The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Tuesday 12th December 2006 - DCMS to clarify 'incidental music' exemption

Yesterday, Mon 11 December 2006, DCMS published its 'simplification plan', part of a government drive to cut red tape and associated costs:

Licensing is the focus of the DCMS response to the Better Regulation Commission (BRC).  Among the measures proposed is 'Clarification of "incidental" music provisions':

'To make clear in legislation that the policy intention is to exclude e.g. carol singers, buskers, puppet shows for children and poetry readings from requiring a licence. This measure would most likely be delivered via regulation / and or Guidance.'

['Lifting the burden - Improving and realising community capacity', DCMS December 2006, 'Areas to be explored to achieve further reductions in administrative burdens', p23, para H - see URL above]

The deadline for implementation of any agreed changes is March 2007. Note that the Act includes a provision that allows the Secretary of State by order to add, vary or remove descriptions of entertainment (Schedule 1, Part 1, para 4).

This DCMS simplification measure is encouraging - as far as it goes. But it does not go very far. It does not suggest, for example, that there will be clarification for a small bar advertising a low-key, weekly gig.

In published advice, both DCMS and local authorities have strongly implied that advertising disapplies the 'incidental' exemption - despite the fact that advertising is not mentioned in the Act or Licensing Guidance.  As DCMS revealed last week, about 40% of small venues have no live music authorisation.  Clarification of the incidental exemption for such venues is therefore vital. A liberal interpretation, unless there were complaints, is the common-sense approach. Even for a small venue this could represent substantial cost savings.

Since the government's new fire safety regulations came into force on 01 October, the rationale for entertainment licensing live music as a secondary business in a bar is now solely about pre-empting noise complaints. The government has yet to produce any evidence that live music is a greater source of complaints than recorded music, or noisy punters outside. In the transition to the new licensing regime all pubs and bars were allowed to keep their recorded sound systems automatically. They are also, of course, free to provide broadcast entertainment with unlimited amplification.  The government clearly accepts that existing noise legislation available to local authorities is adequate - indeed it now includes provisions that apply specifically to noisy licensed premises, 11pm-7am.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the BRC's response to the DCMS plan is lukewarm:

'We will be looking for the department to explore a broader range of simplification options across its entire policy framework with a view to producing a richer plan next year. Currently we see only patchy evidence of high level leadership or pervasive cultural change. There needs to be more determined leadership in support of a shift in the Better Regulation culture within the department.'

See:  and scroll down to Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Hamish Birchall