Thursday 10th December 2015

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Hansard Text
Question for Short Debate
15:00
Asked by
Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts



To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support small grass-roots music venues.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, according to UK Music’s latest figures, the music industry now contributes £4.1 billion to the UK economy, generates £2.1 billion in exports and employs more than 117,000 people. The sector as a whole grew by 5% in 2014. While our music industry is succeeding in many aspects, behind these impressive figures, elements of the sector are not doing as well. The focus of this debate, and of my remarks today, concerns what plans the Government have to support small grass-roots music venues. I am delighted that so many other music-loving noble Lords are joining in today’s debate.

Earlier this year, the Mayor of London established a Music Venues Taskforce. Chaired by the Music Venue Trust, and involving the Musicians’ Union, UK Music and representatives from two London venues—the 100 Club and Village Underground—the task force published its Rescue Plan in October to address the 35% decline in grass-roots music venues in the capital since 2007. While a lot of the publicity for grass-roots venue closures has been centred on London, the issue of grass roots is not unique to the capital. Venues such as Leicester’s Princess Charlotte, TJs in Newport, the Duchess of York in Leeds, the Picture House in Edinburgh and the Roadhouse in Manchester have all closed due to a number of issues that add up to the same thing: running a grass-roots music venue is becoming increasingly challenging.

In the task force’s Rescue Plan, the Music Venue Trust came up with a definition of a grass-roots music venue—as distinct from other premises—centred primarily on its cultural and social role and based on music programming being the establishment’s raison d’être. Furthermore, being a grass-roots venue means being a beacon of music and a key generator of night-time economic activity, and taking risks with programming and acts.

I am sure that many noble Lords have been enjoying the latest album from UK artist Adele, “25”, which has set records around the world for sales and is likely to be this year’s global music success story. Adele played her first gig at the 12 Bar Club in London, whose Denmark Street venue is now closed. She went on to play support slots and small shows across the country, building her skills and her experience in front of small audiences in the manner that has enabled UK artists to thrive for the last 50 years. Had it not been for the vital grass-roots music venue circuit, it is difficult to see how an artist such as Adele could have cultivated her creativity. In 1994, a little-known band by the name of Oasis undertook a 25-date tour of the UK which transformed them into the world’s leading live band. Of those 25 venues, only 12 remain open.

The UK’s ability to create more acts like Adele and Oasis is being challenged by a number of threats to these important institutions. These threats include rising property prices and rents, increased demand for housing in big cities, increases in business rates, lack of specific guidance on how to treat music venues in planning law, increased deregulation of the planning system—notably the permitted development right from 2013, which allows offices to be converted into homes without the need for full planning permission—and increased conditions put on other aspects of a venue’s licence, despite the exemptions put in place by the Live Music Act.

There has been a lack of central government legislative support when contrasted with other key music markets such as the USA or Australia. In financial terms, across continental Europe, the grass-roots music venues sector has attracted significant direct government or industry subsidy, which distorts the market, making it difficult for our venues in the UK to compete for international talent. Thankfully, there are a number of sensible actions that the Government can take in order to alleviate the problems for grass-roots music venues.

First and foremost, the Government should introduce the agent of change principle into planning law. This principle would mean that when a planning development is granted, the onus is on the incoming individual or business to take responsibility for any changes needed to deal with noise from businesses that existed in the vicinity before permission was granted. Such a provision would significantly reduce the financial and administrative burden placed on venues when new development occurs. The principle has already been adopted in some states in Australia and the US. The Mayor of London has indicated that the agent of change principle will be adopted in the London Plan 2018.

Will the Minister undertake to look at how primary legislation can be strengthened in this regard? An opportunity exists in the Housing and Planning Bill, where amendments to introduce the agent of change principle have been debated in the Commons. In the debate on Tuesday, Planning Minister Brandon Lewis rejected the amendments as unnecessary. He claimed that the National Planning Policy Framework incorporated the principle and so did the guidance—I suppose that he meant paragraph 6 of the noise planning guidance.

However, he said that he is trying to meet the music sector on this in conjunction with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey who pledged to arrange a meeting with a delegation when he attended Venues Day 2015, the annual national gathering of grass-roots music venues from across the UK, which is organised by the Music Venue Trust. UK Music has followed up on this but no date has been confirmed. Can the Minister undertake that this will happen before Report in the Commons on the Housing and Planning Bill?

Will the Minister also consider how the ground-breaking deed of easement of noise in the recent Ministry of Sound case can be further promoted as good practice in resolving cases between developers and venues? Will he also commit to a biannual meeting of key Ministers to consider, develop and monitor strategies of support for venues?

