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Stage Lighting: Efficiency Regulations

Volume 642: debated on Friday 15 June 2018

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Amanda Milling.)

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for being here to respond to this debate and apologise for making his Friday longer than it might otherwise have been.

Britain has a world-class arts and culture scene that generates a huge amount of tourism, growth and economic activity. In no sector is this more true than our theatre scene, which is not only beloved by millions of theatregoers up and down the country but engages with people from all ages and backgrounds, from the pantomime at Christmas in our local theatre to the big-name productions at the National theatre and everything in between. Theatre gives everyone an opportunity to take part, whether children at school, amateur dramatics in the local village hall, or world-class theatrical schools up and down the country. Some people even say that this very Chamber is the greatest theatre of them all. I guess that it is true for many MPs that our time in Parliament ends either as a comedy or a tragedy. I live in hope of neither.

We have many fantastic local theatres and performance venues in Colchester: the Mercury and Headgate theatres and Colchester arts centre. These theatres are proof that cuts to the arts are a false economy. Every £1 of grant aid that the Mercury theatre receives generates £3 for the local economy. The total economic impact of this theatre for my local area is £3.6 million—hardly an insignificant sum.

My hon. Friend is leading a fascinating debate, and I congratulate him on having secured it. He has talked about the impact of some of his local theatres. In my constituency, in west Oxfordshire, we have Chipping Norton theatre. It belies the description of a local theatre, because people come from all over the country—not just west Oxfordshire—to attend this outstanding venue. I am sure that it is the same with his theatres.

I thank my hon. Friend—he is absolutely right. The reputation that precedes so many of our theatres up and down the country means that they attract a wider audience than just the local population. With that comes additional spend from people going to restaurants and staying in hotels. Theatres play a huge role in the local economy. That is one of the reasons—not the only one—why they are so important. Investing in the arts provides a strong cultural boost in our regional towns and cities. These theatres are also where the careers of some of our best British actors and actresses begin and where some of the most innovative plays and productions start their lives.

I have secured this debate because I have real concerns about the impact that potential changes in regulations on stage lighting could have for our local theatres and performance venues. The European Union is currently reviewing legislation on eco-design, which includes lighting. The new regulations, which have been proposed for September 2020, will require a minimum efficiency of 85 lumens per watt and a maximum standby power of 0.5 watts on all light sources, lamps or self-contained fixtures sold within the European Union. As part of the review, an existing exemption was removed. Without this exemption, the majority of tungsten, arc and LED stage lighting fixtures would no longer be available on the market, and venues could be forced to go dark.

My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to mention two establishments in my constituency—the Rex in Wareham and the Tivoli in Wimborne. He mentions EU regulations. I am sure that he will come on to this, but how does Brexit impact on that now that we are of course leaving the European Union?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Being as observant as he is, as a non-practising barrister, he will know that I mentioned that the regulations come into effect in 2020. Nevertheless, the Government are talking about frictionless trade, and given that this trade regulation will apply across the European Union, it is really important to have an exemption that applies across the EU. We are requesting this exemption for theatres and performance venues in not just the United Kingdom but across the EU, and I will come on to that. I am glad he had the opportunity to mention two of his local theatres, both of which I have heard of, so their reputation precedes them.

Some people may say that this is fine. They will ask, “Why shouldn’t theatres and other performance venues play their part in saving the environment?” The theatre and entertainment industry do want to play their part. They fully support the sustainability agenda and are taking steps day by day to improve their environmental standards. However, introducing these regulations without an exemption will have a considerable negative impact across European entertainment industries that would far outweigh the positive intentions behind the proposals.

With such a steep climb, there would be a tremendous financial burden on theatres, community halls, churches, schools and every single performance venue that uses theatrical lighting instruments as part of its shows. It is true that nothing in the new regulations requires venues to stop using their existing fittings, yet what good is a lamp without a bulb? Once the bulbs can no longer be sold, the existing fixtures will become worthless. That does not exactly support the principles of a more circular economy.

It is not possible to simply buy a compliant LED replacement bulb for a stage light. That is not how it works. In the entertainment industry, LED lights come as one whole unit, and the current cost for one of these high-quality lights is approximately £2,500. If someone runs a venue with, say, 300 tungsten sources and they need to be replaced overnight, along with the infrastructure that runs them, the total cost quickly escalates. Likewise, for those who run a community hall and own 10 lights, put on two shows a year and are used to spending only £20 on a bulb every now and then, the financial demand would be crippling.

