The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Friday 13th November 2009 - Small gigs exemption unlikely before election

Despite creating an impression of urgency, the government is unlikely to be able to implement an entertainment licensing exemption for small gigs before the general election.

It looks increasingly as if the licensing minister's dramatic exemption u-turn, leaked to the Guardian on 21st October by DCMS, the eve of the Equity and MU demonstration, was a damage limitation exercise. Scoops tend to discourage coverage in other papers:

The following day Gerry Sutcliffe claimed on BBC radio that the the government wanted to act 'very quickly' (You & Yours, 22 October). But his praiseworthy intention has been undermined by the latest government replies to questions raised by Liberal Democrat peer Tim Clement-Jones.

Responding to a question about the timescale of the public consultation, Lord Davies of Oldham said:

'We hope to publish the [small gigs exemption] consultation this year and will consult for the usual 12 week period.'

DCMS has yet to announce the proposed exemption or the consultation on its website - despite the fact that they first raised the possibility of a small gigs exemption consultation two years ago in response to recommendations of the then Live Music Forum:

'We accept the spirit of these recommendations and will explore options for allowing certain low risk live music performances to be exempt from licensing requirements, in addition to the existing exemption for incidental music. This is unlikely to result in a blanket exemption, but we will look at finding a meaningful way to exempt those events that are self evidently of low risk to the licensing objectives. This is likely to be pursued through the de minimis exemption route on which we plan to consult next year [2008] but we will also explore other options.'
['Government's Response to the Live Music Forum Report', published by DCMS 17 December 2007, para 19]

Last Monday, 9th November, the Guardian reported concerns from Feargal Sharkey and others about the delayed consultation:

But the timescale problem is not so much the consultation. Rather it is the means by which the minister proposes to amend the Licensing Act: the Legislative Reform Order (LRO). Typically these take over six months to progress through Parliament, due partly to close scrutiny by the Regulatory Reform Committee. Controversial reforms inevitably result in delays arising from amendments negotiated between the Committee and the originating department. For an overview:

This tortuous process is of course fully understood by the DCMS licensing team. They chaperoned the Licensing Act's 'minor variations' amendment by this route earlier this year.

Undoubtedly this issue will be high on the agenda of representatives of Equity and the MU, and MPs on the Performers Alliance Parliamentary Group, when they meet Gerry Sutcliffe at DCMS next Tuesday, 17th November.

With Labour's general election prospects not looking good, campaigners must keep up the pressure, focussing particularly on the Conservatives. The party has already backed the recommendations of the all-party Culture Committee, chaired by John Whittingdale MP, including the exemption for venues up to 200-capacity.


Hamish Birchall