HC Deb 16 December 2002 vol 396 cc533-4
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

What assessment the Commissioners have made of the financial impact of the Government's proposal to license the performance of creative arts in places of worship. [85603]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

Figures suggest that, under the Licensing Bill's proposals, churches or other places of worship seeking to provide entertainment five times a year would pay 100 each year. If more events than that were required, a full licence would be needed and annual inspections would be necessary, each of which would attract a fee.

Mr. Key

May I invite the hon. Gentleman to stiffen the resolve of the Government to look again at this issue, as the Minister said in the other place last week? For example, the proposals will affect not just a particular church, but any building within the curtilage of that church, as well as open-air events in churchyards. Salisbury cathedral, in my constituency, covers 74 acres, containing three schools, Sarum college, a museum, a conservation centre, a National Trust house, a medieval hall and 150 houses including the deanery and the bishop's house, all of which are used for entertainment and fundraising efforts. The bureaucracy involved in these provisions will surely outweigh the benefit to those collecting the licence fee in terms of tax.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an inventory of Salisbury cathedral. He will be interested to know that 16,250 church buildings belonging to the Church of England alone will be covered by the proposed legislation. Many other denominations and faiths are also affected by the proposals as they stand. I invite the hon. Gentleman, and the Association of English Cathedrals, to write to the appropriate Minister to express their views, as we are doing as Church Commissioners, as the Archbishops Council is doing, and as the Bishop of London has so ably done in Committee in the House of Lords.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Does my hon. Friend accept that many churches, such as St. Peter's in Burnley, hold many more than five events a year? They do so not only to raise money, but to be part of the community. Such events provide essential community facilities, and we must ensure that that continues.

Mr. Bell

My hon. Friend makes a wider point than he imagines, because the Church plays a central role in our local communities—with entertainment and charity events in church halls, for example—and that is to be encouraged. What we are seeing now is a Government who are prepared to listen. Baroness Blackstone has said that she will consider the amendment proposed by the Bishop of London, and we have heard favourable noises from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and her team today. I am, therefore, hopeful that we will get a dispensation not only for churches throughout the country, but for churches in London that are already covered by previous legislation. My hon. Friend's point is well made and is being listened to. We are hopeful of a positive outcome.