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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 4:57 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Aberdare Lord Aberdare Crossbench 4:57 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, who succeeded in introducing an important extra dimension to our debate. I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and his committee on their report. It clearly and concisely sets out why movement of people is fundamentally important to the cultural sector and makes excellent suggestions about how the needs of the sector, and thereby our national interests, could best be met following Brexit. They say that there is nothing new under the sun, and I am afraid my speech will certainly follow that rule; it may remind some of your Lordships more of Groundhog Day.

It is discouraging—indeed, alarming—that 10 months after the report’s publication we are not much clearer about whether or how its suggestions will be followed. The Government’s response last November is shockingly thin. After a promising start, it offers just three rather brief and bland policy statements in response to the report, including the rather unlikely suggestion that,

EU exit could be an opportunity to stimulate training in the UK”— as if the conservatoires were not already seeking to do just that. It is hardly surprising that the sector remains confused, concerned and uncertain about its future prospects and how to plan for them.

I shall focus on music, especially classical music—my own passion. Like so much of the cultural sector, this is a UK success story and not only earns us substantial economic returns, as we have heard, but helps to promote our values and culture and to enhance our standing in the world as an “exporting powerhouse”, to use the Minister’s earlier words. It is an important element of UK soft power. We have world-class conservatoires that attract top-quality students and teachers from around the world. We have outstanding conductors, instrumentalists and singers, including some of the world’s highest-profile and highest-earning pop stars. We have wonderful orchestras, opera companies, music festivals and performance venues. It is no wonder that our cultural offering is one of the main reasons cited by tourists for visiting the UK.

The music sector relies on movement of people. Many musicians working here in the UK come from abroad, and especially from the EU, and UK musicians spend time travelling or living abroad, not just to earn their living but to stimulate their creativity and artistry by sharing and learning from ideas and skills from elsewhere. Mobility is a key preoccupation of the sector, and both it and the committee’s report are clear about the issues that need to be addressed—I will not repeat those in great detail because we have already heard them from many other noble Lords.

Recent ISM research found that 85% of respondents visit EU or EEA countries at least once a year; 22% visit more than 11 times a year; and 35% spend a month or more per year working in those countries. Furthermore, one in seven musicians has had less than a week’s notice between being offered work and having to take it; for example, to replace scheduled performers falling ill. Touring is an important part of such travel, often involving visits to several countries, along with instruments and equipment.

The preferred solution, for both the ISM and the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, would be a multi-country, multi-entry touring visa for musicians, valid for at least two years and matched by reciprocal EU arrangements. The ISM is clear that other approaches mentioned in the committee’s report—for example, based on existing permitted paid engagement or permit-free festival arrangements—would fall short.

What is needed from the Government—why not even from the Minister today?—is concrete reassurance regarding how the sector’s essential mobility needs will actually be met in an affordable and manageable way. This should reflect the fact that many musicians are highly skilled but fall below the proposed £30,000 salary threshold for skilled work visas and, as the report highlights, that many in the sector are self-employed and could not afford to travel as they do now if it involved expensive healthcare insurance or having to make duplicate social security payments.

I will pass over issues relating to the transportation of instruments and equipment, which other noble Lords, and indeed the report, have covered well.

As we approach the summer, many of us look forward to the music festival season. The various country house opera festivals, led by Glyndebourne, are promoting their wares. The Proms programme for 2019 has been published, including five concerts featuring Berlioz, in this his anniversary year—and I declare my interest as chairman of the Berlioz Society. Numerous other festivals will be taking place across the UK, from the large-scale such as Edinburgh, to more modest events such as the Llandeilo Festival of Music near my home in Wales. Two weeks ago, I was at the splendid Hellensmusic festival near Ledbury, which features master classes for young instrumentalists given by leading musicians from across Europe, as well as an innovative programme with the local primary school run by a violinist from Denmark.

Virtually all of these festivals and events will involve musicians from abroad, as well as from the UK, some recruited at short notice as last-minute replacements. The opening concert at Hellensmusic actually had to be cancelled because the scheduled performer—a remarkable and irreplaceable Kurdish-Iranian singer—was shockingly refused a visa. We all benefit enormously—as listeners, as performers, as communities and as a society—from their presence and contributions. It would be catastrophic if this free musical exchange between the UK and the EU and beyond, in both directions, could not continue after Brexit.

Brexit is supposed to be about the UK establishing itself internationally as an open, confident, independent, free-trading nation. The cultural sector is a major unique selling point, or USP, for the UK and should be a key part of achieving that aspiration whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit. The Government claim to recognise the importance of continued mobility of people for the sector. I hope, therefore, that the Minister in his response is able to give more details about the likely mobility provisions of the proposed co-operative accord with the EU on culture and education, mentioned in the White Paper, thereby helping to demonstrate how, whatever the outcome, the mobility needed to assure the future of this important sector will be maintained, in line with the report, as an important element of the UK’s global standing after Brexit.