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Peers probe Gov on why amateur singers still cannot sing together

by Cara Bentley

The House of Lords has been debating the ban on more than six amateur singers joining together in song inside, including in a church.

Members of the House of Lords have got increasingly frustrated at the seeming inconsistencies in the Government's approach to people singing together in an amateur setting indoors. While professional choirs are allowed to rehearse and perform, amateurs cannot. 

Six amateurs can sing together inside and groups of up to 30 outside but the professional number is unlimited, providing other measures are met. 

The rule still impacts churches, most of whom are being led at the front by a small group of voluntary singers but without congregational singing. 

On Wednesday, the Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Rev Rachel Treweek asked Baroness Barran, speaking on behalf of the Government, for a timescale about when this would change for churches: 

"My Lords, bearing in mind that on Monday in the other place the new Health Secretary said he hoped that church congregations would soon be able to sing together, could the Minister please give us some clarity on this and say what plans the Government have now to review the research on congregational singing with the use of face coverings, given that singing is not an add-on to worship but integral to it?"

Baroness Barran replied: "I absolutely recognise the right reverend Prelate's final remarks about singing being integral to worship. We continue to be led by the science and the experts, and to follow the public health advice. As soon as that changes, we will of course update the guidance."

The large gatherings of fans at Euro 2020 matches and Wimbledon have exacerbated the feeling of unfairness among churchgoers who watch thousands of people cheering, shouting and singing and then cannot sing, socially distant with masks, in a church building of any size. 

On Monday, Theresa Villiers MP asked Sajid Javid: "Now that thousands of people are allowed to gather together at a football match to shout and cheer as much as they want, is it not time that we allowed congregations in church to sing hymns together?"

The new health secretary replied: "I can tell my right hon. Friend that that is certainly what I would like to see and it is certainly my intention to allow that to happen as soon as possible. When it does, I hope we can sing a hymn together."

The debate in the House of Lords continued with Labour's Lord Stevenson stating his exasperation: "I think all of us share considerable dismay about the answers we have just heard. Although we feel sorry for the Minister for her attempts to try to add a veneer of respectability to her responses, neither the science nor the reality of common sense back her up. As a member of the Parliament Choir, I want to meet with other members in a socially respectable way to sing the music that inspires us and to lead our lives as close to normality as we can. What we want is a road map and a timescale."

Baroness Barran responded: "I can only repeat what I said in response to an earlier question: we will provide that road map as soon as possible and in time for step 4."

Step 4 is when the Government is due to lift all restrictions in England, it has currently been delayed from 21st June to no earlier than 19th July.

Petitions have been been launched to try to persuade the Government to change its advice as soon as possible.

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