"The Licensing Bill just introduced by the Government could – if unamended –
spell the death knell to the Lichfield Festival and other arts events in the
West Midlands centred on cathedrals and churches", says Michael Fabricant.
In the House of Commons yesterday, he raised it with Robin Cook the Leader
of the House and asked when the Bill – currently in the House of Lords –
will appear in the Commons so it can be amended. The extract from Hansard
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): May I invite the Leader of the House to
spend an evening with me in Lichfield? We could perhaps go to one of its
elegant restaurants – perhaps the Eastern Eye – and then to Lichfield
cathedral to hear one of the many concerts that are put on there. Perhaps
then he might like to speak to his right hon. and hon. Friends about the
contents of the Licensing Bill, which, if passed, will mean no more concerts
in Lichfield cathedral and no more Lichfield Festival; nor will there be any
concerts in Worcester or Hereford cathedrals, or many others in the United
Kingdom. When will the Licensing Bill appear for its Second Reading in the
House of Commons?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his invitation to
dinner, which I shall communicate to my diary secretary, with my secret
marking to put it at the bottom of the pile.
On the issue of substance that he raises, I reassure his constituents that
the proposed provision on licensing public events in places of worship does
not embrace any religious act of worship, for which no licence will be
required, and that it will permit churches to hold five events a year, on
each of three days, making a total of 15 days without licence. Of course the
premises may be regularly used not for acts of worship, but for secular
entertainment, however worthy and excellent.
Michael Fabricant: It is very worthy.
Mr. Cook: I am sure that it is extremely worthy and extremely excellent,
so the hon. Gentleman owes it to his constituents to ensure that they can
hear it with the peace of mind of knowing that those premises are safe and
that they can leave them in the event of an emergency. For that reason, any
responsible Government must ensure adequate provision for places of public
entertainment. If there were to be-God forbid-any disaster in Lichfield
cathedral, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to criticise the Government
for not safeguarding it.
Michael now says: "Notwithstanding the friendly banter, Robin Cook’s answer
will offer no comfort to the Lichfield Festival which is centred on our
Cathedral. The Festival and other events in the Cathedral mean that it is
used for concerts far more often than 15 days a year. The Cathedral has
been here for over 800 years so I suspect there is little fear of it
suddenly falling down!
"Concerts in Lichfield and other cathedrals have a dual and valuable
purpose. They make places of worship accessible to those who might not
otherwise wish to visit and they also provide much needed funding. This
funding is particularly needed now at a time when grants to cathedrals to
maintain the buildings have been cut back by four-fifths. This is hardly
the time to create additional burdens on Cathedrals by making them pay an
unnecessary and hefty licence fee. I will oppose this in the House when it
appears in the Commons. I am afraid this is but one more example of a
stealth tax: this time on cathedrals and churches".