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Brexit: Trade in Non-financial Services (EUC Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:11 pm on 18th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat 9:11 pm, 18th December 2017

My Lords, I too add my thanks and say how much I have enjoyed serving under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on this report. I thank him for his perseverance in bringing it to your Lordships’ House today. I took the opportunity of going into the Printed Paper Office just before the debate began, on the off chance that I might find the Government’s response to the report before us, but I regret to say that no such response was on the table. It is therefore incumbent on the Minister tonight to give us some very detailed answers to the questions raised by the report. I notice that he is smiling, so I look forward to those responses later.

As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, we are in the area of Canada-plus-plus-plus. I do not think there is any definition of how many pluses you can have, although I wonder how many pluses on the end would make up the equivalent of the single market. That is the direction in which I sense the sector, and this report, drives us. At the moment, we know virtually nothing of the Government’s position and what they want to see for the country. We have no overall comprehensive impact assessment; we therefore have no knowledge of the potential impact on jobs, the economy or society as a whole. This report provides some of the evidence that we need to make that judgment.

WTO rules are not altogether helpful to the service industries, which tells me that in the upcoming negotiations the UK will, as a minimum, require a comprehensive free trade agreement. Even then, it will not be as good a deal as the one we currently have inside the EU. I believe that services will be the trickiest part of the negotiations. Some 80% of the UK economy is service-based, yet less than one-third of all the free trade agreements signed by the EU with third countries have a services component, and generally those components are not adequate and suitable for the UK’s needs.

We need a transition period, as pointed out in the earlier Brexit and trade report from our committee. That will be essential to complete this work. Service sector exports in both financial and non-financial businesses have been growing and the three key non-financial sectors—business services, digital, and creative—provide a positive trade balance for the UK. All three are growing, and in all three our exports outstrip our imports.

However, the uncertainty created by the Government’s inability to express their desired outcome position is particularly acute for the services sectors because it is here that reputational risk—the reputation of the UK as a provider—places a disproportionate burden on this valuable part of our economy more than any other. It is the UK’s outward-facing, bold, and innovative qualities as a nation which spur the growth of these sectors. Continuing uncertainty taints that image.

This report lays out clearly the challenges that face the Government in ensuring that this very significant part of our economy continues to flourish. Mutual recognition of qualifications, rights of establishment, the free flow of data and intellectual property protection are just a few of the crucial issues where detailed agreement will be essential to maintain the UK interest, and in these sectors the free movement of workers and service providers is critical. All would be fine if we remained in the single market. However, in the interim, I would like to outline some of the challenges that the Government face by using one of the key service sectors, and I make no apologies for choosing the music sector. It has lobbied all noble Lords on the committee, but it has also been very vigorous since the referendum in putting its case forward.

The revenues of the recorded music industry were, for example, higher than the combined revenues of the top 50 fasting-growing UK tech companies in 2014. The UK music industry generates £2.5 billion in exports annually. Music tours around Europe are a very important part of that long-term income. The music industry needs the freedom to trade and to break into and develop new markets. I know that noble Lords are familiar with the size of touring music events—it is rather like watching the credits at the end of a film as the names roll on and on. These are people who you may not be familiar with and whose names are unrecognised: riggers, electricians, sound engineers, digital engineers, painters, make-up, wardrobe, stage managers, visual effect teams, merchandisers and many more. The skilled engineers in the teams have accreditation which is recognised throughout the EU, so any change to that regime would affect the ability of UK tour operations companies to work with the speed and agility that permits night-to-night concerts in different major locations across Europe. Any restriction on movement across Europe could also result in temporary customs documents being needed. That would mean detailing every piece of equipment and merchandise, which would lead to delays at borders and increases in costs and time. Non-EU nationals performing or working on a tour would have to provide themselves with temporary work permits, as they do in France now if they come from a third country.

Copyright and intellectual property issues enable creators such as composers, songwriters and lyricists to derive a financial return for their work. Ten per cent of those who work in the UK music industry hold another EU country’s passport. The need to source a skilled workforce is critical to the success of the industry, so frictionless movement of talent is essential.

In passing, I must say how sad I am at the departure of the European Youth Orchestra to Italy from its UK headquarters in London, where it has been since its foundation in 1976. The orchestra has about 120 players every year, aged between 17 and 24. It now appears unlikely that British players will be eligible in future years.

That is just one example from one sector, but it outlines the most difficult of the issues that are before us. These are the issues that I started with—the challenges that the Government must satisfy. The committee’s report points that out. There is a powerful link between trading services and the cross-border movement of persons. Intellectual property requires protection. Without agreement and safeguards this vital part of our economy will be under threat. This cannot be just about the survival of the services sector; surely it must also be about its ability to flourish.

In the absence of the Government’s document responding to this report, what is their view on the free movement of workers across borders, on protecting intellectual property, on the mutual recognition of qualifications and deviation from those regulations, and on maintaining the free flow of data? Tonight is the Government’s chance to indicate how they will deal with these issues and provide the confidence that we all need to ensure that the UK’s service industries can grow and flourish.