The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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.