"I have had many letters from churches and voluntary organisations in the constituency, concerned about the proposals in the Licensing Bill to charge churches for hosting concerts and recitals. I don't think the Government realised how unpopular these proposals were, and I was glad to get the following letter explaining that they are having second thoughts."
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Secretary of State's Private Office
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1Y SDH
www .culture.gov .uk 2 January 2003
Thank you for your letter of 25 November to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, expressing the concerns of your constituents with the effect the proposed alcohol and public entertainment licensing reforms will have on churches. I am writing at the Secretary of State's request to let you know we are reconsidering this issue.
The Secretary of State appreciates your concerns about the proposed reforms and the effect they will have on the licensing of music in churches. She would like to make it clear that the Government has been at pains to ensure that appropriate exemptions may be enjoyed by any faith when they are engaged in worship or any form of religious meeting. A carol service would not therefore be licensable, nor would church bell ringing.
Outside London, music in "a place of public religious worship or performed as an incident of a religious meeting or service" is exempt under current public entertainment licensing law. "A place of public worship" means only a place of public religious worship that belongs to the Church of England or to the Church of Wales or which is for the time being certified as required by law as a place of religious worship. The Licensing Bill, as it stands, would remove this exemption.
However, as Kim Howell's stated in the House of Commons on 16 December (Hansard, Column 517) the Government has made a commitment to reconsider its position on the licensing of churches and we will announce our conclusions as soon as possible.
Private Secretary to Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport