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Licensing: Live Music

Volume 697: debated on Wednesday 9 January 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What proposal they have to amend the Licensing Act 2003 in light of the British Market Research Bureau survey of live music staged in England and Wales published on 17 December 2007.

My Lords, the survey was commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to assess live music provision in 2007 in venues whose primary activity was not the staging of live music. While the survey suggested that there had been a fall in live music in such venues since 2004, it found that the Licensing Act was not a major factor. Nevertheless, the Government are looking at how the regime might be adjusted to encourage more live music by, for example, allowing licensing authorities more discretion over exemptions for low-risk music events. We expect to issue a full public consultation later this year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The fact is that, despite what the Government said during the passage of the Licensing Act—that there would be an explosion of live music—there has, as he said, been an overall decrease, of 5 per cent, in live music performed in venues across England and Wales. While the Government have said that they are looking at proposals to rectify this sad state of affairs, could he be specific about what they are?

My Lords, as I indicated, we are consulting on ways in which we can reduce burdens in certain areas. I emphasise to the House that the drop in live music is not great. Some had predicted that the Licensing Act would have a very significant effect and it clearly has not. A very substantial proportion of those venues that do not put on live music actually have licences. What is reflected is the response of pubs and restaurants more to the market than to the obligations under the Licensing Act.

My Lords, over 100 years ago, a landlord, without an entertainment licence, could lawfully keep a piano for the amusement of his customers. Today, he could be fined £20,000 and sent to jail for six months. Does the Minister really believe that the Licensing Act and its criminalisation of thousands of innocuous and historically exempt gigs is an effective regime for the 21st century?

My Lords, the noble Lord produces a wonderfully extreme illustration of the Licensing Act. Of course, such condign punishments would be directed at major venues that had produced a huge public nuisance and caused widespread dismay. The pub piano scarcely falls into that category. I assure him that in the consultation that the noble Baroness urges us to undertake, we want to ensure that it is exactly the piano in the pub corner and so on that is outwith the licensing obligations.

My Lords, as this consultation goes forward, will my noble friend ensure that particular attention is paid to the impact of the Licensing Act—and, indeed, other influences—on small, informal venues that are used by young artists, particularly young classical artists, early in their career? They are very dependent on venues such as churches and small halls being available. It is most important that the Act has no adverse impact on those venues, whether advertently or inadvertently.

My Lords, that point is well made by my noble friend. In response to this survey, my right honourable friend in the other place, James Purnell, the Secretary of State, announced that he is making £500,000 available over two years towards setting up pilot, professionally equipped, community rehearsal spaces for young people. This is an area of concern and we are addressing that. There are areas where some unexpected consequences or developments in the past four years need to be attended to. We will use the consultation to address the kind of issue raised by my noble friend and others.

My Lords, instead of reinventing the wheel, can I suggest to the Minister that he reads the Committee stage of the Bill that led to this Act, where he will find speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, and my noble friend Lord Redesdale? They warned of exactly this problem but faced a wall of complacency from the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which is mirrored by the Minister’s complacency today.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord McIntosh expressed the same degree of confidence in advance of the Act that I am able to express today; namely, that those who foresaw that the Licensing Act would have a devastating effect on live music have been proved wrong. I would be the last to suggest that the two contributors to our useful debates identified by the noble Lord were in that category, but there were foretellings of doom that have just not been fulfilled in the developments since the Act.