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Wireless Audio Equipment

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

2. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to assist cathedrals and parish churches to retune or replace wireless audio equipment which operates on frequencies within Channel 69 following the clearance of that channel by Ofcom. (312127)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to refer to David Taylor. As you know, he was an assiduous attender at our Question Time. He put pertinent and important questions before the House and assisted our Ecclesiastical Committee, and he will be greatly missed. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

I can tell the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) that the Church of England has joined an industry-led campaign to press the Government for compensation for affected groups. We are encouraging churches to contact their installation companies for advice and to seek a compensation package.

The Government are making hundreds of millions of pounds out of the spectrum auctions, and as the hon. Gentleman has said, some compensation has been promised. This affects not only churches, cathedrals and voluntary organisations, but organisations right across the creative arts. Should not any compensation include not only the residual value of equipment but replacement value, as churches have been forced off those frequencies by the Government?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. The compensation package takes into account the full cost of the significant disruption, particularly to larger churches that use a number of wireless microphones. I estimate that about one in eight churches will need to retune or replace their equipment, at an average cost of about £500. The Government agree with Ofcom that compensation is due, but the level, and eligibility, still need to be agreed.

May I tell the hon. Gentleman how much I welcomed support from the Church of England this week for early-day motion 323, in my name and those of 131 other Members? I urge him to use all the resources of the Church Commissioners to put the maximum possible pressure on the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that justice is done in this very important matter.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I have read his early-day motion 323 on the Save our Sound UK campaign. I agree with his point. The Government recognise the importance of churches in our communities, and I am sure they will recognise that this is an unfortunate anomaly, as they did in relation to our unfair surface water charges last year. I urged the Government to respond robustly then, and I do so now, with the support of the House.