If these regulations are introduced as they currently stand, there will only be a limited supply of existing bulbs. Once they are gone, they are gone, leaving behind an enormous amount of otherwise perfectly functioning scrap metal and glass. If theatres and venues were to refit their tungsten and arc rigs with the high-quality LED lights required—provided, of course, that they are available on the market—they would need to do so before September 2020.

The estimated cost of this transition to the UK theatre industry alone is £1.2 billion. This is considerable disruption and cost for limited power savings, given how entertainment lighting is typically used, notwith- standing the enormous amount of waste generated and electricity and energy used to manufacture and ship the new fixtures. Surely, there is a better way to achieve such energy savings. Even if venues could afford an overhaul of this magnitude, no high-quality LED lighting units currently on the market are compliant with these proposals. Venues will be left with no adequate tools with which to light productions.

Just as important an issue is how these regulations will affect the technical elements behind the productions we witness. Research and technical development over the past decade have enabled significant progress in LED spotlights to make them suitable for use in stage lighting for theatrical productions. However, it is still not possible to replace all professional entertainment lighting products with LEDs. The currently used tungsten lightbulbs allow for a wide spectrum of colour choice that can reliably fade and mix with the rest of a rig, so that all elements of a show can be precisely controlled to the needs of a production. LEDs are now approaching a similar standard, but these developments have all come about organically.

The introduction of these proposals would stifle such innovation, and as a result, we would be left with little more than harsh, unflattering floodlights with which to light our productions. It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to get LED lights perfectly to dim all the way off in the same manner as traditional lighting, and that for the lighting of live events very small halogen lamps, with a diameter of 0.5 cm, are used to produce a high-power output. Again, there are currently no available replacements for those special lamps with LED technology.

Finally, and probably most importantly, there is the issue of how all those individual issues join together to affect the artistic vision of a production. Change can be important, and perhaps these new conditions will result in visionary directors who take advantage of cold—always on, but not very bright—lighting, but it may lead to some very bleak plays. The reality, however, is that the technical problems with LED lighting will severely affect the artistic quality of performances. The richness of lighting for a live event lies in the diversity of light sources’ colours and intensity; without that, our world-famous productions would be left flat.

The impact of these regulations on local theatres and performance venues will be both financial and artistic, so we need the exemption to remain in place. I therefore turn to my hon. Friend the Minister and say that we should all be concerned about these proposals. Although I am reassured to hear that representatives have been in active, and I understand positive, dialogue with the European Commission about introducing a narrow technical exemption, we need the Government to play their part.

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who is himself a fan of the theatre, has written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy expressing his Department’s support for an exemption for professional stage lighting for theatres and other venues. I think there is support for that across the sector and across the Government, so I ask the Minister to take forward our concerns to his friends and counterparts at the European Commission. I hope that he can reassure me that this is a priority, and that he will do everything he can to support the industry in securing this important exemption.

We should be very proud of the creative arts sector in our country. It does so much to improve our culture and our communities, yet it is at risk from these regulations, both financially and artistically. That was previously recognised—hence the exemption—so I hope the Government will do all they can to ensure that the exemption continues and that performances up and down this country are not compromised by poor or inadequate lighting, or indeed no lighting at all.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) on securing a debate on this important subject. I am very much aware of this issue, which has already been raised by many in the sector, and I understand the potential impact of the draft legislation on theatres and other live entertainment venues up and down the country. By way of reassurance, let me say that the Government take this issue very seriously. Indeed, the Arts Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), is sitting next to me. We need to look at this issue on a cross-departmental basis.

We all recognise that the theatre is a hugely important part of the creative industries and of our country’s cultural history. British theatre is respected across the world for its high-quality productions and its skilled professionals both on and off the stage. I am sure that the Mercury theatre in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester—I gather that it has raised concerns about this issue—is a shining example of that quality and professionalism. Let me make it clear that the Government recognise the value of theatre. We already support it in a number of ways, including through Arts Council funding, our theatre tax relief and a number of capital investments in recent years, such as the £78 million provided towards the creation of the Factory in Manchester.

