The Live Music Forum
Hamish Birchall Bulletin
Tuesday 16th June 2009 - Lib Dems announce live music Bill
Liberal Democrat peer Tim Clement-Jones is to introduce a Private Member's Bill to exempt a range of small gigs from the Licensing Act 2003.
His announcement came yesterday towards the end of the House of Lords debate on the government's 'Minor Variations' amendment:
'I therefore intend to introduce a Private Member?s Bill that will provide a conditional exemption for live music in small venues licensed under the Licensing Act 2003. This exemption will be conditional on Section 177 [which applies to venues up to 200 capacity], which will be triggered so that a licence for live music can be reviewed, and if complaints by local residents are made, then there can be a full, proper hearing. The second element of the Private Member?s Bill will be to reintroduce the two-in-a-bar rule so that any performance of unamplified live music by up to two people will be exempt from the need for a licence. Thirdly, the Private Member?s Bill will provide a total exemption for hospitals, schools and colleges from the requirement to obtain a licence for live music when providing entertainment where alcohol is not sold and the entertainment involves no more than 200 people.'
Earlier in the debate the government admitted that they had abandoned plans to consult on further exemptions for at least a year and made clear that their hopes were now pinned on the new Minor Variations process. Licensing spokesperson Lord Carter of Barnes said:
'The Government undertake to review the situation in a year?s time when the minor variations and the other initiatives outlined have had time to take effect. If necessary, we will revisit the subject of exemptions.'
Worryingly, Lord Carter suggested that this position had been agreed with the Musicians' Union:
'.... I have been reliably informed?and I pressed officials on this point?that it proved impossible to agree on exemptions that would deliver an increase in live music but still protect the rights of local residents. It is not the case that the Government have turned their eye to this question, but rather that we have sought to find a balance of interest. On this basis, the Government have agreed with the Musicians? Union and the LACORS to explore other ways of encouraging live music.'
He later added:
'It [the MU] recognises the potential of minor variations to increase live music provision. It has formed a new group with local authorities to explain and promote the benefits of the new process for live music. The group is also developing a communications programme to explain the current exemption for incidental music, which we accept has had a limited effect, and will see whether it can tackle other live music issues as they arise.'
This close MU involvement is not apparent on the public area of the union website, however. It is unclear whether or not the grass-roots membership have been formally notified or indeed what their reaction might be. See www.musiciansunion.org.uk
The union's latest collaboration with the government seems inconsistent with their public position on entertainment licensing. In June 2007, after a long period of deliberation, the union publicly announced its objection in principle to entertainment licensing for most gigs, and recommended an exemption for small-scale performances:
'...we strongly believe that there is a clear case for such an exemption to be introduced for venues with a capacity of 100 or less.'
General Secretary John Smith concluded: 'We urge the government to seriously consider the above recommendations from the MU. The Act is unlikely to deliver the government?s promised improvements to the live music scene in England and Wales unless they are acted upon.'
On 15 May this year, the MU welcomed the Culture Committee's recommendation to exempt venues up to 200 capacity:
Seasoned followers of the entertainment licensing debate will no doubt feel a sense of deja vu - echoes of the government's misleading and manifestly unsuccessful collaborative information pack produced in 2004 with the MU to promote the 'benefits of the Act' for live music.
Lord Clement-Jones was ably supported in yesterday's debate by Lords Colwyn, Redesdale and Lord Howard of Rising. Read the full transcript: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldhansrd/text/90615-0013.htm#09061538000351
It is not yet clear when Lord Clement-Jones' Bill will be brought forward.
But his announcement ensures that the entertainment licensing debacle
will continue in Parliament for a long time yet.