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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 4:20 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 4:20 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Black, I come at this topic from a music background. As he kindly mentioned, I was chair of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance; I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Classical Music here in Parliament; and I serve under the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on the Mid Wales Music Trust, which supports music there.

I have done some in-depth research to find out who said that this would be the easiest negotiation of all time. Some say Liam Fox and others say David Davis, so shall we call him David Fox? Briefing oneself for this debate, one finds not simplicity or ease but a complexity that defies the imagination. I shall cite one example—I may cite it wrongly, because it is a citation of CITES—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Why does that apply to music? It applies to articles that have rare flora and fauna in them, which include musical instruments. Let us say that we go down the new no-deal route. Certain ports are designated to allow instruments to pass through them under CITES. They do not, however, include Dover; they do not include Holyhead; they not include Eurotunnel. Can you imagine an orchestra with hundreds of instruments looking for some far port which has the CITES ability to allow its instruments to be taken to Europe for it to fulfil its cultural engagements? It is not possible or practicable, yet that is the kind of complication that comes out of this dog’s dinner that we have in front of us.

I shall make a few points to supplement what the noble Lord, Lord Black, said on conservatoires. Twenty per cent of Trinity Laban students come from Europe. It is not easy to get them, because they tend to pay higher fees when they come here, but we have them because of our high standards. Will they still come when they face this bureaucratic mess that we are creating? It is not only their number and the money that comes with them; it is also their importance to the cultural experience. Music is a universal language, but it is spoken in a great variety of accents. If you took away the European students and, still more, the European teachers that we have, we would diminish the product catastrophically. We would also leave some big holes in provision; for example, there is a shortage of really good strings players here; contemporary dance is a bit short—you would lose all that.

Finally, there is the uncertainty. We are starting to recruit now for 2020. When students ask, “What’s going to be the position if I want to work? What’s the position if I want to go to and fro from home? What’s our position when I want to get my instrument, which has got a tiny bit of ivory down there, through the ports?”, we cannot tell them; we do not know. The Government have not told us—they cannot even decide whether we are going to get Brexit or not and under what terms. We are completely bemused as to the future.

I turn briefly to orchestras. I do not really know where to start. The Arts Council Wales/Wales Arts International told the Select Committee:

“Any reinstatement of mobility restrictions … will create new borders … for the smaller-scale companies and artists such barriers might become insurmountable”.

That is in paragraph 44 of the report. I do not think that they were speaking in any way out of turn.

What is going to happen when a performer in London is taken ill, the only feasible replacement lives in Europe and you have to get him over here quickly, within hours? What happens if instruments of a certain kind are in short supply in a given orchestra and the only available capable musicians are in Europe? They will come nowhere near the £35,000 earnings limit that the Government have floated—or, probably, the £30,000 limit, because musicians are great talents ill paid. What about the uncertainty for our orchestras? Orchestral concerts are planned a good two years in advance—in the case of opera, four years in advance. What are they going to do now to get on with planning when they have no idea under what conditions those plans will have to be carried out? What about carnets? What about health insurance? What about insurance contributions? What about health itself? What about the funding that comes our way through Creative Europe?

I could go on and on—I could read my briefing if the House has several months to spare—but I hope I have said enough to show that Brexit is a fundamental threat, as much through the complete uncertainty in which the Government have left us as from the realities.

I am sure that no Minister would be so cynical as to say, “Who cares about classical music? A few people in the House of Lords, maybe. Yes, a few people go to it. Hmm—they do not care, we will get away with this”. They should think again. What about Glastonbury? What about WOMAD? What about Bestival and the Green Man? What about the huge, burgeoning music festivals, which are already reporting difficulty in recruiting the top acts they want? It will not be old fogies like us complaining; it will be the kind of people who have been on the streets in the last few weeks, determined young people who will not have their pleasure taken from them by this bungling, bumbling Government.