The Live Music Forum


Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Friday 5th June 2009 - Minor Variations, better than a clip round the ear ?


Minor variations - 'Please sir, may I have some more?' The House of Lords licensing debate, forced on the government by Lib Dem peer Tim Clement-Jones, will take place on Monday 15 June at about 7.30pm (see motion below).

It will focus on the government's controversial 'minor variations' amendment to the Licensing Act 2003, which proposes that venues may make small changes to their licence within a month for a fee of £89, instead of hundreds of pounds and at least two months for the existing variation process.

But even the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has warned that many live music applications would not qualify as a minor variation, and licensing experts have already criticised the amendment as of limited value.  Where small gigs are concerned, 'minor variations' is like the workhouse master charging Oliver Twist for his second helping - better than a clip round the ear, perhaps. 

Lord Clement-Jones' motion draws attention to the government's failure, despite its many promises, and the recent recommendations of the Culture Media and Sport Committee, to implement any exemption for small-scale performances.  He identifies section 177 of the Act as a provision that might be amended to that effect.  Section 177 is a complex - some would say unworkable - provision introduced by the government in the late stages of debate on the then Licensing Bill in June 2003.  It 'suspended' certain licence conditions for live music in venues up to 200 capacity, but it was no exemption.  Under pressure at the time, the Lib Dems accepted it, with the exemption for morris dancing, in exchange for withdrawing their support of a Conservative small gig exemption amendment.  After the dust had settled, however, it became clear that s177 was practically useless.  To the best of my knowledge no venue, and no local authority, has ever used it. 

Criticism of the government's handling of the Licensing Act and live music surfaced again in the House of Lords yesterday.  During a debate on the creative industries, Lord Anthony Colwyn said:

'... This restrictive legislation has had serious implications for jazz.  It has removed hundreds of venues where young musicians can perform and learn to play to an audience.  As a result of extensive lobbying, the Government [actually the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is independent of government] announced on 18 July 2008 an examination of the effects of the Licensing Act and the impact on live music.  In evidence, the committee heard from UK Music and the licensed trade that the Act was harming small gigs.  Despite that, the Government seem now to have abandoned their promise to hold in the spring of this year a public consultation on further exemptions for low-risk performances.'


The Minor Variations debate motion reads:

Legislative Reform (Minor Variations to Premises Licences and Club Premises Certificates) Order 2009 Lord Carter of Barnes to move that the draft Legislative Reform Order laid before the House on 26 March be approved. 7th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee ( Dinner break business )

Lord Clement-Jones to move, as an amendment to the above motion, at end to insert “but that this House regrets the Government’s decision to proceed with the draft Legislative Reform Order before section 177 of the Licensing Act 2003 has been amended to provide for an effective exemption of some performances of live music in certain small premises.”

See  and search on the page for 'Clement'.


Hamish Birchall