The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Friday 16th October 2009 - Police 'horror' at 200-capacity gig licensing exemption

"It fills me with absolute horror. I guarantee if this does come in, it would be changed within a couple of years."

So said Chief Inspector Adrian Studd of the Metropolitan police, reacting earlier this week to a proposed entertainment licensing exemption for live music in venues up to 200-capacity. His comments, made at the Music Tank licensing seminar last Tuesday in response to the exemption in Lord Clement-Jones' live music bill, are quoted in yesterday's Morning Advertiser:

According to this report, the police fear that such an exemption would lead to violence.

A Guardian blogger who attended the Music Tank event also quotes Studd on the exemption: 'If we set a number like that, all venues would claim they have a 199 capacity. And if we exempted jazz, everyone would call themselves jazz musicians."

CI Studd's depressing remarks call to mind a notorious police statement of 2003. This was invoked by the government in Parliamentary debate on 3rd July 2003 as justification for their opposition to a similar small gig exemption proposed by Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers:

'Live music always acts as a magnet in whatever community it is being played. It brings people from outside that community and having no connection locally behave in a way that is inappropriate, criminal and disorderly.'
[letter dated 2nd July 2003 to Tessa Jowell from Chris Fox, then president of the Association of Chief Police Officers]

Although the police later backtracked slightly from this ludicrous generalisation, it seems that live music still terrifies them, but for no clear reason.

In fact there is no evidence of any significant link between small live gigs and serious violence. To the best of my knowledge, the Home Office does not even bother to keep statistics on violent crime at or near live music venues.

Moreover, the bars and restaurants where Lord Clement-Jones' 200-capacity exemption would apply are those already licensed for the sale of alcohol under the Licensing Act 2003, and therefore subject to statutory police and local authority powers of intervention, review, and possible closure, if there is any serious trouble. All workplaces have a statutory duty under separate safety legislation to make risk assessments for all activities taking place, including live music. This includes fire risk assessments, agreed with the local fire service, which effectively determine a safe capacity for all workplaces. Lord Clement-Jones' exemption is also narrowly defined, applying solely to live music, not recorded music or dancing. Nightclubs would not qualify. The other venues where the exemption would apply are hospitals, schools and care homes - not usually associated with serious violent crime.

But it is not only the police who seem unable to shake an irrational fear of live music. The Local Government Association is gripped by the same phobia, and is gearing up to fight any possible relaxation of criminal law sanctions for live gigs, even by one unamplified musician in a bar. On 14th October, Chris White, chair of the LGA Culture Committee, announced:

'... The [LGA Culture] Board agreed that de minimis exemptions for live music based on crowd size only are not acceptable, as crowd size is not a viable means of determining whether or not a particular performance of live music will contravene one of the licensing act objectives. '

His statement hypes up the LGA collaboration with Musicians Union in promoting the new 'minor variations' process and 'leaflets' for local authorities and licensees clarifying the 'incidental music' exemption. But the £89 application is only of potential benefit to premises that already have a premises licence under the Act. It offers no help whatever to places like hospitals or schools that are, typically, unlicensed. It is also something of a gamble in that it will be refused if a licensing officer believes there might be a noise complaint.

Councillor White is based in St Albans, the town where campaigners recently uncovered scores of council conditions on live music in pubs and bars restricting the number of musicians and even genres of music:

St Albans council denied responsibility for these conditions, arguing that they were 'volunteered' by licensees. But this usually happens when licensees know that their application is likely to be refused, or otherwise made difficult.

Despite repeated requests, the LGA has never answered these simple questions: 'What risks from a small gig in bar or restaurant cannot be addressed by existing legislation, irrespective of entertainment licensing?'; and 'In what way is existing noise and safety legislation inadequate to regulate a small gig in a bar or restaurant?'

Separate legislation is, of course, deemed perfectly adequate by the government to regulate crowds watching a big match on widescreen tv in a pub or indeed anywhere. That entertainment is already exempt from entertainment licensing.

It is hoped that Lord Clement-Jones' live music bill will be re-presented to Parliament after the Queen's Speech:


Hamish Birchall