Secondly, the Government should introduce full relief from business rates for grass-roots music venues. As I have already outlined, business rates are problematic for music venues. A small London venue may pay tens of thousands of pounds a year in business rates, making it economically unviable without financial support. The Government are conducting a review into business rates relief for local newspapers. This creates a potential precedent for the Government to review rates for grass-roots music venues. Such a measure would go some way towards correcting the imbalance in cultural subsidies with our European competitors.

In monitoring the impact of the Live Music Act and further entertainment deregulation from earlier this year, the Government should review whether local authorities and the police are utilising and over- regulating other licensing conditions to regulate certain music venue activities which should otherwise benefit from the full impact of the coalition Government’s entertainment deregulation reforms. Internal government co-ordination is also key to this issue. This debate is being responded to by the noble Earl, yet other aspects of government such as DCLG, Defra and the Home Office also have a strong interest in this.

At Venues Day 2015, Minister Ed Vaizey firmly backed the idea that grass-roots music venues should have access to cultural funding. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that happens, and specifically what can be done to ensure that any available funding acts directly to improve the infrastructure in those venues so that they are attractive places for touring artists to play?

Finally, will the Government make a specific response to the Mayor of London’s Music Venues Taskforce report, and what further work are they planning to undertake with other large cities and communities in the UK to promote the vital role of grass-roots music venues?

We protect and support our theatres, arts centres, civic centres, museums and galleries by recognising their cultural priorities. The Government should do all they can to ensure that these vital incubators of the live music industry are able to access similar levels of support and recognition from national government and local authorities as those received by other spaces. These issues are urgent for the future of live music venues and I hope that the Minister will respond appropriately.

15:09
Lord Colwyn Portrait Lord Colwyn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for securing this debate this afternoon. It provides a timely opportunity to identify the reasons behind grass roots music venue closures and address how this might be rectified. I thank UK Music and the Mayor of London for their help. My few remarks will relate to the task force report and comment on its conversations with a large number of music and night-time industry organisations.

Venues act as important centres for cultural activity in our towns and communities. Grass roots music venues act as important hubs for local music talent and offer a means by which musicians and performers can develop their performance. Problems for grass roots music venues are not unique to our capital. Other cities have been affected and have either closed or had considerable threats of closure placed on their businesses in recent years. I declare my interest as a patron of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. I am co-chairman of the All-Party Jazz Appreciation Group, and I thank the British Phonographic Industry, the Performing Rights Society and, particularly, Phonographic Performance Ltd, which has sponsored the British Parliamentary Jazz Awards for 10 years. These awards have become one of the most important jazz award events in the UK jazz calendar. I am also grateful to Yamaha, which helps young jazz musicians at grass roots level with the loan and provision of instruments via the youth jazz and Yamaha scholarship awards.

I have been known to do some busking in local pubs, but regret that I no longer perform at the larger events. I much prefer to visit Ronnie Scott’s and ask Simon Cooke to point out the up and coming musicians and important guests or chat to Steve Rubie at the 606 as to why he gave up his career as a dentist to run a jazz club. Where did I go wrong? I am sure that my noble friend Lord Courtown and his family will have heard and danced to my band on many occasions. Looking around the Moses Room this evening, I see other customers of mine, including the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Brougham and Vaux, who would have danced to my band.

Demand for live music is increasing, and music tourism is thriving. Grass roots music venues aid a vital talent developmental role that has not been replaced by television talent shows or social media. However, 35% of London’s grass roots venues have closed over the last eight years. The Mayor of London’s Music Venues Taskforce was set up to work out why so many venues have closed and what impact this is having on London’s culture and economy. It found that London’s grass roots music venues are pivotal to the ongoing success of the UK music industry and contribute to London’s desirability as a place to live, work and visit. However, planning, licensing, policing and fiscal policy is struggling to balance the needs of grass roots music venues with those of residents and businesses. An increasing population means that residential development and night-time activity are all connected. This pressure, coupled with rising property prices and increasing costs for grass roots music venues, is proving too much and venues are closing.

The task force found signs of market failure within the music industry. The research and development function that grass roots music venues undertake has not been properly supported. There is now a need to rebuild London’s grass roots venues and invest in new talent so that all parts of the industry can return to full health. Following extensive consultation with government, local authorities and the music industry, the task force has proposed a rescue package. The report also sets out an ambition to create new venues and harness the benefits of London’s tourism boom through new promotional campaigns. The task force calls for a change in how we think about music venues; it believes that grass roots music venues are cultural spaces and need to be recognised as such in policy documents. I hope that the music industry will now work with government in responding to this crisis at the grass roots level.

