Church Commissioner Mandelson
And His Lordship was accused of bare-faced hypocrisy.
Representatives of the Church of England have expressed alarm at the consequences of the new regulations being imposed by Commissioner Mandelson (as he can continue to call himself).
Although divine music in churches will have a (voluntary, non-statutory) exemption, church halls will not. Hiring out church halls for community functions is a vital role of the church, both in terms of raising funds and supporting community life. The Church Commissioners (other than Lord Mandelson) have expressed alarm at the 'adverse effects' of the changes.
Recorded in Hansard:
“Mr. Hurd: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the effect of the Government's proposed changes to exemptions from public performance rights in sound recordings and performers' rights on (a) religious worship and (b) church halls.
Sir Stuart Bell: My understanding is that there is no proposal to end the current exemption from the requirement to obtain a music licence for music used in 'divine service'. I have not assessed the possible impact of charges being introduced for church halls but Christian Copyright Licensing International, which handles copyright on behalf of churches, will in due course provide updates on the Government's proposed changes (which have yet to be debated by Parliament) and their potential effect on churches. I would urge the Government to avoid adverse effects on churches given their vital contribution to the wellbeing of our communities and our nation.”
So, churches, village halls, charity shops and sports clubs across the United Kingdom face a new £20 million levy. New regulations by Lord Mandelson's Whitehall empire are to abolish charities’ and voluntary groups’ long-standing exemption from paying music licensing fees – hitting them with unexpected new bills just for holding events with recorded music or for playing a radio.
To date, voluntary groups have not had to pay for a so-called “PPL” performance rights licence in order to play recorded music. This exemption reflects the public benefit that such organisations provide, but this is now being abolished. This will affect church halls, charity discos, tea dances, youth clubs, dancing groups, sports clubs and even charity shops which have a radio in their staff room. The new levy will come into effect in April 2010 once the new regulations are ratified by Parliament. Conservatives are opposing these changes and standing up for local voluntary groups.
Lord Mandelson’s department admits that the new levies will cost voluntary groups up to £20 million a year. Some organisations will 'cease playing music' because they cannot afford a licence, and it will hit a quarter of a million organisations – 140,000 charities, 6,750 charity shops, 66,440 sports clubs, 4,000 community buildings, 5,000 rural halls and 45,000 religious buildings.
These new levies are on top of bureaucratic rules imposed by the Licensing Act 2003, which requires expensive ‘premises licences’ for church halls to hold regular small-scale social functions, and which have imposed new red tape to play unamplified live music or hold ticketed events.
Raising the issue in Parliament today, Francis Maude, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, later said: “This new red tape will mean higher costs for church halls wanting to hire out their venues to the local community, on top of the costs of Labour's Licensing Act... This is a hypocritical Labour assault on the fabric of British community life. Having effectively shut down post offices and local pubs, Labour Ministers now have our village halls, scout huts, charity shops and church halls in their sights. This is a heartless charge on community buildings and charities.”
And to clarify, Lord Mandelson’s full title is now:
The Right Honourable the Baron Mandelson of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the County of Durham, First Secretary of State and Lord President of the Privy Council and Secretary of State for Business and Secretary of State for Innovation and Skills, and Church Commissioner.
As established in Hansard:
“Mr. Hurd: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on what date Lord Mandelson was appointed a Church Commissioner.
Mr. McFadden: Lord Mandelson was appointed a Church Commissioner on 5 June 2009, when he was appointed Lord President of the Council.”
We are all aware that Lord Mandelson is omnipotent and sweeps all before him, but could not Cabinet Office Ministers have shown a little backbone in resisting this new music tax?
Perhaps Angela Smith gives an indication of the law's provenance. She said: "...the Government have to make this change, as it is a legal imperative. We are working with all the organisations and charities involved and are having discussions in an attempt to reach agreement before any decision is taken forward."
The British Government compelled to make the change?
A legal imperative?
On whose command?
Is it not curious that the person who is meant to be the Minister defending the Church of England is, at the same time, giving it a kick in the collection tins?
Seek and ye shall find ...
The omniscient Dr Richard North has kindly confirmed that the EU is the fons et origo of this legislation. Church Commissioner Mandelson is simply honouring the higher oath he swore when he became an EU Commissioner (higher, that is, than the one he swore when he became a Privy Councillor).
Read pages 11 and 12 of the snazzily-named 'Consultation on changes to exemptions from public performance rights in sound recordings and performers’ rights'
Behind which, Dr North confirms, is SENA v NOS C-245/00  EMLR 364.
He says: "The wheels grind exceeding slow... it has taken all this time to get the process through... but the case exposed non-compliance with EU law and this change is to regularise the position."