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Lord Redesdale: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 24, to which my name is attached. However, I must admit that I prefer the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, which I should have supported if I had read it in time. The amendments highlight a massive concern that goes to the heart of the Bill. The Bill is "one size fits all"; it deals with massive venues as well as the smallest church in the land.
I raised with my local church, St Marks, the question of a Nativity concert of a school nursery that was based in the church. I asked whether the Bill would apply but, being in London, it already has a public entertainment licence. St Marks could perhaps bear the cost. However, my local church in Northumberland, which has a congregation of eight, would find it a different matter altogether.
I support everything that the right reverend Prelate said. We shall return to the issue, and I hope that the Minister will make some concession on it, because I am sure that if the right reverend Prelate were to press it, it would receive support from around the Committee.
I have two questions. Are carol concerts covered under paragraph 9 of the exemptions? What about instrumental music? What if there was a religious service, an orchestra performed and at the end of the
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: I do not want to add to the arguments advanced by my friend the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of London, but I want to stress the widespread concern about the matter and the importance of churches and religious buildings in the cultural life of the countryside. In my episcopal ministry, I have served in two diocesesPeterborough and Chichesterwhich are typical of the English countryside. They combine urban settlements, small towns and even smaller villages. In all of those settings, churches and other places of public religious worship are increasingly used by the local community for concerts, school playsas we have heardand other cultural activities.
My predecessor was probably unfair when he described Peterborough as a cultural desert, but without Music in Country Churches, Music in Quiet Places, the Oundle Organ Festival, Music in Lyddingtonand so the list could go onthe cultural life of our communities would be considerably impoverished. Many of those events use a variety of venues in different villages and different churches, all of which would have to apply at least for a temporary licence under the proposals. Many of the organisations involved run on a small and fragile budget and, as we have heard, are subject to subsidy.
I therefore warmly support the amendments, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider the schedule. It would be anomalous on the one hand to encourage the increasing use of churches and other places of religious worship for cultural purposes by the community and on the other to add financial and bureaucratic burdens that could frustrate that purpose. When, as far as I am aware, there is no evidence of abuse of the current exemption, why are the Government legislating to remove it and require those places to seek a licence?
Lord Ahmed: I rise to support the amendment, and that in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. As a Muslim, I know that musical events do not affect the Muslim community. However, cultural activities do, and, in any case, in solidarity with all religious groups and places of worship, I support the amendment.
Before I became a Member of the House, I was a local councillor, and from my experience I know that many groups use places of worship such as churches for cultural eventsespecially those people who cannot afford to go to opera houses. Places of worship are the local, community place available to be used. I do not know of any crime and disorder in any place of worship. The White Paper talks about encouraging tourism and self-sufficient rural communities, reducing crime and disorder and reducing the burden of unnecessary regulation. I cannot see how including places of worship achieves any of those objectives.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My name is also attached to Amendment No. 5, and I support everything that has been said so far. It is extraordinary that at a time when schools have been working so hard to forge good relationships across the whole community by bringing people in to use school premises sensibly and by holding events for all kinds of groups in the community, they should then be penalised for doing so by having to pay a fee.
I turn to the community work of and cultural activities in cathedrals and churches, which have been so greatly valued by the community. Southwark Cathedral, where I worship, has a full, constant programme of events. I must tell my noble friend Lord Luke that we once had a knifing in Southwark Cathedral, but that was in the middle of a carol service, not of an alternative cultural event. I do not think that a licence for a carol service would have helped.
I reiterate to the Minister that it would be counter-productive and contrary to government policy to discourage the community outreach of schools, universities, colleges and churches by penalising them in that expensive way.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: A few weeks ago, I had the daunting task of cross-examining the right reverend Prelate in the Central Criminal Court. I am, therefore, pleased to speak on the same side as him, on this occasionagain, some might say.
I want to say a word about small music festivals. Immediately, I declare an interest or, at least, the interest of my wife, who is chairman of the Gregynog festival in mid-Wales. It is one of a large number of small music festivals that operate on a shoestring but bring high-quality music to communities that cannot always gain access to it. However, I shall not use my wife's festival as my example.
I want to draw the Committee's attention to three other examples. One is the Llanfyllen festival, which takes place in a small town on the Montgomeryshire-Shropshire border. The festival depends entirely on the remarkable goodwill of the Allegri String Quartet, who perform two or three concerts there every year as a result of the fact that a retired member of the quartet has a holiday home locally. Festivals such as the Llanfyllen festival have no financial margin of error; they operate on a shoestring. Indeed, that festival recently had to reduce the number of concerts.
The festival takes place in a beautiful church that is not full every Sunday, despite the great efforts of the local rector, but it is more or less full for the festival concerts. It brings people into the church; it brings the church into the mind of the people; it binds the community together; and it brings high-quality culture to that small town. If there is to be a charge that falls on the church, it will have to be passed on to the festival. If it is passed on to the festival, the festival may no longer be viable.
Another example is the remarkable English Haydn Festival, which takes place in a church in Bridgnorth. The church is redundant, but, I believe, it is still consecrated. It is a large festival in terms of the quantity of Haydn's music that is brought to the community around Bridgnorth, in Shropshire and mid-Wales. It, too, is run on a shoestring. A sum of £1,000 makes a huge difference, and £100 makes some difference. As I said, the church in which the English Haydn Festival at Bridgnorth takes place is no longer used for regular religious worship, but the festival provides a rationale for the retention of the building, which is in a crucial architectural position in the historic centre of a town that has, over the years, seen some poor development round its edges. So, as well as the cultural issue, there are architectural and civic issues.
The third example relates to the activities of an organisation with which my wife and I have had some dealings over the yearsthe Welshpool Choral Society. Not so many years ago, the Welshpool Choral Society sang the "Messiah" in Welshpool parish church. The society paid an organist to play for the occasion and sold tickets to the public. It lost a lot of money. We who sang had to pay for the privilege of singing and did so gladly, but the margins on which such small societies operate mean that extra charges will possibly bring such events to an end, along with the involvement of the community.
I already hear the Minister saying, "Ah, but we must be sure that health and safety law isn't broken. The same rules apply". I suppose that we will hear from the Minister that there is a danger at a chamber concert of the cello being played too loud and that there will have to be licensing conditions before it takes place. That is illogical. Under paragraph 9 of Schedule 1, a gospel rock band taking part in a religious service would not require licensing under the Act. There is a great deal of such activity, particularly in evangelical churches throughout the country. I have witnessed it myself in mid-Wales.
The schedule will create a bureaucratic nightmare that will drive small musical performances, particularly the smallest music festivalswhich mostly take place in rural areasout of existence for the sake of what appears to be only the principle of uniformity. I strongly support the amendments.
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