15:14
Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones on securing this debate. Like him and other noble Lords, I believe that supporting and nurturing live music of all genres is important and worthwhile. Not only does it give many of us enormous pleasure, it can also, for instance, enhance educational achievement, help recovery from ill health and improve well-being. It can play a role in cultural diplomacy, and it can help to reduce crime. It can assist in social cohesion and, of course, as we have already heard it can make a significant contribution to the economy of our country. The charity Golden-Oldies, based in my former constituency of Bath, demonstrates the power of music when it comes to well-being. The Goldies provide singing and activity sessions, bringing together older people who are socially isolated or people with learning difficulties, dementia and Alzheimer’s. It really does work. As Age UK has said:

“The power of music, especially singing, to unlock memories and kickstart the grey matter is an increasingly key feature of dementia care”.

As I have said, music can bring communities together. I was the lead Minister for Our Big Gig, which is an annual government-funded community music celebration of local musical talents and music-making. It brings communities together, with people from all sorts of backgrounds who live in the same neighbourhood often meeting for the first time. If live music is important, so too are the small venues which are its life-blood. That is why I was pleased to have the opportunity to pilot through the Commons my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones’ Live Music Bill, which is now the Act. The aim was simple: to reduce the regulatory burden on small venues hosting live music, and thus encourage more to do so. It has succeeded in helping some small venues to keep going and new ones to open, and it has played its part in seeing a growth in the live music sector and a corresponding increase in its contribution to the economy.

As we have already heard, venues are closing and the problems are growing. The Mayor of London’s Music Venue Taskforce has already been referred to, and we have heard of problems elsewhere in the country. However, precise information is hard to come by and the data is limited. For instance, venues that are encompassed by the Live Music Act no longer need an entertainment licence, so getting precise numbers to enable a before-and-after comparison is difficult. Many argue that the standard industrial classification, SIC, and standard occupational classification, SOC, codes which are used by ONS are unhelpful. We know that information gathered by a range of bodies such as UK Music, the Music Venue Trust and the Live Music Exchange is not adequately collated. I believe that it would help—and I hope that the Minister can assist us with this—if we could find ways of asking colleagues in different departments to look at the collection and analysis of data on live music to help us get a better feel for the situation.

There are definitely problems and many solutions have already been offered, ranging from night-time economy tsars to a review of venue capacity limits in light of the smoking ban. In the limited time I have, I will mention just two areas where I believe that progress can be made. The first is simply to give greater publicity to legislation and support systems that already exist—measures that I had a hand in bringing into force.

As an example, the Bell Inn on Walcot Street in Bath is a popular local pub and a live music and performance venue. Regulars became concerned that the pub could be sold, closed as a pub and converted to other uses, so they used existing powers under the Localism Act 2011. They listed the pub as an asset of community value, which meant extra protection from development and a potential six-month moratorium on any sale. Members of the community wanted time to put together the funds to make a bid to buy the pub themselves, something that they could do under the existing community right to bid. Deciding that they did want to try to buy the pub, the locals got help from the community shares unit and sold community shares in the pub via a crowdfunding-type website. They raised £720,000, well in excess of the £500,000 target that they had set themselves. They put in a bid, which was successful. In 2013, 536 shareholders who were customers, friends and staff bought the Bell Inn, and it continues as a vibrant small music venue which welcomes all visitors, and noble Lords would be very welcome. Greater publicity about the opportunities offered by the Localism Act, like those used by customers and staff of the Bell, could provide a route to help other small music venues that are under threat. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on that.

My second point is in relation to the agent of change issue, which has already been raised. As we have heard, the extension of permitted development rights eases the way for unused commercial, retail or industrial properties to be converted into housing. Where they are sited next to existing music venues, that can create a difficulty. If at all possible, the agent of change, the developer, should take responsibility for that. An analysis of the debate that took place on Tuesday shows that the Minister, Brandon Lewis, did not fully understand the situation. I am delighted that he has agreed to talk to the music industry and his colleagues in DCLG. But like my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, I am interested to hear from the Minister whether those meetings will take place and what views he has on the particular proposal for the agent of change.

15:21
Earl of Clancarty Portrait The Earl of Clancarty (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for the opportunity to participate in what is a remarkably timely debate, both on account of the London mayor’s rescue plan and the Commons debate on Tuesday.

