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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 5:12 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 5:12 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for introducing the debate on this report and for chairing so brilliantly, as always, the committee which produced it. I am a member of that committee and I am delighted that we have produced such a challenging set of reports, including this one.

Although this report was published last year, the questions it poses are still relevant. The report has nine conclusions covering the high mobility of the cultural sector, the recommendation that the UK Government should pursue preferential arrangements for a UK-EU migration system if the UK ceases to be a member of the EU, concern about visas, the need for flexibility, the important concept of freedom to carry out short-term work in other countries, social security, and the need for the Government to negotiate an EU-wide multi-country, multi-entry short-term touring visa for citizens and make a reciprocal commitment for EU citizens. I look forward to the Minister’s response and to him updating the House on any new strategies the Government may be exploring.

This debate has already raised issues, and there is so much that needs to be explained. The Minister’s letter to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, dated 13 November 2018, recognised:

“The country benefits enormously from the sector’s contribution to its economy and society. The sector also makes an important contribution to the UK’s international image and influence”.

I am glad that this is recognised by the Government. Our actors, musicians, writers, artists, dancers and other performers have a strong reputation and presence across the world. That is deserved and applies not just to well-known names. I have recently travelled on Council of Europe business to Helsinki, Berlin, Paris and Vienna, and I was proud to see in each city a British presence and contribution to culture and the arts, not just music, which the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Aberdare, eulogised, but art, architecture, literature, dance and drama.

The White Paper makes reference to supporting talented people but it talks mainly about leaders in their fields. The cultural sector is wider and deeper than that, and I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the future immigration framework. Our report calls for the Government to urgently provide more detail on how what they call a “co-operative accord” would relate to wider immigration policy or the existing visa system.

Two surveys reflect some of the problems. One produced by ICM Unlimited for Arts Council England states that most arts and culture stakeholders have a negative perception of Brexit, including,

“reputational risk, an uncertain economic and funding environment, and increasing costs and complications for their organisations in relation to freedom of movement”.

Most stakeholders interviewed could see no advantages in Brexit for the cultural sector, although a number spoke of development opportunities from the change in the exchange rate and potential increases in tourism due to the weaker pound. However, the disadvantages were more prominent: the detrimental impact on international partnerships, uncertainty, the potential lack of EU funding, reduced freedom of movement, and a possible increase in administrative costs. Such issues came up in our own interviews for the report. Working abroad in the EU for short periods appears to be the most important factor for smaller organisations. The greatest concerns were expressed by stakeholders working in literature, the visual arts, music and the combined arts, rather than in the theatre or museums.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians published a survey of 9,500 professionals in February 2019. Its key findings included the fear that the withdrawal agreement would end freedom of movement without putting anything in its place. These issues have already been explored by the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Black, but they are worth repeating. The survey points out that 85% of respondents visit the EU or the EEA at least once a year, a third spend at least a month there and one in seven has less than a week’s notice before being offered work; 64% felt that a two-year visa would help allay fears over mobility issues, but 95% would prefer the two-year multi-entry visa over an extension of the permitted paid engagement visa; 83% would like a dedicated hotline from a government department to offer guidance on these issues; and more than half were concerned about the transportation of instruments and equipment. Concerns have also been expressed about healthcare, as most musicians and creative cultural visitors are self-employed and would thus need private insurance. Who can afford that? The same thing applies, of course, to others in the cultural sector.

I hope that the Government will be able to respond positively to the concerns expressed in the report and to this debate, as well as to performers in the various disciplines. We would, I am sure, all wish to support those who bring such pleasure to millions through their talent and dedication. We have good reason to be grateful to those who bring such respect for the UK in the cultural field and help create a collective cultural dynamic, not just across Europe but globally. I hope that the Minister will address the anxieties we have expressed. The Government have talked about the importance of the cultural sector, and it deserves reassurances and guarantees that its reputation and future will be preserved.