Bid to ban acoustic wallpaper

We have lost the freedom to shop, eat, travel and even work without having to endure non-stop elevator music, observes Lord Beaumont of Whitley. So he presented a law to Parliament this week to switch it off in the places where it annoys people most.

Lord Beaumont hates all piped music. He made the House of Lords aware in February of the psychological stress inflicted on department store staff when Jingle Bells is repeated up to 300 times a day in the run up to Christmas. But his Private Members' Bill, published on Tuesday, focuses on the muzak players of greater concern.

"Consumers can vote with their feet and pockets and go to other pubs, shops or restaurants, so persuading retailers to change or end their tune," he said in February. "Many successful businesses such as Tesco flourish without piped music. However, such freedom of choice does not expect to public places such as hospitals, doctors' surgeries, public swimming pools and libraries, buses and trains, rail and bus stations and airports."

For those lying immobilised on a hospital bed, there may be no rest from non-stop music, be it from a radio, TV or hospital music system. "Such unwanted and inescapable noise can make their health problems worse," he said.

According to PipeDown, a campaign for freedom from piped music of which Lord Beaumont is a member, unwanted noise raises the blood pressure and depresses the immune system. For blind people who rely on background noise to navigate, piped music can be upsetting. For some people with hearing problems, it can be painful.

Lord Beaumont also told his peers of a study by Nottingham University's medical school which found that music made waiting blood donors more anxious before donating and more likely to be depressed after donating.

"For patients on hospital wards, the supply of headphones ought to be regarded as universal and mandatory," said Lord Beaumont. Genuinely quiet carriages on trains are hard to find, he pointed out, and many carriages pipe TV to stressed commuters.

This is not the first attempt to ban muzak. Robert Key, Conservative MP for Salisbury, tried it in 2000, citing the problems for deaf or blind people, but his Private Members' Bill failed. More recently, Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, made an Early Day Motion to the House of Commons in April to place on record the House's appreciation to the UK Noise Association, a coalition of organisations lobbying on different aspects of noise, including piped music, for its continuing work against noise pollution.

This week's proposal is short. If passed, the Secretary of State would be obliged to draw up a plan of measures to ban pre-recorded background music and TV in the public areas of hospitals and on all public transport journeys of less than 50 miles. Headphones would be compulsory for people listening to music in the public areas of hospitals and on all public transport journeys over 50 miles.

The Bill includes exceptions: TV programmes to safeguard the welfare of users of hospitals or travellers, or those deemed by the Secretary of State to be in the public interest, are allowed. So looping guidance on hospital hygiene might be permitted while MTV would not.

It is unlikely that Lord Beaumont's Bill will become a law. Private Members' Bills rarely do. But like most such Bills, it helps to raise awareness of an issue that will strike a chord with many. Lord Beaumont's and PipeDown's campaigning will surely continue.