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Exclusive: Labour tables amendments to housing bill to save small music venues

Shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher backs "Agent of Change" principle to protect venues against developers. 

After Michael Dugher became shadow culture secretary, one of the first issues he raised was the plight of small music venues. Of the 430 that traded in London between 2007 and 2015, only 245 remain open. At the Music Trust's Venue Day 2015, Dugher, renowned for his love of karaoke, warned: "There is a real crisis at the moment and that's why we need a national strategy to support small music venues before many more shut." 

Now, ahead of tomorrow's committee stage debate on the Planning and Housing Debate, the New Statesman can reveal that Labour has tabled amendments on this issue. The party has endorsed the "Agent of Change" principle, which would require developers who build apartment blocks near established venues (open for at least a year) to pay for soundproofing and mitigate against other potential problems. At present, developers have no legal obligation to soundproof new residences, forcing developers to spend significant amounts fending off noise complaints, abatement notices and planning applications. 

The Music Venues Trust has warned that the government’s 2013 amendments to permit offices, car parks and disused buildings across the country to be converted to residences without planning permission has made the situation for venues even worse. Many chose their location deliberately so that they wouldn't be a "nuisance" to residents. The "Agent of Change" principle has already been adopted in Australia, where it has helped small music venues, and is supported by many MPs, industry body UK Music, BBC Radio 6 and venues (a petition on the issue attracted 31,586 signatures).

Jo Dipple, the chief executive of UK music, said: "UK Music is concerned about the worrying trend of closures in grassroots music venues. These venues act as important hubs for creativity and a means of nurturing talent that for an industry that contributes £4.1 billion to the UK economy. We strongly welcome encouraging signs that politicians are taking seriously the threats of further closures and look to the Government to support the introduction of these amendments into law."

Dugher said: "Since 2010, the Conservative government have just stood by whilst more and more grassroots music venues have been forced to close. 

"Small music venues play a key role in the success of the UK creative industry through enabling great young talent to grow and develop into our next global stars.  But there is a real crisis at the moment and that's why we need to adopt the Agent of Change principle to support small music venues. 

"Only a change in legislation can adequately resolve the situation and protect all concerned parties by clearly stipulating who is responsible for soundproofing and other necessary measures when a change is introduced to an area.  This has the support from the music industry and I hope the government will now back Labour’s amendments so we can help save grassroots music venues before it’s too late."

Labour sources believe there is "a good chance" that ministers, who have pledged to look at the issue, will support the amendments. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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