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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 5:41 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 5:41 pm, 15th May 2019

Not yet, my Lords—let us not call it off until I have had my minute in the sun.

I concur with what has just been said about the continuing appositeness of the report, even though it has taken so long to be aired in this debate. It continues to have point and poignancy despite all the documentation and reports that have come between then and now—that needs to be emphasised again. The noble and embattled Lord the Minister, who now faces the concerns laid out so pungently by Members on all these Benches, will have to do his best to answer some very direct questions. We have been asking the questions for a long time. It is not the first time that even I, a rookie in these affairs, have stood here making these points and asking these questions, yet we still do not have a clear idea of how this part of our national economy, which represents an enormous percentage of what is earned for this country, will manage its future.

How could we expect differently? Almost all the Answers to the Written Questions gathered together at the end of the excellent briefing from the Library begin with a sentence that damns this whole process. It runs like this: “The Government is clear that free movement of people will end when the United Kingdom leaves the European Community”. If they begin in that way, any attempt to answer the particular Question seems to run into the sand right from the start. It is a fixed point, a red line, a determined position from which very little movement can be expected, yet it is in respect of a part of our national life that is about movement, development, unpredictability and glorying in spontaneity, colour and shape.

We are glad to have the report. Its questions—and they have been mentioned many times around the House—focus on uncertainty. The uncertainty which this sector of all sectors is faced with prohibits planning programmes and activities. In the gathering of information in the Library briefing, I looked at the ISM and Arts Council reports and noted for a start that they are so recent. Why do we have to wait for them, with their concerns about the uncertainty facing them, to produce the kind of evidence that should inject urgency into our debates? But that is what they have done.

I liked in particular the two case studies at the heart of those reports, not about country house music, which we heard mentioned earlier, nor indeed about the many organised festivals, but about the Hallé Orchestra and Sage Gateshead—nice, too, to get out of London when thinking about the arts and the cultural life of the country. Each of those case studies ends by stating that no preparations have been made in either case for a post-Brexit world. That does not mean that they are lacking in foresight, endeavour or energy, but that they do not know what they are responding to or preparing for. That is the uncertainty and I hope that the Minister will recognise the emphasis on that word “uncertainty” and have something to say about it when he rises.

Much has been said about visa requirements. I will say no more, but we must have a word too about flexible and usable visas for people who are travelling at short notice in the ways described. What provision will the Government make for people working in this way in this sector? Do the Government recognise that without such arrangements, it is a death knell for so much of what happens in the sector?

We have heard about social security, healthcare and so on, and I think there is enough clarity there, but we need some reassurance in those areas too. I was interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Jay, that the impact of what has been happening—or rather, what has not been happening—is already telling in the sector. There are already repercussions. We are already impoverished: bookings are down, and people are unready to make arrangements ahead of time. That too is a sad thing to say when we have been arguing this case again and again over the months and years that followed the referendum.

My noble friend Lord Parekh touched on something that has not been adequately mentioned: skills. People taken on in apprenticeship positions in order to acquire skills cannot qualify for the full apprenticeship scheme, because of the nature of the contracts and the way the work is done. I wonder whether we might consider a way for people to accumulate the necessary experience, by having a card which is stamped or something, to make it possible for people who learn skills in the sector to accumulate enough experience and qualification to fall within the terms of the apprenticeship scheme.

I hope that the Minister is going to speak about the £30,000 salary limit, because we have all recognised that it does not correspond at all to the reality of the levels of pay received by many people in the cultural sector. Incidentally, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who wanted us to remember certain definitions of culture. I remember that a Bishop of Liverpool, describing to his congregation what he thought culture was, said, “Culture, my friends, is what happens around here”. It was reported in the newspaper the next day that the Bishop of Liverpool had stated that “Culture happens in Liverpool”. I mention that because I think culture happens in an indirect way, and the work of this sector has repercussions when we encourage people to travel to European countries. When in Vienna, Salzburg or wherever, ordinary people on their ordinary holidays have their horizons widened and their sensibilities touched. I think we should see that culture is a people’s thing; it is not just high culture and it can be caught and taught, so we must think seriously about the freedom of movement of people going on their holidays and visiting the continent of Europe in due course.

I was so pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Jay, mention for a moment the Cinderella in all this—poetry, my preferred option as well. I also heard “The Walrus and the Carpenter” as we were talking about high culture earlier in the debate. I will end, as I contemplate Brexit and the departure from Europe, with words from nearer to where I come from. I wish I could raise the country to its true height and rise, as Milton put it, to,

“the height of this great argument …

And justify the ways of God to men”.

I would say to the nation, alert and listening:

“Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

Over to the Minister.