The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 20th May 2010 - Small gigs exemption imminent?

Conservative peer and jazz trumpeter Anthony Colwyn suggested yesterday that licensing reform is imminent for small gigs, reports Jazzwise magazine from the 6th annual Parliamentary Jazz Awards:

Colwyn's speech had ministerial support, according to jazz journalist Sebastian Scotney:

'The only overtly political speech of the night was from Lord (Tony) Colwyn. And it contained a couple of sentences which counted: "[Culture Secretary] Jeremy Hunt will remove the restrictions on small gigs." Colwyn expressed the intention to re-instate the Liberal Democrat's Live Music Bill, and to make it into law. This commitment received the loudest applause of the night. And - maybe more significantly - it also got both a grin and a thumbs-up from Arts Minister Ed Vaizey.'

As it turns out, Vaizey does not have the licensing brief. It was announced today that this has gone to DCMS Tourism minister John Penrose. For the moment, it seems, licensing remains a DCMS function:

However, well-informed sources within the licensing industry believe that licensing will be transfered back to the Home Office, and that this will be announced in the Queen's Speech next Tuesday, 25th May, although DCMS may retain control of entertainment licensing.

Significantly, it was Home Secretary Theresa May and not Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt who yesterday announced a 'complete review' of the Licensing Act:

As a shadow licensing minister, Mrs May severely criticised the legislation during Parliamentary debate, including this comment about the changeover to the new regime in 2005:

'The Minister [then James Purnell] should now face the truth and accept the reality of what is happening. He need not accept my word, but he should accept the word of village halls, community centres, clubs and sports clubs throughout the country. He must face the truth, accept the chaos that the Act is causing and do something about it now.' [House of Commons, 12 July 2005]

But a note of caution: many licensing ministers and several DCMS Secretaries of State have come and gone since the Licensing Bill was first published in November 2002. Some senior civil servants with licensing responsibility, however, have been in post for all that time.

It will take a wily and determined minister indeed to wrest control of licensing from the Sir Humphreys within DCMS and the Home Office.


Hamish Birchall