The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Circular

Saturday 10th September 2011 - DCMS to scrap entertainment licensing

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport today launched its long-awaited public consultation on scrapping entertainment licensing for all but very large events.

DCMS press release:

Links to consultation document (44 pages, 48 questions) and impact assessment:

Tourism minister John Penrose said of his promise to cut licensing red tape: “.... I want to set a match to all this nonsense, and trust sensible people to act sensibly, with regulation retained only where rightly needed to keep audiences and performances safe.”

Under the proposals, already warmly welcomed by performers unions, the music industry and arts organisations, entertainment licensing would cease to apply to performances of music, dance, films and plays for audiences up to 5,000.

The consultation is open until 03 December.  Responses can be emailed to
Or by post to:Nigel Wakelin, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London W1Y 5DH

But what does this mean for Lord Clement-Jones' live music bill? Backed by the government and the opposition in the House of Lords, it sets out entertainment licence exemptions for gigs with audiences up to 200. The bill is also backed by performers, performers unions, many arts organisations and the music industry. Although modest in its aims when set against the sweeping deregulation now being proposed, it could be implemented by next spring - provided government support continues.

By contrast, it will take DCMS at least that long to evaluate the thousands of responses expected in this latest consultation.  Addressing the likely objections from residents associations, the police and local authorities, could also take many months. Legislation could take at least a year to implement.

Last Tuesday, Music Week, which had early sight of the DCMS announcement, suggested that government support for the bill was waning: 'It was also thought that the Government might at one time put its weight behind that.'

If this were the case, Lord Clement-Jones' bill would almost certainly fail, probably by not being given time in the Commons.  Private members bills rarely succeed without government backing.  Allowing the bill to fail in favour of the bigger prize of radical reform would be a risky strategy.  Live music suffered particularly badly under the Licensing Act - the historic exemption for one or two performers in pubs and bars was lost, while DJs and big screen sport were given a free pass.  Small gigs need help now.

But contrary to Music Week's suggestion, today's DCMS consultation document explicitly confirms continued government support for the live music bill:

'4. The Coalition Agreement committed to cutting red tape to encourage the performance of more live music. 4.1. We intend to honour this agreement in two ways. The first is to honour our public commitment to support the Live Music Bill, a Private Member’s Bill tabled in 2010 in the House of Lords by Lord Clement Jones, which followed a recommendation for live music deregulation by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in 2009 and a full public consultation on the subject in 2010. Because of this, the Live Music Bill is not the subject of this consultation.'
[p20, 'Regulated Entertainment - A consultation proposal to examine the deregulation of Schedule 1 of the Licensing Act 2003', September 2011]

So it would seem the government has a twin-track approach: if the radical deregulation runs into trouble, the live music bill at least should lead to modest reform soon.

Licensing minister John Penrose first hinted at radical entertainment licensing deregulation last year, responding to a question from culture select committee chairman John Whittingdale (see note below). On 15 May this year, in a Sunday Times piece entitled 'No more licences to party' by Marie Woolf, Penrose said: 'As long as we have proper controls on alcohol, and spectator safety and noise nuisance are controlled, the rest is mostly bonkers red tape, and it’s time we consigned it to the bin.'

The following day, 16 May, Coalition culture spokesman Don Foster MP provided more information on his website and optimistically suggested that the consultation would take place in June:

Live music campaigners have long called for most, if not all, live music to be removed from entertainment licensing, a position shared by the Musicians' Union and UK Music, the lobbying body for the music industry.

In a recent interview, Feargal Sharkey, CEO of UK Music, said: 'We don't think that live music, overall, should have anything to do with the Licensing Act whatsoever. In terms of the smaller premises, we're somewhat confused and bewildered that anybody thinks that regulating those kind of small-scale venues and pubs is either reasonable, necessary or, indeed, proportionate.' ['Still getting his kicks (from pubs)', Morning Advertiser, 25 August 2011]

'Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee - that there should be an exemption for smaller venues of a capacity below 200 - was supported by the previous Government, who were intending to introduce a regulatory order to provide an exemption for venues of a capacity below 150, and that there was widespread disappointment that that was not done? Will he confirm that he sees no need for any further consultation and that he will move to introduce the necessary order as soon as possible?
'John Penrose: My concern is that my hon. Friend's proposal goes for a particular solution when there might be a broader and potentially more radical solution that should also be considered. If we go for other alternatives, we will need to consult on them, but if we decide to go down the route of ideas that have already been thoroughly canvassed, I would obviously want to move as fast as possible and reduce the level of consultation to the bare legal minimum.'  [House of Commons, Oral questions - Music Venues - Mon 21 June 2010]


Hamish Birchall