The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 18th November 2010 - Coalition wavering on small gigs exemption ?

Coalition plans to cut red tape for live music have been postponed.

Hints of the reasons why appear in recent correspondence between licensing minister John Penrose and Phil Little of the original Live Music Forum about the entertainment licence exemption for small gigs, a solution backed by the music industry, performers unions, and the All Party Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

In a letter dated 5th November, the minister wrote:

'I promise I haven't given up or simply "parked" the issue but finding an answer which solves the problems without opening unwanted public safety loopholes elsewhere isn't easy.'

And on 17th November: '...I am aware of the points you raise and will bear them in mind as I develop the policy which will, as you know, need to be agreed across Government before I can make any announcement.' (See click on 'Documents').

But this is very strange. Public safety arguments against a small gigs exemption faded from the Parliamentary licensing debate some time ago, partly because of a greater understanding about the scope of existing safety legislation, and partly because of new fire safety legislation that came into force in 2006 (Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005).

And only a few months ago the minister was talking optimistically in Parliament about a 'radical solution'. See Hansard, 21 June 2010:

At that time, the word on the music industry grapevine was that Penrose was poised to agree an historic live music exemption with the Local Government Association, following intensive talks.

So what has gone wrong, and why is he now resurrecting public safety concerns about live music?

In an attempt to find out, Lord Clement-Jones has this week tabled a written question (search on the page for 'Clement'):

Penrose's reference to agreement 'across Government' probably means that the Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) are making trouble behind the scenes.

A reliable Parliamentary source claims that Home Office licensing mandarins believe that Lord Clement-Jones' live music bill, which would implement a 200-audience gig exemption, 'drives a coach and horses' through the Licensing Act.

If this claim is true, it would mean that ignorance and prejudice are once again in the ascendant. The exemption debate will be set back by years rather than months.

It would seem that the best hope for an entertainment licensing exemption now rests with Lord Clement-Jones' bill, backed by the whole music industry. A second reading is due early next year.

Text of the bill:


Hamish Birchall