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Brexit: Movement of People in the Cultural Sector (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:39 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Chair, EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee 3:39 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, perhaps I will wait a moment while free movement outside the cultural sector takes place.

It is a pleasure to introduce the European Union Committee’s report on movement of people in the cultural sector. Let me say at the start that I am grateful to the members of the sub-committee and to our excellent secretariat. The report was published on 26 July last year, and the Government’s response was received on 13 November—the day before the draft withdrawal agreement and political declaration were published. The Government have also since published their immigration White Paper, in December last year, setting out the UK’s future immigration system after free movement comes to an end. The House of Lords moves with due deliberation, and I shall not complain about the delay in scheduling this debate, which perhaps reflects the timeless nature of our culture.

Throughout the inquiry, and following publication of the report, the committee has engaged closely with the cultural sector. The committee heard from musicians, dancers and other artists, not only on the impact that ending free movement could have on the arts sector in the UK but on the negative impact that the uncertainty of the Brexit negotiations is already having. I will return to that. I was pleased to be able to discuss these concerns with Margot James, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, in what was an encouraging meeting. However, I have the impression that the Home Office may be rather fiercer.

The committee made two clear recommendations to the Government to minimise disruption to the cultural sector after the UK leaves the EU. The first recommendation was that the Government should seek an EU-wide, multi-entry, short-term touring visa for UK citizens and offer a reciprocal commitment for EU citizens. This issue was raised a few minutes ago in a question from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. Such a visa would enable self-employed artists and musicians to travel easily between the UK and the EU for temporary work. It would ensure that touring remains affordable and easy to organise for all self-employed artists. Ensuring that artists can continue to move freely between the UK and the EU will ensure that our cultural sector remains vibrant and rich in talent. If I may say so, this is equally true for the opulence of Covent Garden and the mud of Glastonbury. The committee was constantly struck by the extent to which the cultural sector depends on free movement of people within the European Union. The evidence from the Creative Industries Federation on that point was compelling.

Our second recommendation was to ensure that EU citizens travelling on short-term contracts to the UK after the transition period will not have to pay into our social security system, and that the Government should seek reciprocal arrangements with the EU. Under current EU provisions, posted workers and others who actively work in two or more member states pay social security contributions only in the member state in which they are regularly employed. The concern we have heard from the sector is that, without this policy, it would often be too expensive for UK artists and musicians to tour in the EU and vice versa.

The Government’s response to our report rightly echoed our praise of Britain’s cultural excellence and diversity, and—worth emphasising here—its importance to the economy, contributing up to £29.5 billion in 2017, the last year for which figures are available. But it was disappointing that the Government’s response to the report lacked, or seemed to lack, genuine consideration of our recommendations. The Government did not address our concerns that applying the current visa system to EU nationals would make it harder to bring talent to the UK; nor did they consider how they could encourage the EU to allow artists to tour easily and take part in temporary arrangements. Further, there was no consideration of our recommendation to waive social security payments for EU citizens travelling to the UK on short-term contracts.

When the immigration White Paper was published, the committee examined it carefully for proposals that reflected the recommendations made in our report. Alas, we found none. I invite the Minister to confirm when replying to this debate whether a touring visa has been ruled out and whether the Government are considering waiving social security payments for temporary EU workers whose regular work is in the European Union.

Since the publication of our report the uncertainty over when and how the UK will leave the EU has increased greatly. We have heard that this uncertainty is already having a negative impact on the cultural sector. The Incorporated Society of Musicians has told us that some EU employers have been reluctant to hire talent in the face of a possible no-deal scenario. Indeed, a recent survey conducted by the Incorporated Society of Musicians found that one in 10 respondents reported that offers of work have been withdrawn or cancelled as a result of Brexit uncertainty. Its recent report stated:

“Brexit casts doubt about the need for visas and their cost which directly affects the viability of concerts”.

I do not expect the Minister to tell us what will happen next—one can always hope, but I do not expect—but I hope he will acknowledge the damage that uncertainty is already causing to our cultural sector.

We welcome the Government’s announcement that in the event of no deal EU citizens will be able to come to the UK for periods of up to three months to work and to apply for European temporary leave to remain to stay for up to 36 months. We are, however, concerned that UK citizens have not been offered reciprocal treatment to enter EU member states. The committee has asked the Minister for Immigration, Caroline Nokes, for an update on the Government’s engagement with EU member states on how they intend to treat UK nationals seeking to work in those countries if there is no deal. The Immigration Minister has, alas, failed to respond to that request. I hope the Minister will be able to give us an update today.

We did not focus much in our report on poetry, which gives me a chance now to say how much I welcome the appointment of Simon Armitage as Poet Laureate. His poems carved in stone along the Pennine Way are witness to the enduring character of British—and, of course, Yorkshire—culture.

However, British culture is also European and depends for its vibrancy on the free movement of people across our borders. I hope the Minister will assure us that the Government will do all in their power to make sure that Britain’s cultural sector, and the British economy with it, is not adversely by Brexit. I beg to move.