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Bill seeks to decriminalise pianos in pubs and schools

NuLab crackdown on unlicenced joannas, trumpets to end

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A private member's bill proposing to decriminalise offering musical instruments without a licence received its second reading on Friday. The, er... what? You may well ask.

The Licensing Act of 2003 introduced bans on unlicensed musical instruments appearing in public. The law, intended to promote musical events at small venues, must be one of New Labour's most absurd and bureaucratic legacies. Leaving a piano in a school or church hall without the necessary paperwork and approval risks a £20,000 fine and six months in jail.

Lord Tim Clement-Jones introduced his Live Music Bill last year. The bill seeks to scrap the worst of the red tape introduced by the Licensing Act – decriminalising the provision of musical instruments.

One event that ran on the wrong side of the law was a touring artwork called Play Me I'm Yours, which offered 30 pianos upon which the public could perform in London public spaces.

"It's regarded as an entertainment facility. Without a licence, it would have been committing a criminal offence – for each piano," Clement-Jones said.

The main consequence of all of Labour's new red tape was to reduce the number of live music events in small venues such as pubs. Previously, a venue could use a "two in a bar rule", allowing two musicians to perform without the venue (which could be a wedding party, church hall, bar or restaurant, for example) requiring a licence. After the 2003 Act came into effect, almost a third of those venues didn't apply for a licence.

The peer contrasted this with the public broadcast of football matches, which don't require a licence... and which regularly result in public disorder.

(You might require the notorious Form 696, by which the police and local authorities demanded mountains of paperwork ahead of live events, singling out black music genres as a potential "terror risk".)

In typical New Labour fashion, the Act spawned a mini-industry for academics, consultants and other hangers-on. There were nine consultations, two public projects, and two enquiries. By contrast, Scotland's provisions are three lines – and there, venues are licensed until 5am.

Clement-Jones says his bill would remove the worst of the red tape introduced by the 2003 Act, and cut away much of the red tape for venues with a capacity under 100.

He admits the bill isn't ideal: for example, one clause allows acoustic performers in venues until 11pm – he'd have preferred midnight. But with 30 pubs a week closing, removing the bureaucratic requirements (for example, leafleting local residents in advance that a musical performance may be committed) will make the trade more attractive.

The bill now goes to third reading, which will be followed by a report stage, then a Commons debate. After a long slog, the peer says he now has the support of both main parties. He fully expects the bill to become law. ®

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