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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 3:48 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Chair, EU Internal Market Sub-Committee 3:48 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and I congratulate him on the work that he and his sub-committee have done on the cultural sector.

Nearly two years ago now, my own sub-committee of your Lordships’ European Union Select Committee produced a report on Brexit and the service trades. My intervention today is not through any particular insight into the position of the various cultural sectors—I am a great admirer of many of the sectors that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has referred to, particularly cinema and the theatre—but in our earlier inquiry many musicians, stage providers and the whole broadcasting sector all emphasised the danger of uncertainty, as the noble Lord said, and the effect that restrictions on the movement of people will have on their ability to deliver British cultural products, employ talent from around the world and send our talent around the world if this issue is not addressed fully.

I am not a representative of any cultural sector. I found myself boasting over the weekend, after a couple of glasses, that I had been on stage with some of our leading actors. That was 50 years ago, and their careers seem to have taken off better than mine did, so, like many failed actors, I ended up in politics.

This is part of a wider situation. The cultural sector depends on people’s ability to move around, as do many others. Professional services, tourism and a whole range of industries depend on people moving from this country into Europe and on Europeans coming to work here in the long, medium or short term. The way in which our immigration system and Europe’s immigration system operate with the rest of the world is not conducive to that method of operating across borders for sectors of this kind. People in them need to move frequently without hassle—as our passports used to say, “without let or hindrance”—but that only ever operated within the EU. We are talking about a significant sector. The noble Lord said that the cultural sector is worth £30 billion, but together the sectors we are talking about form approximately 60% of our economy, and most of them depend on that kind of movement.

What is our reaction and the EU’s reaction to these issues in the negotiations that have already been dragging on for three years and look like dragging on for another few years? It is not good. The services sector has either been assumed to take care of itself or has not been mentioned. There is no provision for it in the Chequers agreement or in the Prime Minister’s position on the withdrawal agreement. It is referred to in the political declaration, but only in relatively negative terms. In effect, it says that people moving to other countries to deliver services will be covered by the rules of the host country. That means every single nation state, and they all have different rules for different services, different qualifications and different ways in which you put on shows in the cultural sector or appear before the courts in the legal sector. The European rules overrule that, which means that a Spanish lawyer can appear in a German court and an Italian violinist can appear in a Scottish concert hall, but each of those countries has its own rules, and if I read the terms of the political declaration literally, it means that those rules can be used to keep both those individuals out.

How we deal with services and the movement of people is bedevilled by the fact that ideologically and politically there are different attitudes to this, and they are in essence ideological and, if you like, instinctive. The liberal left regards this as an issue of human rights, citizenship and open access. The political right by and large regards this as an immigration issue of control, numbers and terms on which people enter the country. However, the committee’s report and I are saying is that this is, in essence, an economic issue. This is a vital section of the British economy which will be absolutely stymied if we apply the rules which some people are advocating and which already exist for these groups of workers from the rest of the world or if the EU apply them to us.

I am not encouraged by what has been said so far about the focus of discussions. Even assuming for a moment that we reach some sort of agreement on a version of the withdrawal agreement and move into a truncated transition period after Halloween, we will not have a lot of time to sort out these issues because they are different in the different sectors. Some of them will depend on qualifications, some will depend on salary. For example, in this sector and most of the tourism sector a cut-off point of £30,000 a year will not be seriously helpful to many of the people who need to move around.

Therefore, my plea to the Government is, first, to reply in more detail to the noble Lord’s report and, secondly, to recognise that, whatever the political pressures on them, they should treat migration as a border control issue or a human rights issue, both of which are valid. In this context, the key issue for the future prosperity of these sectors is that it should be treated as an economic issue, and sensible and rational decisions should be taken on the future reciprocal migration arrangements with Europe.

I thank the noble Lord for his report. I underline its wider implications and look forward to the debate.