The statistic of 35% of grass-roots venues lost in the last eight years in London alone is shocking. What we seem to have today is a perfect storm of spiralling rents, valuable building sites, increasing business rates and untrammelled development. The fundamental questions that we should ask are: how much is a local area or local community affected in the round by any proposed changes? How much do people in a local area have a right of access not just to music venues but to live arts generally? If they do, is it a good provision or not? Also, crucially, how much is that local community itself being destroyed, since the arts are a part of that and are an important part of the definition of a locality?

In this respect, noise, if it is a significant problem, is a by-product of a more fundamental concern. Noise would simply not be a problem—or at least less of one—in a more cohesive community. Yet unfortunately it has become necessary to deal with it, which is why I would certainly support the agent of change amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill. In Tuesday’s debate, the Housing and Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, said that, although he was happy to meet with organisations, the proposed amendments were unnecessary because the National Planning Policy Framework incorporates the principle of agent of change already. But tell that to the Point in Cardiff. Actually we cannot do that because it no longer exists. It installed £68,000-worth of sound-proofing to stop complaints from the new development next door, but had to close because it could not afford to pay the loan. This should not have been the Point’s responsibility. It seems clear that this will work and the agent of change principle adhered to only if there is something specific in law, as has been proposed by Dr Blackman-Woods and others. Otherwise, there is a huge danger that it will be overlooked.

What was not discussed on Tuesday in the Commons was the situation the other way round, which is what would then be the responsibilities incumbent on a new venue setting itself up in a neighbourhood, which of course sometimes happens when the already existing club has been forced out of the city centre and has had to relocate. It is surely better that a venue does not have to relocate in the first place but remains in the community where it belongs. The report to the London mayor is a valuable document with many worthwhile recommendations. I hope that both the London Assembly and the Westminster Government look at it closely. Music venues must be an integral part of the next London plan, and a night-time mayor is well-worth considering.

This is not a problem for London alone, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said. To take an example from abroad, with increasing gentrification, some of the same problems are starting to happen in Berlin, an equally vibrant city in terms of live music, even though there is less of a problem there. For instance, in Berlin I have been to what might be termed pop-up live music events advertised perhaps a few days beforehand. You go along, a makeshift bar materialises and you hear some amazing music, which could be anything from jazz to experimental classical or folk. Sometimes, it is a bit like wandering into someone’s living room. This kind of flexibility would be unthinkable in London, but it happens in Berlin because the audiences for these events live next door, or even in the same building, and have not yet been driven out of the centre of the city. Berlin, like many places in Europe, is a renting city, but additionally it has a strong rent-cap policy. We absolutely need to cap rents in London to help preserve our communities.

However, these problems also exist in other towns in the UK, and it is important to point out that live music can also be funded by local government, often as part of arts centres. Some of these venues may now be under threat of closure. It really is extraordinary how further real-term cuts in the arts can be broadcast as good news, although what is happening with local government funding is the worst news of all.

One example of these uncertain times is the situation in respect of the successful Electric Theatre in Guildford, developed as recently as 1997 by Guildford Borough Council as a community arts venue, allowing public access to different media, including live music. Instead of running it itself as it has done up till now, the local council intends to lease the site out, and has invited private bidders from the arts and entertainment sector. There will now be no guarantee that the balanced needs of the local community will be met. It seems that we are moving into the extraordinary position where, instead of local councils helping to fund the arts, the arts are now expected to fund local councils, which is, for much innovative art and music, frankly an impossibility. In the long term, such an approach will have a serious detrimental effect on the arts in the UK. It is a long way, too, from the principle that some of us have argued for of there being a statutory obligation on the part of councils to provide local communities access to the arts, which is becoming an increasing deficiency in many areas.

On the future of independent clubs, Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust, who runs the Forum, a music venue in Tunbridge Wells, and chairs the London mayor’s report, has said:

“You can’t blame people for selling up. The valuation of the Forum as a music venue is about £375,000. If we sell it to be flats, it is worth £1.2 million”.

If short-term economic factors were the only consideration, we probably would not have any grass-roots venues at all, not just for music but for the arts in many media. Therefore, the question must be asked: how important is it to preserve our grass-roots arts venues for local communities, for the creative economy and, in the case of music venues, for the development of the music industry itself, which are all long-term goals? That is not to mention the long-term contribution made by such venues to the economic value of the local area itself, all of which is why this is an issue that cannot be left up to the open market. Grass-roots venues must be protected and nurtured through necessary legislation, through sensitive planning and, where necessary, through governmental financial support.

