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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 3:54 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 3:54 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, an outsider looking in might regard this subject matter as a niche area of concern. I suggest, however, that in many ways it encapsulates the impact that a post-Brexit UK will have on individuals and the experiences of communities.

I was fortunate to be a member of the EU Home Affairs Committee, under the good chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Jay. It listened to and interrogated the evidence, and drew the conclusions set out in the report’s recommendations. What became clear during the inquiry was the significant and detrimental impact of a failure to address the specific issues that will affect this sector in any post-Brexit UK.

The committee heard evidence from across the cultural sector. We learned that dance organisations were among the most likely to employ EU 27 citizens. Of the 40,000 working in dance, on average 20% were EU nationals. The diversity study by UK Music found that 10% of those employed in the UK music industry were EU 27 nationals. Other cultural sectors, such as film and television and the museum and heritage sector, reported similar proportions of EU 27 nationals.

The significance of the involvement of EU 27 citizens in the UK cultural sector cannot be dismissed as simply a numbers issue, whereby encouraging and training more UK residents in these areas will solve the problem. Nor, in my opinion, can this issue be seen solely in monetary terms. The cultural sector does indeed make a very large contribution to the UK economy —as has already been quoted, the GVA of the sector was £29 billion in 2017—but this is just one facet of its impact.

During the inquiry, the effect of an end to free movement on communities’ access to cultural experiences and hence the cultural life of our country became clear. The Musicians’ Union and the Association of British Orchestras highlighted their members’ community outreach work in care homes, hospitals and prisons, as well as their specific programmes to reach young people. The inquiry heard passionate, well-argued and evidenced pleas from all sectors about the negative impact that a potential post-Brexit end to free movement would have. I shall give a couple of Yorkshire examples.

The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is the premier festival of new music outside London and is seen as being in the top five of new music festivals in Europe. The festival, of which I am now a trustee, absolutely depends on being able to attract musicians from across Europe. Last year, for example, the programme featured composers and musicians from the Netherlands, as well as the usual eclectic mix of musicians from across Europe. The festival reaches out to local people through, for example, a visual artistic exhibition from Switzerland in the indoor market and an exciting programme with schools in some of the town’s more deprived areas. All that will be made much more difficult for people who are extraordinarily talented but relatively poorly paid if the current government plans for free movement are not fundamentally changed.

The regions of our country that are more remote from London rely more heavily for a varied cultural experience on projects that have financial support from the EU. A topical example is the Stanza Stones, which have already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jay. This project—poetry etched on to stones along the Pennines—was inspired by the new Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, who comes from Marsden, West Yorkshire.

Then there is the question of UK talent having the freedom to move quickly around Europe. Music has no boundaries and young musicians at the start of their careers need to have experiences in many different venues and work with talented people from different backgrounds. They may have opportunities offered at short notice. With restrictions on movement across the EU, those opportunities are also reduced.

Our shared European built cultural heritage absolutely depends on a shared approach to conservation. The tragedy of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral is such an example. The restoration of that iconic building requires very skilled people who are in short supply. York Minster also suffered a devastating fire more than 30 years ago and has offered its skilled masons and conservators to help Notre Dame. Will that be less possible in the post-Brexit scenario? It will be more bureaucratic, it will mean more hurdles will have to be cleared and it will more than likely mean that the bonds that draw people together in cultural ways will be more restricted.

The solution to this unwanted scenario is clear in the report’s recommendations. Many people working in the cultural sector rely on their freedom as EU citizens to carry out short-term work in other EU countries. The recommendations conclude that the Government need to rethink the approach to workers in the sector, be it with their social security contributions, enabling preferential arrangements for EU-UK migration, or positively pursuing the idea that the sector came up with: that self-employed people in this sector be permitted to enter the UK for short-term engagements.

Cultural experiences are of fundamental importance to the well-being of individuals and communities. I urge the Government to adopt the recommendations to minimise the negative impact that any Brexit deal will have on the cultural life of our country.