The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Saturday 18th March 2006 - Tessa's 'illegal' singing - BBC Today transcript

A few points to note before reading this transcript:

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Tessa's illegal singing - BBC R4 Today - Fri 17 March 2006, 7.45am approx

Presenter, Sarah Montague: The Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell, has broken the law. Not just any law, but a law she introduced. Remember that sing-song to mark International Women's Day? Well, just in case you don't, here's a reminder:

Tessa Jowell and other women MPs singing to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic (note the revised lyrics): My eyes have seen the women in the Commons and the Lords, they have trampled down the prejudice that was so long ignored, they have [fades out]...

Sarah Montague: Well, that was sung in Victoria Tower Gardens which is a royal park. And if you plan a musical event in a royal park, then under the terms of the new Licensing Act you need a licence. This is councillor Audrey Lewis who has responsibility for such matters on Westminster City Council.

Audrey Lewis: Well, technically to have a performance which was advertised of singing in a royal park, which is a premise under the terms of the new Licensing Act, was an offence because it has no licence. We would not, however, expect to prosecute because nobody has complained about it. It wasn't a question of law and disorder breaking out, or indeed public nuisance. Having said which, they've had a first offence. If they wanted to do this quite regularly they've had, they would get a warning and er I think that it's ironic that it's not only Tessa Jowell's law, it's Tessa Jowell in being involved in it, and of course it's Tessa Jowell who's responsible for the royal parks. So all in all [laughs] Tessa Jowell, I think probably knows by now that she can't do it again.

Sarah Montague: That was councillor Audrey Lewis. Well here with me in the studio is Hamish Birchall who's a musician who's been campaigning against the law. What do you make of this?

Hamish Birchall: Well I think it's a superb example of the absurdity of the legislation, and er, this was discussed on internet chat groups just after the event happened. And I thought it worth looking into it a little bit more deeply, and um I know the law fairly well having worked on the Bill when it was a Bill. So I approached Westminster council, outlined the circumstances of the event and asked whether an offence had been committed.

Sarah Montague: You didn't complain, and that's one of the reasons that they said look nobody complained, it wasn't a case of law and disorder breaking out or a public nuisance.

Hamish Birchall: Oh no, I think it's absurd that people should face a potential criminal prosecution for something like this, but I think it does serve to illustrate the absurdity of the law.

Sarah Montague: Do you think there are many cases where sing-songs are not happening because of the law?

Hamish Birchall: I think people are a bit more wary of it, because erm although the government guidance is that, you know, spontaneous singing is exempt, actually there is very little spontaneous singing really in pubs. And in fact today, St Patrick's Day, there'd be a lot of planned singing in pubs and a lot of that will probably be illegal.

Sarah Montague: And so, there's, and there's do you think there is less singing going on as a result of the law?

Hamish Birchall: Probably not [laughs]...

Sarah Montague: [laughs] Because people will just get around it...

Hamish Birchall: It may not after this. It may not. This may discourage people.

Sarah Montague: Are you still campaigning to try to change the law?

Hamish Birchall: Yes.

Sarah Montague: But it's difficult to see what effect it is having.

Hamish Birchall: Erm, no. I've already er learned of three weekly jazz gigs in London that have been cancelled as a result of the new law.

Sarah Montague: Because they didn't have the appropriate licence?

Hamish Birchall: Well, because previously you didn't have to have a licence for one or two musicians and they were told that in fact they could carry this forward into the new regime, but  you can't. Even if you provide one musician you'd need a new licence.

Sarah Montague: Ah, very interesting. Hamish Birchall thank you very much.


Hamish Birchall