Memorandum submitted by the Musician's Union


1. The Musicians' Union (MU) welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to this Select Committee inquiry on the Licensing Act 2003.


2. The MU's interest in this inquiry comes as a result of our desire to promote live music in the UK. The MU represents over 32,600 members who work as full or part-time professional musicians, and live music performance represents a major source of employment for our members. Most musicians start by playing in smaller venues in the early stages of their careers, and the MU is therefore committed to promoting opportunities for live performance in small venues in order to protect the career progression of musicians in the UK.


3. We also believe that live music performance is an essential aspect of culture in the UK and that it should be promoted in its own right for its contribution to cultural enrichment.


4. The MU was closely involved in the Licensing Act 2003 both during its progression through the parliamentary process, and during and after its implementation. Our original position was that live music should not be part of such a licensing regime. However, since the Bill's introduction, we have sought to co-operate with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in order to oversee the implementation of the Act in the interests of MU members.


5. Our response to this inquiry touches on a number of the questions posed by the committee, but focuses on the areas that may directly affect the professional activities of our members.



Whether there has been any change in levels of public nuisance, number of night-time offences or perceptions of public safety since the Act came into force


6. Although the MU is not in a position to comment on how the Licensing Act has impacted on levels of public nuisance across the board, we have made our own investigations into whether live music specifically has an effect on public nuisance.


7. These investigations took place as a result of comments made by Chris Fox, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, in July 2003 in which he claimed that live music performance has a negative impact on crime and disorder: 'live music always acts as a magnet in whatever community it is being played. It brings people from outside that community and others who come and having no connection locally behave in a way that is inappropriate, criminal and disorderly.'


8. The MU was concerned about the comments made by Chris Fox, and as a result we wrote to chiefs of police across the country to ask whether they considered live music to be linked to an increase in crime and disorder. The vast majority of the responses that we received supported our view - that the performance of live music itself has no effect on crime and disorder, and that any problems experienced are usually due to the size of the crowd (at festivals, for example) and the dispersal of people at the end of an event.


9. These letters support the MU's argument that smaller live music performances have no adverse effect on the promotion of any of the licensing objectives. We would be happy to provide copies of the letters that we received from chiefs of police if required.


10. The second commonly held perception about live music performance is that it impacts on public nuisance by way of noise. The research that DCMS commissioned through the Live Music Forum, carried out by Mori, reported that 77% of all objections to applications for live music came from local residents or their representatives, with 68% of those objections specifically relating to concerns about the noise level of music; or noise levels from customers.


11. However, the Live Music Forum's investigations into actual noise complaints made showed that an estimated 90% of complaints relate to music from a domestic premise. The MU is therefore concerned that the commonly held perception that a live music performance may impact on the public nuisance objective is not actually borne out in reality.


12. We would therefore suggest that, where live music performance is concerned, the Licensing Act 2003 is likely to have had little impact on the public nuisance objective (both in terms of levels of crime and disorder and noise disturbance) because live music had little effect on levels of public nuisance in the first place.


13. One of the main faults of the Act is that it attempts to hand decision making to local communities through their locally elected representatives. It was also intended to be proactive so that problems could be anticipated and remedied prior to Premises Licences being awarded to venues. These are laudable aims but it has been demonstrated that both aims have inherent weaknesses. Whilst a majority of Licensing Committees have adopted a professional and sensitive attitude to requests to promote live music, a significant number have paid too much attention to the views of a vocal minority. In fact we have seen situations that can only be described as 'the tyranny of the minority' - the restrictions imposed by Camden Council on the open-air concerts at Kenwood are a perfect example. In other cases restrictions have been imposed because one or two residents have lodged objections to an application from a venue to include live music in its Premises Licence. Unfortunately residents are encouraged to object to, but not encouraged to voice support for, applications to promote live music. We believe that the legislation should be reactive not proactive and restrictions should only be imposed if it is proved that the provision of live music in some way conflicts with the four main aims of the Act. Licensing Committees should always give live music the benefit of the doubt.


14. The work of the Live Music Forum has demonstrated that there remain a small number of local Government authorities that have applied unreasonable and disproportionate conditions on premises licenses in respect of live music. These authorities appear to be ignoring the Guidance to the Act and we call upon the Government to take appropriate action to ensure that the provisions of the Act and Guidance are fully adhered to and to censure any local authority that flouts them.


15. In situations where residents, in new dwellings that have been built next to existing established live music venues, have complained of noise, the 'agent of change' should ensure that the venue is in compliance with any conditions that might be put in the Premises Licence, and should also finance any changes. In most cases the 'agent of change' will be the developer/builder.


The impact of the Act on the performance of live music


16. The MU was initially concerned that the inclusion of live music performance within the Licensing Act 2003 would result in a significant reduction in the number of venues prepared to put on live music. We therefore conducted a survey of MU members in the summer of 2006 with the intention of gathering information regarding venues that may have closed, or indeed opened, due to the Act.


17. As part of this exercise 60 members, who indicated in the survey that they were happy to be contacted by the Union, and who had reported venues that had ceased the provision of live music due to the Act, were contacted and asked for further details of these venues.


18. In the survey returns these MU members had claimed that 144 venues had stopped putting on live music. As a result of the direct interviews conducted by the Union's Officials this figure dropped to 80. Of these 80 venues, the ones that the Union was able to contact gave reasons for no longer putting on live music as follows:





Still promoting music or will be in future



Economic Factors



Licensing Issues



Change in policy by venue



Problems identifying/contacting venue



Venue closed






Have never put on live music or have not done for some time



No reason given



19. The results of both the 2006 MU survey and the DCMS MORI survey give an overall balance between venues opening and closing in the period after the introduction of the Act. However, the results demonstrated by the above table shows that the largest percentage of venues reported to the MU - 33 of the 80 (42%) are still promoting music or intend to in the future. Nine of the 79 (11%) stopped providing live music because of licensing issues. Further research with these nine venues, revealed that one was an unlicensed folk festival and two were restaurants who wished to put on a one-off live music event. This resulted in the figure being reduced to 6 venues or 7.5%.


