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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 4:10 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Black of Brentwood Lord Black of Brentwood Conservative 4:10 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Jay, on securing a debate on an issue vital to the future of our creative industries. The report sets out comprehensively and compellingly the benefits of freedom of movement for the cultural sector, something it rightly describes as crucial, and the various ways that we can mitigate its disappearance if Brexit happens. It highlights many of the key issues the sector faces: for instance, the need to attract talent, the high rates of self-employment and freelance work alongside less than median salaries, and the often short-term—indeed, almost instantaneous—nature of the work. The report makes it clear that vital to finding a way through the huge issues that Brexit poses for the sector is for the Government to be flexible. That is spot on; flexibility is the key and the EU Select Committee is to be commended on a really important piece of work.

I declare an interest as the chairman of the Royal College of Music, and it is music that I wish to talk about today. Music matters, of course, for us as individuals, for the education of children, for the sort of society that we are and for our national identity. We do not need to rehearse those arguments today but in a post-Brexit world music also matters in hard economic terms, which we must have at the forefront of our minds when considering these policy issues. I will briefly highlight two of those which have already been touched on a little.

First, music is a remarkable engine of economic growth because it is absolutely fundamental to the success of the creative economy, which contributes so much to our gross national product, to jobs and to exports. The UK creative economy is worth £101 billion each year and makes up a growing 5% of our economy. More importantly, that growth is twice the rate of the economy as a whole, while the number of new jobs in the sector is growing at four times the rate of the rest of the UK workforce. One in 11 of all jobs depends on the sector and it is the UK music industry—worth £4.5 billion on its own, as we have heard—that powers this. If we undermine the music industry as a result of Brexit and an end to free movement, we imperil the whole of the UK’s creative economy.

Secondly, music is an essential part of our national identity and must play a central role as an instrument of the UK’s soft power in a post-Brexit world, a point also made to the Select Committee by those representing museums, among others. If we end up leaving the EU, our musical heritage and worldwide reputation for musical excellence must inevitably form one of the most secure engines for future prosperity. I do not need to underline to your Lordships how extraordinary our musical tradition is, having nurtured some of the greatest composers and performers in the world and forming a powerful musical inheritance and national identity. We are today one of the few net exporters of music worldwide: one in eight albums sold in Europe during 2017 was by a British artist, generating billions of pounds of exports. Music is not just an international calling card, which we will need in abundance if we are to make any sort of future outside the EU; it also brings us millions of overseas visitors. In 2017, over 12 million people journeyed here for musical events. If we undermine the music industry as a result of Brexit and an end to free movement, we undermine our soft power too.

Our globally dominant music industry is vital, not just as an industry on its own but as the engine for the wider creative economy. Who are the people who make up this profession? The vast majority are self-employed, freelance or portfolio musicians, many of whom struggle with low rates of pay and therefore rely on such things as the European health insurance card, and who often take jobs all over the world—but mainly in Europe—at very short notice. That is the key point.

The excellent report published just this month by the Incorporated Society of Musicians, to which we have heard reference, showed that 85% of those responding to a survey had visited the EU and EEA for work at least once a year, with 22% visiting more than 11 times a year, and more than a third spending at least a month in those countries. For many, work comes at little or short notice; their livelihoods depend on their ability to travel easily and cheaply around multiple countries for work in a short period of time. For all of them, freedom of movement is crucial to their work. Undermining freedom of movement without anything to ameliorate it will, let us be clear, undermine music.

As we have heard, even before we have left the European Union, the impact is already being felt by musicians, as the ISM survey mentioned. For almost two-thirds of those who took part, securing future work in the EU/EEA is now the biggest issue they face, with more than 10% reporting that offers of work have been withdrawn or cancelled, with Brexit given as a reason, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said. We have yet, of course, to leave. That is a shocking figure, with real human consequences, and we must always remember that.

As well as getting themselves across borders, the vast majority of musicians also have to worry about the transportation of their instruments. Musicians frequently perform in different countries on consecutive days, and getting their instruments and equipment across borders quickly and easily is vital to their work. It is just as important as the mobility of the music workforce, yet most musicians believe that as a result of Brexit and consequently an end to free movement, it will become much more complicated. Things will be even more problematic for someone who has a musical instrument on the list of products restricted under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora.

Brexit will wreak its damage on the cultural sector, as the impact goes two ways. It is also about musicians from the EU wanting to come and work here. We need musicians and talent from the EU to study, teach and perform; they add incredibly to the rich diversity of our musical life.

I am particularly concerned about the impact of Brexit on our great conservatoires, such as the Royal College of Music. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, will add his weight to this issue. We need EU students to enrich our music, not least because they start to learn at a very young age and become highly proficient in a range of musical instruments, particularly woodwind. That is vital for putting together the orchestral experience and learning, which is the bedrock of a conservatoire education. At the moment, about 20% of our students come from EU countries and we need their talent because it simply cannot be replicated elsewhere. Yet at the moment the future of EU students at conservatoires is uncertain because we have no idea of the fee and student loan regime for 2020 and beyond. When students come here, quite rightly they want to be able to work but it is not clear whether they will be able to do so because of visa restrictions.

We also have to think about the impact of an end to free movement on the recruitment of teaching staff and the talent drain it would trigger. At the Royal College of Music we have many professors from the EU, some of whom come in to teach just one day a week. For them, too, freedom of movement is vital to go about their work. Because they are here for such a short time, there is no way on earth they could ever meet the £30,000 minimum salary threshold.

The Select Committee looked at a number of possible ways forward to ameliorate the situation, but by far the most effective and practical would be the introduction of an EU-wide, multi-entry, short-term touring visa, with a reciprocal arrangement for EU citizens. As the report rightly notes, that would allow self-employed musicians to travel for short-term visits between the UK and the EU in a frictionless manner. I strongly support this proposal—not only would it make life easier for the thousands of musicians who need to travel to and from Europe for their livelihood, it would send out the signal that we are not closed for business as a cultural and artistic nation.

In various debates and Questions in this House over the last few months, I have argued that music in this country faces an existential crisis because of the appalling decline of music education in state schools. That is not a subject for today, but a botched Brexit, where we fail as a result of blind ideology to deal with these issues that are so important to our cultural life, our creative economy and thousands of musicians whose art enriches our life, will make that existential crisis twice as bad. Let us avoid that at all costs and do all we can through flexibility, agility and imagination in our immigration and visa control policies to ensure that the place of music, the arts and the UK’s creative powerhouse is valued, nurtured and supported.