Before I talk specifically about the draft EU lighting proposal, I will highlight for hon. Members the purpose of the policy and why it benefits both UK consumers and businesses. EU eco-design and energy labelling measures are about minimising the costs and environmental impact of products used in both homes and businesses by setting minimum performance requirements and empowering consumers to make informed purchasing decisions through the use of energy labels.

The EU measures have been around for several years, and we estimate that those agreed to date will be saving household consumers about £100 on their annual energy bills in 2020, and will be leading to greenhouse gas emissions savings of 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Minimum standards for lighting alone are estimated to contribute more than 1 million tonnes of CO2 savings. This policy therefore constitutes one of the most cost-effective ways to meet our carbon budgets and reduce energy consumption.

As well as bolstering our commitment to reduce carbon emissions, the policy also serves a purpose for industry. Setting minimum performance standards and promoting better environmental performance of products through labelling can help to drive innovation and increase the competitiveness of businesses, in line with our industrial strategy. Minimum performance standards and labelling schemes exist in various forms throughout the world, including in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It can therefore be a challenge for businesses placing products in those markets to meet the various requirements.

Setting the standards at EU level means that manufacturers have to meet only one standard before placing their products on the market, without the burden of navigating multiple national regulations. However, when standards are set for the entire single market, it is important that they are proportionate and achieve what they are supposed to achieve, without unintended consequences. That is why the European Commission consults member states and relevant stakeholders when developing a policy proposal. At the same time, we engage extensively with UK stakeholders and listen to the concerns raised before we come to a position and vote on legislation.

That brings me to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, which is the potential impact of an EU draft lighting regulation on theatres in the UK. The Commission held a consultation forum in December to discuss the first draft of the proposal—here I wish to stress the importance of the word “draft”. Following that forum, stakeholders were able to submit comments in writing to the Commission, which were considered as part of the review process of the draft regulation. It is therefore still a proposal at this stage and remains open for discussion. I understand that a final decision will not be made on the proposed legislation until later in the year, so my hon. Friend is right to bring the matter before the House at this point. Until then, my officials will continue to listen to the concerns and views of all interested parties—indeed, the issue has already been brought to the Department’s attention by many in the sector, and as I said, the Arts Minister also takes a keen interest in the matter.

To put it in context, the draft proposal is a revision of the current lighting regulation that came into force in 2012. The purpose of that regulation was gradually to improve the performance of lighting products and push the market towards more energy-efficient and longer-lasting technologies such as ultra-efficient LED lighting. However, due to the special purpose of certain lighting, the existing regulation contains an exemption for various types of lighting equipment, such as that used in theatres and other live entertainment venues.

The intention, as stated in the regulation, was to look again at special purpose lamps when the measure came to be reviewed. It is therefore important that hon. Members are aware that the draft regulation builds on previous experience of the issue. Theatre and stage lighting has had an exemption for six years and, although I understand that tungsten is still commonly used in theatres, in that time some venues have begun to adopt LED alternatives. I believe that most large-scale theatres make at least partial use of LEDs, and have done so for years. LED lighting may, however, not always be a suitable option, and it may not be cost-effective for some venues, particularly smaller venues, to transition to newer, more efficient technologies. I also understand that even some LED lights may struggle to meet the proposed performance requirements in 2020.

I reassure hon. Members that my Department’s officials have already met representatives of the Association of Lighting Designers and the National Theatre and are aware of the impact that the proposal could have on the availability of theatre lighting equipment. Following that meeting, my officials made representations to the European Commission in writing and in person to discuss this issue and potential solutions. I gather that since meeting Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy officials, the Association of Lighting Designers, as well as other sector representatives, have had a productive meeting with the Commission and have now submitted an alternative proposal for its consideration.

As I mentioned, this is still a draft regulation and member states will not vote on it until the Commission calls a regulatory committee, which we expect to take place at the end of this year. Until then, officials and, of course, the Arts Minister will continue to consult on further iterations of the regulation and consider concerns raised by interested parties. As we have seen only an early draft of the regulation, we will not be carrying out a cost-benefit analysis at this stage. Once we see the final draft version of the regulation prior to the regulatory committee, we will carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the lighting proposal for the whole UK. Both we and the European Commission have listened to the sector and are aware of the potential impacts on the theatre and the live entertainment industry, and support finding a solution that works for everyone.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.