United Kingdom/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.2 Performing arts and music

The Theatres Act 1968 abolished the role of the Lord Chamberlain and censorship of theatre scripts. Obscene performances are still prohibited and those concerned may be liable to prosecution by the Civil Authority if the words and action of a play constitute a criminal offence (e.g. obscenity, incitement to racial hatred, or provocation likely to lead to a breach of the peace). They may also be liable to a civil action for defamation.

The Licensing Act 2003, which came into force in England and Wales in November 2005, brought together six licensing regimes for premises which provide regulated entertainment, and dispense alcohol or late night refreshment. Under the new system, the concept of a separate public entertainment licence disappears, meaning that only a single authorisation will be needed to supply alcohol, provide regulated entertainment (such as a performance of live music, theatre, dance or the showing of a film), provide late night refreshment or any combination of these activities. The 2003 Act also removed outdated anomalies, restrictions and exemptions (it repealed the Sunday Observance Act, the Sunday Entertainment Act, Sunday Theatres Act and a number of sections in the Theatres Act 1968).

The 2003 Act has wide-ranging implications for the licensing of premises for music and performance. The Act ended the "two in a bar rule", which allowed licensed premises (such as pubs) to put on up to two entertainers all night without the need for a licence. The British Government believed this rule in practice created a disincentive for venues to put on acts involving more than two people, but also failed to protect local residents from noise nuisance. Nevertheless, some musicians have expressed concern that the reforms will lead to venues putting on no live music. Research has been commissioned to find out whether venues have secured live music on their new licences. Any performance which mixes live and recorded music requires a licence, regardless of numbers of performers. However, at the end of 2009 a private members Bill (the Live Music Bill) was introduced in parliament to change licensing regulations to exempt live music performances from venues with less than 200 people. The Bill also sought to exempt venues serving alcohol from an entertainment licence when there were only one or two musicians performing without amplification. It also seeks to provide exemption for hospitals, schools and colleges. Although the Bill fell when it ran out of time in the previous parliament, it has been reintroduced in the new one.

Chapter published: 15-04-2011