20. The survey demonstrates that even when the Union's 32,600+ members were given free reign to "name and shame" venues that had been affected by the Act, only six genuine cases involving previously established music venues were uncovered.


21. While the evidence indicates that the Licensing Act has had little effect on the provision of live music, the MORI research of 2006, commissioned by the Live Music Forum in order to examine the position of smaller venues, indicates that a significant number of licensees who previously put on live music without a PEL (usually under the 2-in-a-bar exemption) no longer want live music in their establishment[1]. This reinforces the perception of the MU that there has been a slight reduction in the number of smaller venues offering live music. Therefore it would appear that such venues need particular encouragement to promote live music events.


22. As the Licensing Bill progressed through parliament the Union lobbied for an exemption, for venues with a capacity of 200 people or less, from having to include regulated entertainment in their Premises Licence application. It is highly unlikely and very improbable that the performance of live music in these small venues will conflict with, or undermine, any of the main licensing objectives of the Act (as we explain in paragraph 8).


23. The DCMS response to the Live Music Forum's 'Findings and Recommendations' report in July 2007 included a reference to a potential exemption for small venues:

We accept the spirit of these recommendations and will explore options for allowing certain low risk live music performances to be exempt from licensing requirements, in addition to the existing exemption for incidental music. This is unlikely to result in a blanket exemption, but we will look at finding a meaningful way to exempt those events that are self evidently of low risk to the licensing objectives. This is likely to be pursued through the de minimis exemption route on which we plan to consult next year, but we will also explore other options


24. The DCMS went on to publish the results of research commissioned from The British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) in October 2007. This survey demonstrated that, since 2004, there had been a five per cent decrease in the provision of live music in what the researchers termed 'secondary music venues', i.e. when music is offered as an addition to the main business of the premises. This decrease is largely explained by a fall-off in live music, in restaurants, cafés, church halls and community centres. Live music in other types of venues appears to have been broadly stable, with the exception of 'clubs', where live music provision has increased.


25. The findings of this research echo the concerns that the Musicians' Union has expressed on a number of occasions - namely that the Licensing Act would cause a reduction in the provision of live music in smaller venues. The research therefore adds more weight to the argument that a 'de minimis' exemption for small venues is needed, which would encourage the owners and managers of restaurants, wine bars, cafes and so on to put on live music.


26. We are currently in discussions with the DCMS over a possible exemption to the Licensing Act for small venues wishing to put on live music and we are hopeful that a positive outcome can be achieved.


27. In addition to an exemption for small venues, the MU believes that the Government should consider tangible benefits in the form of tax breaks etc. for venues that show a clear commitment to the provision of live music, for example those who put on 50 or more gigs a year.


Whether the Act has led, or looks likely to lead, to a reduction in bureaucracy for those applying for licences under the new regime and for those administering it


28. The MU has received anecdotal evidence from venues, especially restaurants, to suggest that they have stopped putting on live music due to the bureaucracy involved in applying for a licence. We therefore believe that there is a strong case for simplifying the definition of Incidental Music. Venue owners are often unsure of what would pass as Incidental Music and so they are put off from applying for licences that would in all likelihood be granted.


29. The MU welcomes the Government's recent consultation aimed at introducing a simplified process for minor variations to premises licences and club premises certificates and to remove the requirement for a designated premises supervisor and personal licence at community premises. We believe that any efforts to simplify the application process and the bureaucracy involved are to be applauded, as they are likely to encourage more venues to put on live music.


30. However, we strongly believe that the Government will need to promote this fast track system once it is in place. During the run-up to the implementation of the Act many Licensees added self-imposed conditions to their licence applications in the mistaken belief that Licensing Committees would look more kindly on their applications. These self-imposed conditions include restrictions on the number of performers and limits on the length of performances. Experience with the new licensing process has shown that these licensees would have been better to seek more open-ended and less restrictive licences, as, in the vast majority of cases, it appears that such applications would have been accepted. The Government should therefore encourage licensees to examine the conditions in their licence and seek variations where appropriate.




31. One of the aims of the Licensing Act 2003 was to increase the number of live music performances. In the MU's opinion, it has been unsuccessful in this aim. Live music has prospered over the last five years, but we believe that this merely reflects the increasing popularity of live music and that it has occurred despite the Act, rather than because of it.


32. We remain of the opinion that the inclusion of regulated entertainment in the Licensing Act 2003 is not necessary and that its inclusion has greatly increased bureaucracy for very little benefit to the licensing objectives.


33. However, we are committed to working with the Government to ensure that the Act meets the interests of our members as best as possible until an opportunity to review the inclusion of live music in the Act presents itself. We welcome the Government's recent attempts to simplify the application process and their discussions with the MU over an exemption for small venues, and we are hopeful that progress can be made on these fronts.


34. We would also like to urge the Select Committee and the Government to seriously consider some of the additional recommendations made by the MU in this paper. Without them, the Licensing Act 2003 is unlikely to deliver the Government's promised improvements to the live music scene in England and Wales.


September 2008


[1] "Licensing Act 2003, The Experience of Smaller Establishments in applying for Live Music Authorisation" - Ipsos-MORI December 2006