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European Union: Visa-free Touring for Musicians

Volume 809: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether an offer was made by the European Union to the United Kingdom for visa-free touring for musicians in European Union member states; and if so, why any such offer was declined.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper; in so doing, I declare my interests as listed in the register.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of the UK’s thriving cultural industries and pushed for ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work across Europe after the end of freedom of movement. During the negotiation, the EU tabled text regarding the paid activities that can be conducted without a visa. These proposals would not have addressed our sector’s concerns; they were non-binding, did not include touring or technical staff and did not address work permits. Our proposals, which the EU has admitted to rejecting, were based on the views of the music industry and would have allowed musicians to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, without needing work permits.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I have an email from Guy Verhofstadt which rather puts the boot on the other foot. It details how the UK put its obsession with mobility before a 90-day reciprocal offer. The noble Lord, Lord True, has made it clear that there will be no imminent revisiting of this situation. Given this, can the noble Baroness offer some glimmer of hope to musicians, who generate £5.8 billion for the UK economy? Will Oliver Dowden find financial assistance? Even if he does, how will that ameliorate the loss of cultural exchange, which is so vital to the arts?

The noble Lord is right to recognise the incredible contribution of our cultural sectors, including musicians and the connected creative sectors. The Secretary of State is working very hard; he has a round table with sector institutions tomorrow to understand their concerns in detail. We are working with the sector to try to distil and simplify the rules which will apply, but we are committed to ensuring it has the right support at the right time to continue to thrive once we emerge from the pandemic.

My Lords, did the Government make any assessment of the impact the free trade agreement would have on musicians touring the European Union? If they bothered to make such an assessment, will they publish the details right away?

I am slightly taken aback at the noble Lord’s tone; the Government have been incredibly committed to this area. Obviously, there were multiple complex issues that needed to be considered in these negotiations, including the commitments to take back control of our borders and to make sure that our creative industries continue to flourish. We remain entirely committed to both.

My Lords, touring musicians and creative artists are deeply angry at this negotiating failure. Is not the root of the problem refusal by the Home Office to extend permitted paid engagement here to 90 days for EU artists, meaning as a result that work permits will now be required in many member states for our artists? Will the Government urgently rethink this and renegotiate on the instrument and equipment carnet and on trucking issues?

There were a number of drawbacks to the EU proposals, which did not meet the requirements of our sectors, as I mentioned; they covered only ad hoc performances, they were non-binding and did not address technical staff or work permits. Our door absolutely remains open to reviewing these points, but in the meantime we will do everything we can to support our sectors.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music. Will my noble friend acknowledge that the current impasse will have a profoundly damaging impact on UK students, who need to travel to progress their careers but, as they will not earn large fees at that stage of their lives, will find themselves priced out of the market because of expensive and complex visa requirements? As there seems to be political will on both sides to ensure that musicians can continue to work freely in Europe, do we not owe it to students, above all else, to get back to the negotiating table to sort this out?

My noble friend raises a very important point. There are two different issues here: on going back to the negotiating table, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, our door is absolutely open but, in the short term, understanding the picture for students and how we can support them is part of our work—if there are specifics my noble friend would like to share with me, I will endeavour to make sure that fellow Ministers are briefed on them.

It has been disheartening to hear the UK and the EU blaming each other for the failure to reach agreement on this. Does the Minister agree that a more constructive approach would focus on how a deal could be fashioned on the basis of the positive ideas that each side has put forward? How soon might the Government initiate such a process and, rather than just having an open door, knock on the door of the EU to pursue it?

I am sure the noble Lord is right that mutual blame probably does not get us much further forward. However, as I said, in the meantime we are doing everything we can to try to simplify the procedures now in place and to understand the needs of the sector so it can continue to flourish and thrive.

My Lords, the Minister’s opening response was very carefully crafted but, reading between the lines, it seems the creative industries have lost out in an unseemly internal government squabble. If the door is still open for discussion, what are the Government doing to develop an agreed position which will also deliver the backing of the Home Office and Border Force?

The Government had an agreed position, which was to extend the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors. The EU rejected that.

My Lords, we understand that there are different views as to what actually happened but given that musicians from the continent have been performing in Britain for the past 250 years, and that British musicians now perform on the continent on a regular basis, this is a win-win situation. Cannot the Government therefore take an initiative to reopen negotiations on this topic, which would clearly be of benefit to both sides to succeed in? I declare an interest as a trustee of the VOCES8 Foundation, which provides not only performance but musical education in France, Germany, Italy and Belgium.

I am afraid that I will have to disappoint the noble Lord, as I have done on previous questions on this point. We secured a deal that delivers on the result of the referendum. The agreement is not going to be renegotiated. Our job now is to implement it as well as possible.

My Lords, senior musicians I spoke to this weekend described experiences of agonising paperwork and fees, and sense that foreign promoters are already hesitant to offer engagements to UK groups. How do the Government intend to ensure that the increased costs associated with obtaining permits and administrating these tours will not, as a result, exclude all but the most privileged?

We are absolutely determined to make sure that we protect all parts of the cultural and creative ecosystem. As I have said, the Secretary of State is meeting organisations tomorrow and we continue to work closely to understand their needs, so that as soon as touring can recommence after the pandemic we do so with confidence.

My Lords, touring is not peripheral to the arts but central and vital—the basis of a major export industry and a vital showcase for the United Kingdom. If we could just lay aside the unfortunate blame game of recent days, can this please be sorted out as a matter of the utmost urgency?

I can say only to my noble friend that I hope that the Secretary of State’s round table tomorrow constitutes utmost urgency.

My Lords, at the very least, we urgently need a 90-day supplementary agreement, which will cover most touring. Will the Government acknowledge that mode 4 should not be explored to resolve this issue? It is clear now that mode 4 is not going to work. There is no precedent in any other agreement for mode 4 to allow creative work and touring. A supplementary agreement should be sought.

I can say only to the noble Earl that we tried hard in these negotiations to make the case based on the evidence given to us by the sectors that we represent, and the EU rejected those suggestions.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, that we did not have time for his supplementary question.

Sitting suspended.