Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone) moved Amendment No. 10:



"(b) at a place of public religious worship,"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, after thinking about this issue, the Government have tabled Amendment No. 10, which would exempt places of public religious worship from the need to obtain a licence for the provision of entertainment or

24 Feb 2003 : Column 32

entertainment facilities. That will include instances in which the entertainment provided is secular. Amendment No. 11 is therefore unnecessary.

Within Greater London, the provision of secular entertainment at places of public religious worship has for many years required a licence. The exemption that Amendment No. 10 will create reflects the current position outside Greater London where the provision of secular music in places of public religious worship is not licensable. The amendment is therefore adding to the deregulatory measures contained in the Bill.

Amendment No. 10 will benefit religious institutions, music societies and other community groups and will further boost the diversity of cultural experience available to people and communities. The amendment will complement other measures in the Bill designed to foster live music by opening up even further the opportunities for musicians to perform. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, we on these Benches are very grateful to the Government for listening to the concerns about churches which we raised both on Second Reading and in Committee. There was unquestionably an outcry from many members of the public about the need to exempt those religious establishments.

I seek reassurance from the Minister in relation to the amendment. Amendment No. 11, in my name, refers to "religious buildings" as opposed to religious meetings or services. Amendment No. 11 states:


    "Religious buildings


    The provision of entertainment or entertainment facilities in premises mainly used for public religious worship is not to be regarded as the provision of regulated entertainment for the purposes of this Act".

It is our hope and wish that both the spirit and the actuality of Amendment No. 11 reflect the Government's intention. We on these Benches seek to ensure that all forms of entertainment in religious buildings are exempt, as opposed to merely entertainment for the purposes of, or incidental to, religious meetings or services.

Staff in the Public Bill Office assured us that government Amendment No. 10 is correct even though it inserts at page 110, line 30,


    "(b) at a place of public religious worship".

As currently drafted, line 30 on page 110 contains no paragraph (a).

I had proposed a different amendment to the Public Bill Office which read,


    "Religious buildings


    The provision of any entertainment or entertainment facilities


    (a) for the purposes of, or for purposes incidental to, a religious meeting or service, or


    (b) at a place of public religious worship,


    is not to be regarded as the provision of regulated entertainment for the purposes of this Act".

I hope that the Minister sees where I am coming from. The wording of Amendment No. 10 does not make sense in the context of the wording of the Bill.

24 Feb 2003 : Column 33

We have been approached by a number of noble Lords and people outside the Chamber who seek to ensure that the government amendment, which we are keen to endorse, exempts all forms of entertainment in religious buildings. I quote again from Amendment No. 11, which states:


    "The provision of entertainment or entertainment facilities in premises mainly used for public religious worship is not to be regarded as the provision of regulated entertainment for the purposes of this Act".

I give the example of bell ringing which concerns the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. The Bill refers to entertainment in the context of religious meetings or services. Bell ringers may play bells in different parts of the country for a charitable purpose or otherwise. They want to be sure that, in doing so, they do not require a licence. A number of noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, are concerned about concerts which take place in many different kinds of religious buildings. Many of those concerts take place to raise funds to maintain those buildings.

We welcome government Amendment No. 10 and want to support it. We do not wish to press Amendment No. 11 but we seek assurance from the Government that Amendment No. 10 covers,


    "The provision of entertainment or entertainment facilities in premises mainly used for public religious worship".

We seek to ensure that that kind of entertainment will not be considered regulated entertainment for the purposes of the Bill.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this excellent amendment. My right honourable friend Alan Beith will be displeased if I do not mention disused chapels. Some disused chapels in the north—former places of religious worship—have trust status. Musical performances may take place in them for fund-raising purposes. Are such disused chapels included in the terms of the amendment? If they are not, will the Minister consider altering the guidance to include them?

The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, all those responsible for places of public religious worship will be very grateful for the amendment we are discussing. I am grateful for the support from noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber. I was particularly grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, in Committee as this is emphatically not a concession made to churches but, as the government amendment makes clear, to all places of public religious worship.

As the noble Baroness said, the contents of our postbags show the depth of feeling on the matter. I believe that amateur music making traditions, so vital to many communities and so important in encouraging people of all ages to take part in musical or dramatic activities, would be badly curtailed if the Bill were not amended. As a legislative innocent, I presume that, if Amendment No. 10 is accepted, paragraph (a) will materialise at page 110, line 30.

24 Feb 2003 : Column 34

I hope that I am right in thinking that the amendment is couched in clear legal terms. I believe that the phrase,


    "place of public religious worship",

has specific legal meaning in other contexts; it is not just a question of religious assemblies. There should be no ambiguity as to whether a particular place qualifies for the exemption we are discussing. I shall listen carefully to the Minister's response to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe.

It is heartening that government Amendment No. 10 will free places of worship from the need to make impossible judgments as to whether a particular event is incidental to a religious service. Entertainment provided for the purposes of a religious meeting or service will be exempt, as will entertainment provided at a place of public religious worship. That is clear, simple and easy to understand on the part of all those who care for, or are responsible for, places of worship. It is not the intention of any such person to cause a public nuisance. I hope that no such person is likely to put on an event that would lead to nuisance. Indeed, the very absence of complaints about the present situation—the Government acknowledged that even the original proposals did not result from any specific problems in relation to entertainment in places of worship—should reassure Ministers.

As the Minister reminded us, when tabling the amendment the Government made the welcome statement that they proposed to exempt buildings such as church and village halls and similar premises from licensing fees, even though those premises would need to undertake the necessary procedures. That is encouraging news for those who look after places of worship and community buildings. I note that no specific government amendment on that matter has been tabled although a measure has been tabled which would have a similar effect. I should be interested to know what the Government propose in that regard. Will the Minister be kind enough to give an undertaking on how it is intended to bring that welcome proposal into effect? I reiterate the thanks of all those of all faiths and denominations who are responsible for places of worship for a generous recognition, through government Amendment No. 10, of the wide role such places and buildings play in the community, and for the clarity of the amendment itself.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate said that the concession applies not only to churches but to all places of religious worship. Is the Minister sure that that is the case? As I understood it from speaking the other day to the director of National Church Watch—that organisation is concerned with offences that take place on religious premises or against persons in religious premises—the only services that are public in the true sense of the word are those in the Church of England.

The divine service in the Church of England is open to any person who wishes to come through the doors and participate, but in all other churches the person who enters does so by means of a deemed licence,

24 Feb 2003 : Column 35

which can be withdrawn. That is also the case in the Church of England at any time other than a divine service. The director mentioned that because it was important in dealing with cases of misconduct in places of religious worship, as one could tell someone who, for example, entered a church outside the hours of divine service with a hat on or barechested, "That is an unseemly way in which to behave, so your licence to enter the premises is withdrawn and you may now leave". If the person did not leave, a policeman could be called to escort him off the premises.

That rule extends not only to the Church of England outside the times of divine service, but to any other church or place of religious worship that is not part of the Christian faith. I am afraid that using the term "public religious worship", as the amendment does, may exclude many of the premises that we think that we are covering—all the non-conformist churches, Catholic churches and those of other denominations—where entertainments may take place. We would like to exempt them, but may find that we have failed to do so because of the use of the term "public". Will the Minister kindly look at that? If I am wrong, she could say so now. However, I do not expect to be given an answer off the cuff, so perhaps the matter could be considered before Third Reading.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page