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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 5:50 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5:50 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, I had not detected, even before the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, pointed it out and confirmed it, a huge wave of support around the House for the Government’s position—still less for my reply, which was politely castigated by the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Aberdare, the noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, and, slightly less politely, by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. They may have underestimated the difficulty of producing a reply just one month before the Home Office produced its immigration White Paper.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for today’s debate and all noble Lords who have brought it to life with such enthusiasm. I know that your Lordships will agree with the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Whitty, and many others on the importance of our cultural sector. It is a thriving industry, contributing £29.5 billion to the UK economy in 2017. That is an increase of 38.5% since 2010.

But it is not just economically important; it represents the best of British talent, and is admired the world over. Indeed, last week I was luckily able to see that when I spoke at the opening of the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with Cathy Wilkes’s six-room exhibition. I took the opportunity to highlight the opportunities and rewards of international cultural collaboration and exchange. Thanks in part to the benefits such cultural exchanges bring, the UK recently reclaimed top position in the global soft power index. Now that we are back on top, I absolute agree that we need to stay on top.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay and his committee for the report and their work in what we all agree is an important area. As he said, the report outlined proposals on mobility arrangements for the cultural sector once we have left the EU. These covered preferential treatment of EU 27 nationals once we have left the EU, visa salary thresholds—which I will come to—social security co-ordination and both permitted paid engagement and permit-free festival visa routes and their extension to EU 27 nationals.

As has been said, I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in November, acknowledging that access to international talent is a key issue for the cultural sector. For example, we know that touring is important for the music industry across all genres; for the performers themselves and for live industry workers including stage managers, engineers and make-up artists. We know that professionals in screen industries, ballet, theatre, classical music and architecture, among many others, use international work as a valuable part of their income stream. As several noble Lords mentioned, many of these workers are freelancers; 49% of workers in the cultural sector are self-employed. Many also work for smaller enterprises. The sector is dominated by microbusinesses, with 95.4% of businesses employing nine people or fewer.

In my letter, I outlined that the UK’s future immigration system will be based on skills, not nationality. The same rules will apply to EEA nationals as to those from outside the EEA. I also referred to the White Paper The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, which sets out the Government’s ambition to seek a mobility framework that is reciprocal and consistent with the ending of free movement and that enables businesses to move their talented people. I will come to that in a minute. While the details of these arrangements are yet to be negotiated, the ambition remains. The DDCMS is committed to ensuring that our future mobility framework encourages our cultural industries to continue to thrive.

We must also support domestic talent in ensuring that our world leading cultural sector continues to thrive, which the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, asked for. We are working collaboratively with the rest of government to ensure that the necessary direct support is available to allow the creative sectors to flourish. For example, in the 2016-17 academic year 870 apprenticeships were started in the arts, media and publishing sector, under which this industry falls. We have announced almost £500 million of funding between 2016 and 2020 to support a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes. My noble friend Lord Black will also approve of the fact that this includes £300 million for music education hubs, which aim to reach at least 600,000 pupils in two years, and almost £120 million for the music and dance scheme, supporting exceptionally talented children to attend specialist music and dance institutions. Let us not forget as well that just under £0.5 billion a year is spent by ACE and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Since my response to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, was sent, the Government’s White Paper on immigration has been published. Furthermore, the withdrawal agreement and political declaration have been agreed by the Government and the EU, although not yet supported by the House of Commons. The political declaration sets out where the EU and the UK have agreed to discuss reciprocal mobility arrangements—the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, highlighted their importance—and recognised the importance of mobility for enabling cultural co-operation.

The White Paper noted the MAC’s recommendation of £30,000 for a minimum salary threshold for skilled workers, which most noble Lords have mentioned. MAC is the independent adviser to the Government on all things migration-related, and has considered the best means for assessing who should be able to migrate to the UK. It has repeatedly said that a salary threshold is the most objective way of assessing this and provides certainty. In its most recent report it suggested that a salary threshold should continue to apply; it suggested that this should be £30,000.

However, the Government realise that this has caused concerns, including among the cultural sector. We are currently engaging on where the future salary levels should be set. Indeed, the Secretary of State for DCMS said at the Creative Industries Federation conference, “Salary alone is too blunt an instrument with which to measure skill level”.

The Government have launched a year-long engagement programme on the White Paper proposals. The DDCMS is working with the Home Office and cultural industries throughout this process so that we can approach policy well-informed by those working in the sector. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that the Home Office does not understand these things. For example, this January the Minister for Arts met One Dance UK, the Association of British Orchestras, UK Theatre and officials from the Home Office to discuss the future skills-based immigration system. In June, the Secretary of State will meet the Creative Industries Council and a sub-group looking at immigration will produce a paper for discussion at that meeting. Officials have met over 100 stakeholders at least once and held four round tables in different UK cities.