15:28
Lord Berkeley of Knighton Portrait Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for identifying this absolutely vital ingredient in our creative industries. Why is it vital? It is because the great companies of this country—opera houses, orchestras, and pop and jazz groups—are often seeded and nourished at grass-roots level. All the great talents have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is often in small venues up and down the country. I think of my visits to the Cavern Club in Liverpool, for example, where the Beatles, among others, found fertile ground to gain experience. I shall never forget visits to the Marquee in Soho, where I played and many more successful groups than mine took flight. I think of small venues at festivals like Cheltenham and Huddersfield and clubs in Manchester and Birmingham. I think of Club Inégales, a haven for contemporary composers in London. For many audiences, small venues offer the only opportunity to hear live music.

How I envy New York its plethora of small jazz venues and its resulting success with modern jazz; yet visit Ronnie Scott’s or Pizza Express—and occasionally the House of Lords—and you will find here, in this country, a huge and healthy appetite for jazz. At a recent Classical Music meeting here in the Lords, we heard from Ed Vaizey. I was extremely impressed by his passion; doubtless this commitment helped inform the very welcome financial news regarding the arts from the Chancellor in his recent Statement, although I take my noble friend’s caveat on board.

I did, however, point out to Mr Vaizey that because music commissions are very much now largely in the gift of major Arts Council clients, and since the devolution of commissioning funds, small groups and less well known or younger composers have rather fallen through a gap in funding. Indeed, small venues were often instrumental in commissioning new and promising talent. I and my colleagues had our early works performed—and what a learning process that is: to hear your music and hear the mistakes you are making—in music clubs and village halls before some of us found ourselves at the Royal Opera House or the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall. Indeed, on one occasion I had a work premiered in a venue that I gather doubled as a strip joint and pole-dancing venue. I could not help thinking that perhaps hard-hitting contemporary music would have even bigger audiences if we could combine these two activities. But then, of course, I thought how much music plays a very vital role even in that.

We are not talking about a huge amount of money here, but small venues and commissions are financially the, if you like, soft underbelly of experimental and innovative creativity in this country. They are such an easy target for cuts and they exist on a knife edge, yet feed into and supply the income-generating companies that help to fuel the economy of which the Government are justly proud.

I have a request for the Minister. Ed Vaizey promised to take back to the DCMS the point about composers and the gap. I would like to go further and combine it with what we are talking about today. Therefore, will the Minister please talk to him about the way in which we can address these two issues together to see whether there is any way of protecting and nurturing the vulnerable but vital work of small venues and thus, in the long run, the overall future health of creativity in this country?

15:31
Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, when you find yourself slightly further down the list of speakers, you look at your briefing notes and suddenly realise that most of your points have been mentioned. Therefore, I am afraid that I will repeat some of the points that have already been made.

I have danced to the music of the band of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn. Indeed, I remember that my wedding was greatly enhanced by the spontaneous spotting of accents in the room and the way that the music followed them. The sight of people in morning suits dancing reels will stay with me for quite a while. However, as noble Lords have said, we have lost 35% of our smaller music venues. That means that one in three has gone. Clearly, these venues are under pressure. This is not the result of intentional policy but a classic case of Murphy’s law as the pressure on these outside bodies is leading to them being squeezed. If we are not going to subsidise them, we have to make the system work for them. I think that my noble friend Lord Foster pointed out that we should bring together the various parts of government and make them work together because it is clearly in nobody’s interest to lose these venues. Some people will say that such a step is in their interest if it is to their perceived personal advantage. Nimbyism will always be present, but if we adopt something like the agent of change principle, surely we can put this in a sensible context.

Who has not chortled over their cornflakes at newspaper articles about people who move next to pubs then complain when customers leave them after closing time or who, better still, complain that the cows in an adjacent field moo? We need to state that if you move somewhere where a venue is already in place which is deemed to be good by the vast majority of people, you will have to live with it or make changes to your property that allow you to live with it. It is not beyond the wit of man in the modern world to install sound insulation in a property. The person who moves into the property should take on that responsibility. It is important to get that across.

On business rates and so on, we must encourage local authorities to think about the venue. What does the economic activity going on there mean to the local area? Are people spending money in it and does it provide employment? The figure may not be exact, but another statistic which has been mentioned is that more than 117,000 people are employed in this sector and deriving an income from the music industry. These venues make a contribution to local restaurants and other bars in the area. They do not stand by themselves, and surely that must be taken into account. You will get the odd venue that goes a little bit rogue and possibly needs some intervention to deal with it, but most of the time they are peaceful, law-abiding institutions to which people go to enjoy themselves. Ensuring that people appreciate what else is going on is vital to this.

