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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 5:18 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of The Duke of Somerset The Duke of Somerset Crossbench 5:18 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, it is the evidence from those on the front line—the experts, whose names are published at the back of this report—that goes to the nub of the Brexit problem: the ending of free movement of people. That is particularly true in the cultural sector, as the report demonstrates very well. Quotes such as “a big risk to the country’s soft power and creative reputation” are typical. Then there is Bob Geldof’s open letter showing how we in the UK dominate the music culture because, as he says,

“we are brilliant at it”.

That really is global Britain. All this is threatened by a future immigration policy that is as yet unknown in any detail and, if aligned to the present third-country visa tiers, is likely to be crippling to our cultural and other industries.

This excellent and timely report, while rehearsing the likely gloomy future, also pinpoints two imminent issues: uncertainty and mobility. The first affects every corner of the UK, not just culture. The Government’s intransigence and premature red lines are preventing a soft Brexit agreement. Uncertainty affects businesses, such as the music festivals trying to attract artists to perform for our enjoyment. Organisers and employers know not how they will attract performers, whether in dance, broadcasting, museums or even heritage, as we have heard.

This House has long called for a unilateral declaration of European Union citizens’ future rights so that the EU can reciprocate for our citizens. Surely the Government can now make some initial commitments to safeguarding temporary workers and performers, to give the cultural sector some certainty. I too was going to reference the contrast with Defra’s position, which sets out a future way forward, as we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. Even the most determined Brexiteer will surely want to go on listening to European musicians and orchestras in future.

The White Paper of July 2018 talks of taking back control of UK borders. Yes, why not? We can do that, but control can also encompass setting generous arrangements for temporary employment outside net migration. The White Paper speaks of a desire for visa-free movement for tourism and temporary businesses. I trust the Minister will enlarge on this statement in his summing up.

The other issue is mobility. We have heard how orchestras and concert organisers often have to substitute performers at short notice for reasons of sickness or disruption of some sort. If EU citizens have to revert to the current third-country visa system, which tier—1, 2 or 5—does the Minister foresee as the most appropriate future model? Tier 1 is for world leaders, so will not help our young, aspiring musicians, who are just starting out. Tier 2 visas are capped and subject to pay thresholds. As we have heard endlessly, the cultural sector rarely pays the £30,000 per annum demanded in the White Paper. To ram home the point, skill does not equate to salary. Tier 5 visas need a sponsor licence, so any sense of urgency is missing. Witnesses quoted in the report variously describe these visa tiers as “clunky” and “stymying”. If the Minister does not agree with these adjectives, could he explain why they are not appropriate?

The report does not seem to consider much the plight of our youth. They, after all, will suffer the most post Brexit. Ironically, many of them were unable to vote in the referendum nearly three years ago, because they were not of a sufficient age. The Erasmus programme has benefited many university students, helping them understand differing cultures, broadening their horizons and leading to future job opportunities. Is it the Government’s ambition to preserve access to this programme? It is fascinating to note that few in our political leadership have children, our Prime Minister among them. It is not surprising that they do not understand the ambitions and horizons of today’s young people.

The report makes recommendations which I hope the Government will heed. It points out the important contribution the cultural sector makes to our Exchequer, our image and our influence abroad. It highlights mobility and flexibility and thus advocates the preferential system for EU performers seeking to work here on short-term engagements. I add my voice to the clamour wanting the Government to address multi-entry, short-term issues. Of course, these will have to be reciprocal. We must have at the forefront of our negotiating agenda concerns for UK youth, as well as the established stars—this cannot be just dogma.

We are told that the vote for Brexit was driven significantly by immigration concerns, but we did not know then the full horror of stopping it, nor did we foresee that immigration pressure would ease as wages in countries abroad rose. We did not realise how much we relied on EU workers. The cultural sector is a good place to address this. I hope the Minister will enlighten us further on the Government’s thinking on this sector. I congratulate the sub-committee on this excellent report.