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Union Joins Music Law Debate

The Musicians' Union is being invited to take part in a working group to discuss the impact of the government's controversial Licensing Bill.

Culture Secretary Kim Howells met the union's general secretary John Smith on Monday to talk about the new legislation.

The union fears the bill, which will force all venues in England and Wales to be licensed to host live music, will discourage venues from having bands and singers.

The minister remained firm that he would not introduce any more amendments to allay these concerns.

But he agreed to invite the union to join a working group with members of the music industry to discuss how best to implement the new legislation.

We still have this fundamental difference (with ministers) about basic approach

The bill proposes an overhaul of licensing aimed at preventing antisocial behaviour.

The part which concerns the union means all pubs and bars in England and Wales will have to apply for a licence, even for unamplified music.

Currently, there is no need to have a licence for one or two performers.

Musicians Union adviser Hamish Birchall told BBC News Online it was a "constructive" meeting.

He said: "John Smith emerged with a positive attitude because the government had made this constructive proposal about us participating on the issue of guidance.

"But we still have this fundamental difference about basic approach."

One disappointing aspect for the union was that there was no concession over unamplified music.

The House of Lords is having its third reading of the bill and previously voted for some unamplified music to be allowed in bars without a licence.

But a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told BBC News Online the bill would encourage live music.

He said venues can apply for the public entertainment licence as part of their alcohol licence, at less cost than at present.

Kim Howells hopes the bill will encourage live music.

The price of a licence will be between £100 and £500 depending on the size of the venue, plus up to £150 a year.

He added that one or two performers can cause more noise than a band with many more members.

The spokesman said: "The minister acknowledged the union's concerns, but agreed that the DCMS and the Musicians' Union will work together to ensure the new legislation significantly increases opportunities for performers to perform."

He said the need to promote live music had to be balanced "against residents' rights to a quiet night's sleep".

The government has already tabled an amendment to the bill to ensure bands and solo acts are not punished for appearing in unlicensed venues.

There was a defeat for ministers this week as peers amended the bill to prevent unaccompanied children in pubs and clubs.