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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant):
I rise to add the Governments support for the motion, and I would like to pay an enormous tribute to
the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). He and I used to worship at the same churchSt. Jamess in Prebend streetand I think that the poor man actually had to listen to me preaching. He will be grateful that I shall not speak at any great length tonight. The whole House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and all of the trustees because we like to know that the £2 that we each give every month goes to a good cause, and is well administered. It is also important that the Treasury contribution is well administered. Although many of our constituents think that we live in pretty good circumstances and that there is fine provision for us in our retirement, such provision did not exist in the past for previous hon. Members. Sadly, many are in indigent circumstances, and it is therefore important that we ensure that funds are available. As the right hon. Gentleman said, sometimes a small amount of money can make an enormous difference to a particular person as they grow older.
I am sure that all hon. Members want to reaffirm their commitment to the cause, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for putting the case for the fund and answering so clearly the few questions that were put to him. Without further ado, I am happy to support the motion.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): I welcome the motion, which allows for the appropriation of hon. Members contributions from their salaries and for that of a sum from the Treasury. The fund significantly benefits former Members or their surviving spouses and dependants, whether they are as of right or discretionary beneficiaries. Often, the sums of money involved are relatively small, but they make a huge difference to the 90 or so recipients.
I do not wish to detain the House longer than necessary, so I conclude by expressing a big thank you to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and his fellow trustees. They do their work quietly and without fanfare, but they make a difference and improve the quality of recipients lives. For that, they should be commended.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD):
I will be as brief as my two colleagues who spoke from their respective Front Benches. First, I thank the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and his colleagues. Secondly, I make the obvious point,
which reflects a comment made by the Deputy Leader of the House, that it is right that we, who are on pretty decent salaries, make some contribution to those who came before us, when salaries were minimal and there was no proper provision for pensions, or for families or other dependants to have pensions.
The resourcing of this place has changed fantastically in the period that the right hon. Gentleman and I, as well as others, have been here. Resources, such as pay, are in a different league. We are doing the least that we can in recognising that we have a duty to help, on a non-party basis, those who have gone before and who need us. It is right that we do that willingly and consensually and give the trustees the encouragement of knowing that the House is behind them.
That, pursuant to section 4(4) of the House of Commons Members Fund Act 1948 and section 1(4) of the House of Commons Members Fund Act 1957, in the year commencing 1st October 2008 there be appropriated for the purposes of section 4 of the House of Commons Members Fund Act 1948:
(1) The whole of the sums deducted or set aside in that year under section 1(3) of the House of Commons Members Fund Act 1939 from the salaries of Members of the House of Commons; and
(2) The whole of the Treasury contribution to the Fund.
That the draft International Criminal Court (Remand Time) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 6th October, be approved.
That the draft Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 15th October, be approved.
That the draft Medical Profession (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 16th October, be approved [Ian Lucas.]
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in the House an issue that has given cause for concern, especially to small businesses and voluntary organisations in my constituency.
The debate on performing rights licensing is timely in that it follows hard on the heels of the closing date of the music licensing review consultation. Perhaps I should begin by explaining the role of the Performing Right Society. It is primarily to raise money by licensing playing or using music by collecting fees and distributing them through royalties to the musicians responsible for writing and publishing the music that we all enjoy in the UK and worldwide. Given that 90 per cent. of the Performing Right Societys members earn less than £5,000 in royalties a year, most of us would say that obtaining funds from those licences is reasonable. At least nine members of the PRS are based in my constituency, and the wider south-west is blessed with prolific and successful artists and writers.
It is therefore right that the PRS should look after the interests of its members by collecting the royalties they are owed. The creators of music should be protected by a law, which provides that others cannot use the product of their labours for free. Indeed, most of the small businesses that have contacted me have pointedly made it clear that they do not begrudge those people seeking recompense for their valued work.
The PRS can charge for virtually all the songs played on the radio and TV, on CDs and online. There are alternatives, however, and companies such as Fresh Air Studioswhich is based in Plymouthcan source music for corporate productions that is exempt from PRS. By law, under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, if someone uses music in public, they require permission, unless the music is PRS-exempt.
So, how does the PRS collect the licence fees? It continually contacts businesses across the UK to help them understand the need for a PRS music licence, and more than 100,000 businesses were contacted in 2007. Some 350,000 businesses across the UK currently have PRS licences. However, it is that collection process that has caused businesses to lobby me. In the light of their concerns, I met representatives of the PRS yesterday to discuss the matters raised with me and to listen to their position ahead of todays debate.
Some of the issues that had been drawn to my attention included the methods used to target small business owners who may not even require a licence; the implications of the cost of the licence for small organisations and businesses; the lack of clarity in the process; and the lack of information about alternative sources of music.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab):
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important matter. I should declare an interest as a member of the worlds only parliamentary rock band, MP4, although we do not necessarily put PRS or PPL to very much use. In any case, I welcome the balanced approach that my hon. Friend is taking to the debate and I am sure that
she appreciates that the PRS and PPL are an important source of income for many songwriters, composers and performers. As she will know, a small business can get a PRS licence for about £1 a week, which gives it access to some 10 million songs for a year, representing excellent value for money.
Alison Seabeck: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. Like many colleagues, I have enjoyed the music of MP4 live, and I know that members of the band write its music in the little spare time that they have. I take his pointand will make it myself later in my speechbut there are concerns, and that is why I wish to raise them tonight.
