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Musicians making a song and dance about new Bill.

HUNDREDS of musicians have protested outside Parliament against proposals they say could outlaw church bell ringing and criminalise carol singers.

Members of the Musicians' Union (MU) yesterday gathered in Parliament Square, on the day of Mozart's birth, to lobby MPs against the Licensing Bill.

Among those who have lent their support to the campaign are Billy Bragg, Jools Holland and Blur drummer Dave Rowntree.

The new proposals have angered the union and some members have called for its 80-year-old ties with the Labour Party to be severed.

More than 40,000 people have signed an online petition.

MU spokesman Keith Ames said members feared there could be a ``tax on music'' as a result of the new bill.

``We have been waiting for years for the entertainment licensing laws to be changed but there is a danger now that they could be changed for the worse, rather than the better,'' he said.

The union has argued that under the bill 110,000 pubs, bars and restaurants in England and Wales could lose the right to allow one or two musicians to perform. More than 15,000 churches outside London and 5,000 registered members clubs would no longer be exempt from licensing regulations for public concerts.

Even wedding receptions, corporate functions and parties would be affected if performers were paid.

In addition it is feared that church bell ringing could become licensable, buskers could be criminalised and carol singers could be committing an offence.

The maximum penalty for an unlicensed performance would be a pounds 20,000 fine and six months in prison.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the Government intended to allow venues to sign up for automatic entertainment licenses when they applied for an alcohol license.

``Rather than crippling music it will actually help it spread,'' he said.

The bill has gone through the Commons and is now in the Lords.

Hamish Birchall, lead advisor on the bill for the Musicians Union, will speak on perceived threats to the traditional arts in Wales at a conference organised by trac at Gregynog near Newtown on February 8.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 28, 2003
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