Stage Lighting: Efficiency Regulations

Part of Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:34 pm on 15th June 2018.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester 2:34 pm, 15th June 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Being as observant as he is, as a non-practising barrister, he will know that I mentioned that the regulations come into effect in 2020. Nevertheless, the Government are talking about frictionless trade, and given that this trade regulation will apply across the European Union, it is really important to have an exemption that applies across the EU. We are requesting this exemption for theatres and performance venues in not just the United Kingdom but across the EU, and I will come on to that. I am glad he had the opportunity to mention two of his local theatres, both of which I have heard of, so their reputation precedes them.

Some people may say that this is fine. They will ask, “Why shouldn’t theatres and other performance venues play their part in saving the environment?” The theatre and entertainment industry do want to play their part. They fully support the sustainability agenda and are taking steps day by day to improve their environmental standards. However, introducing these regulations without an exemption will have a considerable negative impact across European entertainment industries that would far outweigh the positive intentions behind the proposals.

With such a steep climb, there would be a tremendous financial burden on theatres, community halls, churches, schools and every single performance venue that uses theatrical lighting instruments as part of its shows. It is true that nothing in the new regulations requires venues to stop using their existing fittings, yet what good is a lamp without a bulb? Once the bulbs can no longer be sold, the existing fixtures will become worthless. That does not exactly support the principles of a more circular economy.

It is not possible to simply buy a compliant LED replacement bulb for a stage light. That is not how it works. In the entertainment industry, LED lights come as one whole unit, and the current cost for one of these high-quality lights is approximately £2,500. If someone runs a venue with, say, 300 tungsten sources and they need to be replaced overnight, along with the infrastructure that runs them, the total cost quickly escalates. Likewise, for those who run a community hall and own 10 lights, put on two shows a year and are used to spending only £20 on a bulb every now and then, the financial demand would be crippling.

If these regulations are introduced as they currently stand, there will only be a limited supply of existing bulbs. Once they are gone, they are gone, leaving behind an enormous amount of otherwise perfectly functioning scrap metal and glass. If theatres and venues were to refit their tungsten and arc rigs with the high-quality LED lights required—provided, of course, that they are available on the market—they would need to do so before September 2020.

The estimated cost of this transition to the UK theatre industry alone is £1.2 billion. This is considerable disruption and cost for limited power savings, given how entertainment lighting is typically used, notwith- standing the enormous amount of waste generated and electricity and energy used to manufacture and ship the new fixtures. Surely, there is a better way to achieve such energy savings. Even if venues could afford an overhaul of this magnitude, no high-quality LED lighting units currently on the market are compliant with these proposals. Venues will be left with no adequate tools with which to light productions.

Just as important an issue is how these regulations will affect the technical elements behind the productions we witness. Research and technical development over the past decade have enabled significant progress in LED spotlights to make them suitable for use in stage lighting for theatrical productions. However, it is still not possible to replace all professional entertainment lighting products with LEDs. The currently used tungsten lightbulbs allow for a wide spectrum of colour choice that can reliably fade and mix with the rest of a rig, so that all elements of a show can be precisely controlled to the needs of a production. LEDs are now approaching a similar standard, but these developments have all come about organically.

The introduction of these proposals would stifle such innovation, and as a result, we would be left with little more than harsh, unflattering floodlights with which to light our productions. It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to get LED lights perfectly to dim all the way off in the same manner as traditional lighting, and that for the lighting of live events very small halogen lamps, with a diameter of 0.5 cm, are used to produce a high-power output. Again, there are currently no available replacements for those special lamps with LED technology.

Finally, and probably most importantly, there is the issue of how all those individual issues join together to affect the artistic vision of a production. Change can be important, and perhaps these new conditions will result in visionary directors who take advantage of cold—always on, but not very bright—lighting, but it may lead to some very bleak plays. The reality, however, is that the technical problems with LED lighting will severely affect the artistic quality of performances. The richness of lighting for a live event lies in the diversity of light sources’ colours and intensity; without that, our world-famous productions would be left flat.

The impact of these regulations on local theatres and performance venues will be both financial and artistic, so we need the exemption to remain in place. I therefore turn to my hon. Friend the Minister and say that we should all be concerned about these proposals. Although I am reassured to hear that representatives have been in active, and I understand positive, dialogue with the European Commission about introducing a narrow technical exemption, we need the Government to play their part.

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who is himself a fan of the theatre, has written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy expressing his Department’s support for an exemption for professional stage lighting for theatres and other venues. I think there is support for that across the sector and across the Government, so I ask the Minister to take forward our concerns to his friends and counterparts at the European Commission. I hope that he can reassure me that this is a priority, and that he will do everything he can to support the industry in securing this important exemption.

We should be very proud of the creative arts sector in our country. It does so much to improve our culture and our communities, yet it is at risk from these regulations, both financially and artistically. That was previously recognised—hence the exemption—so I hope the Government will do all they can to ensure that the exemption continues and that performances up and down this country are not compromised by poor or inadequate lighting, or indeed no lighting at all.