities’ world-famous nightlife ought to be prevented and the businesses supported”

“Pubs, clubs and live music venues are a vital part of our cultural identity. Any decline in our cities’ world-famous nightlife ought to be prevented and the businesses supported. But the night-time economy needs regulating; even in these areas of cities, residents have their rights. The current systems – early-morning restriction orders and late-night levies – are not being used because they do not work.”

Industry umbrella group UK Music welcomed the Lords’ recommendations, but expressed its disappointment at the failure of an amendment to the act that would have required local authorities to consider the “social or cultural benefits” of venues when granting licences.

Its chief executive, Jo Dipple, says: “We agree with the committee when it says the Licensing Act is fundamentally flawed. That is why the Live Music Act was unanimously supported when proposed as a private-member’s bill by Lord Clement-Jones. It is welcome, therefore, that the Lords’ committee report clearly recognises the impact of the Live Music Act. UK Music agrees that more needs to be done to spread awareness of its benefits to local and national government.

“UK Music asks government to take forward the Lords suggestion that a full agent-of-change principle for planning and licensing guidance be introduced. If implemented, recommendations to introduce an agent-of-change principle and ditch the late-night levy will make a big difference to the provision of music across the UK’s cities and regions. A proposed ‘fifth objective’ for licensing decisions, which would enable local authorities to weigh up positive cultural impacts, would also have helped, and it is a pity the committee did not accept this.”


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Lords vote for further UK resale regulation

The British government was yesterday defeated by the House of Lords on an amendment anti-touting campaigners say will significantly strengthen obligations to consumers by secondary ticketing sites.

The snappily titled amendment 33ZLZA to the Digital Economy Bill is opposed by the government, which backs the recommendations made in the Waterson report, an independent review which recommended no new legislation in favour of proper enforcement of the existing Consumer Rights Act (CRA) 2015.

However, members of Britain’s unelected – but politically balanced – upper house yesterday voted 180–157 in favour of the amendment, which would require sites such Seatwave, Get Me In!, StubHub and Viagogo to provide the ticket reference or booking number, as well as any specific condition attached to the resale of the ticket.

Under the CRA, secondary sites are already obliged to list the original face value, seat/row numbers and any usage restrictions.

The bill goes back to the House of Commons (elected, controlled by the government) next month for MPs to either approve or reject the amendments made by the Lords.

“This is not about a cap on resale prices. It is perfectly within the conclusions … of the Waterson report to move ahead with this simple but effective remedy”

Addressing the Lords yesterday, Conservative peer Lord Moynihan said: “We do not want to ban the [secondary] market, although noble Lords did so for the Olympic Games in London 2012. Similarly, this is not about a cap on resale prices. It is perfectly within the conclusions [of], and the government’s response to, the Waterson report, to move ahead with this simple but effective remedy.

“It is not costly; it is about the cost of a phone call […] to say: ‘Your original ticket had a unique reference number on it. I want to check that the one I have bought from StubHub or one of the other secondary sites is for real. Can you tell me whether that same number, which does not exist on there – or they have put another number on it – is for real before I incur a lot of costs?’. It is a simple additional consumer protection measure which does not cost anything.

“It would look after consumers – in this context, particularly fans of sport and fans of music – which is what we should be all about.”

Anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance is also in favour of the amendment. “Despite concerted media and political scrutiny, the resale of tickets on platforms like Viagogo, Get Me In!, Seatwave and StubHub remains wholly lacking in transparency,” says FanFair’s Adam Webb. “This is the only online marketplace where buyers are given no identity about sellers – a peculiarity which is massively helpful to touts whose activities are anonymised, but not so much to consumers. It’s is a recipe for bad practice at best, and outright fraud at worst.

“That’s why this small amendment to the Consumer Rights Act is so important, as it could help provide more certainty that a ticket actually exists in the first place, as well as crucial details about terms and conditions of resale. FanFair Alliance warmly welcomes the Lords’ decision last night, and alongside the other recent commitments we look forward to further discussions with government about how ticket resale can be made more transparent, honest and consumer-friendly.”


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UK Licensing Act amendment shot down in Lords

An amendment to the UK’s Licensing Act 2003 that would have compelled local authorities to consider “social or cultural” benefits when granting live music licences has been withdrawn by its sponsor.

As reported on Tuesday, figures from across the British live music industry were banking on Tim Clement-Jones’s amendment to “pave the way” for an overhaul of the controversial act, which UK Live Music Group/Live Nation’s Paul Latham said is currently interpreted by many local authorities in ways “not always helpful or consistent, which is frustrating and creates obstacles for venue operators at all levels.”

Lord Clement-Jones (pictured) tabled his amendment – which proposed making “the provision of social or cultural activities” part of the general duties of licensing authorities – on Wednesday (7 December), but withdrew the motion following opposition from government spokeswoman Carlyn Chisholm, who argued: “Requiring licensing authorities to consider the provision of social or cultural activities would run in contradiction to the other licensing objectives, all of which are aimed at harm reduction” (for example, restricting noise levels).

Lord Clement-Jones’s amendment was, however, supported by Roy Kennedy and Nicholas Trench, the Earl of Clancarty – the latter of whom quoted Mark Davyd of Music Venue Trust, calling his wish to see “grassroots music venues acknowledged and respected alongside theatres and art centres as spaces that are vital to the health, wealth and happiness of the UK” a “laudable aim”.

“I believe the Home Office has responsibility to help to preserve our venues, rather than simply saying, ‘We’ve got a very fine Licensing Act as it is'”

Baroness Chisholm expressed her support for the Licensing Act in its current form, arguing it provides for a “presumption that licensing authorities will grant a licence in respect to an application, with appropriate conditions, unless there are strong concerns in terms of the licensing objectives”.

This was met with a fiery rebuke by Lord Clement-Jones, who before withdrawing the amendment spoke of his wish that “the drip-drip of the fairly incessant rhythm – perhaps that is the right phraseology to use in connection with live music venues – of the campaign to ensure that we keep our live music venues has some effect”.

“I believe the Home Office also has responsibility in this area to help to preserve our venues, rather than simply stonewalling and saying, ‘We’ve got a very fine Licensing Act as it is and we don’t need any further objectives’,” he concluded.

“When we come to our next debate, I am sure the government will make the same argument – but they may find a rather different response when it comes to a vote.”


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