The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 1st October 2009 - Pub pianos only 'theoretically innocuous' claims licensing minister

Licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe has justified the criminalisation of pub pianos, unless licensed, on the grounds that they are only 'theoretically innocuous'.

The claim appears in an extraordinary letter sent last month by Sutcliffe to Labour MP Roger Berry (Kingswood, south Gloucestershire), responding to a constituent's concerns about the Licensing Act and live music.

The minister starts by defending the licensing regime, citing a 7% increase in potential venues in 2008. He does not mention the 5% fall in live venues headlined in the DCMS live music survey of 2007. Nor does he mention that the 91,000 venues with a live music permission must be set against the millions of places where live music would be illegal. The Licensing Act applies to 'any place', including streets, parks, gardens, hospitals, care homes, schools and private homes.

He then repeats the government's current favourite misleading insinuation that only licensing can deal with noise nuisance:

'The Live Music Forum chaired by Feargal Sharkey recommended that government develop exemptions for small live music events. However, it proved impossible to reach agreement on an exemption which would promote live music, but also protect local residents from noise and nuisance.'

He continues:

'Although live music campaigners often talk of the criminalisation of theoretically innocuous activities, such as putting a piano in a pub, it should be remembered that some premises are very close or even adjacent to private residences and even such supposedly harmless activities can cause noise nuisance. The Licensing Act 2003 does not prevent live music taking place, but it does ensure that some consideration is given to how local residences and businesses might be affected by it.'

This statement is so ludicrous in its implications, so chock full of warped ideas, assumptions and misleading insinuations, it is hard to decide which one to tackle first.

What about the harsh treatment of pianos as against jukeboxes and other recorded sound systems in bars. In 2005 the government gave all bars and restaurants applying to convert their old alcohol licence automatic permission to play recorded music under the new regime. That also allows DJs, provided there is no dancing.

How about the complete lack of data suggesting that live music is a significant noise nuisance. There are far more complaints about neighbours' stereos. They are routinely 'close to or even adjacent to private residences'. The minister's argument logically extends to home stereos.

How about the Environmental Protection Act which councils already use to tackle noise nuisance, irrespective of the Licensing Act, and which also allows for pre-emptive noise abatement notices. Or the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act which allows for substantial on-the-spot fines for licensees of premises that are deemed too noisy between 11pm and 7am.

And how about the Act's exemption for big screen broadcast entertainment, not just in bars, but anywhere and anytime.

The list goes on, and on, and on...


Hamish Birchall