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Brexit: Cultural and Educational Programmes

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 30 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they are having with the European Commission about its decision to exclude the United Kingdom from future participation in the European Capitals of Culture programme, and about the United Kingdom’s future participation in other European Union cultural and educational programmes, including Erasmus+.

My Lords, we strongly disagree with the European Commission’s stance on the UK’s future participation in the European Capitals of Culture programme. We are deeply disappointed that it has waited until after UK cities have submitted their final bids before communicating the new position to us. We note that others with an interest in the programme, including cities due to host the title and member states, share the UK’s view and have expressed their solidarity.

My Lords, the European Commission is very clear about the ground rules for eligibility for these programmes: applying to join the single market or membership of it. Does the Minister not agree that it would be a great shame if we lost the European Capitals of Culture scheme, which has been such a huge boost to Glasgow and Liverpool? It would be a betrayal of our young people if they lost the opportunity to study in Europe—a high price to pay if this happened because our country did not consider staying part of the single market.

Clearly it would be a disappointment but with regard to students, which the noble Earl mentioned, the Government have stated publicly that the UK is committed to continuing full participation in the Erasmus+ programme until we leave the EU. We will underwrite successful bids for Erasmus+ that are submitted while the UK is still a member state, even if they are not approved until after we leave. We will continue beyond the point of exit in the event that we do not participate in Erasmus+ after exit. Arrangements will be made to administer the underwrite.

My Lords, does my noble friend not think that this was an extremely spiteful act on the part of the Commission and that the Commission cannot have it both ways? It cannot argue that Britain should continue to make payments to programmes to which we have made a commitment prior to leaving the European Union and at the same time withdraw the opportunity for people to participate in these programmes. Will my noble friend point out to the noble Earl that the Erasmus programme includes countries that are not members of the European Union?

My noble friend’s last point is absolutely right. We are disappointed by the Commission’s reaction and are making strong representations to it that it should change its mind. The decision and its timing have been widely condemned. There has been a huge wave of solidarity with the five cities from across Europe. The judging panel published a statement expressing its appreciation and enthusiasm for the work of the five cities and emphasising the importance of cultural exchange and joint projects between member states for,

“the mutual benefit of all citizens”.

My Lords, I am afraid that the Minister does not appear to appreciate what a tragedy this is for higher education in this country. Erasmus was absolutely central to my own experience when I was a vice-chancellor for several years in the 1990s. It is central to the links that are being created—still—between British and continental universities. I was able to create one myself last month between the University of Wales and universities in France. Erasmus is pivotal to the staff links, the research links and the wider links that we have succeeded in developing. Is this not an example of cultural impoverishment as a result of economic impoverishment in the creation of the Brexit disaster?

Of course, nothing is decided until everything is decided. As I said, however, the underwrite will cover funding for those successful bids that are submitted before exit. We are encouraging participants to continue to apply for funding after we leave. In the event that we do not participate in Erasmus+ after exit, arrangements will be made to administer the underwrite and support students and other university people to undertake their study years abroad.

My Lords, UK-led bids for funding projects from Creative Europe have been increasingly successful. Many of them are cross-country projects such as OperaVision, which involves 30 theatres in 19 different countries. As the Minister has already said, the Government have agreed to underwrite the funding of those projects post Brexit, but will they also guarantee the freedom of movement of non-British people involved in such projects, regardless of salary or qualifications, to ensure that the real benefits to the cultural and creative industries of such projects will continue?

The UK will certainly continue to have world-class arts and the DDCMS is working closely with the Home Office and the independent Migration Advisory Committee to ensure that the needs of the arts and cultural sectors are understood. In recognition of the critical importance to the sector of access to world-class talent, the Government recently doubled the number of tier 1 exceptional talent visas available for a number of key sectors, including the creative and cultural sector.

Absolutely—my noble friend makes such a good point: we may be leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe. It is also important to remember that as far as our cultural sector is concerned, we are held in high esteem in Europe. We lead this sector and the European stakeholders have certainly indicated that they do not want to lose this partnership.