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Lord Crickhowell: I can be brief, as the case that I was going to make has just been admirably made from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I was going to speak on the same subjectmusic festivals, particularly music festivals in Wales. The case was also comprehensively
I speak, I suppose, as a representative of the disestablished Church in Wales. I am churchwarden of a small church in a group of parishes in a Welsh valley. I think that I could speak equally well for the chapels of Wales, in which the same situation would arise. The importance to churches and communities of the kind of social and entertainment activities that have been described by speakers on the Bishops' Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches and, indeed, the Government Benches, cannot be over-emphasised.
I have two detailed points. Oneon health and safetyhas just been made. In the church of Crickhowell, there is a wonderful choral festival every year. We all sit in the seats that we might have occupied at a church service the previous week or at a wedding. In fact, there are almost exactly the same numbers as there would be for a large wedding service or as there were recently for the funeral of a popular local figure. I cannot see that there can be a health and safety question that arises for the people who attend the concert that does not arise for those who are present for a funeral or a wedding. I find the argument on health and safety utterly unconvincing and incomprehensible. As the right reverend Prelate also said, there has been exemption for about a hundred years, and no good case has been made for removing it.
For all the reasons so cogently given and as a passionate supporter of the kind of concerts and musical activities that take place all over the countrycertainly in my part of the countryI strongly support the amendments. I suspect that they will not be pressed to a Division today, but I hope that, if the Government do not listen to our arguments, there will be an occasion later in the progress of the Bill when we can vote for the right reverend Prelate's amendment.
Lord Williamson of Horton: Many noble Lords have spoken about the disadvantages of what is in the Bill, and I support what they said. However, I ask the Minister to set out in her reply the reasons why the proposal is in the Bill. I am an ex-bureaucrat, and I have a vivid imagination, but I am unable to see why it is in the Bill. It is not sufficient to make a general argument about health and safety. It is not sufficient just to say that there could be a problem with health and safety in some parish church or elsewhere. I am not convinced by that argument; we need a lot more than that, if we are to respond to the Government's position. At present, I see no reason to do that.
Lord Bridges: There is one aspect of the clauses that has not yet come to our attentiontheir financial effect. Although it is made clear who will conduct the licensing, there is no procedure for appeals against the amount of the fee for the licence or the annual inspection. The relevant references are Clause 54 and Schedule 5.
I know the effect that it will have on my parish church, which is a Grade I listed building, with 130 people on the church roll. We are at a loss as to how we would finance activities without collaring four or five string quartets who come each year to play in the excellent acoustic. That helps us. Not only will we lose that amount, but we may have to pay more. The district council's finances are always in a difficult condition. If it sees that it can up the ante and charge more, as far as I can see there is nothing in the Bill to prevent it from doing so. Therefore, I believe that this is a serious matter and hope that we shall adopt one of the two amendments to those clauses. Like the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I have a marginal preference for that produced by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: To follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, I should be grateful if the Minister would say what would be the average cost of an annual visit for licence purposes, if one has to be undertaken.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I support the previous speeches and, in particular, that of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. St Leonard's Church in Bridgnorththe home of the Haydn concert to which he referredwill undoubtedly be affected by the type of charges that are in contemplation. Astley Abbots is a small village two miles outside Bridgnorth and I have known the church all my life.
The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London referred to Ludlow. That brings us to wider implications of the Bill. St Lawrence church, Ludlow, where the concerts to which he referred take place, does not just maintain the fabric of the churchgood though that isit also maintains the grave of A E Housman, the famous poet and writer of "A Shropshire Lad", in the churchyard. Therefore, all those activities have more to offer the community than first appears to be the case. I very much support those amendments and I hope that the Government will consider them and return with a sensible and thought-through amendment to the Bill.
