The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Thursday 10th January 2008 - Small gigs exemption - no date yet for consultation

Lord Davies of Oldham, speaking for the government in the House of Lords yesterday, Wednesday 09 January, restated the government pledge for a public consultation later this year on an entertainment licensing exemption for 'low-risk music events'. But he did not mention a date, and in response to further questions from Baroness Bonham Carter and others, seemed deliberately vague about government intentions.

[Debate text and Hansard link below]

Lord Davies put up the current government defence: 'foretellings of doom' for live music in the wake of the Licensing Act had not materialised; damage to live music 'not great'; there's £500k for a few new rehearsal spaces.

Unsurprisingly he did not mention that the warnings he so lightly dismissed were made in response to the government's Licensing Bill, published in November 2002. The Bill proposed that all churches be licensed for secular performances, reversing an exemption for churches outside London that had existed since 1982. It rendered any musician participating in an illegal unlicensed gig potentially guilty of a criminal offence unless they had made strenuous efforts to ensure the venue was appropriately licensed beforehand and been given wrong information. It included no exemption for 'incidental' live music, nor any concession for small venues.  And of course, it abolished the historic exemption for one or two musicians in bars.  These absurdly draconian measures were enthusiastically supported by most Labour MPs. They were only overturned or mitigated because of a forceful public and press campaign, strong opposition from Liberal Democrat and Conservative Peers and in the case of church concerts, the bishops.

As for assessing the damage caused to live music by the Act, the government's latest research, published on 17 December 2007, is wholly unreliable.  Indeed, the survey seems almost designed by DCMS to fudge such an assessment.  The Live Music Forum report of 04 July 2007, based on different research and 3 years monitoring the legislation, concluded that the Act damaged small gigs. It called on the government to amend the Act as a matter of urgency. Independently, the Musicians' Union came to the same conclusion and made the same recommendation.  The LMF was disbanded by the government after its report was published, and before the government conducted its 'final' live music/licensing research. This despite the fact that a key LMF remit was to evaluate the impact of the Act on live music.

Among Lord Davies' woolly answers yesterday, however, there was a suggestion that the government wanted to put pub pianos outside licensing. At the moment, unless kept locked (official advice from DCMS), their provision in that context is illegal unless licensed as an 'entertainment facility'. 

Such an exemption would require amendment of the Licensing Act itself. The entertainment facilities section (Sch.1, para 3, read in conjunction with para 1) covers not only the provision of pianos, but any musical instrument or music amplification, if intended to assist people in 'making music', even for their own amusement. Private events are caught too, if entertainment facilities - which include the venue or space - are made available for a charge with a view to profit.

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House of Lords - Wednesday 10 January 2008 Hansard link:

Licensing: Live Music

3.28 pm
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the survey was commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to assess live music provision in 2007 in venues whose primary activity was not the staging of live music. While the survey suggested that there had been a fall in live music in such venues since 2004, it found that the Licensing Act was not a major factor. Nevertheless, the Government are looking at how the regime might be adjusted to encourage more live music by, for example, allowing licensing authorities more discretion over exemptions for low-risk music events. We expect to issue a full public consultation later this year.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The fact is that, despite what the Government said during the passage of the Licensing Act that there would be an explosion of live music there has, as he said, been an overall decrease, of 5 per cent, in live music performed in venues across England and Wales. While the Government have said that they are looking at proposals to rectify this sad state of affairs, could he be specific about what they are?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I indicated, we are consulting on ways in which we can reduce burdens in certain areas. I emphasise to the House that the drop in live music is not great. Some had predicted that the Licensing Act would have a very significant effect and it clearly has not. A very substantial proportion of those venues that do not put on live music actually have licences. What is reflected is the response of pubs and restaurants more to the market than to the obligations under the Licensing Act.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, over 100 years ago, a landlord, without an entertainment licence, could lawfully keep a piano for the amusement of his customers. Today, he could be fined £20,000 and sent to jail for six months. Does the Minister really believe that the Licensing Act and its criminalisation of thousands of innocuous and historically exempt gigs is an effective regime for the 21st century?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord produces a wonderfully extreme illustration of the Licensing Act. Of course, such condign punishments would be directed at major venues that had produced a huge public nuisance and caused widespread dismay. The pub piano scarcely falls into that category. I assure him that in the consultation that the noble Baroness urges us to undertake, we want to ensure that it is exactly the piano in the pub corner and so on that is outwith the licensing obligations.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, as this consultation goes forward, will my noble friend ensure that particular attention is paid to the impact of the Licensing Act and, indeed, other influences on small, informal venues that are used by young artists, particularly young classical artists, early in their career? They are very dependent on venues such as churches and small halls being available. It is most important that the Act has no adverse impact on those venues, whether advertently or inadvertently.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that point is well made by my noble friend. In response to this survey, my right honourable friend in the other place, James Purnell, the Secretary of State, announced that he is making £500,000 available over two years towards setting up pilot, professionally equipped, community rehearsal spaces for young people. This is an area of concern and we are addressing that. There are areas where some unexpected consequences or developments in the past four years need to be attended to. We will use the consultation to address the kind of issue raised by my noble friend and others.

Lord McNally: My Lords, instead of reinventing the wheel, can I suggest to the Minister that he reads the Committee stage of the Bill that led to this Act, where he will find speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, and my noble friend Lord Redesdale? They warned of exactly this problem but faced a wall of complacency from the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which is mirrored by the Minister's complacency today.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend Lord McIntosh expressed the same degree of confidence in advance of the Act that I am able to express today; namely, that those who foresaw that the Licensing Act would have a devastating effect on live music have been proved wrong. I would be the last to suggest that the two contributors to our useful debates identified by the noble Lord were in that category, but there were foretellings of doom that have just not been fulfilled in the developments since the Act.



Hamish Birchall