The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 22nd October 2009 - Government u-turn on small gigs exemption

Small gigs could be exempt from entertainment licensing within months if a government u-turn to be announced in Parliament today succeeds, according to an online Guardian report published early yesterday evening:

The proposed 100-capacity venue exemption, preceded by a 12-week public consultation, is apparently to be announced by licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe today during the Parliamentary debate on the government response to the Culture Committee's recommendations.

Significantly, the Guardian report claims that the minister will say that '... there are already sufficient measures in place to deal with noise and anti-social behaviour...' and that '... the government will prevent problematic venues from holding gigs if there are complaints made against them.'

Only last month, in correspondence with Labour MP Roger Berry, Sutcliffe justified the criminalisation of pub pianos unless licensed on the grounds that they were only 'theoretically innocuous' and that it had '... proved impossible to reach agreement [with local authorities] on an exemption which would promote live music but also protect local residents from noise and nuisance.'

The timing of the u-turn is clearly in response to the concerted lobbying of campaigners, UK Music, and today's demonstration outside Parliament organised by Equity and the Musicians Union.

But as John Whittingdale says in the Guardian report, although this is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. He adds: 'We have already had consultations; this has been debated interminably. Our recommendation was for venues of up to 200 people to be exempted and in our view the evidence for the exemption is clear and should be acted upon immediately.'

In fact, under the Licensing Act (Sch. 1, para 4) the DCMS secretary of state has the power to modify the descriptions of entertainment 'by order'. This means that a small gigs exemption could be implemented within weeks if the government wished.

This policy u-turn appears to have been leaked yesterday by the government exclusively to the Guardian. It was not made in a DCMS press release and would seem to be another example of government policy being announced to favoured newspaper before being announced in Parliament.


Hamish Birchall