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Economy and Society: Contribution of Music

Part of High Speed 1: Rolling Stock – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:27 pm, 21st January 2020

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I congratulate Conor McGinn on securing this vital debate, and on the concise and articulate way in which he marshalled the case for UK Music. I want to pay tribute to Michael Dugher, who has led UK Music so diligently and effectively in the past few years. Like everybody here, I wish him all the best in future—and Andy Heath who has been the chair of UK Music. We look forward to continuing to work effectively with whoever emerges in those roles.

I remember standing here almost 19 years ago, having secured what was probably at that point the first ever debate on the music industry in the House. Having come straight from the concert hall floor—having played with Runrig and Big Country, and as the only MP who had appeared on “Top of the Pops”—I was keen that some of the issues affecting the music industry should be taken up by Parliament and be addressed by MPs. The all-party parliamentary group on music was formed almost immediately following that debate, and the Minister was a notable chair of it a few years ago. Most importantly, it brought the sector and the industry together with parliamentarians. Over the course of the years, it has emerged as an effective conduit. What we do in this House becomes available to members of the music industry. When I think of all the things that we have achieved in the past 20 or so years, I think that was really important.

When I first came to this House it was the days of plenty in the music industry. I am sure most people will remember that. CD sales were at an all-time high, and live music was in incredibly good shape, with the start of some of the really important arena tours. However, out on the horizon a dark shadow was starting to emerge, which would hit all of our creative sector. That was digitisation, with the threats—and also the opportunities—that it presented. Music was the area affected by digitisation because it was the easiest to clone and replicate. That made it vulnerable to pirates, and those who wanted to make a quick buck on the backs of the creativity of artists. In those days, it was just Napster, which I heard somebody refer to earlier, and it was a big challenge to the music industry.

It was a tough time dealing with all that, and I pay tribute to the music industry for the way it responded to that challenge in the course of those 20 years. We are not on top of everything yet, but huge progress has been made in response to the many challenges put forward, by closing down opportunities for pirates, by responding positively to new technologies and by ensuring that new services were made available, so that we can make a positive choice about the sources of music coming our way. While we are not totally on top of it, huge progress has been made in that time; it has been quite remarkable how all that has been taken up. There are still huge issues with piracy, as hon. Members might expect. In fact, some pirates come in cruise liners now, in the form of giant tech companies such as YouTube and Google. Those issues must be properly addressed, and I have a couple of suggestions for how that might be done.

We still lead the world in music, just as we do across practically every single creative sector, whether it is fashion, design, film or television. However, it has been most notable in music in the last few years. I will not repeat what has been said about some of the amazing artists who have had the biggest selling albums in the world in the past few years, although I will mention Lewis Capaldi, because I have managed to see him a couple of times recently and he is a fellow Scot. His success in the course of last year is remarkable, mirroring almost exactly what Adele achieved just a few years ago with her amazing albums. That shows the reach of music from across these isles. Why is that? If we could bottle it or sum it up somehow, it would be remarkable. It is something about the way that we have culturally set up this country, where people are allowed to develop their talents and arrangements and have the opportunity to come forward with their fantastic works of imagination and talent.

However, it is also something to do with the industry, and I praise the industry for the way it ensures that artists are properly resourced, promoted effectively and able to be sold internationally. It is the way it is all packaged. Things do not happen by accident. We have a successful music industry because of the creativity of the people who make the music and the infrastructure that supports that, which is the music industry, which is why it is so important that we support it now.

Music is still the field of dreams where young people can secure a career on the strength of their imagination and talent. However, it is also a means for people to experience enjoyment. Music timetables and chronicles people’s lives and is an important feature of our everyday experience and all our memories. It is even great to get together with friends and bash out a few tunes, just to enjoy it.

However, what we as politicians do to support the music industry is really important. First, and most importantly, we have to ensure that our artists, musicians and the talent that we have are properly rewarded for the fantastic works that they produce. If we do one thing, it should be to ensure that our artists are properly rewarded for what they do. That is why I support the call to fully adopt into UK law the EU copyright directive. That simply has to happen. It would be the single biggest intervention that we could make to most assist the industry and our artists. In one stroke, we could effectively tackle the recalcitrance of the large tech companies and the pitiful amounts that YouTube pay our artists for the music that they produce. It is simply appalling to exploit our artists in such a way. They should be rewarded properly.

More than that, as part of their legislation around online harms, the Government should consider the economic harms caused by copyright infringement. It is in the gift of the Government to do something about that almost immediately. Real harm is caused online, and I hope that, as a real way forward, the Minister will look again at including those harms in the digital harms that the Government are looking at just now.

We have to do something to ensure that the appalling decision to leave the European Union does not make a terrible situation even worse for our musicians. The ending of freedom of movement is the single biggest Brexit threat to our musicians and artists, and we must do everything possible to address the inevitable fallout of this decision to stop musicians travelling freely across our continent.

As my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss mentioned, in Glasgow just now, the last huge UK music festival while we are in the EU is taking place, the incredible Celtic Connections. As the name suggests, it is about connections, it is global, and it brings together artists from around the world. Even before we have left the European Union, there have been genuine concerns, as my hon. Friend referenced —visa anxiety. People are confused about their right to travel and what our leaving will mean for them as artists and musicians. That has to be addressed, and there are a number of solid suggestions for how that could be taken on.

Music touring is where artists make their money, and we have to make it easier for them to play internationally. It is one of the greatest thrills and experiences that musicians can have, and to close that down, as we are doing by ending freedom of movement, will impact on every musician and artist in this country. Ending freedom of movement will inevitably bring costs—visa arrangements, bureaucracy and the confusion about how all of this will happen—so I totally support the UK Music and Musicians’ Union call for a single, EU-wide live music touring passport to avoid those restrictions. I really hope that the Government take that seriously. I know the Minister has looked at this before, and I know it is within the gift of the Government to do something about it. If one initiative could solve this problem, it would be to do with that.

However, another issue has come up that has not been mentioned so far. I refer to a report by the former chief executive officer of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, Vick Bain, about the gender gap in the music industry, which has to be addressed and stopped. Her fantastic recent report outlined that less than 20% of acts signed by major labels are female. That simply cannot continue. It cannot go on. Gender equality and the gender gap in the music industry have to be properly addressed. It is almost bizarre that an industry inhabited by progressive young people has allowed a gender gap such as this to emerge. We have to ensure that we get on top of that.

There might be a number of reasons for that. The whole lad culture of male camaraderie in bands, which has gone back for decades, might have something to do with it. Whatever it is, this has to be addressed. We have to start to get serious about sexism in music; music is sexy, but it does not have to be sexist. We have to ensure that we start to tackle the real and significant issues in this area in the music industry, and we should all be up to that challenge as we move forward.

Music is for everybody. I had the fantastic opportunity of having a career in the music industry. I believe that everybody should have that right and that opportunity. I really hope that, as we go forward, the music industry continues to support our artists, and that the Government do more to ensure that they put legislation in place to help that.