Live music: government backs Lib Dem peer’s bill

The Publican reports:

Live Music Bill gets government backing

Baroness Rawlings, a government spokesperson, told the House of Lords the coalition will help the private members’ Bill become law, but with caveats.

The Bill, tabled by Lib Dem Lord Clement-Jones, includes plans to offer a licensing exemption to pubs that host gigs attracting an audience of 200 or fewer. It tallies with The Publican’s own Listen Up! campaign.

But Baroness Rawlings said certain criteria had to be met for the Bill to get the coalition’s full support…

Lord Clement-Jones said he was “delighted” the Bill had received such a “positive reception”.

He later added: “The Live Music Bill will benefit hundreds of small pubs, restaurants and church and community halls who want live music at their venue by generally removing the need to apply for a complicated licence.

“I’m glad the government has responded so positively to this Bill and I look forward to working with them to fulfil the coalition agreement’s pledge to put an end to red tape and bureaucracy.” (Hat-tip: Vote Clegg, Get Clegg)

This is an issue which Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster has also been long campaigning on because, as he wrote for us last summer,

Guitar being played at a gigLarge premises such as Earls Court or the O2 Arena have had great success. But new artists need a place to hone their craft and gig goers want a diverse music culture. Meanwhile, small venues such as pubs, clubs and cafés have suffered in the recession. They need the freedom to stage music events and get punters through their doors.

What they have instead is the Licensing Act 2003, which is nothing short of a bureaucratic minefield. The Act removed previous exemptions for smaller performances and requires most live music to have a licence. For too many organisers and venue owners, it simply isn’t worth the effort. Even when music isn’t the main focus – when a restaurant only wants a pianist in the corner – the owners have to fill out the same amount of paperwork as they would for a much larger venue. Instead, they don’t bother, and a musician is out of a job.

The House of Commons DCMS Select Committee concluded that the Act hampered live music performances, especially ones by young musicians. The previous government had promised an ‘explosion’ in live music; instead, they are impeding the next generation of performers. A DCMS report claimed that live music was ‘thriving’, but could provide no evidence that this was true in small venues.

Making it easier for smaller venues to put on live music would not open the floodgates for anti-social behaviour, as some fear. There’s no evidence that staging live music leads to crime or disorder any more than other kinds of public gathering. Excessively noisy premises can already be served noise abatement orders under the Environmental Protection Act, or fined under the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act. And the exemptions we have been calling for would still be subject to review should residents complain.

The last government dithered endlessly in the face of our fears, offering no fewer than nine consultations and no improvements. Our Live Music Bill, championed by Lord Clement-Jones, made impressive headway but didn’t receive the government support it needed to get onto the statute books.

Now, with a change of government and a commitment in the Coalition agreement on live music, things are looking rather different.

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  • And yet despite what Labour did to harm live music and despite what we are doing to help live music, the Musicians’ Union is affiliated to the Labour party. As Americans say: go figure!

  • Interesting article. But it would be even more informative to know what the name of the licence required by the 2003 Act is called and what the proposed new bill will do for small music events of 200-500 people?

  • Excellent news all round. The Licensing Act 2003 is definitely harming the smaller live music scene.

    @Am – those events (200-500) are not the focus of this Bill unfortunately, and the license required is the standard license needed for any ‘regulated entertainment’. I think the name used will just be a standard ‘license for live music’ or ‘regulated entertainment’ or something similar and in some cases a Temporary Event Notice (TEN). In all forms these cost money and time and have been putting venues off holding one-off small concerts or music events.

  • There is a very big but here. That is, quite frankly, I suspect that no one has writing here has had to live next door to a troublesome live music venue. It is entirely true to say,

    ‘Excessively noisy premises can already be served noise abatement orders under the Environmental Protection Act, or fined under the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act. And the exemptions we have been calling for would still be subject to review should residents complain.’

    But try getting those things enforced in any meaningful way. The time the pub next door tried to be a live music venue was six hellish months for our area and the local Council (Lib Dem Watford) bluntly did not seem interested. The research may not have found evidence of anti-social behaviour, but I believe the evidence of my own eyes. As much as I do believe in making music, there is a bit of an undercurrent in comment on this issue that would like to wish away some very real problems caused by irresponsible landlords holding very loud events in residential areas.

    There are real arguments to be had about the 2003 Act, but to pretend that there are no problems is not a good way to go about them.

  • I have.

  • And I don’t think the undercurrent you perceive is really there, but rather a belief that there is currently an inbalance in the law preventing a great deal of non-problematic live music from taking place and causing real problems. And I also genuinely don’t think anyone was/is pretending that there are no problems here [hence the references to the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act].

  • Duncan ignores the simple point that you don’t actually have to buy/rent a house/flat if it is near a pub/live music venue. If you can’t tolerate such disturbance then look elsewhere.

    There is an important point that the 2003 Act effectively criminalises innocuous performances and that is neither right or fair by anybodies judgment.

  • Mike – No, given the the pub is right next door, it is not as if i did not spot it. You see, you fall into the trap that all those who unquestioningly chant, ‘hooray for live music,’ always fall into. The previous landlord in the pub had excellent relations with the neighbourhood. It was only when a new person moved in and decided that a residential area was a good place to hold thrash metal events that the problems started. No residents were complaining beforehand and your straw man is unedifying.

    My point was this – anyone at all who lives anywhere near a pub is vulnerable to the pub chaning overnight into a problem. The people drafting this legislation (rightly) point to other safeguards. Problem is that if my experience is anything to go by, those safeguards are useless. Totally.

    I can but wonder whether the people championing this are not the people who have had 150 plus people hold a thrash metal concert next door. Now, granted, I suspect that you are not championing this sort of thing and you would encourage a certain responsibility. I get that. But to pretend that there is no problem here that can not be solved with a glib, ‘move out then,’ is to treat reality with utter contempt.

  • I personally disgree with your claim that the safeguards are ‘totally useless’. I will look for some evidence to back this up, but maybe the solution is to beef up these regulations (which deal with excessive noise) rather than blanket restrict all live music in an inhibitively costly way.

    Whilst Mike’s point was a bit unfairly dismissive of your concerns, I hope it is clear that this Bill does not fall into the category of ‘unquestioningly chant[ing]’ support for live music. Rather, it is clear that there must be some method for restricting loud music if it causes a problem but the assumption of guilt, and associated costs and bureaucracy as it currently stands represents an imbalance.

    I think the most important thing to do is read the specific information about venues which are already licensed for another regulated activity (eg the pubs that you mention) as the Bill is more careful on this territory.

    [*I should declare an interest, in that I represent musicians btw]

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