The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 27th January 2011 - Penrose - wavering or drowning?

Licensing minister John Penrose has suggested that plans to cut red tape for live music are out of his hands, and dependent on consent from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office.
In a Westminster Hall debate last Tuesday, 25th January, he said:
'In the case of the licensing regime, a great many people have concerns. Musicians' unions, for example, are calling for deregulation. My hon. Friend [Tony Baldry, Banbury, Con] will understand that if one chose to go down that route, it would be important to make sure that there were no unintended consequences. There are real risks associated with live entertainment of one kind or another, simply because it can involve a large number of people in a comparatively small space. There are therefore concerns about health and safety, the disturbance caused by people arriving at and leaving a venue, public order and so on. All those issues have to be dealt with, so the devil in deregulating, or reducing the amount of regulation involved in, the licensing of entertaining is very much in the detail.

'I am, however, happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we are in the middle of discussions. I hope to have something to announce in due course, but that will rather depend on collective responsibility. My hon. Friend will understand that other Whitehall Departments are concerned to ensure that the right things are done on, for example, health and safety legislation or public order. The Department for Work and Pensions would be involved on health and safety, while the Home Office would be involved on public order. They have to sign off and approve these things, which have to be carefully and properly considered so that everybody is sure that we are not creating an unintended consequence.'
Safety risks arising from of 'a large number of people in a comparatively small space' are already addressed in health and safety and fire safety legislation.  The potential for nuisance is addressed in environmental legislation.  Crime and disorder is similarly addressed by separate legislation.  This wide-ranging legislative framework is deemed quite adequate by the government to regulate such risks where big screen broadcast entertainment is provided in pubs, bars, restaurants, city centres and indeed anywhere in England and Wales.
The only arguable justification for a licensing regime pre-emptively criminalising the provision of live music subject to prior consent from the public or the local authority, or both, is where there is the potential for a significant negative impact on the local community that cannot be adequately regulated by existing legislation.
This is clearly not the case for the vast majority of small gigs taking place within reasonable hours.
For the umpteenth time a minister directly involved in the deregulation debate fails to grasp this by the horns and explain why live music should be a special case.

Hamish Birchall