It has been suggested that we should have what I think are called “night mayors”. I love the idea of the first prominent person to hold that position. The cartoonists will have an absolute field day. I think the expression “night tsar” was used, which is a wiser way of putting it. It is probably necessary to have someone to co-ordinate leisure activities and the economic activity that goes with them because there are competing stresses on how all this is implemented. It is important that people are made aware of this. We all know that the world is focused on us, and we are all very capable of losing our peripheral vision when it comes to changing situations. Making sure that we understand that music venues and the leisure activities that result from them are part of a wider economy would probably be the best thing we could do here.

There is a great deal of good will around this, and much legislative change has already taken place, but when the noble Earl comes to respond to the debate, can he give us an idea of how the co-ordination is being handled, how guidance is being produced and then pushed down to local authorities, and what help is being given to enable them to reach out themselves? This will cross boundaries for local authorities, so how will it be done? That is important because we are in danger of getting rid of something which is of great benefit all round. Whatever problems there are, they will be as nothing compared with the damage that will be done to a whole sector of our creative economy.

15:37
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for securing this debate, and I thank all the music-loving Members of the House, of whom I am sure there are more than we have been able to squeeze in to participate in today’s debate. Indeed, it has brought back fond memories of the first Bill that I was involved in, the Live Music Bill, which is now the Live Music Act 2012, which I had the honour of stewarding through from the Opposition Front Bench. Although I declare an interest as a rather part-time member of the Parliament Choir, I have none of the expertise so much on display of those with professional and semi-professional links who have talked about their experiences; I acknowledge how much that has contributed to our debate today. But all of us are here because we share a commitment to the sector in its widest sense, and I hope that that message is loud and clear for the Minister. This is a matter that cuts across all the parties and sectors of the House.

The unanimity of purpose in coming to the debate today has been echoed in a message that the Minister will have picked up, which is that there is common ground here. Grass-roots music venues play a key role in enabling some of the biggest names in music to develop as artists and to build their audiences. They are in some senses incubators, and so protecting these live music venues is crucial to our creative industries. As several noble Lords have observed, they contribute to a sense of place and they add to an area’s desirability as a place to live, work and visit.

This is not just a London problem. Noble Lords have mentioned Cardiff, Lancaster, York and Edinburgh, and there are all too many others. We should congratulate the Mayor of London—I do so publicly today—on setting up the Music Venues Taskforce, which has informed so many of today’s contributions. Perhaps in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, we should invite other cities to replicate this work and extend it so as to produce the evidence which I am sure would convince Ministers, even if they have not been convinced by what has been said in the debate today.

What exactly is the problem? There is a lot of concern and anxiety around this, and Ministers will want to be sure that they are in the right area on this. It seems to me that we have differential planning, licensing, policing and fiscal policies in play, which means that it is a struggle for those involved to balance the needs of grass-roots music venues with those of residents and businesses. All these are legitimate concerns. But without thinking through the policy implications, tensions are bound to arise. It is obvious that an increasing need for housing means that residential development is taking place cheek-by-jowl with existing night-time activity. This pressure, coupled with rising property prices and increasing costs for grass-roots music venues, is proving, as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, said, a perfect storm, and as a result venues are closing. This is a very depressing scenario. Everyone has argued that we want to do something about it, but nobody has come up with a very clean and obvious solution that would, with one stroke, solve this. I will just touch on some of the issues that have come up today and invite the Minister to respond to each of them.

First is the agent of change principle, which has received a fair amount of discussion. This puts the onus on the developer to mitigate any future problems which might emerge between newcomers to an area and long-standing local venues. Funnily enough, I came across this the other day on a visit, as part of my secondment to the Metropolitan Police, to an area on the outskirts of London which houses the police mounted brigade. It is fully equipped to look after horses, and obviously with horses come noise—in this case, a forge, which is not quiet but is used through the day and often at night. The adjacent industrial estate is going to be turned into a housing estate, and the Metropolitan Police is concerned that its existing practices and procedures will be affected by future complaints. This is not just a music issue, but is of wider concern.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the debate on the Housing and Planning Bill, in which the Minister, Mr Brandon Lewis, said a number of things about this. I will pick up a slightly different quote, which seemed to me to be a way forward. He not only said, as others have mentioned, that he wants to look further at the matter and has been working with the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy but accepted that:

“If a business is working and a nearby building converts to residential housing … It would be entirely wrong of the people who moved … to complain about the business that existed before the residential housing was there”.—[Official Report, Commons, Housing and Planning Bill Committee, 8/12/15; col. 598.]