I have, for example, heard from the Association of Charity Shops, which told me that the cost of music usage is of increasing concern to charities and voluntary and community groups throughout the UK. It quoted its sports club members who said:
The average cost of a Performing Right Society Licence for a sports club is £369
However many sports clubs use music only incidentally, with audio-visual equipment being primarily available for training videos or to watch sports events.
received numerous very aggressive phone calls and a letter from PRS threatening enforcement within 14 days
if he did not purchase a licence. It was felt that the intention of the legislation was to exempt not-for-profit clubs and that the PRS was exploiting some bad drafting. The club had removed all the offending equipment rather than pay for a licence.
Many charity shops use music to support an attractive retail environment, in the same way as any retail concern, except of course they divert all their profits to charitable purposes. According to the charity shops, the current Government consultation on music licensing threatens to add substantial costs to their outgoings. That money could only come from funds earmarked for vital causes. Surely that is not a desirable outcome.
My interest in this issue resulted from a conversation I had with the chairman of my local Federation of Small Businesses, Richard Thomas, who wanted to raise the concerns of his members because guest houses, other small businesses, and even a one-man band playing music in his own garage in Plymouth, had received telephone calls and demands for money. Some said that they had been frightened into paying by what they felt were bullying tactics, because they were told that if they did not have a licence they could face legal action for copyright infringement, and possibly become liable to pay damages and costs. Most felt that the hassle and potential cost of pursuing that would be prohibitive, so they paid up.
The business used to be bigger, but Ive retired now really. Its more or less just a hobby.
He used to go to his office on his own once a week, if the weather was not good enough to allow him to go out into the garden. Unfortunately, Mr. Robson happened to be listening to Classic FM when he received a cold
call from the PRS. He said that he gets a bit lonely in his office when he is by himself, so he puts the radio on. Sadly, he was unable to convince the PRS of his situation.
The lady...didnt seem to want to listen to me. She said she could hear the radio on in the background.
I dont know why theyre picking on a poor old guy like me.
two more have arrived since. I just bin them now.
We then had a problem with Plymouth hospital radio, which provides an excellent service. It has contacted me with wider concerns, because with a turnover of less than £20,000, fees of almost £450 to PPL and nearly £200 to PRS are already quite significant. However, its concern involves the possibility of an increase in costs following the outcome of the consultation process. It understands the need to pay for music, but is worried that the consultation could have an adverse effect on it. It also feels that there is an awful lot of confusion and uncertainty among its friends and people in the voluntary sector.
Plymouth hospital radio is staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers who collectively give up thousands of hours each year to deliver charitable aims. They stand out in cold weather collecting money, and the last time they did that they managed to collect £500. Those people have genuine concerns about how much will be levied and where they fit into the tariff system.
it is difficult to see a basis for this and we respectfully ask that when the legislation is redrafted
it includes a provision for a total exemption for hospital radio station charities from having to pay fees to either of these organisations.
Mr. Cawsey: I declare a second interest as a former president of Scunthorpe hospital radio, a broadcasting organisation. I support my hon. Friends idea that hospital radio should be exempt, full stop. Does she have an opinion on whether a lot of the confusion over what the PRS and PPL do could be eased if they were amalgamated? There would be much more clarity about what people were licensed for and where the money was going.
My hon. Friend has a wide range of experience and talent. I did not know that he had been involved in hospital radio as well. Yes, there is a logic to what he suggests and the gist of what I am saying is that we need some clarity. There are too many grey areas, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister is
listening to that point. Indeed, before my hon. Friend intervened, I was about to say that there are too many grey areas in the process, and a lack of transparency and clarityexactly the point he made.
We also have an issue about the meaning of public place. Although the legislation does not define what in public means, anything other than a basic domestic situation seems to be deemed in public. Therefore, playing a radio in a workplace is deemed to be in public and requires a licence.
I have been given quite a lot of anecdotal evidence. For example, I chatted with a person at a dog kennels who played music to his dogs. He was the only person there, but occasionally the dog owners turned up, and when they did the playing of music was deemed to be in public. Another example is the blacksmith who played music to himself while working in his forge. Because his forge was open to the public and people could walk past, he was technically playing that music in public.
The definition of in public therefore needs some basis in legislation. The Ministers response to me on 2 November 2008 confirmed that there is no such definition, so perhaps he can give me some hope and the people who have contacted me a clear way forward this evening. The grey areas are also a problem for the PRS, which has made it clear to me that it would like a system that ensures fairness for its members, while being proportionate for business. I would like to emphasise the word proportionate, because in my view that is the key. Small businesses are not convinced that either the complex charging regime or the way that the PRS pursues people to find out whether they need to pay a licence is proportionate.
The process of establishing whether a person requires a licence involves writing up to three letters to a business, yet those letters cause deep unhappiness, too. Let me give some quotations from the Federation of Small Businesses. One person said:
I was approached in a threatening manner that if we didnt pay up prosecution would soon follow. We paid up and continued to be targeted even though we already had a licence.
When we telephoned and complained, giving full details of our current licence, we were told that they couldnt find any record of our payment and we would have to pay again. After a bit of heavy handed perseverance I was able to resolve that we were licensed and that the records would be amended. This was done very grudgingly and without any form of apology for what was their mistake.
We have been getting a run of letters for no reason, with each one of a more threatening toneAre you still breaking the law?, etc. I think they should be encouraged to educate, not threaten.
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