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Live Music (Small Venues)

Volume 506: debated on Monday 1 March 2010

Small venues are using the new minor variations process to add live music to their licences, and we have also been encouraging the use of the existing incidental live music exemption. The Government are also consulting on a proposal to exempt small live music events from the Licensing Act 2003.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Will the Government be supporting the Live Music Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), which will assist venues that do not serve alcohol, such as village halls and school halls, in that regard?

We think that there are a number of problems with the Bill, partly because there has been no formal consultation on its proposals. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the proposals in the Bill are strongly opposed by the Conservative-controlled Local Government Association and by LACORS—Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services. Without such proper consultation, we would be very worried about the legal robustness of such legislation. Also, we do not think that the focus on the old two-in-a-bar rule, which the Liberal Democrats and the music industry campaigned against for many years, is the right way forward. We think that our proposal is sensible and that it balances the needs of the music industry, of young musicians to get experience of performing and of local residents and councils regarding undue noise and disturbance.

Is it not sensible to apply restrictions on the volume of sound that is produced in small venues rather than on the nature of music or sound being produced? The situation is such that a single musician, heavily amplified, can make more noise than a jazz big band; I think that is a great shame.

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we believe that the approach proposed by the Liberal Democrats through the Bill that originated in the other place is not the way forward to address this problem.

I thank the Government for the action that they have taken to relax licensing requirements for charitable events, but will the Secretary of State give further, strong guidance to local authorities that are still being over-officious in preventing small and medium-sized charity events from proceeding?

Yes. One of the main problems in this area is not that existing guidance and legislation are flawed, but that they are implemented differently by different local authorities. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to put his finger on the problem that some local authorities are much more sensible and proportionate in their enforcement of the rules and guidelines while others are much more, as he calls it, officious. Authorities should look to adopt the best practice guidance, which respects the needs of local communities for peace and quiet but does not stifle opportunities for young, creative musicians to perform and practise.

The Government are fond of saying that there has been an increase in live music since the Licensing Act came in. One reason for that is that the number of events that need to be licensed has increased, and another is the coming on stream of the O2 arena and Wembley stadium. Is the Minister aware that the UK Statistics Authority has said:

“The DCMS…and Press Office will be alerted to the possibility of misinterpretation and the need to exercise caution when quoting the figures”?

Can he confirm that the UK Statistics Authority has written to him in those terms and that he will exercise caution in using those figures in future?

Unlike the Conservative party, we always take very seriously what the UK Statistics Authority says, and I shall do so. Certainly on the information we have, I do not think anyone challenges the fact that there has been significant growth in the amount of live music, but the hon. Gentleman is right to identify the fact that it has been concentrated in medium and larger-sized venues. Similar growth has not been seen in smaller venues, which is exactly why we are proposing to extend the exemption to them.

Again, however, I am afraid I am still completely confused about the hon. Gentleman’s policy. On the one hand, he told the Performers Alliance, at a reception at Parliament recently, that he supported Lord Clement-Jones’s Bill; but on the other, the Conservative Local Government Association is vehemently opposed to any exemption for licensed premises.