|Issue 4 - April 1972|
formulation of the Night Assemblies Bill made it a criminal offence
to hold a gathering of 1000 people or more in the open air for any
period of 3 hours between midnight and 6 a.m. without applying to a
local authority 4 months beforehand and without giving certain financial
guarantees (NCCL release).
During the Committee stage that the Bill has just passed, it has luckily been hassled into considerable revision. Originally the Bill was to receive Government time in the House of Commons - it is a Private Member's Bill; unofficially, Heath will now not allow this extra time. So even if the Bill is to be passed it won't be for a while.
The history of the Bill is interesting. Jerry Wiggin the perpetrator of this attempt to suppress us in the name of law and order, says that the Bill is aimed at controlling pop festivals. But as the NCCL said, no mention is made anywhere of pop festivals. Mark Woodnutt MP, one of the Bill's sponsors, explained his "difficulty" in drafting a bill relating to health and safety at pop festivals, and said such organisations as the NCCL should propose amendments to limit its scope.
Well, they did and the happy result is that lots of people have got cold feet and backed out of supporting the Bill. It has become bad politics now that it is obvious that what was on the surface a public health measure was in fact law and order.
The dangers of the original drafting are many. It covered any assembly, and the NCCL was concerned that this would affect charity meetings, trade union rallies, or political demonstrations. Also that it would give too much power to councils and officials who should not have it. Now at the 3rd meeting of the committee stage - after the Dept of the Environment presented their report saying that the Bill was "bad law" and "not the way to solve the problems of the environment" - a new clause has been added exempting events if they are: exclusively religious or political; exclusively advancing the views of those concerned in an industrial dispute - with 3 provisos: that they do not last longer than 24 hrs; that they are not held with a view to profit for the promoters or others; and if they will not be frustrated by a 4 months' wait.
The dangers foreseen by the NCCL have thus obviously been reduced. Strikers will no longer fall under the provisions of the Bill in many circumstances: though they will if they wish to collect strike funds. Similarly events such as the Aldermaston March - lasting more than 24 hrs - would be affected. The Bill impinges on our basic right of assembly.
The point still holds; why not name and define pop festivals? The Bill is a piece of undercover work against our political and cultural freedom. For we should not underestimate the huge cultural importance of pop festivals, or the remaining political power of this piece of "health legislation". It does not say much for the workings of our parliament that it takes such organisations as the NCCL to protect us against our elected representatives.
At this sensitive cross-over point between the legal and the political, we must be most wary of our freedom being taken away from us under cover of such subterfuge.
Things are really tightening up! The Tories are muscling in on one of the few remaining areas of freedom we still have - namely pop festivals.
The background to this measure has been efforts by a small number of MPs to prevent pop festivals - Mark Woodnutt was successful in preventing the IOW festival taking place in 1971. Mr Wiggin who is sponsoring the Bill claims that the legislation is solely to control pop festivals, banning them only if the site is unsuitable (none of the factors is defined: how many points for scenic beauty?) - or if the local authority thinks the festival would not reach proper health and fire standards.
The local authority can also stop a festival "for the prevention of nuisance" - when it is inevitable that an assembly of any size is going to cause some inconvenience or "nuisance". Local authorities tend to be composed of business and trade union interests, hardly a cross section of the public - especially when it comes to defining "nuisance".
The Bill therefore "does not have the guts" in the words of Keith Waterhouse, Daily Mirror 28/2/72) "to say that its intention is to stamp out pop festivals". He goes on to say that the Bill can only magnify "the appalling relationships already existing between young and old" should the Bill go through.
At the worst then the words of Don Maclean's "Bye Bye Miss American Pye" are prophetically true (the music's dying) and at best (which isn't much) the establishment will be able to absorb "pop culture". The promise of 1968 has already been severely eroded by commercialisation, the musicians caught between a vast, powerful, sprawling pop industry and their own ideals and beliefs (no prizes for guessing the winner in most cases).
The Bill can only reinforce the pressures working against the musicians and the promise of 1968. Honesty and feeling will lose out to the hype and coldness of the entertainment industry. Freedom to enjoy ourselves and freedom to express ourselves are all we have got.
Nail this Bill.
On a less depressing note, we can look forward to BICKERSHAW FESTIVAL OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS AND MUSIC on May 5, 6, 7. Described as a 'Multi-Media' Festival there's Rock, Folk, Theatre, Events (an air display) and Exhibitions. The site is 15 miles from Manchester on the East Lancs Road (A508). Tickets are £2.25 in advance from 509 Bickershaw Lane, Bickershaw, Lancs for 3 days, an extra 30p will get you a canvas roof. £2.75 at the site. FURTHER DETAILS ON BACK PAGE.