The Live Music Forum
Hamish Birchall Bulletin
Thursday 24th July 2008 - Small gigs exemptions 'by spring 2009'
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has set a spring 2009 deadline to implement new exemptions for 'low risk' gigs.
The pledge came in a reply by Lord Davies of Oldham to Lord Clement-Jones' latest Parliamentary Question requesting a timetable for the Department's public consultation on new exemptions. (Full Q&A text at the end of this email).
The DCMS response, dated 22nd July, also confirms that the consultation is delayed. It will not now be completed 'by the summer' as announced earlier this year, but should begin 'from autumn'.
The answer may be encouraging in part, but it raises further questions. For example, DCMS says that it is 'discussing draft exemptions with representatives of the music sector' but does not identify the organisations or individuals concerned.
The first musicians' organisation that comes to mind is the Musicians' Union. But two members of the union's executive committee independently confirmed this morning that they were not aware of such discussions, and that, to the best of their knowledge, the subject had not yet been raised with the EC. This could mean that DCMS discussions on draft exemptions have been confined to senior MU officers, or that the MU has not been involved at all. Either way, not involving the union's executive committee would be a serious omission by DCMS. For one thing most EC members are active professional musicians; MU officers are not.
Of course the Licensing Act also needlessly interferes with many amateur events, such as school concerts open to family and friends.
Louise de Winter is Director of the National Campaign for the Arts, 'the UK's only independent lobbying organisation representing all the arts', providing '... a united voice for the arts, especially for arts organisations across the UK and for all artists, staff and volunteers who work in the arts' ( http://www.artscampaign.org.uk/nca/index.html ).
Significantly, Ms de Winter also represented the NCA on the DCMS Live Music Forum during its final weeks last year. Today she too confirmed that, to date, the NCA has not been party to any discussions with DCMS about draft exemptions from the Licensing Act for low risk events.
On the nature of the draft exemptions DCMS is silent, although they say they are '... taking into account the recommendations made by the Live Music Forum...'. The LMF recommendations included, as 'a matter of some urgency', an exemption for gigs where fewer than 100 people attend and an exemption for unamplified live music. [Live Music Forum, 'Findings and Recommendations', recommendations (v) and (vi), 04 July 2007: http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/lmf_forewordexcsummary.pdf ]
See also Government response to the LMF report: http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/govtresponselivemusicforum.pdf
Finally, DCMS refers to the exemptions as 'de minimis'. But according to a leading licensing lawyer, Simon Mehigan QC, this is problematic: 'It is a meaningless and empty promise because, as a matter of legal principle 'de minimis' activities are by their very nature excluded from the reach of the law. In fact the phrase de minimis comes from a longer latin phrase de minimis non curat lex, which as everyone knows means the law doesn't concern itself with trifles. What one hopes he meant to say was that areas of activity which are NOT de miminis may well be excluded from the Act as a result of this consultation.'
Full Parliamentary Q&A text:
Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government (14 July 2008): What is their current timetable for conducting a public consultation on licensing exemptions for low risk musical performances; and whether this consultation will take place over the summer. [HL4889]
Lord Davies of Oldham (22 July 2008): DCMS is currently developing options for consultation to exempt low impact ('de minimis') licensing activities from the scope of the Licensing Act 2003. As part of that work we are taking into account the recommendations made by the Live Music Forum and discussing draft exemptions with representatives of the music sector. We are aiming to consult from autumn and to have exemptions in place by spring 2009.