I will come on to some of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked in introducing the debate whether a touring visa had been ruled out. As I said, we appreciate the importance of touring to the cultural sector and recognise that it depends on the ability to move quickly and easily between countries. The Government have proposed that we should seek to agree with the EU reciprocal mobility arrangements that support businesses to provide services and move their talented people. The political declaration agreed between the UK and the EU—although, as I say, not yet agreed by the House of Commons—specifically acknowledges the importance of mobility for cultural co-operation. That is why the government position is still, as I said, that we must try to get the withdrawal agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, asked whether we will consider waiving social security payments. Again, this depends on getting an agreement with the EU. Under the withdrawal agreement, the EU social security co-ordination rules will continue to apply in full to EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU at the end of the implementation period for as long as they remain within the scope of the citizens’ rights agreement.

I want—if I can—to bring a little optimism after the rather gloomy tenor of some noble Lords’ speeches about the proposed immigration system. The ability for UK nationals to tour in the EU is dependent on what we are able to agree reciprocally with the EU. However, there remain many ways in which talented EU artists, including freelancers, can come to the UK. Until 2021, EU nationals will be able to come here for up to three months and a further 36 months, subject to security checks, even if we leave with no deal. Exceptionally talented performers—I accept that this is for only a limited number of exceptionally talented international people—can still take advantage of our popular tier 1 visas. For short-term visits, creative professionals can come with a certificate of sponsorship for up to 12 months under tier 5, which is extendable, and for other visits they can take advantage of permitted paid engagement rules or permit-free festival arrangements. Under our new proposals, low-risk nationals will be able to apply to come to the UK for up to 12 months to work, regardless of their skill or salary level, or whether they have an employer. We are engaging with many organisations in the cultural sector to ensure that these routes reflect their needs. I am not saying that this is therefore the same as or equal to being in the single market, because leaving the EU has consequences. However, I maintain that the picture is not as gloomy as some Peers have said. Even if it was, we are having a year-long consultation.

On a small but equally important level, I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is a permit-free festival, which means that a performer can take part and be paid without needing to obtain a work visa. Glastonbury is also a permit-free festival.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood asked about Irish nationals in the future system. They will not be subject to future immigration arrangements, reflecting the long-standing and historical relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, talked about seasonal worker pilots in agriculture and whether that system could be extended to culture. The MAC has opined that agriculture—more specifically, seasonal agriculture —is the only sector of the labour market that would benefit from a sectoral immigration scheme. The Government have listened to concerns from the industry and have introduced a pilot scheme to test the immigration system’s ability to cope with seasonal demand. It is limited to edible horticulture sectors, which are a unique British success story, performing uniquely seasonal work. The MAC’s EEA report says that seasonal agricultural labour is unlike any labour market in the UK and therefore it is right that it is treated differently. However, I agree with the noble Lord that the similarity between agriculture and culture is that they move just beyond the economic benefits to this country, important though those are. It concerns something more: the place we live in and the values we hold as a country. Therefore, when we discuss this with the Home Office, we will make a strong case that culture and the movement of cultural workers has an importance beyond simply the economic numbers.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, accused the Government of, among other things, ignoring the value of services to the UK economy. I simply do not recognise his categorisation that the Government would ignore 80% of the economy. Leaving the EU means that, for the first time since we joined, the UK will be able to negotiate bilaterally with our cultural partners all over the world to agree arrangements similar to those we have been pursuing with the EU and to facilitate the mobility of professionals for the purposes of delivering services. The noble Earl may have seen that within the DCMS sector, it has just been announced that fintech is the largest generator of finance for that industry. Within DCMS we pay attention to services, as do the Government as a whole.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked whether, in supporting the reconstruction and renovation of Notre-Dame Cathedral, this type of important collaboration will be affected by EU exit. Obviously, we sympathise deeply with the French people after that fire, and we have offered full assistance to France in the task of rebuilding the medieval cathedral, using our particular expertise in this country. That support will not be affected by leaving the EU.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, talked about CITES and ports in relation to musicians bringing in and taking out instruments. I completely understand the importance to those in the sector of being able to travel with their equipment, including musical instruments —obviously it is an important part of a musician’s job to travel with their instruments. The noble Lord is right that the rules of the convention sometimes apply to these important instruments. Leaving the EU and the customs union has consequences for how these rules will apply. I took on board the noble Lord’s point about the ports, and I will be happy to write to him with more detail on this subject, and to talk to him if he would like to do so.

One of the benefits that we are trying to introduce into the system is swiftness. The Government want to ensure that the new immigration system is smooth and swift. We set out in the immigration White Paper how the new system will be digital. We will make the best use of the information the Government already hold and provide the very best service for those who use it. One of the things we want to do—and one of the difficulties, bearing in mind the special nature of not only the cultural sector but other sectors—is to make a system that is efficient and quick and without too many complications. We have seen before that that is where problems lie in immigration and other government systems.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked us to acknowledge the impact that exit is already having; he and other noble Lords talked about the music industry in particular. I accept that there is some evidence that that may be happening but, on the other hand, the creative industries in general are thriving and the sector is growing and has been successful since 2016. It is therefore important not to exaggerate these fears, although I accept that we need to pay attention to the situation. I accept that one of the issues will be the long-term effects rather than what will happen immediately.

I have tried to paint a slightly less gloomy picture, but we realise that there are issues with the cultural sector. We at DCMS think that it is an important sector, not only economically but for the health of this country and what makes it worth living in. We will take the White Paper consultation seriously and ensure that the cultural sector’s views are well understood by the Home Office.