The Live Music Forum
Hamish Birchall Bulletin
Saturday 24th October 2009 - Small gig exemption - 'We want to act very quickly' says minister
Licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe says the government wants 'to act very quickly' to implement a new small gigs exemption.
His pledge came during an interview on BBC Radio 4 You & Yours last Thursday, 22 October: 'I couldn't put a timetable to it because you know we have a consultation period that we will have to have, but you know what I'm saying and I think the intention that we're giving, it's very clear that we want to act very quickly.'
He also suggested that his 100-capacity exemption proposal was open to negotiation: 'Well I think we will consult on the figure. I've said 100 and clearly we'll work with the bodies. But as I said earlier it is a very emotive issue and you've got to make sure that you strike the right balance so that musicians can perform, but residents have the right not to have the noise nuisance.'
The minister's BBC interview coincided with the Equity and MU demonstration outside Parliament. See below for a transcript and a link to the BBC report. Significantly perhaps he did not repeat the promise of swift implementation during the Parliamentary debate later that same afternoon.
There is no question in my mind that the demonstration triggered the government's u-turn and that Equity must take credit for taking a lead and pushing the government into action. While the MU did join in, they had been trailing lamely behind in the wider campaign until Equity made the decision to act.
During the Westminster Hall debate, John Whittingdale and other MPs were damning in their criticism of the Act's live music provisions. But the minister appeared to listen sympathetically, and in responding struck a conciliatory note:
'I do not support local government being aggressive by putting preventions in place to stop live music. We must strike the right balance.'
Nonetheless, he tried to hype the latest entertainment licensing statistics published by DCMS that very morning (but still no press release announcing the proposed small gigs exemption):
'Significantly, today's statistics show that there has been an 11 per
cent increase in premises licences with live music authorisation between
2007 and 2009.'
As usual, these statistics are almost meaningless. They do not measure actual live music provision, and a paper permission for live music does not necessarily mean that having live music is legal. Unless local authority licence conditions are implemented by the licensee, such as fitting noise limiters, or providing door supervisers, putting on a live gig would remain a potential criminal offence.
In fact, most of the minister's claimed increase in live music permissions is likely to be local authorities licensing their own premises, including open spaces and streets. And, even if the apparent year on year percentage increase (5%) were actual music venues, it would still take at least a decade to reach 100%, assuming the overall total of licensed premises remained approximately the same.
But the minister did at last acknowledge the faults of the Act's 'entertainment facilities' provision, promising to amend it so that pub pianos would not be caught:
'As part of the clarification, the consultation will propose a change to the definition of "entertainment facilities" so that the mere provision of musical instruments, such as a pub piano, is not licensable. '
Links to a video of the debate and Hansard printed copy:
BBC You & Yours - Thursday 22 October 2009 - transcript of extract
featuring licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe
Gerry Sutcliffe: Well we're going to respond to the select committee's report about live music and we're minded to get an exemption or seek an exemption for small venues of perhaps under 100. And we think we can if we can get all party support, take that through the new process of legislative reform orders, that will give us the opportunity to get this in play. We've been working with the music industry, working with local authorities to try and make sure that we try to that we try and help the performance of live music.
BBC interviewer Winifred Robinson: Well it was only a few months ago that the Culture select committee came up with its suggestions and at the time they were rejected, so what has happened since then, what's changed?
Sutcliffe: Well we've been working with the um, a variety of bodies. The difficulty is that er, you know it is a very emotive subject there's a difference of opinion between local government and local residents about the level of music. So we've been working all over this period, since the committee's report, there's a working group that has been set up by local government and by the Musicians' Union and bodies like that who have been working together to try and promote live music.
Robinson: In 2003, before the Act was passed, Equity was making the point that it's made today that this legislation was excessive, that it was excessive to go for licensing that took in very small premises. Couldn't you have made things a lot easier for everyone if you had just listened back then?
Sutcliffe: Well I think that if you listen to the other side of the argument you know from local government, they say that their residents should have the opportunity to comment, and be involved with decisions about noise and music, and I believe that it is about striking the right balance. We believe that the Act has benefitted two thirds of the venues, but it is these small venues where people, you know, perform at the beginning of their careers or perform for pleasure that we need to make sure we get right. And I'm confident that the good will that seems to be around now will help us do that.
Robinson: Equity want a small venue to be under 200 people, you're going for under 100. Is there any more room for movement there?
Sutcliffe: Well I think we will consult on the figure. I've said 100 and clearly we'll work with the bodies. But as I said earlier it is a very emotive issue and you've got to make sure that you strike the right balance so that musicians can perform, but residents have the right not to have the noise nuisance.
Robinson: What about the objection then from Equity that what we are left with is is a system which doesn't strike the right balance because there is so much red tape still. The Metropolitan Police for example have to fill in what's called a 696 Form. They have to list the type of singer who's going to appear, the style of music, who's going to be in the audience, that it's bureaucracy gone mad?
Sutcliffe: I don't think so in that case, and we've had good strong discussions with the Met police about the issues there. And that form has changed from its original intention. We've brought in now minor variations that speed up the process, that make it er, most venues have licences anyway now, we're talking about smaller venues where there have been difficulties in the past. We now want to try and make sure that up to 100 can be accommodated, we will listen to all sides and make decisions very quickly. And if we're able to get all party support we can have this order through very quickly.
Robinson: And how quickly's 'very quickly'?
Sutcliffe: Well in Parliamentary terms it er, you know, will take some time to draft it and put it through but I would hope very much a speedier way of doing things than actually bringing forward primary legislation.
Robinson: When? In time for Christmas?
Sutcliffe: I couldn't put a timetable to it because you know we have a consultation period that we will have to have, erm, but you know what I'm saying and I think the intention that we're giving, it's very clear that we want to act very quickly. The Secretary of State wants to write to other political parties as soon as possible and if we can get it done before Christmas we would want to do that, but obviously we are governed by the Parliamentary timetable.