When the Minister comes to respond, can he update us on where discussions have got to on this point? There are opportunities coming up in this House which would allow us to take the point further, should that be appropriate.

On business rates, one thing that has not been mentioned up to now but which came up as a live issue in the recent Enterprise Bill—whose Third Reading is still to come—is the question of whether or not there will be action on the rating demands being raised by the VOA on grass-roots music festivals which operate on agricultural land. It is slightly tangential but it bears on the wider point, also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about the way in which local authorities could affect the incidence of business rates not only on venues but on portable festivals. Again, could the Minister update us on where we have got to on this? I think the last statement on this was from the DCMS Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who said that,

“if there are no permanent physical adaptations to the land … and the duration of the festival is only a matter of a few days, it is unlikely to attract a rating”.—[Official Report, 2/11/15; col. GC 314.]

However, that is not what is happening on the ground: ratings have been applied and they have been causing problems.

My fourth point follows the rather interesting point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about the feeling in the industry, which I think is genuine, that there is overregulation of the activity here. It is easy to knock regulation—good regulation is essential for the proper functioning of a good society—but it may be that perhaps the better regulation unit in BIS could be asked to apply a task-oriented focus on this area to see whether it could come up with some plans for deregulation which would both satisfy the Government’s overall aim to have two out for every one in and relieve some of the problems of the music industry.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, reminded us that music can have a restorative effect on social cohesion and health. Can the Minister sketch out for us what his department is doing to spread the word about why DWP, DH and CLG should be working with DCMS to make sure that music is supported in this way?

15:45
Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for securing this debate, and thank other noble Lords for their contributions. The debate is particularly appropriate as the noble Lord was the parent of an important Bill that went through this House.

The future of small, grass-roots music venues is clearly an issue that attracts strong interest from this Committee and across the whole House, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. I am fully aware of the important contribution that the live music scene makes, not just to the UK economy but to its overall cultural landscape.

Noble Lords mentioned the many venues that they have seen various acts at, and I should mention that many of those venues formed an important part of my youth, such as Friars in Aylesbury, where I remember seeing Cockney Rebel twice in one year. I also saw John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett, although I did not really get too much into their music, to be perfectly honest. More recently, I visited the Horseshoe in Clerkenwell to hear a folk singer from Courtown Harbour in County Wexford sing a song called “Lord Courtown”, which is about an ancestor of mine. Strangely enough, it was very complimentary about the famine work that my family did during those bad years.

Music is one of the things that makes our country great, and often provides a person’s first introduction to all things British. It is one of the principal reasons that the UK is currently ranked number one in the global soft power index. British singers and musicians, as mentioned by noble Lords, provide the daily soundtrack to the lives of millions.

When I talk about talent, I am looking not just at the artists. This country provides the industry with outstanding producers, sound engineers, writers, arrangers, promoters, roadies and many others who are all part of the UK’s music ecosystem. Music tourism—not mentioned before in this debate—generated more than £3 billion of spending in the UK last year and sustained nearly 40,000 jobs. Last year, 546,000 people came here from overseas because of music, spending an average of £751 each.

The Government will carry on supporting and promoting an environment in which UK music can continue to thrive. I note that between 2012 and 2016, the Government will have invested £460 million in a wide range of music and cultural education programmes. We have moved to boost our orchestras with a new tax relief at a rate of 25% on qualifying expenditure from next April. The music export growth scheme helps independent music companies to reach overseas markets, ably assisted by the BPI and UK Trade and Investment—Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers being just one of the bands to benefit from the scheme.

Grass-roots music venues are a vibrant and vital part of our music ecosystem and our communities, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and others. That is why, since last year, we have reformed entertainment licensing to make it easier to perform and play live and recorded music. We have also noted calls for the adoption of the agent of change principle to protect music venues from noise enforcement when it comes to changes in nearby land use. I will say more on that later in my speech.

We have made changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, which now includes a specific reference to the need for consideration of existing live music venues when it comes to changes of use in nearby land. Additionally, the Supreme Court judgment in a common law nuisance case, Coventry v Lawrence, has made changes to the way nuisance law is interpreted in the 21st century. The judgment helps in emphasising that the regulatory regime must strike a balance between enabling people to enjoy music at well-run venues and managing any potentially adverse effects from noise for residents.

