By Lindsey Turnbull
A private member’s motion was brought before Parliament last week by Sir Alden Mclaughlin, Elected Member for Red Bay, asking for government to permit the playing of background music in bars on Sundays. Hotel and restaurant bars are allowed to play music in their bars but local bars, all of which are Caymanian-owned, are not permitted, under the law.
Sir Alden alluded to the fact that stand-alone bars which are Caymanian owned, like many small businesses, were still struggling to recoup the losses over the last few years of the pandemic and were reporting a loss of business on Sundays to hotels and restaurants which are allowed under the Music and Dancing (Control) Act to have suitable background music being played. As a result, he asked government to consider local bars to be granted the same freedom to play music on a Sunday, provided the music should not be heard outside the boundary of the establishment.
“I’m not sure what the rationale was at the time [of writing the law] for not permitting music to be played in standalone bars, but it now it is a complete incongruity because we have a situation where the bars and restaurants along the Seven Mile strip are allowed both to play music and to have dancing on Good Friday, Christmas Day or Sunday, but we have a situation where local bars - which are without exception all Caymanian owned - are not allowed to have even background music on a Sunday. It is causing a great deal of loss of business to those establishments and complaints from their patrons,” Sir Alden stated in Parliament.
There was no underlying premise for having the distinction between stand along bars and restaurants and hotels, he said.
In response to the proposed Motion, Financial Services and Commerce Minister Andre Ebanks said the government was committed to modernising the legislation that impacted this motion.
“There are currently 58 licensed standalone bars and the legislation in its current form puts them at a disadvantage as compared to restaurants and hotels due to their inability to play music for their patrons on a Sunday,” he acknowledged.
Minister Ebanks commented on the apparent piecemeal approach to the changes to the law on the issue in the past and said that seemed to be the reason why the issue had been overlooked, rather than any specific reason to prevent bars from playing music on a Sunday.
Government was taking a comprehensive look at the issue, taking into consideration all stakeholders and also measuring the noise levels permitted, he advised.
“We’re taking a comprehensive look and in addition trying to modernise other areas that surround that legislation to take that forward so that we are not here a few years later and it still hasn’t been addressed comprehensively, but, in short, we support the motion and we are working on the cause,” he said.
While Sir Alden said he was pleased that they supported the motion, he pointed out the government had been trying to find a way to measure noise for the past 20 years.
“I fear that if that approach is adopted again, we are going to continue with this disparity and inequality because there are no prescribed noise levels in Cayman,” he said.
Sir Alden feared that restaurants on Seven Mile would continue to be able to play music as loudly as they wished while local bars suffered, just for the sake of a small change to the law. The fact that the police appeared to be rigorously enforcing the law at the moment, which had up until now been somewhat overlooked, reinforced the disparity and therefore needed urgent attention, he said.