The Earl of Sandwich: I simply want to underline the important point of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London as regards public access. I speak as someone with some years experience of small rural communities in the West Country where the tiny parish church is often an importantif not the onlyfocus of rural life. As the right reverend Prelate said, it is the Government's own heritage policyis it not?to encourage access to all our public buildings and make every possible use of, say, churches built for a religious purpose. In the case of my local community, half the church is a badminton court.
The Minister will know particularly well how the Churches Conservation Trust is encouraged by her department to engage in outreach to a national public. That involves making available for events, as well as for the occasional services, churches which, long before they came into the hands of the trust, were declared redundant by the Church of England. Moreover, in addition to holding events, as a method of outreach, it is the case that ancient buildings gain immensely by being used and not simply being left shut up. The Minister, again, is particularly well qualified to recognise the irony that 70 per cent of the funding for the Churches Conservation Trust comes from her department.
Baroness Blackstone: The common intention of Amendments Nos. 5, 23 and 24, is to exclude places of worship from the entertainment aspects of the licensing regime. Amendment No. 5 goes further and also exempts educational institutions.
I am sure that all Members of the Committee will want to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on our churches. I entirely accept that, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London said, unnecessary burdens should be avoided. The Bill, as currently drafted, exempts all music and other entertainment which is for, or incidental to, a religious meeting or service. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that would certainly include carol services. However, it does not exempt secular entertainments in churches or other places of worship, as I believe those who have taken part in the debate clearly understand. It is that matter to which many speakers object.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I apologise to the Minister for interrupting so early and am grateful to her for giving way. I believe that she may have misled the Committee inadvertently in saying that incidental music was exempted by the Bill. It is only recorded incidental music that is exempt, under paragraph 7.
Baroness Blackstone: I did not say that incidental music was exempt. I said that programmes such as carol services are exempt. But it would be so much easier if I could complete what I want to say without being interruptedit might make some difference to how we proceed.
I believe that it was thought right that one regime should apply to the whole country and that this was an anomaly. Of course, Members can argue that the Government could have gone in the other direction and taken London out, rather than that there should be one rule for churches in London and another rule for churches in rural areas. I entirely accept that it could go in that direction rather than being extended to cities, towns and villages elsewhere in the country.
We are naturally concerned that the Bill should treat all faiths equallyindeed, it must, as my noble friend Lord Ahmed said. A definition which properly includes all potential places of religious worship and does not drive a coach and horses through the Bill is no easy matter. Members need to think about so-called "new-age" religions and "raves" which some people believe masquerade as worshipand, indeed, they sometimes do. Therefore, we should be extremely careful before settling on a form of words which does not protect bona fide places of worship.
Therefore, we intend to consider our position again in respect of places of worship and to do so carefully. I undertake to return at a later stage and address a way forward. In those circumstances I hope that Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 will not be pressed today.
The issues that arise from Amendment No. 5 also came up in the previous debate. It calls for educational institutions to be exempt from the licensing regime. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, asked whether the Department for Education and Skills had been consulted, and the answer is no. There was no need to consult it because we are not changing the position of schools or colleges in any way in the legislation. In so far as schools, colleges, universities or any other educational institutions involve the public in paid events, they are currently not exempt from the licensing regime.
We should be absolutely clear that the provisions of the Licensing Billor, indeed, of the current regimewill not affect musical instruction or musical tuition. The performance of live music falls within the scope of the Bill where the entertainment takes place in the presence of an audience and is provided for the purpose of entertaining that audience. Tuition is not provided for the purposes of entertainment but for the purposes of instruction.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred to the possibility of a teacher or head teacher standing in front of a very large group of 500 or even 1,000 children and possibly having amplification. That teacher or head teacher is clearly not there for the purposes of entertainmentalthough some of the pupils might find what he or she has to say entertaining, or might seek to find it entertainingbut for the purpose of instruction. I can again assure the House that entertainment provided without charge for pupils, their parents and other invited guests is not a
Having made a very important concessionwhich I hope will be welcomedthat we will go back and look carefully at the issue of an exemption for churches which is watertight and not subject to all kinds of difficulties, including cases being taken to court, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
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