This is, as noble Lords have said, challenging, but we are exploring what more can be done to ensure that local authorities take all relevant factors into account, as in the case of Camden Council. Noble Lords have mentioned its 2010 strategy for Denmark Street, which acknowledges the street’s renown as,

“a centre of popular music instrument retailing”,

its “unique and vibrant atmosphere”, and its significant contribution to the area’s “special interest and character”. It is right and proper that plans have been approved to bring the 12 Bar Club building back into use as a music venue, and planning permission has been granted for a brand new 800-capacity music venue directly opposite the site where the Astoria once stood.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Foster and Lord Stevenson, commented on the agent of change principle and the debate that occurred in the House of Commons last week. I shall answer as much as I can on the issue, but I shall ensure that the substance of this debate is put to my colleagues in that department as well. This is a complex issue, which cuts across planning, licensing and noise protection regimes. We have looked into the planning provisions in Victoria, Australia, but they apply only to developments within 50 metres of live music venues, whereas the National Planning Policy Framework says that existing business such as music venues, regardless of distance, should not have unreasonable restrictions put on them because of changes in nearby land use since they were established. Elements of the agent of change principle already exist within planning policies and guidance and can already influence planning decisions, because planning law requires planning applications to be determined in accordance with the local development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. National policy and guidance are material considerations.

The noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Addington, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, drew the attention of the Grand Committee to business rates. The Government recognise that business rates represent a fixed cost that can be more burdensome during times of economic difficulty, particularly for small businesses. That is why my right honourable friend the Chancellor has extended the doubling of small business rate relief until April 2017, which gives targeted support to single, small properties. Some 600,000 eligible small businesses are estimated to benefit and 400,000 businesses will pay no rates at all as a result of the 12-month extension.

Local authorities also have the power to offer business rate discounts beyond predefined reliefs at their discretion. This is funded 50% by central government and 50% by the relevant local authority. We would expect local authorities to take full account of the funding provided by central government for discretionary rate relief when making their decisions. The Government are currently undertaking a review of business rates, which will be fiscally neutral and will report at a later date.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, also mentioned deeds of easement, such as that in the case of the Ministry of Sound. It is a matter of choice for all the parties involved; every case where the potential exists for adopting such an approach will need to be considered on its own merits. It must be the decision of those affected as to whether entering into such an agreement is right for them.

Many if not all noble Lords mentioned the issue relating to cross-governmental co-ordination and the meeting to be arranged between my honourable friend Mr Vaizey and colleagues in the DCLG. My honourable friend remains committed to taking a delegation of music venue owners to meet the Planning Minister, and it is my understanding that the relevant ministerial offices are currently working to secure an appropriate date for the new year. Furthermore, I can confirm that officials from the department concerned have already met to discuss these issues on a number of occasions and, led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, we will set up further meetings to look at what can be done. As the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Addington and Lord Berkeley said, co-ordination between all those departments is so important; it does not involve just one department but a wide spread of departments. At the same time, we will look at better collection of statistics. As the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, it is difficult to define these venues.

A number of noble Lords also referred to my honourable friend’s mention of funding and access to funding during his participation in Venues Day this year, when he encouraged music venues to apply for Arts Council funding. He was, however, also clear that funding decisions are made by the Arts Council independently of government. The Arts Council already provides funding for a number of small music venues, such as Band on the Wall in Manchester, Cecil Sharp House in London and the Stables in Milton Keynes. Several noble Lords mentioned the Mayor of London’s Music Venues Taskforce. It is not the intention of the Government to deliver a formal response to the Mayor of London’s Music Venues Taskforce report.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, raised the subject of the amendments brought forward in Committee in another place. As I have already said, the National Planning Policy Framework, supported by planning guidance, incorporates the agent of change principle by making clear that existing businesses wanting to continue and develop should not have unreasonable restrictions put on them because of changes in nearby land uses since they were established.

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would be happy to try to answer the query of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, if he writes to me. The noble Lord also asked about assets of community value. This policy area falls within his old department, and I will ensure that the point is made to my colleagues in that department.

In closing—I realise that I have not dealt with all the queries put to me—I say to noble Lords that we want to encourage people to live in our towns and cities while at the same time enabling small grass-roots music venues to flourish, giving a range of musicians and artists a valuable opportunity to perform in front of a live audience and local communities a valuable social hub and cultural attraction. Although we have done much already to help music venues across the UK, we welcome the ongoing dialogue with the music industry on what more can be done to protect those venues.

15:56
Sitting suspended.